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M.W.

Morceau

2015

Table of Contents

After the Incident on the Blue Couch

When a Mlatresse Loses

Honestly,

The Root of My Run-ons, Part I

9 Division Street on a Saturday

The Root of My Run-ons, Part II

13

Onwards and Upwards

14

Curtis Mayfield and Four Fingers of Bourbon is the Closest I Can Get to God, but

16

Everything that Matters Can Fit Inside a Semicircle, or

19

This Couch has Grown into a Blind Spot

21

Twos Harmony

23

After the Incident on the Blue Couch,


The first hug Im given feels an awful lot like being swallowed: a vise of meaty arms around my
waist, fingers locked together and pushing into my spine, biceps folding around my shoulders
with enough pressure to make diamonds of my bones.
Were at a friends thirteenth birthday party, in a room with wood-paneled walls. Its dark and I
havent had my last growth-spurt yet so my nose is mashed between ratty cotton collar and warm
armpit, my lungs painfully collapsed. Disgustingly young, I lose strength as I lose air, and my arms
dangle at my sides. When he rocks me they swing like half-cooked noodles to smack against his
torso. Im unsure how to express my displeasure beyond my obvious lack of reciprocation, not
sure how to phrase
why are you touching me
in a way that wouldnt offend. Delicacy has never
been my strong point, so I make a grave of my open mouth.
My hands are deadened with paresthesia and twitch from the lack of bloodflowbecause its all
in my face; my cheeks have flushed a violent shade of red and my head is a top-heavy fishbowl of
blood. Every inhale is a struggle and Im dizzy with it, cant stand another instance of my breath
seeping out of me and not coming back. I try to peel away and he refuses to let me go, just
tightens his grip and tilts his head down. The stiff brim of his baseball cap collides with my
browbone, and I howl.
I try to make myself unappealing to potential allocators of touch, I hold myself as still and
unreceptive as possible. I like to pretend that the apprehensive prickle of hair on my arms is a
growing field of spikes, or that my body has compressed itself into one giant naval mine,
suspended and abandoned in the bowels of the ocean, because the idea of someone else pressing
their skin into mine is repulsive enough to get my head swirling with sickness, my throat
corroded and raw. Usually I am less than successful, my lack of desire not considered.
A year past twenty-one and Im still tortured with a similar thing: it starts out from the side with
a sweatshirt arm curling over my neck, but then he keeps reaching until the bend of his elbow is
locked around my nape. Theres to be no pivoting away; were on line in a crowded place that
allows for limited movement. Im reeled in, the fat of my cheek pushing up against his shoulder
and my hip tucking into his stomach. My hipbone puncturing his small intestine clearly isnt

comfortable for him, his pain vocalized in the exhaled


oof
against my ear, but it only gets worse
for me as he adjusts us, traps me tighter against him. He says I smell flowery and that he likes it.
Im allergic to flowers
, I want to say,
thats gross
. When I cover my nose with my hand he thinks
its because Im blushing, but really its because he smells like cheap body spray, the acrid type
that singes your nostrils, and the scent is leaking slowly from beneath his sweater to root itself in
my hair.
Recently shorn, his skull is covered in a thick layer of velvety fuzz, and he rubs it against my
temple in a gesture of simple, nauseating affection. His words, like his actions, are bumbling and
slow. Itd be charming were he not trying to wring the life out of me. I have to pat him twice on
the back and wait six seconds to be released.
Objectively I understand that the softness of my skin and the give of my curves make for prime
touch-reception, but the prospect of contact leaves me strung-up and tired with unease, treading
water in lead boots.
Tonights implosion is similar to the first one, but also on a different level entirely. Its dark again,
but here the walls are not wood-paneled and this time Im tall enough that my ribs crack from the
constricting loop of his forearms. My left lung tears first, the muscle skewered on a sharp curve of
exposed marrow. The right one follows shortly after, and when it shrivels into a husk my throat
closes like a fist. The insides of my eyelids pulse like kettledrums, and I can feel thick veins
throbbing along my hairline. My chest is pressed so achingly flat and my mouth is flush against
his jaw and I tell him that Ive lost the ability to inhale.
At first I dont think hes heard me but then he laughs. He thinks its a joke and squeezes me until I
black out, my eyes littered with ruptured capillaries and rolling from their sockets. He cradles the
back of my head and urges me closer still; unbeknownst to me, my slack face fits rather nicely
against the crook of his neck.

