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An excerpt of the story "Underthings" from the collection Spectacle photo


My boyfriend hit me in the face with a book. It was an accident, his hitting me. He only meant to hand me the book. He meant to hand the book back to me. But my face was in its path, he said. And so the book connected with my face. And so here we are.


I guess I must have closed my eyes. Because I didn’t see the book hit my face. But I heard it hit, if you can imagine. It made a sound against my face. I can’t describe the sound it made. But imagine, if you can, the sound.


Then I watched at the mirror as a red mark spread across my face. It transformed my face into another face. By which I mean a face I knew. By which I mean a lot of things.


It was an accident, his hitting me in the face with the book. Accident, he said, dropping the book, holding up his hands. Accident, I later said to my brother. Bullshit, my brother said. He hit you with a fucking book, he said.


As kids, my brother did his thing, I did mine. His things were, for the most part, boy things. Mine were, for the most part, not. But they were not what I would call girl things. I was not a girl who did girl things. I was a girl who worked on puzzles. These were puzzles that took weeks to solve. And when I solved a puzzle, and I always solved them, I felt brilliant.


After my boyfriend went back to sleep, I walked outside. Outside was the rest of the world. Outside were the people of the world. It was a regular day for people. There was work and there were other things that people do. And there I was with them, walking with them, through the rain.


My father wanted to become an astronaut. But he did not become an astronaut. Because, he said, he would not have passed the physical. So my father went into business. He became a businessman. There were sales and deals and men like my father. There was a product of some sort he sold. It was nothing like being an astronaut. But there was hope for my brother, my father said. He could still become one, he said.


My boyfriend was brutally killed in his dreams. Sometimes he was stabbed. Sometimes someone’s hands were squeezing tightly around his throat. And there were zombies too. And witches too. And sharp-toothed animals chasing him through woods. It was called night terrors, what he had, and he would wake up screaming and run through the room. On the worst of these nights, my boyfriend and I were terrified. We never knew what was going on. We would often stay up all night, those nights, waiting for the room to turn light. But they were often funny, those nights, the next day.


We had all been out the night before. It was me, my boyfriend, my brother, and a girl. It was an upscale bar my boyfriend liked. My brother did not like upscale things. He liked the trashy bars in his part of the city. He liked the trashy girls in those trashy bars. My brother thought my boyfriend was a prick. But I should say it was my birthday. That we were at the upscale bar to celebrate my birthday. My boyfriend bought the first round of drinks. And my brother bought another round. And my boyfriend bought another. And at some point my brother pushed up his sleeve. He wanted to arm-wrestle my boyfriend. He said he would wrestle him through the fucking table. My brother was big. He worked at a gym. It was a gym where big guys went to get bigger. My boyfriend was not so big. But he was tougher than my brother. He was tough in another way. The bar was crowded and people were staring. My brother stuck his elbow to the table. Then my boyfriend stuck his elbow to the table. Then my brother and my boyfriend gripped each other’s hands.



For more, go buy a copy of Spectacle. Now. Seriously.

image: Caleb Curtiss