I found you eating sand.
I said, that's pica.
You said, don't use those words on me,
I have a craving for salt.
At 13, I identified,
based on my habit
of stealing beans
from the catch-tray of
to suck on them.
I hope, I thought,
that you also have a craving for piss,
all the dogs and naked children
on this beach.
But I never said this,
because I've seen other people
paw the coffee beans
with sweaty hands
or gather them from the floor
and return them to the catch-tray.
I sat, watched you push the grains against the inside of your cheeks, then spit and take a new batch. You smelled like lighter fluid and sunscreen, and
your shins jutted from cut-offs,
But I would never say that to you.
You would hate that,
hate that I loved it.
That your emaciation made me feel
No one wants to hear that.
Feeling guilty, I scooped sand down your shorts. This was as close as we would ever get to sex. This reciprocal dumping of sand or popcorn or ice cubes. Acknowledging interest in the inside of clothes.
Then your taffy breath on my cheek
and sand tongued roughly into my mouth.
I screamed, ran to the ocean
you grabbed, pushed
I landed on all fours
in the water
knees scraped, burning.
You lay on your stomach.
The water rippled softly around us.
You lowered your face,
I used to pretend I was sleeping to put you at ease. I learned to relax the muscles between my eyebrows by studying the faces of the dead. There was always a wake at lunch hour in that city, where the work was last-frontier dangerous (logging, the mine), and winter took the old without heat or proper insulation. At night, I used to close my eyes and listen to you breathe in our woodsmoky room. Our sheets were plaid and pilling and heated by your bulk. I worked hard to let my body slide toward you naturally in the long, soft dent you made. There were mice in our walls, skittering overhead. Back then. Before I walked out late December, into the snow in your boots and moved on.
You couldn't believe me, when I told you I was done with suicide. And so you liked me better when I was asleep.
I slit my wrists on a Wednesday afternoon, while you were welding the bridge on Highway 35. I remember lying back in the soap-scented water, steam clouding the shower curtain. I don't remember climbing from the tub. Bathroom to kitchen, I stamped the wall with blood. Arm prints, hip prints, blotches like dandelions gone to seed from my hair where I’d rested my head. Fresh brick to diluted rose. You tried to clean it before I came home, but we wound up repainting.
Once I took your hand and said, don’t you want to know why? You looked at me like I was poisonous and wrapped your arms around me, crushed my head into your chest. You kissed that space below my ear and said, Let’s leave this all behind. What about Utah? You were squeezing hard and I was out of breath. Utah, you said, is a solid place.
For two years, we lived in imaginary Utah. In each silence, you would state the benefits of canyons and boulders, natural gypsum deposits.Rocks, you’d say, I've always liked rocks. Gypsum is a mineral, I’d say. Did you know, you’d say, that gypsum holds plaster together? And tofu?
Turns out I went alone. The funeral parlors are much the same here. You wouldn’t like it, but they pull me in, the dead. I touch their faces, and it calms me.
The quick beating of the carpets left a haze hanging over the patio, granules of dust and flying bits of hair visible against the red-purple sky. Mrs. Marston had gone back into the house. The sliding screen door stood askew, thrown just slightly from its track. Mr. Marston and the children sat facing forward in white plastic chairs around a small table. A fine layer of grime settled on their faces and arms. With his wife not at the table across from him, Mr. Marston had a view of County Road M. A neighbor drove by, raised his hand from the driver's side window. Mr. Marston waved back. The pot roast had been sliced, and then coated with airborne detritus, seasoned with skin shed by the family since the last carpet beating. The mixed vegetables had been protected by a casserole dish, and after several minutes, Jenny, the youngest, removed the lid, wiped her fork on her jeans, and began to eat from the dish. Her brother Nick slid his chair to her side of the table to share. Mr. Marston did not eat. Several pairs of delicate panties lay tangled on his plate like expensive and poorly formed napkin origami.
Mrs. Marston reappeared as night leeched the last purple light from the sky. Bare arms, bare legs. The dress was nice—a cocktail dress—a little tight in the bust but not trampy. A motion-activated light blinked on near the door. Mr. Marston noticed a diagonal wrinkle near his wife's hemline. She smiled at the children before turning toward the driveway. Bring the carpets in, she said.
Can we go to grandma’s house? asked Nick, staring at the vegetables. Mom is so pretty, said Jenny, bouncing in her chair. Mr. Marston absently brushed dirt from his face and hands, wondered what kind of panties his wife was wearing. Out loud he said, I guess you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Jessica lives in Boston. She has spent the past 6.5 years earning a Ph.D. She is very happy that she now has more time to write about all things quirky, dark, forgotten, strange, and improbable.