When a Mlatresse Loses


It's not the bittersweet kind that rides on the condescension of the person who places first or
second. You can still get a shiny medal for coming close to next-best if you try hard enough, but
Ive been booted from the ranking entirely and the only victory crown I get to wear is the circle of
my knife-edged thoughts.
A circle, or a cycle: a string with ends fused together by circumstance. And I can handle a bit of
two-ply but even an iron thread will knot, given the opportunity. I thought about the blue couch
for the first time in six years and now Im going from tightly wound to frayed edges, from three
ounces of coconut water to three-quarters of a bottle each night just for the quiet.
One brain, and its relinquishing its gold medal with bipartisan effort. I'm not just losing, I'm
losing
it

, but insanity is best inundated with a cocoon of blankets and a glass of honey
whiskeyfive fingers, because the last time I remembered a dream I'd been sitting, listless.
Or more like lifeless, purple in my hands and feet with no circulation to be found, no loop of thin
blood through cold veins. Id been in the President's chair. I was sitting in the President's chair
and I'm sitting in it still. He gets two hands on the leather wingback and shoves, hard but with
diligence, until I'm wheeling through the open bay doors and out over the green.

Honestly,
Nothings worse than when the yellow piece of candy tastes just like the blue one. In my cupped
palm is a puddle of brightly-colored pebbles, and every single one melts on my tongue in the
same generic malt of tropical flavor. I start swallowing them down by the handful and they push
against my cheeks like clusters of rounded monads. The tang is the same, but the tenfold strength
of it makes the inside of my mouth feel like wet sandpaper. My eyes water at the tartness.
Were in the car driving northmy father, my older brother, me. My jaw tingles from the sugar
high and I prop an elbow on the armrest so I can cradle it. I look out the window to the highway
but the cars whistle by so fast that theyre untraceable, and I end up staring at my own sour
expression.
Whats wrong? my father asks me, voice chasing his head as he turns to check on the traffic
behind us. He switches lanes, and I mumble words about two-hundred and fifty saccharine
calories.
He nods absently and skips through three stations on the radio, only to give up and tell Graham to
pull out a disc from the glove compartment. Its not that warm out, the sky is a painful white-blue
and the air turns my nose clammy, but still my father drives with one hand loose on the steering
wheel and the other folded out the open window. While my ears are hot and stuffed with Pablo
Honey I devour the rest of the bags contents, fingers scraping six inches deep to the bottom. My
father sings and I hum along with him, and up in the front Graham is rolling his eyes. I barely
make it five minutes before my hand leaves my jaw to press at my belly, an urgent sound
escaping me, the empty package crinkling as it floats to the floor.
My father interrupts himself to say
pick up your trash
but then he spies my greenish face in the
rearview mirror. What now?
I grumble something about having a stomachache and Graham, reclined in the passengers seat
with both feet propped on the dash, says loftily, You shouldnt have eaten all of that. He lounges
like hes wont to do: casually and unaware, the type of full-bodied leisure that comes naturally
only to those whove surpassed every life goal theyve ever had.

No shit? I mutter, and kick the back of his seat when I cross my legs.
Whoa, Graham says, and I may not be able to see the way he holds up his hands palm-out, but I
know hes doing it. No need to be so hostile.
No need to be such a smartass
, I want to say, but my jaws been glued shut with fructose and my
stomach is rebelling. Plus he kind of
is
a smartass, in that hes a fucking smart-ass person, so
asking him not to be would be like asking these sugarpill candies to taste any way other than
vaguely, collectively fruity. Except now Im thinking that maybe there is a difference among them
after all and that the problem lies with my unsophisticated palate, but the thought of ingesting
more corn-syrup stones just to prove myself wrong makes me groan, and Graham laughs.
It feels like hes always laughing at me, even when he isnt; the way he draws out his vowels is
condescending, the scoff implied; every sentence peppered with the air of
Ivy League
or set
within the context of
only at law school
. I could very well be reading too much into things,
applying the analytical lens I usually reserve for things not-human in nature, but how would I
know? Hes the smart onegot a twenty-four hundred and calls the President by his first
nameand I aim to please, so I make a habit out of modesty.

