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September 28, 2023 Fiction


Camille Sauers

ITCH photo

The other duplex has a concrete porch on the first floor with seven wind chimes, all different sizes, like hot icicles hanging from blue trim. You hardly hear them behave clamorously. I often see the 60-something couple that lives there, sitting out at dusk with all the mosquitos, the lingering petrichor. All big-faced and calm.

On my walks, I’ve seen him rub her feet – her legs in his lap, his thumbs rolling under the arch like he’s smoothing an important document. He sips from an orange and tan Bill Miller cup, elastic socks below his cargos. She fans herself, exposing blistered heels and a shirt from a catalog she ordered 20 years ago. They sit out there together, waiting for the wind to pick up.

The porch people look normal enough, happy even, but are sort of red, like they’ve been rolling around in a steamer. There’s something unique in the skin. The details are vivid to passersby, as if under a magnifying glass. They appear glowing, somehow breathing through their facial apertures like toads.

Maybe it’s that there’s too much salt in their diets, but that’s common. Especially here. Though there’s something else there that commands such a halo effect. I’ve pictured her indoors and barefoot, searing steak in butter, and him, down the hall, uncorking a Beaujolais. She wears red lipstick and he dons a light purple shirt with a grape candy tie. They prepare architecturally significant mounds of mashed potatoes, like the Pre-Columbian structures of the Mississippians. He retrieves hot cornbread muffins with an oven mitt decorated with neat little hens. She lights candles, religiously, then they feast, feeding each other tiramisu inlaid with homemade ladyfingers. Their limbs lace, mutually subsisting. Feverish then sedated. I think of all the expenses spared before the sacrament.

They’ve both been married before, but it’s been a while, and it’s been good. You can see it in how he assuredly creases the fold of his will. I always wonder about how they met, and tend to dig a red nail into my palm and scratch whenever I walk by them.

At the end of summer, Texas is on a timer. Sheets of the city seem to slough off and melt back into the earth. Glass buildings and billboards with scammy lawyers—some of them 3D. Sidewalks slick with styrofoam. It all seeps into hot grass and cracked mud. The heat can kill the heart. But it makes some people here more bare than most. Skin peels back and exposes ripe new layers. They scream in the streets, their cars do. And the mosquitos hang on until they start to hear the owls.

I used to take classes, but now I mostly sit at my desk, staring at Microsoft Teams. Sometimes, I sit out on my porch too, in the evenings. I wonder why more neighbors don’t. It’s been six weeks since I started sitting out here alone. I lean back, needing someone, and try to hear the clanging chorus up the road. I brace to be bitten raw. Now I don’t swat them away. I mourn the months we were sitting out here together. Listening and understanding each other and going crazy.

I watch the welts bud on my bare ankles and kneecaps like roses. I rotate my foot like a hot dog and I dare myself not to scratch. I let them land on collarbone skin, thighs, the sponge under my left eye. I’ve always been like this. I’ve always had small tits. You know what they call those.

I press my beer to my neck and let the condensation drip down to the welts underneath my camisole. In drug store parking lots, I listen to Elvis and feel melancholic. In the Fall I will order a pained Pumpkin Spiced Latte and cover the plastic lid in melting lipstick as the drink warms my hands. I’m a romantic. This is why I think I’m doomed, why I sit out collecting mosquito bites. You always did like seeing mine.

I remember the first time I saw you. It’s a gig economy. You were new to delivering Jimmy John’s in your truck. Pine boards were jutting out of the bed. Your eyes were Sears-blue and looked like a recovered memory. I shivered when they shuttered. I’ll always seek them in the aisles of other stores.

I saw the ring of verdigris skin around your finger, like a statue fished from the Piscean depths of a lost city. I saw that rash on your arm. Pink and cavernous and warm like the inside of a dog's mouth. I’ve wondered about it, my initial desire to put everything on the line for it, to cup my hands to the open maw and whisper, “don’t you see me, too?”

That was the first night it occurred to me to wait around for the wind. When I began to hear all seven chimes, it felt like a sign—of what I wasn’t exactly sure. I know now that the two of them must have been out there somewhere, but I didn’t ever check to see if I was the only one outside.

The next day, I called in an order for one “Turkey Tom.” Still, it’s that name saved in my phone. We got to talking.

Sometimes I’d order sandwiches. Other days you’d happen to be working the area. We would sit out there with spread lips, laughing like retards really getting down to business. We discussed the atmosphere of the neighborhood, the specific way it all seemed to buzz. We liked talking about how the people here drink their coffee, all the stuff between the trees and the highways, and what happens in the corners where they seem to intersect. Everything was funny and urgent somehow.

When you were between jobs, you’d bring us cigarettes and new drinks from the Japanese grocery store. We were kamikaze flies moving at a slow frame rate, knocking against a sallow bulb. One day, you stopped by to fix the broken door hinge. It’s something you had been meaning to do.

You kissed me that first time and the city became a beautiful sinkhole that I might crawl out of, absorbing every layer, chalk and oil, gasping on the way out. The rash isn’t contagious, you said, sweetly smoothing my hair with an elbow. It was nothing you could give to me. There was a paint stripping chemical, and you weren’t being very careful, but now you were taking care of it. You had an ointment. I tried to conceal my disappointment, I wanted to wear it around my wrist.

The thing itself was aware of the inevitability of its own unwelcome disappearance from the beginning. We had no will but to confirm its truth. We reached for each other until our lungs punctured, so we might relearn something, like how to laugh or breathe.

I know this is beyond the pale, you said one night, skin sticking to mine, pulling me closer somehow, staring at me with those hopeful barren shelves waiting to be stocked. It might’ve been raining.

I wanted to offer you a cup of coffee then, our first child, ten years of good emails, all the welts on my body, or some other insufficient, burning thing. Crates of the latest from General Electric, long and clean drywall nails, packs of black Fruit of the Looms, fresh white socks, something discontinued.

You wondered aloud about what it’d be like to really take care of me. For some reason, told me you could. I told you not to say that then. You seized my hand and said you really wanted to. You kissed me and I didn’t blame you. We retreated into the coal mines. I read you a story aloud, then you read your favorite Denis Johnson. You thought maybe it could be mine. I was a broken geode. We fell asleep with open windows, allowing cool sheets of air to flow through the screens.


image: San Antonio Express-News