SupraNow

The installer had me take off my shirt while he unpacked his toolkit. “You got the two year contract on this? You sure?” he asked.

I nodded. The gyros in the walls whispered to life to keep the room level as the city tilted, probably climbing a dune, and the sun burst through the window, making the points and edges of the installer’s tools glint and glitter. I hoped the stabilization was as good as the landlord promised.

We were in my new kitchen, at the table. I tried to sit still while he started in on my abdomen. My new apartment, like living in a cloud, all polished white plastic and sourceless white glow, all spheres and curves, littered here and there the chromed evidence of my inhabitance. New possessions for my new home and my new life, different from my old life. The apartment let a picture of Leil slip up out of the floor and scud over the ridges of the entertainment center, settling into a swirl in the ceiling.

“Girlfriend?” asked the installer.

“Was,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said, “Still, plenty of cars in the sky.”

A solar array crawled over my window, casting the room in shadow, and the sourceless white glow intensified to compensate. The picture of Leil, the one from the arboretum where she plucks a rose and it grows back, and she smiles to see the petals unfolding, and she plucks it again and again until she has a dozen from the same stem, and then she showers the roses down on me, on the lens, that picture, that picture slid down from the ceiling and settled on the back of the chair opposite me.

“What do you do?” asked the installer, trying to change the subject.

“You know those Sony aubler ads?”

He raised his eyebrows, “The ones that smell like rain and ozone? For the aublers with the…what’s it called?”

“SupraBright Screen,” I said. “I wrote those.”

“Good job,” he said, and went back to work on my abdomen, “Congratulations.”

Not good enough, if he couldn’t remember the SupraBright screen.

The solar array crawled off the window, feeling its way along the outside of the building, following the afternoon sun, confused by the scattered refractions from all the polished buildings that sprouted from the city’s chassis and cars that flung themselves through the sky. There weren’t many of those old arrays left. How long would this one last before it too chased a shard of light off a rooftop?

Leil’s picture called up reinforcements, all the moments of her I’d captured, and set them to dancing around the window. The installer couldn’t fail to see what was on my mind.

“What’s that mean?” he asked, “That you wrote it? Did you come up with the smell?”

“Just the action and the dialogue.”

“Oh,” he said. “Still, good job.”

Everybody loved the smell. I could have taken credit for it, I gave Billin in Scent the idea. When I met Leil she had that fake malfunction in her oculums that occasionally shorted and smelled of ozone. It was very ahead of the curve. The way her gaze actually sparked when she looked at me. And rain, that was in her skin or in her sweat or something. I never asked, I just inhaled.

“This’ll really impress your friends,” said the installer, tinkering with my chest.

I said, “I’m not going to let anyone see it.”

He sat back. “Two year contract and you’re going to hide it?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Leaning forward again, he said, “If I could afford two years of this I’d show it off.”

The room lurched, probably one of the city’s legs slipping on the desert sand, a million ton foot bogging down.

“Great,” said the installer, “take maintenance a day to dig that out, and my building’s almost out of water. Probably don’t have that problem in this neighborhood.”

All the Leils spread out, each occupying a surface. Leil swimming, Leil diving and surfacing. Leil pulling the sheets over her mussed hair. Leil checking her face in a mirror. She always asked why I never took serious pictures, why I recorded the moments she wasn’t ready, the times she wasn’t posing. I thought it was obvious.

The solar array crawled back over my window, always after that shifting light.

“I caught my kid riding one of those,” said the installer. “Him and his friends were trying to race them. Idiots.”

“No,” I said, it was perfect. It was new. Leil dropped off the walls and the apartment called up pictures of teenagers riding solar arrays, grainy, shot through cheap lenses, spattered with compression artifacts. Low bandwidth uploads from kids’ first rigs.

That was our target market, right there, clinging to scuttling machines hundreds of feet up the sides of buildings, laughing with adrenaline, covering the beady light sensors to steer. I could see the ad: boys using their shadows to try and race solar arrays over the surface of some solidly middle-class piece of construction under a sepia sun, a smell like hot dust that turns to the tang of steel being machined when a sleek girl blows past the boys on an array that she’s riding like she’s sand-surfing, standing at a ninety degree angle to the building, the aubler in her hand, blast of clean, white light from the SupraBright screen making her array sprint. She looks over her shoulder at them and winks, and you just know she’s recording their stunned faces.

Maybe some tagline like, “SupraBright. SupraFast. SupraNow.”

“All done!” said the installer, taking a step back. “What do you think?”

I stood up, the kids riding arrays vanished and the wall in front of me flashed mirror-silver so I could see my reflection.

The installer had put a perfect hole in my middle. Right through me. Just the thing I’d signed and paid for. A two year contract. And in the mirror I could see Leil’s pictures on the wall behind me, floating back up from the floor, winking at me through the hole where my heart and my gut used to live. The city shuddered, trying to lift its foot and continue its search for some fleeting oasis to drink dry, to ease our endless thirst.

* * * * *

Will Kaufman’s work will be appearing in [PANK], Unstuck, and Litro Lab, and has in the past appeared in 3:AM, Metazen, Sundog Lit, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. He also coauthored the chapbook “UFOs and Their Spiritual Mission”, published by Social Malpractice Press. He has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis and an MFA from the University of Utah. You can find him online at kaufmanwrites.com.

This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

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Tiles

.

ometimes when Jessica is sleeping, Kyle thinks of ways that he could kill her.  It would be easy, with a pillow or with the knife she insists on keeping in the nightstand in case of intruders.  She’s scared that they’ll come so close to her that she’ll need something powerful, like a knife, instead of just her cell phone to call 911.  She watched the E! special about unsolved murder mysteries last Sunday and knows that everybody is not what they seem.  She watched the show lying on her stomach with her nose stuffed in the musty, pilly brown pillows that line their couch, and she lifted her eyes just high enough above the fabric to see a middle-aged overweight actor re-creating the murder, going into a house of the woman he was about to kill.

“The children were in the house,” the narrator of the show said.  “In the house,” Jessica heard the narrator whisper more softly, for effect.

Jessica got up off of the couch and walked into the kitchen where Kyle was doing a crossword, sitting on top of the counter like he always did.

“The kids were in the house when he shot her,” Jessica told Kyle, pushing past him to get into the cabinet where the Cheez-Its were.  “Isn’t that horrible?”  A Cheez-It crumb flew out of her mouth and landed on the counter next to Kyle’s thigh.

“That’s horrible,” he said, and folded the crossword over so he could only see the “Across” prompts and finish them first.  “People are sick.”

Their kitchen always smelled slightly of cat food and bananas, even though they didn’t have any cats.  The people who lived in the house before them did, though, which Jessica found out shortly after they’d moved in the year before, when she was looking in her closet for shoes. They were still unpacking and she was expecting, after four years together, to find a ring hidden underneath a suitcase or shoved in a sock drawer, but she didn’t. Instead she found the height markers.

“What is this?” she’d asked, crouching over to see the marks on the doorjamb, little lines with numbers next to them.  Eight inches, nine inches, 11.5 inches. The numbers were written with black marker but the lines were scraped into the woodwork.  Kyle hadn’t been home so Jessica had talked to herself, like she always did when she was alone, and sometimes did when she was with others.  “They’re too small to be kids’ markers.”

They were for the cats.  Jessica had found gravestones in the backyard for the cats and then realized that the markers in the house were for their growing, too.  There were none marking the children’s growth spurts.  Only the cats.

“I want cats, one day,” Jessica had told Kyle.  “Do you?”

Kyle had shaken his head, no.

Jessica also likes to watch infomercials, even though she refuses to buy anything on them. When the E! specials are over on Sunday mornings, Jessica flips the channels until she gets to the ones advertising the onion choppers and closet miracle hangers. Her favorite is the P90-X.

“I want that,” Jessica said the first time she saw it on the infomercial. The girl on the screen was ripped, too ripped, thought Kyle, and her muscles bulged out of her tiny sports bra and skintight biking shorts as she demonstrated how she got rock-hard abs in just 90 days.

“Why? She looks horrible.” Kyle sat next to Jessica on the couch and reached behind him to open the blinds.

“Don’t,” she said, “there’ll be a glare on the screen.” She moved closer to him and curled her legs up on the couch. He put his palms on the fabric, feeling the pilly covering as he adjusted himself closer to her, too. Jessica pulled the box of Cheez-Its nearer to them and delicately ate one.

“I guess I shouldn’t eat Cheez-Its if I want rock-hard abs like that girl,” she said, putting the box on the other side of Kyle so she couldn’t reach it.

It was stale in their house and Kyle badly wanted to open the blinds but he knew Jessica liked these Sunday mornings, lazy, dark.