The Root of My Run-ons, Part I


At two-thirty in the afternoon my maman writes:
the train leaves at two twenty-one and arrives at
five fifteen, regular seats sold out but they have business class available; no non-stop flights; I would
get you but your grandparents are hereand its holiday weekend traffic, cant risk missing dinner;
speaking of dinner, you would have to just go directly from train to metro at one twenty-fifth, thats
where the restaurant iseasyits a six oclock reservation, let me know what you want to do, I can
put money in your account tomorrow so you can buy a ticket before they sell out. Also for when
should I make your hair appointment, and when are you going back?

9 Division Street on a Saturday


The whole room smells like burnt tangerines and my thighs are slick with cocoa butter. This
morning I started out with twin amber dollops on my ashy knees and had every intention of
spreading it
down
, pushing the summer shine all the way to lumps of my anklebones, but the stuff
has somehow made it all the way up to the folded cuff of these ugly jean shorts and now the chair
makes a terribly wet sound every time I breathe. The pleather is selective, bypasses patches of
greasy skin so as to imprint dirty stripes along the backs of my thighs, and theres a thumb-sized
hole on the top of the cushion where foam stuffing wheezes out into the crease behind my left
knee. I shift to displace it and hear, immediately, a huff of irritation; gears of a dull beast grinding.
The sticky squeal of the chair comes afterwards, once Ive settled back into place with her meaty
palm slapped to my temple, the dry river of her life-line curving up to my windows peak.
The tumid fingers of Awas other hand curl around the back of my neck, and the way she angles
my chin down to my chest has me instantly obedient. I expect it to begin like it usually does, with
sharp little digs into the baby hairs at my nape, but instead, after a bite of consideration, she
forces my head to tilt right, hand grinding to a stop flush over my ear, her touch brusque and
oblivious to my perforated cartilage. The weight of her hand is hot and immense and it has me
flushing brightly with the first bursts of pain. Though always unwelcome, the discomfort is to be
expected, part of the process. I jerk down a few inches in the groaning chair, involuntary, and the
brand of her oily palm lifts from my head to yank me back up by my roots. A dull throb rushes in,
my whole ear is pinkened and thumps heavily against my skull, and theres a piercing white noise
that has me rolling my tongue between my teeth.
The ringing rounds out into flat-bellied vowels
yahunde
, Awa says, and then she's leaving,
hustling out of the brand new shop door to pick up the kids from somewhere or something. She
dodges bullet cars as she crosses the street, and I become so engrossed in watching her bulky
frame dance around in that too-small puffy coat that the next five fingers on my scalp come as a
surprise. Fatmata doesn't say anything before she beginsI'm pretty sure we've exchanged less
than fifteen words over the past two years, not a peep even when I scuffed my shoe on her prayer
mat three months agojust tugs at a section of hair right behind my pink ear, grunts when the
kink doesn't give, works her fingers through it until it's straight enough to pretzel.

