He knew he was weak, tired, and lonely before he got out of bed that morning. He knew he was weak because his back ached. The cords of muscles were strung into a net drawn tight and pulling around his neck. He knew he was tired because he’d lain awake in bed since 2:30 in the morning. And he knew he was lonely because nothing stirred with life in the entire house except for him. All of the air was his to breathe and this made the air stale and it stank. He wished for someone else to come along and push down the toaster handle or run the taps in the morning. It was lonesome to always be the one to draw out the groans from the pipes each morning. He wondered was the house mad at him, and he thought they’d get along much finer if he could bring someone home who would leave a metal tube of lipstick rolling over the porcelain counter beside the bathroom sink.
Jim brewed tea. Steam from the teapot clouded the small kitchen. A mist of rain fell outside and the air was gray and clear. It was early summer, and Jim watched the dahlia petals wilt and brighten under the rain. He hadn’t seen dahlias before and it embarrassed him, the way they brought a joy to him. He thought they were fake at the nursery and fingered their petals, turning the pots to look at the backs of the blooms. He expected to see plastic parts, but the flowers were real. He bought a whole flat of them, eight containers. They lady at the nursery asked him if his wife sent him over for flowers, and he smiled and said yes, she did. She had sent him all over town today, picking up flowers and prescriptions and the shampoo she liked.
This was a lie and this was something unique about Jim. He lied. Frequently. He lied to strangers and to family or friends or coworkers. If he had a conversation with you, well sure, he’d tell some lies, but to be fair, the lies were harmless. Like, he might tell you that he had been to a restaurant on the other side of town even if he hadn’t. Or he might see bunnies sprinting over the lawn while he was working, and he’d tell the homeowner that he’d had a pet bunny when he was a boy. He might say the bunny’s name was Jax, and he was a black and white rabbit that liked to bite at Popsicles. None of this would be true, but Jim enjoyed telling these stories and making life a bit more exciting. Bunnies that eat Popsicles? These are the kinds of things that make people laugh, and people remember you when you make them laugh.
(all about the lies)
- Poison ivy
- Unshaven legs
- Unmoisturized face
- Mosquito bites, especially the ones on your ankles
- Bee stings
- Restless sleep makes my legs itch
- Allergy eyes
- Roof of my mouth when I have allergies
- Forearms after I get hay for the bunnies
- Scented or dyed detergent
- Annoying people
- Scalp and ears after I have my hair dyed
- Ankles when I walk through long grass
- Desire, unfulfilled dreams
- Arms and chest after holding a bunny
- Allergy skin prick test
- Naked legs when it’s hot and I’m sitting on a carpet
Thought: dread seeing my aunts age
Morning shimmers after yesterday’s rain. A shallow green haze blows around the trees and vapor lifts from the roadtops. Swings hang with a sway, hips lifting over small puffs of air. And this: birds sing new songs. Melodies clear like fresh flower water running into glass vases. Woody green stems lined up and down with air bubbles. Birdsong swings in the damp morning air. A quick pulse beats at the throat of each bird. Those birds. The fragility of their arrangement is a surprise to them. We know the fragility of ours, and it is this that makes us press the pulse at each bird’s throat. We are not moved by the trembling in our hands, each bird smaller than a pear. We snap birds in two along their cloven breasts and toss the halves onto piles of eggshells. We lay our fingers at our throats each day, all day and my ankles, I tell you, they will snap easier than scored crackers. I swing from my shoulders like an empty birdcage hung by an open window.