“You don’t need rock-hard abs,” Kyle said, reaching his arm around her waist and pulling her tighter. “I love you.”

Kyle could see Jessica smile under her mass of curly red hair, which was snaking its way up into his face as she put her head on his shoulder. Jessica told him once that she’d fallen for him because he’d never tried to imagine what she could be like, if she were someone else.

He imagined that was probably the only reason she’d stayed.

* * * * *

.

ometimes when they’re lying in bed and Kyle is thinking of ways that it would be so easy for her to die, Jessica plops over onto her back and sighs, rubbing her eyes in her sleep a little bit, and Kyle’s stomach drops and he wishes that he didn’t even think about her dying.

Kyle gets out of bed and picks up the socks that Jessica left on the ground, going downstairs to get breakfast.  He sits on the counter and does the crossword with one hand while eating a granola bar with the other.  The counter is cold because it’s November and New Hampshire, but Kyle doesn’t mind because the bedroom was way too hot and stuffy.  He doesn’t want to go skiing today.

The house is dark and dingy.  It was built in the ‘60s and there are still some of the original carpets there, the kind that creep up into your feet and up past your ankles when you walk on them, or maybe your feet sink into them.  Either way, you shrink a little bit, and for some reason it’s always wet.  Every surface is laced with a layer of dew, at all times of the year.  Kyle reaches down from the counter and feels the wetness of the table and the wetness of the floor, his feet bare and getting wet against the cold tan kitchen tiles.

Jessica wants him to sleep with her on the kitchen floor.  She’s said this before, and he knows it, but he’s been waiting for the right moment for it to happen.

“Like in When Harry Met Sally,” she’d said, “how she says they never have sex on the kitchen floor, even though they’re able to and have no kids, because the floor tiles are so cold.  I want to do that, one day.  Like your elevator fantasy,” she winked, “my kitchen floor fantasy.”

Kyle pulls his pajama pants looser around his stomach and puts a bucket of flowers on the counter.  He picked them the day before but didn’t put them in water yet, forgot them on the counter. They’re daisies because that’s what Jessica likes and because that’s what’s left in the field outside their house, for some reason, even though it’s November.  He wants to make it special for her. The bucket is the blue one they got when they went to Hampton Beach last year, some shitty yellow handle that almost broke off right after Kyle won it at one of the boardwalk games.

She comes downstairs with her hair curly and frizzy.  He told her once that her hair looked like Robert Plant’s in the morning, but she didn’t like that, so he’d grabbed her hair and twisted it in her fingers, kissing her hard and long.

“It’s a compliment,” he’d said in between breaths, “I love your hair.”

When she comes into the kitchen, she pulls her hair back into the elastic she’s taken to keeping around her wrist while she sleeps, but she misses a strand and it stays stuck to her cheek in a frozen red curl.

Kyle puts down his granola bar and wipes a piece of chocolate off the corners of his mouth, thinks he probably should have brushed his teeth if he really wanted to make this perfect, but he wraps his arms around her waist, just a little low on her hips so he can feel the bulge of her butt underneath his fingers, and leans down to kiss her, tasting her mouth of Listerine and Chinese food from last night, but he doesn’t care, not really.

He pushes her against the counter and then thinks that this will be difficult, to get down onto the kitchen floor gracefully without dropping her, so he sort of slides her down, pushing her back against the cabinets to keep his balance, feeling the bumping of her body as they glide over the doorknobs of each cabinet.

“Ow,” she says, pulling away and rubbing her back, but he just smiles and puts his hands behind her back to cushion the cabinet doorknobs and to warm the cold, wet floor tiles.

“What is this?” she mumbles between moments, and he doesn’t think that he needs to answer because she should already know, she should know that this was coming, that he’d been planning it since she mentioned it three months and two days ago, like he plans everything, with her, because he loves her.

* * * * *

.

.
hen Kyle thinks those things about smothering Jessica with the pillow or cutting her with her own knife, he feels terrible, because he knows that he’d never do it, yet for some reason, he wonders what it would be like to watch her die.  He wonders if it would feel like he was dying, too, because that’s what it always seems like in the movies.

Jessica looks over at him driving. She smiles, her hair straightened and tamed for the day.  She squeezes his thigh and he remembers why he could never smother her with a pillow.  But he thinks of driving off the road, like in Thelma and Louise, one of many chick flicks that Jessica’s made him watch.  He wonders if she knows that these chick flicks stay with him because they’re all tragic; but nothing in their relationship is tragic, he tells himself. He knows.

“You okay?” she asks, and squeezes a little tighter.  She loves him but she shouldn’t; if she knew what he was thinking, she wouldn’t.

“Yeah,” he says, and stops at a stop sign half covered in snow.  It’s barely winter but up here there’s snow almost all the time, and he can feel the wheels trying on the ice.  He’s used to it.

Jessica’s ski gear takes up most of the backseat, but Kyle doesn’t take much with him to go skiing.  Just a hat and gloves, sometimes a helmet.  Jessica takes two pairs of ski pants and two jackets, just in case, and a hat and earmuffs and toe warmers.

She smells like the mac and cheese they had for lunch as she leans over and whispers in his ear, “I love you,” and she’s so close he can feel the moisture from her words.

“I’m thinking bad things,” he says in return, staring ahead at the windy, salt-covered road and trying not to think about what it would be like if her heat wasn’t next to him in the passenger seat.

“Stop,” she says, pulling back and squinting at him, used to him saying this, now. She knows everything.  “Just don’t think them.”

“I can’t help it.”

“You don’t actually want them though, right?” she asks.

He shakes his head.  “No,” he says.  But then that’s lying, because sometimes he does want them.  Sometimes he does want to know what it would be like to feel her loss, to feel her slipping and slipped away, just to see how people would react to him.  Sometimes he does want to see her dog get sick, just to be able to show her how much she means to him by making her feel better.  To show her how much he’d be there.  Sometimes he wants her sister to get in a car accident, so he can show up at the hospital faster than anyone else.

“Yes,” he says instead, “I don’t know.  Sometimes I do, but not really,” he says quickly.

She takes her hand from his thigh and puts it in her lap, staring at him with wet eyes.

“I don’t,” he says, “not when I really think about it.  Just when I sort of do, in the hypothetical.”  But she’s not listening because she’s heard what he said and what he’s said before, many times, now.  “I love you,” he says, softly, because that’s all that’s left, and she either believes him or she doesn’t.

“You need to stop,” she says in reply this time, her mascara running but her eyes not red, clear white.

“I know,” he says.  He tells her these things not to hurt her, but because he thinks that if she knew what was going through his mind, she wouldn’t love him back, and maybe he should tell her so that she knows everything, absolutely everything, about him.  That way she can decide for herself if she loves him, all of him, even the bad, horrible parts of him. That’s why he always tells her these things.

“It’s going to make me love you less,” she says, and he expects her to speak softly, or whisper, but she doesn’t.  She says it loudly, almost too loud for the small car, almost too loud for this road and this state and these ski mountains.

* * * * *

.

he ski path gets more crowded as Kyle tries to think of ways that he can make it up to her, because he does love her, so much that it hurts.  Kyle hates skiing.  He hates the coldness on his face and how the snow gets everywhere, inside ski boots and hats.  Jessica told him once that if he brought more gear, like she did, he’d be warmer and then maybe he’d like it more.

She’s ahead of him, and he can see her below him on the trail.  She’s beautiful.  He can’t see her face but he can see her hair, red and curly underneath her blue helmet, her blue ski pants, blue jacket.  She skis faster than some of the little kids but always lets them go first anyways, because she knows how much they love that.

Kyle tries to call to her, but she can’t hear him over the kids’ yelling and the wind on the mountain.  It’s cold and he can see all of the trees below, and almost the lodge, but not quite because it’s so far down.  There’s a string on the inside of his right glove that he can feel loosening, and he tries to pull it but it won’t come out.  He fiddles with it, twirling it around in a tiny knot inside his glove’s fingertips, back and forth, feeling the smooth strong crease of the string against his fingers.

“Jessica,” he yells again, but she still doesn’t hear him.  She waves him on, waiting for him halfway down the mountain, after the fork in the paths.  This fork is why people come to this mountain; you can ski down one way with one person and one way with the other, but all of the forks end up in the same place at the bottom of the hill.  She’s chosen the middle one, like she always does, because it’s the easiest for Kyle.

He thinks about what would happen if a snow groomer plowed into her, right in front of him, as she waved him down.

He tries not to think about what would happen, but he can’t.  He gets hot beneath his ski jacket and begins to get dizzy, fuzzy, and he knows he needs to tell her, has to tell her what he’s thinking because what if he doesn’t tell her, and then she feels the same about him, but if he chooses to tell her, and after hearing, she feels differently?  It’s not fair to her to have to love most of him and not know the other horrible parts of him, those thoughts that come into his head and he can’t seem to shake.