She does a full braid in the span of a single, weighted breath, and then tosses it over my shoulder
so I can see, a single bronze sierra that barely clears the curve of my chest. I touch it in a way I
hope appears speculative. I think to her it comes across as displeasure, but there's not much I can
do about that.
Maman was the one who dropped me off at the salon this morning. As I moved to step out of the
car she decided she had to get the last word in an argument we weren't even having. "Speak
up
,
she moaned, full of reproach, I don't want to deal with you coming home all pouty because they
don't do it how you like." In response I said
yeah well les chiens ne font pas des chats
, though it
mustve sounded less like
telle mre, telle fille
and more like
ta gueule
because her profile gave me
one big eye, rolling. My mother is good at reading between the lines when she tries.
Shes also good at making themmy first grade orchestra instructor told me once that the way
my mother parted my hair was actually perfect: the pale of my scalp a single tailored pinstripe
from the trench of my hairline all the way down to my spine. I wore my hair in pigtails then,
low-hanging bundles of of kinky, golden hair that Maman would corral in baubled elastics until
they looked like twin rolls of hog-tied sausage. But she could braid, my mother. Only ever a few,
sure, but shed sit me down on the tiny lacquered stool in the cigar room and take a pick to my
tenderheaded curls for
hours
.
"
O
-kay?" Fatmata is asking now. Her voice takes a leap on the
o
, goes tight and high like shes
been pinched. Her accent imbues everything she says with a dose of incredulity, and it has me on
the offense regardless of intent. It takes a brief moment to remember the context of her question,
and a second after that to realize that Fatmata certainly doesnt give a shit one way or another.
A little bit longer, I brought extra hair, I hedge, as though I dont tip her an extra twenty when
shes through. Then I lie: I have more at home if this isnt enough, because I want them long, like
cold tips whipping the small of my back when I stand and getting caught beneath my ass when I sit
long.
I want them long, I repeat, because theres nothing like repetition to sink a point home, and
because I dont trust her not to just do it her way.
Fatmata nods, the shiny bulb of her forehead catching the light as it dips down, and her fingers
are like daddy long-legs crawling over my roots.
There's a third woman, who I'd been told would be helping out today but is still a stranger to me,
who comes out of the back room, door hinges wailing as it swings to a close behind her. She's got
a twenty-two weave in, a shock of strawberry blonde that's curled into a long tail over the
smattering of stars on her left shoulder. She's young, I think, probably around thirty. I don't really
know, I try not to stare at her face, I don't want to be rude. She sits behind me, to Fatmata's right,
and immediately opens her wide, glossy mouth.

"Fatmata," the new woman calls, each syllable snapping from her tongue, "Fatmata. Fat-ma-ta?
Fat-
ma
-ta." In the mirror, her reflection reaches over to rap one lemon-yellow claw on Fatmata's
thigh and Fatmata gives in with a lurch of surprise, one that wrenches my head back in kind.
Theres an absent pat of apology to the cloud of untamed hair at the crown of my head, and then
Fatmatas pulling an earbud out of her ear, tinny drum beat spilling down her neck as it falls.
She makes a curious, open noise, but her schwa is colored with the usual
aigu
and so it ends up
sounding more like shes greeting someone. The vowel rolls over in my head until it loses its
intention of inquiry, until I can replicate it with its new inflection.
Ay, Fat-ma-ta.
"Fatmata," Woman number three gusts, almost endeared, and the slew that rushes from her
mouth is too incomprehensible to me. Pular
is rhythmic and compelling, but the French inside of

it is plucky and sparse, gets swallowed down so remorselessly with every glottal stop that I lose
track of the conversation quickly even as I let the words sit and breathe inside my ears. The sun is
low and red now and the metal arms of the chair are tacky from that burnt tangerine smell, and it
feels like Im in a different world, like Im in theirs. The book in my lap slides off my slippery
thighs, so suddenly that at first I dont realize its mine, and lands between my ankles on the
broken foot-step. I cant be bothered to reach for it. Their fingers are wet with gel and so fucking
quick, and I cant possibly interrupt them, not in their own home.
I used to read the big blue book when Maman would braid my hair, the one with the shiny cover
and hundreds of coin-sized pictures on the inside. I learned to drink
le
lait

only
des vaches
heureuses
, that my lady purse should always be
rose
, that
ma jupe est la plus jolie Maman, nest-ce
pas?
and I would read the hardcover from title page to
le glossaire
whether I was sitting for two
bulging twists or twenty skinnies.
Right now Im sitting for nearly two-hundred, a number so high Maman says it makes her joints
ache just thinking about it. Fatmata starts each new braid, the first few inches twining quickly
between her fingers, and the third woman continues them, grabs each unfinished tuft and works
them like they're bundles of dry straw. I'm nervous that the way she finishes them won't be the
same as the way Fatmata starts them, but I tell myself I cant do anything about it. The mirror is
too far away to be useful, barely half my head in the frame, and I don't know how to ask to
confirm each braid's quality without sounding like an asshole.
Awa comes back then. Shes preceded by baby birds who wiggle through the doorway a few feet
in front of her, smile-to-smile and chirping.
Umu has clear heart beads on the ends of her rows and I can tell she likes the way the clack when
she moves, the way they draw attention, plastic smacking together where the black braids swing
wildly around her shoulders. Shes obnoxious because shes only just turned eleven, and when
Fatmata gets down on her mat for
waqtu
I like to think shes praying that this girl grows out of
her newfound entitlement sooner rather than later. Umus foil is the most darling: little Masu
with his bowling-ball head and Chiclet teeth and baby ears. Hes about to finish Kindergarten and