This entire day, I couldn’t remember the date. Once, twice, twelve times, I wrote March for May. My brain heavy and crumpled like a child’s small sweatshirt left on the patio during rain. It rained this morning. All morning. I sat in meeting after meeting, a child at the table, my ankles itching against the rub of wet fabric. A woman to my left paid the mortgage online. A man across from me stopped completely at each stop sign when he drove to work with coffee and styrofoam settled in his lap and warming his crumpled penis. My feet flapped uselessly under the table. A broken bell, a flaccid penis. My useless feet, flapping in wet hems. Bell tongues, swinging without brass carriages, trying to ring the air. I will crumple into someone’s lap like a baby knotted under a thin blanket, asleep in the corner of a carriage. I can see the order of things, rain on a dry day, worming my way back up a man’s penis. He shouldn’t drink so much coffee and there’s no prize for coming to a complete stop. When it’s rainy like this, cops are bellied up to sticky counters, thick hands folded around thick mugs. We’re all of us trying to stay out of the rain. This is what I mean, this is exactly what I’m getting at: I am swinging in the air, carriageless, waiting for someone to come and change me into dry pants.
Close the doors. Keep them closed. The bill was double last month. He’s going to have a fit. Just sit there for a minute. Did you hear that? I think it was the garage door opener. Never mind. Put away the lemonade and wipe the counter. Right there. By the stove. It’s all sticky. Please be quiet. I’m trying to think. He’s going to have a fit when he sees Kelly’s report card. Get the salad from the fridge. I don’t know. Don’t ask me so many questions. I can’t think. I’m not mad at you. No one’s mad at you. I just need to get dinner on the table. Did you put your curling iron away? I said I’m not mad. Please stop asking. I don’t have time for this. Get the salad dressing. It’s behind the milk. Shit, wipe the bottle. It’s all sticky. On the bottom! Just be quiet. I can’t talk right now. I can’t deal with this right now. Please don’t ask me one more question. I signed the permission slip. It’s in your folder. Make sure you wash your hair tonight and rinse it good. No, it looks fine. I mean it. I said it looks fine. Make sure there’s salt and pepper on the table. Fill the glasses with ice. Not Billy’s. He’ll have milk. Did you give his homework to Mrs. Finn? Did you get your school pictures back? Go get them. Put water in the glasses first. Jesus, I already told you that. Could you please help me? Just a little? I can’t do everything. I did tell you! Just do it. You can show me the pictures later. What did you get on your reading test? Good. Where’s Kelly? Go call her. He’s going to have a fit. Hurry up and call her. I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Go call your sisters. Now. Be careful! Watch where you’re going. Oh stop! There’s nothing to cry about. Just stop it. If you keep crying I’m going to leave and not come back. I said stop it! Make sure you wash your hair tonight. It looks greasy. I don’t think you even rinse it. I said stop crying! You are making me sick. Goddamnit. Just stop it.
We are learning to make fire.
We are learning to hunt animals that run and leap.
We are sharpening sticks into points.
We don’t ever stick to the point.
We argue about slime in the corner of the bathtub.
We retreat to corners. We sharpen sticks.
We run and leap after one another, and quickly change course
To run from one another. I will build you and me into a fire,
To cast your face in yellow so I recognize you
When we return, running and leaping, to the hunt.
He took a sip and his lips twitched. A fire lit the end of the living room with a low brightness, but the rest of the room was a dark tunnel. Shadows with blurry outlines floated against the grayed out walls. A short glass of whiskey sat at his elbow. The fire hissed and blew out red embers onto the gray stone. He could hear the children moving furniture upstairs. They were running from one bedroom to another, feet pounding across the hardwood floors. The children were never still. He carried them in his pocket like a wallet or keys on a silver ring. A tube of Chapstick. A handful of warm coins. A grocery list scribbled on an old receipt. Small handfuls of items stewn across the tops of dusty bureaus. Meant to stay put until picked up again. Slid into a pocket or left in a shallow pile to collect dust. Chapstick melting in the morning when sunlight came through the window and lit the bureau. These children were running upstairs, banging doors in the drafty hallway, screaming from one room to the next. They weren’t ever still. He grew redder and sweatier in the light of the fire. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his tan face was shining. Shadows shook slowly over the walls. The children lined the stairs like dolls, one to a step and not touching. They were still as chairs around a table or books on a shelf. His lips twitched.