Jessica’s hat is a lighter blue than her ski coat, and she stands out against the white of the mountain and the myriad of red and black ski coats darting past her.  She tilts her head a little bit, gesturing harder this time, come down, I’m waiting.

All he can picture is her own scene from Final Destination, or Thelma and Louise, or The Shining, Jessica dying in a million different ways right in front of him on the ski slope, trapped in coldness and ski gear and snow, wet and freezing beneath his fingers.

* * * * *

Alessandra Siraco recently graduated Trinity College and is currently an M.F.A. student at Emerson College.  She is working on her writing while employed in the insurance industry.  She most enjoys writing short stories, reading anything, shopping, and drinking coffee.  Alessandra is from Boston and, although she doesn’t sport a Boston accent, she loves everything about the city. 

Valentine’s Day Potpourri: St. Valentine’s Day

I drag him to La Vie en Rose.
talk to him about it on the phone,
say,
you can pick your Valentine.
I am purring.
We park the car,
kids at home,
freezing night,
our breath like steam.
I clutch his arm
and we stamp across the lot
in frigid wind.
I say,
wickedly,
choose anything.
But
as we approach the door
he points to a window poster,
a young and lovely
model clad in lingerie extraordinaire
and says, miserably,
can you look like her?
Christmas Day (following year)

No gift at all.
Yesterday

He asks me,
what went wrong?
Today

I wonder,
what took me so fucking long?

~

For years, in our store, I was astounded by how many Valentines we sold. Cards and gifts for children and friends! I can say with certainty I never received a Valentine from any of my relatives.

For a laugh one year I sent all my girlfriends risqué cards signed, “from your secret admirer”. And I always gave my own children Valentines: chocolates and cards. I helped them write Valentines for each child in their class. When they came home from school I went through their decorated paper bags and asked them about the cards they received.

If anyone knew me, they would know this, of all days, Valentine’s is the day to tell me you love me.

When we were reconciling, years ago, Mark told me our sex life would have to improve. I was excited. I could change. Iknew it – inside I was a passionate and insatiable creature. I loved to be loved!

But our sex life didn’t transform, and Mark hung onto some ideal in his head. After all those years he didn’t even know me.

Fletcher and I meanwhile are cumming online. He types words which send me, and I type words that make him stagger. We are so hot for each other my mouse almost melts.

I want to keep this passion, this shared secret, this delight and fun. Sometimes I put my head down on my desk and laugh.

This life I am living is extraordinary: looking back into my despair, looking forward into the expanse, breathing into the agitation of the present.

Excerpt from Chatterbox, by Sandy Day

The Seemingly Un-ending Machines III

.

here birds once nested is now sterile;
we were singing madrigals
soft animal lines in the movie of a cave
we must not forget.

In the years after college
a child for each year over the picket fence
that you should call your Senator to fix
all the exits of things and those you were.

You’re in chinos mingling with
lingering purple-lit camcorders
a cell phone asks if I’m aware of the fact
the world  will end
mumbling and screeching brakes
they say in …
roughly twenty years will be it

Well aren’t we all actually quite
well you say you thought you were alone;
that guy thought he was a regal queen
a kind of ga ga go-go girl.

In the never-ending leaf blowing landscapers
I was wondering what ever became of us
you so in love with your own purposes
sitting at the Apple observing an
endless stream of endless ants on the sill
marching toward a deadly little house.

* * * * *

Joan Payne Kincaid has published a collection of work entitled Greatest Hits with Pudding House Publications. She has also published a book with Wayne Hogan entitled The Umbrella Poems in which we both contributed drawings of some of our poems.  She has also published a collection of haiku entitled Snapshoots on the web at <TMPoetry.com>. Her work has been published in Hawaii Review, Limestone Poetry Review, Licking River Review, Iodine, Hampden,Sydney Poetry Review, Main Street Rag, Santa Clara Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, South Central Review, The South Carolina Review,  Cross Currents, Georgetown Review, Edgz, 88,  Oyez, Modern Haiku, Iconoclast, Lynx Eye, Yalobusha Review, Mother Earth Journal, Tule Review, The Quarterly, Cairn, among others. Her contributions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

A Disastrous Marriage

.
t rained so hard, the wicker baskets were overflowing.
Water poured through the ceiling, carrying nails, unrecognizable timbers, and sloppy pink insulation. It was a relief to go outside.

“This isn’t as bad as the time our house burned down in the middle of Death Valley,” said Herbert, standing under the useless awning.

“Why?” I shouted, skeptically, through the pounding roar.

He pulled something out of his pocket. “Because I’ve salvaged this water purifier. We won’t go thirsty!”

I waded to his corner and threw my arms around him. Our fingertips were beyond pruny. Our clothes had long passed the spongy stage, and were now brittle.

I felt his body’s warmth, hale against the elements.

We met when I was holding an enormous umbrella high over my head, across the street from the Massachusetts State House, waiting for all the brave souls who’d signed up for the walking tour. At least one of them should wade through the mess, for the sake of the $20.

“Hi, is this the tour? I wasn’t sure where the State House was.”

“Because of the rain?” I asked.

“Because I’m not from here. I work here four days and fly back to Idaho for the weekends.” He took off his glasses to wipe them down. Through the lowered lashes, I saw our two life paths merge.

“I don’t think anyone else is coming,” I said. “Would you like to get coffee and wait this out?”

I was married to someone else, and so was Herbert. When I told my then-husband that it was over, he set the house on fire. So the Death Valley incident wasn’t my first house fire since I’d known Herbert.

“This isn’t as bad as when Grabble burned the house down, either,” I said.

“No?”

“It was much worse, because I was in Boston and you were away in Idaho.” Our slippery fingers intertwined.

We stepped into the rowboat. Herbert took the oars and I used a tin pail to keep the craft afloat under the cascade.

After the Death Valley fiasco, I got an internship with a Hollywood studio and Herbert managed the grocery store. One day, when I was done shredding unsolicited scripts, I biked to the store to get some kisses, but the Earth opened up underneath me. I halted, my front wheel spinning over the abyss. Across the rift, cars from the lot tumbled ceaselessly downward, and the store’s automatic doors opened and shut over darkness. Herbert waved to me from just beyond the glass.

“Sweet love!” I called.

“Hey darlin’!” he replied when the door opened. The next go around, he said, “The radio’s saying it was 8.5, but this looks bigger than that to me!”

There was nothing else to do: I biked home to find some books fallen off the shelves. I ate ice cream because the power was out and waited for Herbert to come home. It took five days before someone finished a bridge across one of the gaps and Herbert crossed back into my arms.

We vowed never to work in different buildings again.

We progressed down the river-like street past rooftops that appeared to be sinking. My shoulders developed a grinding pain, as if they were on fire. I couldn’t stand the thought that Herbert might feel the same pain, so I set my jaw against it, abandoned the bailout and sat on the bench next to him.

“If I stop rowing, my love,” he said, “it will be too hard to start again.”

I put my hands over his on the oars. I loved the way the incessant droplets scuttled straight down his nose and lingered at the tip for a full second before releasing their grip.

“You know what this is worse than?” I asked into his ear. “The time we walked back to Boston.”

It had been on TV, the crazy couple who survived the quake and took off in a wagon.

We longed to return to the city where we’d met, but airline seats weren’t to be had for love or money. In the rubble, we found a rusty red Radio Flyer, piled some necessities in it, and started walking northeast. We each carried an umbrella to avoid outright sunstroke. Sometimes, one of us would sit in the wagon and rest while the other pulled. We survived 200-mile-per-hour winds in Nebraska by hunkering down in an old barn. The roof blew off, and it was hard to breathe the rushing air, but then it was over and we got back up. We forded the Mississippi on a barge. Sometimes, we used gravity to our advantage. We both sat in the wagon through most of Pennsylvania, coasting down the Poconos.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you help each other!” I said hoping Herbert would let me relieve his oar duty. “We made it all the way to Boston, even though we destroyed our knees!”

“None of that matters when you’re so much in love,” Herbert replied. He looked at me through those wet, streaked lenses. Our lips touched, slimy and chapped at all once. It was the best feeling in the world.

We barely had time to grab each other’s hands when the flash flood hit. We held on tight, but nature always wins.

In the hospital bed next to mine, Herbert was saying, “Nothing’s really gone right since we met, has it, sweetheart?”

“But we’re together!” I said, blowing kisses as best I could through all the tubes. “How can it be wrong?”

A friend in L. A. pulled some strings, and my old studio, just recovering from the quake, asked me to write a script about the fascinating story of Herbert and me and our true love. I tried, but it was impossible. There’s just no drama.