hes coy about it, counts aloud the number of chicken nuggets he has, hums the alphabet under
his breath while slumps in his chair, bored out of his mind, belly a swelling balloon beneath his
striped polo. He likes to smile at me, white square chompers gleaming in his shiny brown face,
likes to smile at everyone and shriek along to the pop music streaming from his tablet, but I dont
think weve ever spoken; Im bad with kids. Simon used to roll around on the rug and play with
my toes and pat my shins while I cried under the iron spikes of Mamans hair pick, but Id always
ignore him.
To be honest, Awas not too great with kids either. I dont try to actively critique her parenting
style because what the fuck do I know about being a single mom from
Sngal
with two
hyperactive children, but every time I see Masu I think about how he likes to play dress up with
his mothers purse and how she, in turn, likes to slap it from his tiny hands and shove him into
the back room to pray.
She does it now, like she can hear my thoughts, snatches her bag from where its hooked over the
happy curve of his shoulder. I look to my lap and rub my thumb along the inseam of my shorts,
meander along the cocoa-buttered edge, lean into the pain blooming across my scalp so I dont
have to look at the downturn of his mouth. Awa stuffs her pleather satchel into the cabinet below
the hairdryer and sends Masu back between the double swing doors. This is when I wish my ears
were still ringing, or maybe I just wish Awa would slam her stocky hand right over the side of my
head, grate it until my ear turns red and swells shut and I cant hear Masu in the other room,
voice solemn and thin, reciting words plainly and phonetically. But then Awa is sitting on a stool
to my left and tilting my head with the blimp of her hand against my locked jaw, and I find myself
unwillingly impressed. She sets about her work with an urgency and seriousness that I can
appreciate.
Thirty fingers weave in and out, graceful even in their greasiness, and Masu now warbles tenor
from his perch at the window seat, todays rendition of his pop top-ten. His cheeks are round and
stuffed and spotted with glaring taillights from Division Street.
A surprisingly solitary child, more than happy to have only the breath-fogged windowpane as an
audience, youthful skin so terribly thicker than any mothers callus.

The Root of My Run-ons, Part II


At three fifty-nine she replies:
perfectthe two twenty-one is much easier, and just wait for the
metro since its only three stopsthats what I would do, otherwise youll be late to the restaurant;
the ticket is one hundred twenty-five, Ill put money in your account and call Awa for the
appointment.
Regular seats still sold outbut business class available for either a ten-eleven or an eleven fifty-six;
Ill leave it up to you as to which one, doesnt make a difference here; I can drive you back early in
the morning after I drop off Simon at school, so just buy a one-way. Ill put money in your account
tomorrow morning, just let me know which train youre taking after you buy the ticket.
I dial her
number and our phone call is brief, under a minute long.

