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Eating Away From Others photo

We compiled our snacks and made for the playhouse basement. Hannah had her sauerkraut in a headlock. She secured the porky flip-top Mason jar in her left arm-crook, conveniently allowing an opportunistic arm of mine to enter her other. Four rectangular tins of pickled mackerel clamored against tarnished fork tines inside the big pouch of my small green waistpack as we descended the stairs and entered the storage room. We sat on a wooden chest filled with papier-mâché masks, their features deformed by the summer flood. Meandering smiles sank downward into dimples as deep and damning as arroyos. Once-cherubic cheeks wallowed hollowly. Water rearranges the topography of faces. Hot air can too. We flipped tops and pulled tabs. We ate the fish and slurped the brine, our tongues our poisoned prisoners. Who knows about our teeth. Your breath, I said, has texture, like a water-warped map of a Rocky Mountain ghost town. Yours, she said, leaning in, moves like the skuzzy brown foam along an indolent river’s edge. A muffled creak from the corner where a manger containing a moldy infant Christ sat shocked us back to self-consciousness. We snapped shut our mouths and turned up an ear. Above us the stampeding footfalls of schoolmates thundered. Usually it was rule-flouting juvies who came down here to come in whatever offhand or roundabout way imaginable, though not likely synchronized or simultaneous. The squeak of their sneakers neared. Behind us, already undone belt buckles clinked to the beat of descent. Hannah held her dripping dipper to her lips, covering, I figured, their o-shape of shock. Unthinkingly I motioned for her to move and heaved up the big lid of the chest whereupon we just sat, jettisoning the masks. Like two stray magician’s assistants we climbed in foot by foot until satisfactorily concealed. Within seconds we could feel their sitting weight, the arrhythmic thump of masturbatory incompetence. Inside where we were we were packed like sardines. Hannah held still but her heart could not. Our breath was all we had before. Now, with her unmasked face distorted in horror, even that seemed to escape us.