* * * * *

Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss is a fiction editor at Fireship Press in Tucson, Arizona. She has published fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in numerous venues and is working on a novel set in medieval Spain. Get updates on her writing at her blog: jessicaknauss.blogspot.com. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Humpty Dumpty: Sunday


text. I have made a mistake.
I text. Talk to me. I text some more. I text until I realize you are not responding.

I tell Murdock I have to go. I tell him I should have left two hours ago. I tell Murdock that I fucked up again. I am slurring everything I am saying. I see Murdock’s mouth moving in response to what I am saying, but I cannot hear him. Finally, he hugs me and screams into my ear that he’ll see me later. He says that he’s happy things are over. I ask him how he knows.

I see a man Murdock introduced me to last week. Murdock is behind me as I am walking toward the door. The music is loud, even though I am now walking through the dining room and there is no music playing. I think the room has been painted since I got there. I ask Murdock if his friend is single. Murdock says that the man’s partner is sitting beside him. I say, OK. I stop by the man, and I can’t even tell if he is cute or old or even looking at me, and I grab his face and I kiss him. I kiss him with tongue and I look up and open my eyes and Murdock’s mouth is open and I realize what I’m doing and I stop kissing this man with tongue and the man looks at me and says wow and I say thank you and I tell Murdock I have to go and I leave.

I walk to my car and I try calling and you don’t pick up and I realize I can’t remember leaving the bar. I get to my car in what feels like record time, and I open the car door, and I sit inside and I think I don’t feel well, but I want to go home and get on the couch and fall asleep and in the morning, I think, everything will fix itself. I turn on the car and I drive.

I realize about 10 minutes into the drive, when I’m in a tunnel, that I don’t remember entering the tunnel. I feel that I’m too close on the right and I overcorrect and end up in the lane beside me. I realize I could have hit someone. I realize I shouldn’t be driving.

I text some more. You finally respond.

I can’t deal with mind games. I am done. Thank you for letting me see Ave one last time. Goodbye Rabbit. I mean it fully this time. Please leave me alone. You will not make me cry again.

I text and I know I am texting but I do not know what I am saying and I do not know how to stop texting. I feel like the phone is the only thing keeping me together.

Goodbye. Do not call me again. Do not text. You need to stay away for your health and for mine. I seriously have a restraining order on you, and if you continue to contact me, I will be forced to use it.

You send me the picture of the extended restraining order.

Leave me alone. Really.

I feel my head throb each time I read the words, and I stop understanding the words, and I stop understanding English.

I get home and I go upstairs and I am loud coming in the door and I wake up Holly and she asks me what’s wrong and if I’m safe. And I am crying and I hand her my phone and I say this is what I keep losing. Read. And she reads some of our texts and she gets to the picture of the extended restraining order and she says, what the fuck, Will. Why would you want to be with him? I thought you said you hadn’t seen him this week.

And I am crying and I say I lied and that I had seen you and that we were back together and now we aren’t and why do I keep fucking this up and she says that you are an addict and you act like an addict and there is no rationalizing how an addict thinks and acts and I am crying and she asks how much I’ve had to drink and I tell her I don’t think I had finished one martini. She says I’m acting like I’ve had much more than that.

I am still crying, and I think she should focus on me. I think she should listen to me and help me. I think she is my wife and I am in pain and where is her commitment to for better or worse now. I tell her I am upset and she doesn’t seem to care.

She says, this is not my problem. This is not my relationship. You keep doing this to yourself. What do you want me to do about it?

I can make life hard, I say. I will take Avery away. If you want a bitter custody battle, I will give you a bitter custody battle.

Holly laughs and tells me to go ahead and try, and she disengages. She doesn’t talk to me again. I leave the loft and I go to Walgreens and I buy a Gatorade. I come home and I pass out.

I wake around 4 a.m. and I am more myself, though my head and stomach hurt. I don’t remember getting home. I don’t remember how I got home. I look at my phone and I see your last texts. I re-read our conversation from the first text to the end of the messages, and I start to cry again and I think, I keep fucking up. I keep fucking up. I keep fucking up. I feel like throwing up.

I send you my final text. I tell you I will cancel your meetings with the people at my job. I tell you I’m glad you have your best friend in your life. I tell you to ignore the invitation to Avery’s third birthday; I put it in the mail that morning, so I am sorry.

I press send.

I turn off my phone.

I hope you believe me.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Something That Was Never Ours

The man had on a collared green shirt, leaning
elbows-down upon the wooden porch
rail when you first ran into him. His son,
a balded little bean, had eyes that shone
like bottle glass, like kelp beneath the water,
like that shirt.

You didn’t know he had a son. Not then.

You knew he had a tired smile, sturdy
shoulders, soft eyes. And then you knew the feel
of his back beneath your palm as you walked past,
bestowing half a second of your hand
to rally him to join you with the others,
to depart the porch for wider plains.

Instead he stood there scrambling, quietly,
to make a record of your finger prints,
prolong their indentations in his skin,
delay their fading into songs whose notes
you can’t dredge up but which have settled in
you somewhere, you can tell, because you feel
that same old pull within your abdomen,
the spot where they once burrowed when they played.

You both made sure to walk a line.
To always thread
your needle back around the eyehole
from the distant land of Wrong,
in all its sweetness and its song,
back through to Right, or Righteousness—
whatever name they gave the ground
that itched the bottoms of your feet,
that made your bones throb
when you sat too still upon return.
You never lingered long in Wrong.

Unless to bask within each other, side-
by-side and silently, is wrong. If wrong
is measuring each day by the particulars
of one another. Aching for each other
without words.

He claimed a famous tune, recorded years

ago, was his creation, that he wrote
the words about his love for you.
You knew you’d hear it differently
from that point on.

Though looking back, you know
he couldn’t possibly have penned it years
before he knew you. Looking back, the strange,
slow warbling—like an aging man would sing
as day began to drain behind his bloodshot eyes—
could not have been a love song. But it didn’t
matter to you then. Nor did all
the other details that began to fall
in odd formations, all the little rips
in what seemed real.

When finally you’re forced apart, when all
the careful calculations that allowed
you both to have each other in a way
that couldn’t be contested but within
the confines of your heart are all contested
ultimately, by that woman he
could never love, or leave, you’re left alone
to say whatever words you think could bridge
the space of years to come.

He kisses you atop your head—
avoiding every other surface—and you reach
your hand for his, finding pouring rain
and glass separating you.
Finding your palm pressed to the glass
of the window pane above your bed.
Finding yourself awake.

We encounter sudden, unexpected deaths
in dreams much as we do in waking life:
we go about our days without a premonition,
thinking of ourselves in present tense,
as figures bloomed in oils upon a canvas
who will always sit upon that space once dried,
or beams that form the buttress of a building,
crucial to its standing, never rotting
or removed on second thought by its designer.

But when we find ourselves, or those among us,
junked or turpentined without a warning,

we then scramble, quietly, to make a record
of our mother’s laugh—like simmering
molasses, rolling slowly to a boil, a burst—
a photograph of how the cigarette hung
at exactly ninety-three degrees
from the edge of our old roommate’s mouth,
an imprint of the way Fernando’s fur felt
as it ran in orange rivulets between our fingers.

If we can pull them out and hear them,
see them, feel them as we did the day
we molded them, then we don’t have to think
or speak of them in past tense yet.
They aren’t written as addendums to
our prologues, the events that pass off-stage,
unseen, before the curtain rises on
the actors, who must now play out the scenes
to come as if they’re all that’s real. They are.

So we return to sleep.

We fool ourselves to thinking that we’d hear
our mom or roommate’s voices if we called
them (after all, the world looks just the same
today as it had always looked when this were true),

convince ourselves the cat is just beyond
our view, between the bushes and the fence
where he can leisurely dissect his kill
without the prying eyes of hawks, or humans,

hum that warbly tune as if we weren’t
forgetting how it went. As if, because
we know we’re dreaming, we can conjure something
that we haven’t let ourselves believe was never ours.

And then we wake, because we always do.

The song becomes the rain that splatters
on the outer layer of storm window,
the radio alarm that sounds at seven-thirty.
The face we held to ours so short a time
ago, the eyes, the nose, the patchy
beard, that shirt,
become a blur of imprecision,
a distorted mass of colored lines.

The pulsing that we knew meant blood
in veins, a heart that pushed and pulled
it through, and beat for us,
fades out, becomes the beating
of the heart that lies beside us,
tangled in the blue
of blankets.

* * * * *

Shenan Hahn is a poet living and working in the Washington, DC area.She has been writing poetry for over 10 years, and graduated in 2010 with her Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her work has most recently appeared in journals such as Slow Trains, PigeonBike, and Lines + Stars.  

Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Humpty Dumpty: Saturday

.
 walk with Avery around the Charles River. After, while we are eating breakfast, you text.

Morning. I still love you. We’re still us. I am off to grab brunch with a friend. How’s little rabbit?

We’re good. We finished our walk. He’s watching Avatar. And I’m watching something else. I still love you and you should know, I don’t want to wait for physical/emotional intimacy with you.

I am sure we can arrange that. I will text you later after lunch.

I love you, too. My life would suck without you.

Muah!

My mother calls, and I tell her you and I have gotten back together, or are on our way to getting back together, or are something undefined. She asks me if I’m happy. I tell her I am. She asks me how Holly feels about it, and I tell her that I haven’t told Holly yet. She cautions me against getting too involved with you without letting Holly know. Don’t make the same mistakes, she says. Protect your heart. You don’t want to end up where you were three weeks ago. I tell her I know what I’m doing. I tell her I’m done making those mistakes. He knows everything, I say, and he still loves me. I love him, mom, I say. You’ll have to meet him when you’re here. She’s coming for Avery’s birthday in a couple of weeks. She says she would like to meet you. I say I think he will like meeting you, too.

I address invitations for Avery’s third birthday party. I find a card I think you will like, and I write in it. The card is more than an invitation to Avery’s birthday; the card is my response to your 3 a.m. comments. The card is hope.

I think you will think that Avery’s third birthday is the first of his birthdays you will celebrate. I think you will spoil him, and that you’ve already started thinking about what to buy him. I think Avery’s third birthday will be when you spend any amount of time with Holly.

I think she will not be happy.

I think I don’t care that she will not be happy.

Holly comes home from work, and she asks me if I’ve thought about our divorce. She asks me if I’ve started packing. She asks me if I understand that all of this is happening.

I tell her I understand. I’ll be fine, I say.

Have you thought about custody arrangements?, she asks.

I tell her I need to think about the best days and nights for me.

You know, I say, I used to think that you would end up OK about my relationship with him and since you love being pregnant, you would have offered to carry his child. You would have thought having children who were at least half siblings made more sense than him having a child with someone else. I thought that he and I would have the same tie to you, and the children would be related, and we could keep them all on the same custody arrangement.

And she looks at me and she tilts her head and she says, maybe I would have done that, but there’s no point in talking about it since it will never happen.

Holly and I watch another movie. Avery cooperates. I am meeting Murdock and Sandro at a bar, and then we’ve talked about going dancing. Before I leave the loft, I dig out the key you had given me, and the key to the outside doors of your apartment, from the box in which I had packed them, and I string each around a chain and I put the chain around my neck. The keys feel heavy around my neck, but the heaviness feels somehow right.

I don’t tell Holly what time I will be home. I do not know what time I will be home.

You have not texted me since this morning. I do not text you. You are mine. I am yours. You said so. My thoughts race ahead to where we will be in 10 days when I am living in my own apartment. I cannot keep up with my thoughts. I feel like I need to stop, but I do not know how to stop.

I drive to where you work. I consider texting you and saying I’m outside. I consider asking you to come out and say hi. I consider asking if you can take a break. Instead, I take some pens and markers out of my car and I go to a bench and I write what I think will be the message that we’ll remember as the proposal that stuck.

I think that we’ve done the difficult. We’ve moved past what happened. The impossible, the forging of a life, will take some time. But if you ask me to move mountains, or if you ask me to walk through fire, or even if you ask me to hold up the sky, I would, gladly.

At the bar, Murdock hugs me, as does Sandro. They say I look better than I did last week. I say the gym and yoga are starting to pay off.

Have you met a new man?, Murdock asks.

No, I say, but I’ve reconnected with RODA.

He took out a restraining order against you, Murdock says. What are you doing? I don’t even know what to say to you.

I love him, I say. I don’t know what else to do but forgive him and trust that we will end up where we are meant to end up.

I order a drink, even though I had decided not to drink. I send you a picture of the drink.

Don’t drink too much.

But I want to enjoy being a single gay man as long as possible.

Murdock and Sandro say they’re going out to smoke a cigarette. I tell them I am going to the bathroom. Inside a stall, I take a picture of the keys around my neck, and I send the picture to you.

I get back to the table first. I drink more of my drink. The music seems louder, and I am starting to sweat. I unbutton the top two buttons on my shirt.

You’re taken, but flirt and have fun.

Maybe I’m taken. You have not asked me to date it out or to be in a monotonous relationship.

I am having trouble feeling my fingers. I cannot type the word monogamous. I think my not being able to type the word monogamous should be funny, but I cannot laugh. I try twice to retype the word and each time I type something different.

Over dinner tomorrow.

I do not respond.

?

Murdock orders another drink. I have only had half of mine. I say I’m fine. I say I’m not feeling well. Sandro goes outside to smoke a cigarette. I ask Murdock if we can go into the back because I want to walk around. I know I’m being passive aggressive. You do not communicate with me when you’re out with your friends. Why should I communicate with you? I am not normally like this. I have craved your words and your touch and you’re giving me your words and promising me your touch and why am I acting like this, and why can I not stop acting like this?

Are we having dinner?

Murdock and I have wandered into a different room. The room is dark, so I assume I am sexy because everyone looks good in the dark. I still wish I had stayed home, and I’m starting to think the drink was a bad idea because I have a headache and I think that I’ve become a lightweight and I wonder how that happened.

I was hoping to make out with a Welshman tonight, but they seem to be in short supply, so a Brazilian may have to do.

Loving someone shouldn’t be so hard, I think. We shouldn’t be so hard. Why are we so hard? Why do I feel like my life led me to you, and the you my life led me to doesn’t really exist?

I feel like the room is spinning. I tell Murdock I need to sit down. I hate that you work Saturday nights. I want a date night. I want Saturday nights and Saturday days and Sundays. I want it all. I want the ring, too, I want to tell you. I want the marriage. I want the moving in and the engagement and the commitment. I hold my hand carefully, so I can get these next words just right:

You know, I feel everything in my life has led me to you. And that’s not just martini talking. My friends aren’t so sure about you, but I’ve never wavered in my idea of what our life could be. I love you. It’s not something I can turn off. I’ve tried. You’re inside me and I see such a brilliant future with you. The ring is being sized but I can’t imagine anything better than being taken by you. You are my heart. You are my future. I think you should plan to kiss me tonight, but that’s just me.

I put my phone back in my pocket. Murdock is talking to me, but it sounds like he is talking through a tunnel. I shake my head a little to clear my ears. I tell him that I know you want to kiss me, but that you’re at work. After, I say. He’ll meet me after. I know he’ll meet me after.

Sorry, at work. I am taking my last 15 now.

You get off soon, though.

I am not using full words. I am typing in letters. I do not want to be typing. I want to be home. I do not feel like I can drive. I never can not drive. I’m the best drunk driver ever. I’m just drinking with my friend.

So I don’t know these friends, right? I have plans tonight with my best friend. He’s got my TV from our other friend and is going to help me set up the living room and my Wii.

He’s getting high tonight, I say to Murdock and Sandro. His best friend is coming over to set up his Wii. He’s not picking me.

How did this happen again? How did I get here? I tell them that you need to set up your Wii. I can’t keep doing this, I say. And I put the phone on the table, and by the light of a fake candle, I type the only thing I can think to type.

That’s fine. Have fun. Bye.

Something isn’t right. I need you tonight. I can’t feel my hands. I can’t feel my heart. The room continues to spin and I am sweating.

I thought you had asked me to go out to dinner with you when we were out and about with Ave? OK. I guess we’re done talking. I still have 10 minutes of my 15 and I took it so I could answer you. I just can’t text when I’m sitting at the front desk because there’s a camera on me recording at all times.

I show the text to Murdock and Sandro. He’s not picking you, Murdock says. He will never pick you, Sandro says. I feel like they’re a fucking Greek chorus. You have your own Greek chorus. Your best friend. Your roommate. I know both will stop at nothing to make sure our relationship ends. They will say whatever they need to say. They’re jealous of me. They’re jealous of us. You know that. You told me so. Why would you listen to them? How could you let them talk about me the way they did the night you snorted pills? How could you have talked about me the way you did the night you snorted pills? How could you have lied to me about snorting pills? How could you tell me last night that you want to marry me and tonight tell me that setting up your Wii is more important?

