by Robyn Carter
With you, there’s no in-between. Only a beginning, or an end, and this time, both. In a place with migraine-colored walls and a grown-up dinette set from the seventies. Maybe hers. New Girl is blond and her beauty is the soft, laughing kind, which strikes me as a strange choice for you. I expected something dark and clawed. She is younger than me, but not as young as I feared. When I tell her how you are, she doesn’t believe me but still she climbs up onto the kitchen counter like I ask her to. You are one of us now, I say. Let me get you ready. She wears a transparent top with tiny, rosebud-shaped buttons. I rip them all off before they blossom tarry and rank. Like liquid, the blouse slides to the floor. Her tits feel like handfuls of warm, fine-grained sand. She lies on the counter, and while she cries hideously, I wash her hair in the sink with coconut shampoo made especially for this ceremony. You are there watching, but I am barely aware of your presence, maybe because of the pane of mottled glass hovering between us, dissolving your corners and wobbling your wheels. I rinse New Girl’s hair and wrap it in a towel then help her back onto the floor. Finally, she stops her sobbing and when I unwind the turban, a cold alchemy escapes its folds with a whoosh that dries her hair instantly and coats the mottled glass in something shiny. I should shatter it before I notice what the divots and swells on its surface distort, but it’s too late. I know you must still be on the other side flipping switches, a grin unzipping your face, but when I check the glass, all I see is myself, standing beside New Girl who is still topless, our reflections a gruesome wreck. Dry, black cinders fill her eye sockets, and in the place where my mouth used to be there’s a wound sewn shut with the kind of stitches that melt away when their work is done. Behind us the scene is shifting. A neon cityscape unfurls itself over the grown-up furniture like a blood-streaked bandage. The marquees are busy with curly serifs that make me think it’s the fifties, but I can only look up, so I can’t check the cars or people’s clothes to be sure. There is a grey brick tower that disappears into a skein of fairy-tale fog. New Girl and I climb its spiral staircase, leaving you earthbound. Through blade-like windows that form tiny slits in the brick, we spot you below in a snatch of bilious light, rolling yourself around in circles, still wearing that grin. It’s the kind that can swallow an entire woman but leave you famished. And you are famished. For us. Especially for the parts of us that are not parts, but a lack of parts, our supple-walled voids and catacombs, empty passageways that map your hunger. New Girl and I never get to the top of the stairs. I stop her and burrow into her new eyes because in their grit I hear the hush of family secrets calling me home. They are not my own family’s secrets, but they are close enough. Do you know what New Girl told me and never told you? That Oklahoma’s waterless storms of dust once blackened her great-grandma’s curtains twenty-seven times in a single month and the woman killed herself over this, leaving her sick children behind with a drop of kerosene in some sugar water for cough syrup. New Girl never told you this story because you already know it. Its ache is the only kind your severed nerves still sense: a logic as flawless as the Parthenon’s with its curved columns meant to trick imperfect eyes into seeing straight lines. I’ve been clean for fourteen years but I am still dirty. And now I know I always will be.
Robyn Carter’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Conjunctions, Ninth Letter, West Branch, Colorado Review, NanoFiction, Playboy and other journals. She lives in San Francisco where she works for the school district teaching creative writing to kids.