I know I’m the guy who has to decide if he’s going to look back or not. If I look back, I know I will turn into a pillar of salt. Or is that some other story. It’s not a myth. It’s from the Bible. Lot and his wife. What myth am I thinking about? Persephone. Hades. She has to live six months out of the year in Hell. Icarus. His melted wings. He falls and his father is helpless. Falling. I couldn’t even fall right. I should have fallen. I am falling. I have fallen in love with a man who will never love me the way I want him to love me. I have fallen in love with a man who will never love me the way I deserve to be loved. Or maybe I have fallen in love with a man who will never love himself the way he should. But who am I to decide how anyone should be loved? I am no one. I am dizzy. I do not want to be sitting, but I don’t feel I can stand. What the fuck is happening to me? I ask Murdock how much I’ve had to drink. He points to my one drink and says I haven’t even finished it. I say I’m not feeling well. I say I can’t do this. I say I love you but I can’t keep doing this. It’s insanity, I say, and they don’t know what I mean, but I know they can understand.

It’s fine. Have a good night, D. I’m done. I think my children and I are going to pass on a relationship with you. But I wish you nothing but the best. It’s a Wii. I’m a person. As much as I love you and as much as I think it, I deserve more. And I will find it.

You respond 15 minutes later.

I wish you wonder. Goodbye.

I read your text message. The letters of your first name are buried inside of the word wonder. Why didn’t we see this before?

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Humpty Dumpty: Friday

.
wake early on Friday.
I feel alive. You love me. You said so without my saying it first. You called me to tell you loved me. If I recognize that my thoughts have begun racing, I do not make note of it. I make you a CD. I haven’t made you on in a while. I still think that these CDs we make are as close to our hearts as we can give each other.

I call the therapist that Erin referred me to. Judi answers on the fourth ring. She sounds rushed. She says that she can’t see me for an initial session until two Fridays from now. Will you be OK until then?, she asks. I tell her I’ll be fine.

I bring the CD to the park near where you work, and I tape it to the new bench I wrote the Amanda Palmer lyric on two days earlier.

I’ve left you a pick-me-up.

A pick-me-up?

Something to remind you to have chaste, non-flirty fun at your birthday event and to encourage you to find rabbit time this weekend.

 OK.

I tell Eryn, my best friend at work, that you and I are talking, and that you have told me you love me.

What does Holly think?

I haven’t told her.

You’re not thinking, Will, she says.

I tell Eryn that I want to try. No more lies, I say. He knows everything, and he still loves me. I think we can get past everything.

He’s still a drug addict, she says.

I know, I say. I think he will change, I say.

You can’t change someone in order to make a relationship work. You’re only fooling yourself if you think you can do that. He’s an addict. He will always be an addict. Do you want an addict raising Avery and Aurora?

I love him, I say.

Listen to yourself. There are other men in the world you can love, she says. You can do better than a drug addict. You deserve better than a drug addict. The fact that you even have to say he’s going to have to stop using drugs in order for your relationship to work is ridiculous. He’s a drug addict. And she says it loudly, and I know she’s right. I know you’re a drug addict, and I doubt you will ever change, but I love you and I think you’re meant for me and I think you’re worth the risk. I think we’re worth the risk.

I go online to Amazon and I find a sailboat charm. The charm is not expensive, and there is enough room on it to engrave our initials. I am starting to feel manic. I know I am starting to feel manic.

I finish the day at work, and I go home. I decide I can’t text you again. I do not want you thinking I’m checking up on your or that I’m not OK with you having a life outside of me. I’m OK with it because I’m no longer a habit. You have picked me, even if we’re not officially back together. You said it yourself. No title, no Facebook status, nothing changes who we are when we’re together. Put us together; see how you feel. You said it.

Holly and I watch Valentine’s Day. At the end of the movie, several couples realize the inherent truth in the idea of for better and for worse. Things break, but love can put everything together again, or so I tell myself. I text you video clips from the film.

I wake up at 3 a.m. My body remembers 3 a.m. You have not responded to the video clips.

Are you OK?

I love you, and I’m OK.

I sit up and pull the blanket tighter around me.

I know you’re it. My it. Us. You, me, Holly, Avery, and Aurora. We can and will get there.

Really?

Yes.

Because I don’t want to be crying for no reason.

I’m yours. You’re mine, rabbit. Cry. I love you.

I love you too. That’s the first time you’ve typed Aurora’s name.

I suppose that’s very true.

It is.

There’s a lot to work out. But, I feel OK about a lot more now. Night all of my rabbits.

I know there’s still work to do. I’ve just worried that when one of us dated/slept with someone, we’d have to change, and I wasn’t convinced we’d get it back. I love you, too.

It never went away. You already know that.

Feelings aren’t logical.

And what is logic?

Logic is what you said: Repeating past mistakes expecting different results. Insanity.

I don’t know how this plays out. You finish what you have to.

And I think, what if our finish line is actually 57 years from now. And I’m still crying, and I want to ask you if I can come over and hold you and inhale and see if you smell like yourself again.

I want you to know it’s there. But, did you not know that the other night?

I know that when we’re together, we interact as a couple in love, and when we’re with Avery, we interact like a family.

We limit our reactions to each other. Aside from that – I need sleep.

We don’t need words to communicate. Avery wants you to push and you’re holding a bag and without saying anything I let go of the stroller and you hand me the bag and you start to push and it all happens seamlessly.

Love.

Love. I will see you when I see you.

I noticed it too at the same time. Sleep. Night.

Dream.

Wow.

Wow?

I haven’t in?

Maybe now.

Let’s hope I do.

Let’s hope.

You owe me a ring. I want/need to be tied to you in that sense. Not sure about the timing. Just a side thought.

I may have bought you a boat of sorts, I text. But I’m wearing it first.

I want to write the word MARRY on the palm of one hand and the word ME on the palm of my other hand, drive to your apartment, call you when I am downstairs, and ask you to come down for a minute. I would be on one knee, and you would be standing there, and I would draw the W ring on your left ring finger and I would hold up my hands. I think you would say yes because I would be using both hands to propose.

Sail away, sail away, sail away. You’re my guitar hero. Also, Holly and I get coffee together without you. Decaf.

To bond and begin plotting to overthrow me. I’m sure that will be fine.

No, we clearly both love you.

It will be a torch passing. Here’s what I’ve learned in 12 years; good luck figuring out the rest.

You probably can’t even comprehend.

Maybe not. If you want it, then we’ll figure it out.

I meant that we both still love you.

You’re my number one best decision for me and my kids.

Night, my rabbit.

Night and really just a PS: You haven’t smelled like you when we’ve hugged. Or maybe I wasn’t close enough to inhale. I will next time.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.

Humpty Dumpty: Thursday

For the previous entries in Will Henderson’s Humpty Dumpty series, click here.

I ask someone in the human resources departmentwhere I work to help you. I don’t want you to work with me, but I think they may be able to offer you pointers on finding a different human resources job.

You are pleased with, maybe even excited by, my idea. You ask me to set up the appointment for a Thursday if possible. I ask you if doing all of this for you is OK. You say you appreciate it and that you don’t know what you’d do if I wasn’t in your life.

It is your day off. On other Thursdays, I would come to you at lunch and we would make love. I miss Thursdays.

Have a healthy and productive day.

 Thanks!

Welcome.

You send me a picture of some tools. I recognize nothing in the picture. You tell me that the Allen wrenches are not there. You send a second picture of new coffee mugs.

Did the clover mug make it home safely?

Yes.

 We reiterate our plan to continue stealing them.

After yoga on Wednesdays.

You text a picture of a bag of coffee.

Do you remember where or when I may have bought Yukon Blend?

I think at the Starbucks at Cambridgeside a few weeks ago when you bought a lot of mugs and I bought the computer mouse.

We stop talking for a while. I want to ask you to go see a movie. I want to ask you to do something normal and fun and date-like, but I don’t want you to think I want a date. I don’t want to push you faster than you’re willing to go. Still, I decide to ask.

You probably have plans, but do you want to see a movie tomorrow night? No biggie if you can’t, but I feel like seeing a movie.

Friday I have a birthday event to go to, otherwise I would.

No biggie.

Sorry rabbit. You were about one hour late as I just got the Facebook invite.

It’s OK. I didn’t want you to think it was a date so I wasn’t going to ask, but then thought the worst thing you would say is no.

 You reply with a smile. I get the confirmation about Thursday and the times and I tell you.

Thanks rabbit.

I meet with my realtor. She takes me to two apartments; one is perfect. The apartment is the first floor of a house. The landlord and his family live upstairs. I fall in love with the apartment before I even see inside. I like the idea of living in a house. I like the idea of living in a house with a huge backyard for Avery. The landlord has two children, both older than Avery, which means any noise Avery makes will be understood.

I give my realtor a check for the deposit. I haven’t rented a home on my own in 11 years.

I just rented an apartment. Or mostly. They need to approve me but that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m a little sad. I may have cried driving back to work.

Are you OK?

I will be. Thanks for asking. I’ll have a library and the kids will have a big yard and there’s tons of storage. The shower is small so I’ll have to be careful who I invite into it. And it’s cute and has character so it won’t take much to make it home.

I send you the photos of the apartment I took.

Very cute.

You send me a picture you took on Newbury Street of an Eiffel Tower that stands in front of a store.

I’ve seen that.

I figured you had. Just sharing. By the way, the last video I sent you was not a fuck you video. I had no idea about anything at that point. It was just a random D video.

I didn’t take it as a fuck-you video until afterward.

Well, it wasn’t meant like that at any point. I was just showering, so it occurred to me that I meant to tell you that all along.

I deleted it. I don’t have any of it anymore. But thank you for telling me. It’s OK. You had a list of how you could be mean and hateful and it was like you ticked them all off. I know it came from hurt and betrayal. It’s not who you are.

Nothing I did ever was with the intent to hurt you. It was to protect myself.

You still are. Protecting yourself. You should. I want to protect you too.

I operate as logically as I can. It’s my nature. Love doesn’t understand logic. They are not friends. I am still protecting myself. You promised to protect me and you unintentionally hurt me. I am doing the best I can to accommodate both logic and love.

I know. I would be OK if we were just friends. Or acquaintances. Random texts. Just knowing you’re OK is enough. I know you love me. You’re doing fine. We just have shorthand, and it’s easy, and I don’t have anything to compare it to.

Right now, I have friendship to offer you. I know that we have the essence of us still, and that may never go away, even as friends.

I know.

I know we can succeed at a friendship. I don’t want to lose you.

 There’s a chance this is it. There’s a chance we can be more again. There will be work, and who can say.

You and I are both making a lot of changes right now. Our friendship and support for each other is the part of our relationship that we need now. We don’t need fights or anything else right now; this is logical.

I know. I’m not sure I have fight in me. Not anymore.

You’re not losing me and I’m not losing you. We win.

We’re losing us for now and we in a union were pretty great. I guess I’m afraid if we make such great friends you’ll see no reason to take that step forward again.

We’re still us, Will. No words or titles or Facebook status changes that. Proof: Stand next to me and see how you feel. There’s no loss of connection there. But, that doesn’t mean that rushing back in is the right thing. If we can be friends and eventually best friends, then I think that’s where the payoff is. It will be a slow process. But when we get there, it will be seamless just as it has always been.

I know. Does it make sense to say I’ve felt halved since – there’s this myth that once we were all two souls connected and a god got angry and ripped everyone apart and we’ve spent eternity looking for our soul twin. I didn’t know how to handle everything I felt.

It doesn’t. I’ve felt the same way. My immediate instinct is to be with you again. But, past actions are indicators of future behavior. I need to look at the past and see a positive future. A solid friendship with you over time is the answer to that.

I do not tell you that I don’t believe in small breaks. A break is a break; small ones widen over time. So I agree with you, even though I know what was broken will not be fixed by time or friendship. Two halves do not make a whole when it comes to a healthy relationship; it takes two wholes. The ground beneath us is gone. We are falling. I know we are falling. I don’t want to know we are falling. I want to land. You were my home once, I think. You were wonderland.

I know. Was it this way when your other relationships ended? I think they were always just done, right? Your feelings ebbed and you moved on. And I’m not sure your logic in past indicating future holds. I think the reasons for my past actions don’t exist anymore. Like you said, the future that past was leading to is gone.

I just try not to repeat things that don’t work expecting a different result: Insanity.

That’s like saying you’re on your way to crystal again because you upped your drug intake that one time.

Well, Will, anything is possible. That was a risk I took.

The guy you dated with the other life is gone. He fell apart. There is no other life anymore. There is no self-hate. I don’t know how to explain it without seeming like I’m begging, which is not what I’m doing. You’re worth my patience, D. You always have been.

And you’re a new Will. Hello. Would you like to be friends? I think I’d like to get to know you.

Yes. Friend it out.

OK.

But don’t be surprised if one day we’re in matching suits and you have the W ring and I have whatever ring the key melts down to and I tell you I told you so.

I love to be proved wrong.

You don’t, but that’s OK. I will still try.

I am going to the RMV to get a license. I’ll talk to you later.

Go with the wind, Icarus. I love you and believe in you.

I love you, too. Or just love. Love.

I know. Love. I hear you sometimes just sleep and cuddle with friends. I’m going to hold you to it.

You send back a smile. Who knew that I would be able to use the fact that you and your best friend slept together as friends in my favor. Too bad you’re not ready for Avery. We’re going to the Charles River and maybe we’ll steal a Starbucks mug after. You told me you couldn’t handle a Will speech because I could sell you a boat. Well, I’ll be your boat. I’ll wear your boat. In my head, wearing a boat on a chain around my neck makes perfect sense. I will tell you I am your boat and that I will not sink again.

I call Holly. I ask her to bring me clothes so I can walk at the Charles. Holly brings me shorts and sneakers when she brings me Avery and the stroller. She says she needs the night out with her friends. I do not tell her that you and I have talked all day and that it feels normal and right. I do not tell her that I never thought you and I would spend all day talking again, and now that we have, I can’t imagine my life without talking to you all day. I tell her I will be home later.

I go to a mall to find a boat charm. Avery is talking in the backseat. I take some video of Avery talking, and I send the video to you.

I miss him.

Yeah, he’s missable. You were his stepparent. That wasn’t a lie.

I know that. I don’t feel any differently. I will treat him the same way.

Maybe, but you need to negotiate with his father first.

Maybe. But I don’t think there’s a better way to treat him than how I do. I’m open to suggestions.

You do just fine. You just can’t disappear from his life again. You broke up with him too.

I won’t just disappear without provocation.

I need to buy the boat charm today because the next time I see you, I want to have a boat on a chain around my neck. I want to be your boat that you can’t help but buy. I know you want to date it out again. And I want that, too. I do not listen when the voices in my head tell me I’m heading into uncharted territory. I do not listen when the voices in my head tell me I’m starting to go to bed later and wake up earlier. I do not listen when the voices in my head tell me I need to tell Holly. Instead, I am convincing myself to buy a boat that I obviously don’t know how to sail.

I do not find a boat charm, but I find tank tops. You say you have several you could give me. You say you have a pile of clothes in your closet that would fit me now, and that I am welcome to go through the pile and pick out what I like. I take pictures of Avery and send them to you. I’m delaying going home because I want you to ask me to do something. I see a Handy Manny toy. I take a picture and send it to you. Maybe I should get this for you and your best friend, I write. What I’m saying is I understand why you watched the cartoon when you were high, and I understand that I overreacted, and I hope you forgive me.

Can I interest you in ice cream? I don’t have any; just seeing if you would be interested.

Where? I am in the Common now.

I’d meet you there. Can you entertain yourself for a bit?

I get to the Common and find parking within a half hour. I put Avery in his stroller. We’re going to see D, baby, I say. D, D, D, Avery says. He has missed you too.

Sunbathers are on blankets. A group of men kick a soccer ball back and forth. There are no nets. They have figured out their own goal boundaries. I see two men sitting on a bench. They are clearly together. I take a picture of them. I am far enough away and behind them. They do not see me take the picture. I send you the picture.

I want this please.

Where are you?

I’m close.

I know where you are without even having to ask. Near Park Street Station. I see you there, and you’re sitting and drinking an iced coffee. There are a flock of birds nearby, walking and searching for crumbs. You see me and Avery and you stand up. You smile. I push Avery toward you and he is excited and you are excited, and I want to hug you and wrap my hands around the back of your neck and kiss you. Kissing strangers has gotten easier since Holly and I decided to separate; kissing someone I love should be simple, but it’s even more complicated.

You say hi and Avery says hi and I say hi and Avery wants out of his stroller and you know without my having to tell you that taking Avery out is a mistake. You tell Avery that you’ll take him out later. Avery pouts. You say, Buddy, I missed you, and you give him a hug. Avery holds onto you a little longer than necessary. You look at me over the top of his head and your eyes are wet and your eyes are smiling at me and I think that you would accept a kiss.

So ice cream, you ask, and I say yes, ice cream. And you ask if I had a place in mind, and I say no, and you say what about J.P. Licks, and I say that’s fine, and we walk. You look up and the sun is beautiful and you take a picture of it and I take a picture of you taking a picture of it and in the photo your back is to me and I can see Avery. I don’t know that this picture will be the last picture I take of you.

We walk. We walk across the Common and down Newbury Street. I think that this is the same way I walked when I bought the Amanda Palmer magazine on the night before your birthday. I feel that walking again on this street with you is somehow appropriate.

You say to Avery that he needs to tell his mother that the yellow stroller he is in sucks. And I say that the yellow stroller is small enough that I can carry it on my own, as opposed to the stroller I used when you and I walked together. I do not say, but I am saying all the same, that without your help, I have been reduced to a stroller one person can handle.

We walk and we talk about the car you want to buy. I suggest you get a used car, since it will be cheaper. You say you will think about it, but your mind is pretty set on a new car. I don’t say that I think you want a new car because your best friend has a new car. I don’t say it because I don’t want to cause a fight.

We walk and we talk about what went wrong and what happened and we talk about what we did in the time since we last saw each other and I point out different storefronts I had photographed on the night before your birthday, including a jewelry store that has as its window display a mock-up of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. There is Alice. There are the cups and saucers. A world of wonder awaits you upstairs; the headline above the picture. If I had only known the world of wonder that awaited me upstairs on the night I met you.

You tell me how one of the keys on the chain around your neck is a broken key. It is missing the part that fits inside a lock. You say you found it on this street, but couldn’t find the other half. You say that that was very much how you felt at that time. I tell you that I felt that way, too, then, and still feel that way. You point out the intersection where you found the broken key, and we look for the other half. I ask the universe to put the other half in view. I think we need to find the other half if we are going to get back together. Finding the other half will be a sign. I want to find the other half and give it to you. I think if I find the other half and give it to you, you will kiss me and everything will be OK.

We don’t find the other half of the key, but you say not finding the other half is OK. You hadn’t really expected to find it since so much time has passed.

We keep walking. Avery only wants you to push. You say nothing changes.

At times, everything changes, but we can take comfort in the parts that don’t change.

You say nothing.

Ahead, in front of a store, a Union Jack flag hangs. You stop and look at it. You ask me if we should take it.

I think you’re serious, and I say I think we should take it and leave.

Get the car and come back; you’ll grab the flag and jump in.

I say forget ice cream. Let’s do it.

You laugh.

You say rabbit, you would, wouldn’t you?

And I say yes, and that Avery would be our co-pilot, and you touch Avery’s head and he grabs your hand and pulls your fingers into his mouth. And I think that this right now, right here, in the middle of Newbury Street walking to get ice cream, is the way our life should be. This, right now, right here, is how our life should have been all along. But I don’t say that. I get the feeling that you’re not yet convinced. I feel like this, right now, right here, is an audition. I feel like you want to hire me for the part of your next boyfriend, but you’re still auditioning other guys. Maybe this is my callback. I should have rehearsed a song and dance number.

We get to the ice cream shop. You pay. We take turns feeding Avery and eating what we ordered. No Doubt is playing on the radio. You ask me if I like them. I say I do. You say you like some of their songs. You tell me about an MGMT show you went to with your best friend. You tell me that you bought tickets to see Ani DiFranco for you, your best friend, and another friend from work. Ani is playing Boston two nights before the Pittsfield show I bought us tickets for months ago. I think, really? You bought tickets for you, your best friend, and someone else, and you never bought tickets for us to see a concert? And I ask you if you would be OK if I bought my own ticket. I say I won’t stand with you and your friends. I say you won’t even know I’m there. You say that that would be fine. You can’t promise that I’ll be welcome to stand with you and your friends, but I should buy a ticket if I want to go. You go to the bathroom and I watch you walk away. I wipe Avery’s face with a napkin. You come out and we pack up our leftover ice cream.

We stop by a record store, and while you’re looking for a specific record, I find something you weren’t even looking for but that I know you want. You do. You buy it. We walk back in the direction of the Common. Avery is thirsty. He asks for juice. I give him his cup, but he doesn’t want it from me. He wants it from you.

Avery wants you to push him. He asks for you. You’re holding the Newbury Comics bag with the record in it. We don’t look at each other. I reach for the bag with one hand while still pushing with the other. You hand me the bag and simultaneously take control of the stroller. We don’t have to stop. We walk side by side. We may have gone into our relationship wanting to learn each other’s language, but we soon no longer needed each other’s language. Lovers develop a diction all their own.

You say you will help me move into my apartment. You offer your help without my having to ask. You say that if you help me, even if we end up hating each other eventually, when you move, I will have to agree to help you. I say I will do that. I say that if at that time you still don’t trust me in your home, then I will understand.

I’m not sure I don’t trust me in your home, you say, but my roommate has forbidden you from coming back into the apartment.

I don’t say that the apartment is yours and he’s just a subletter; that if we’re together, shouldn’t you get to decide whom you let into your apartment? I say instead that I will not want to go into your apartment. I say I’m not interested in seeing what your room looks like without pieces of me in it. I don’t say that I will never bring my son or daughter into your apartment again. I don’t say that I should never have brought Avery into a home where there are drugs and drug paraphernalia and men getting high. I don’t ask how many times you think Avery was there while your roommates were getting stoned. I don’t ask you if you even thought about that or cared.

I say that you’ll be welcome in my apartment. I say that I’ve spent six months in your home, and that it will be time for us to spend an equal amount of time in my home. You say you don’t believe that I don’t want to be in your home. I say it’s true. You say you’ll see.

You ask about the audio from the night before your party. I say I could send it to you. I say I haven’t listened to any more of it. You say again that you’d like to hear it, if only to hear things you’re not ready to admit about yourself.

We pass some of the more expensive apartments on Newbury Street, several of which have fire escapes, and you say that if you found out you had only one month to live, you would use every credit card you have and rent a flat for one month. Just to see what living like that feels like, you say.

You won’t do that at all, I say. You’d travel around the world. There are places you want to see before you die.

I know there are. And you laugh and you say that I know you too well, and of course you’d want to see the world.

I say that I would go with you and show you what I could, and learn with you the parts I didn’t know.

I’ll hold you to it, rabbit, you say.

You ask about Holly and how she’s holding up, and I tell you that she’s holding up better than I am. I tell you that she is the strongest woman I know. You say you’re looking forward to getting to know her.

I tell you I will walk with you to the train you will take to get home. We get near the train and we stop at a corner. There is a police officer at that corner. You bend at the waist to hug Avery, then you look at me. You reach for me, and I reach for you, and we hug a few seconds longer than friends hug and I inhale and you still don’t smell like you. And I let you go and you let me go and you smile at me and you say thank you and I say you’re welcome and you turn to walk away and I watch for a few seconds before I turn Avery’s stroller around and return the way we just came to walk toward my car.

I look into the storage area under Avery’s stroller, and I see what I think is your ice cream. I call you. I think I can catch you before you get on the train. You answer. I say I have your ice cream. You say you have your ice cream. I look in the bag and realize I am looking at my ice cream. I say you’re right and I hang up.

You call back. I wasn’t done, you say. I say sorry. You say thank you for coming out and for bringing Avery. You say you had missed him. I say he had missed you. You say I love you, Will. I say I love you, too, D. And we say nothing else, and I am wrapped in our story, and I think you are wrapped in our story, and I think we are each waiting for the other to say something else, but there is silence and we are each on our phones paused in our separate journeys home and I say I will talk to you tomorrow and you say you will talk to me tomorrow and we hang up.

What I should have said is come back. Don’t get on the train. I’m turning around.

And you would have, because you would have wanted to, and we would have met back where we parted and I would have put the brake on Avery’s stroller and I would have stepped into you and you would have hugged me and I would have wrapped my hands around the back of your neck and we would have kissed for the first time in more than three weeks and the police officer who had been standing on the corner where we went our separate ways would have looked away, because that’s what people do when they see two people so madly in love.

I walk with Avery through the Common toward my car. I look at the night sky. There are the stars, the same stars I thought you would imagine me living on if I had succeeded in killing myself. I turn in a circle and spread my arms wide. Avery laughs. I take a picture of a carousel. The photo doesn’t turn out well, but it is proof that I am here and you and I had been there together moments earlier. I get to the car and I strap Avery in and I get in and I say, we had a good night with D, right, and Avery laughs and says, yes. And I say I love you, baby, and he says I love you too, daddy. And he adds, I love D, and I say I love D, too.

I think this is the first time he has said I love D. He says it unprompted. There are few lies with children. They say what they mean. They have no filter. When he says I love D, he means he loves D.

We get home and Holly asks if we had fun. Holly hugs Avery. Did you have fun, baby, she asks. D, he says, D, D, D. Holly looks at me. Did you see him?, she asks me.

No, I say. I would tell you if we saw him.

I am lying, even though I have no reason to lie. She won’t approve, I think. She will say that you broke me and she put me together again and we were separating and I am moving out next week and it isn’t fair that I get you in the end. She would say that it’s not that she wants me to be alone and unhappy, but that she thinks I can do better than a drug addict.

Some nights, however shapeless, are meant to be seen. This night, tonight, you and I were meant to see what we have left. If there is anything left. I want there to be. I want you to think there is.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at wil329@yahoo.com and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.