Onwards and Upwards


I try to scroll to before nine-oh-seven p.m., but the screen bounces right back down. At first I
think its the oil on the pad of my finger, slicking the way for mistakes, but then I realize its just
that we havent talked since I got this phone two months ago. Our old chat history was filled with
pockets of air and unanswered congratulations, but at least there was something. Right now Im
not even reaching out on my own volitionIve been prompted by our motherand it stings.
Any relationship is a two-way street, but I consider this one less so because were four grades
apart and Im three years more responsible.
I ask
hows the nose buddy
and its the first bubble between us, shaded the same vivid blue as his
collegiate sweatshirt. In a few months hell be shipping himself down south, a self-imposed exile
at a university where the center plaza is littered with long yellow nooses, and I cant help but
worry. On paper its a great school, highly esteemed, so everyone considers my distress
depressing and unfounded; but how am I supposed to think positively when theres a chance that
his graduation stole could very well be three feet of rope?
Simon says
surviving
. I can hear it in his voice well enough, the way he utters singular words on a
tired exhale, like how he sighs
fine
when I ask him to do something or ask him how hes doing.
Hes generous with his words today though, doles out an extra handful like Im some pigeon by
his park bench. The
feeling a lil better
follows quickly, like he knows his first reply didnt exactly
answer my question. This sapphire oval also hits shy of the mark, but theres slightly more
substance to it, just enough to gnaw on; Ill take what I can get.
You on that oxy?
I ask while Ive still got his attention, plus a jokey
it didnt change your nose did
it?
because I was too busy to remember to talk to him on the day his deviated septum was
hammered back into place. Although, given the amount of post-op drugs usually prescribed for
minor surgeries, he probably wouldnt have been able to read any message sent his way, let alone
reply. A thoughtful, timely gesture wouldve gone unanswered, but nevertheless I feel guilty.
He replies now with
percocets yo
, and Im vaguely curious as to what that high feels like. Ive
never partaken, but Im sure its effective. I wonder if hell indulge in them next year after he sees

a hate-crime for the first time, or when he gets sick of the self-segregation that plagues his
campus, or when he realizes his olive-brown skin isnt as thick as he thinks it is.
Where southern schools breed tension northeastern schools breed navet: they foster belief in
general intellect and an assumedly-universal resentment for racial slander. I watched a
documentary the other day and there was a scene wherein a white twentysomething from South
Carolina filled his mouth with shit and slurred
nigger
for five minutes. The fact that other
audience members laughed easily at the antics that followed only served to make the whole thing
worse, and my distaste manifested in a wave of stomach acid that I sweat out through my pores.
I know Simons smart enough to steer clear of bigotsI looked in the mirror this morning and
saw him in the flat of my brow and the gaunt curve of my cheekbut I consider each of the
thousand days between us cause for two-thousand pounds of unease, and my shoulders can only
hold so much weight before my fears need to be vocalized.
Nah it didnt
he says, a belated response to my earlier inquiry.
I still look great, dont worry
.

Curtis Mayfield and Four Fingers of Bourbon is the Closest I Can Get to God, but
Im trussed up in some new light-wash denim, fresh whiskers puckering at the tops of my thighs,
because today were going to church. My father goes to that Baptist husk on Madison avenue, the
one with empty white walls and an ocean of white people, and Im tagging along in my tight,
pressed jeans because faith entertains me and because I know he likes the company. Plus theres
a breakfast joint down the block with a chef whos comically choleric and can fry an egg just how I
like: devilishly good, because what better way to offset godliness than to make a mess of an
embryo and lick the yolk from your fingers.
Worship takes place at the tail-end of morning, a lifetime past rush hour, so we can drive down
the narrow parkway on the East side without scraping paint or clipping mirrors. My father pulls
his navy two-seater up to the curb and idles there, sun cooking the hood and straight exhaust
rumbling in one loud, slow snoreI can hear it from the porch where Im knocking my feet into
my shoes. I indulge in the impulse to scramble back inside and snatch up things I dont need, and
by the time I finally pop open the tiny passenger door its to catch him in a terrifically over-staged
yawn. He doesnt bother to cover the gape of his mouth, and it's like this I can see every tooth.
The flat bunny pair, square and white like the sugarless gum he chews; the diamond canines that
puncture his lip when he grins; the narrow four on the bottom row that jut out like loose light
pegs. Ive got all the same ones, as if he pried them free one-by-one from his own mouth to drop
them into mine, and I never got braces because I like them so much, I like that he gave me his
teeth. He gave me his nose too, but its slightly smaller, shrunken, like when he put it in the dryer
he hit warm/hot instead of tumble-dry.
Below me is a cavity upholstered with honey-colored leather, and my jeans protest the descent.
The zippers teeth are not like mine or my fathers, theyre burnished metal and they hook into
my stomach and pinch my flesh as I lower myself into the car
the car
a rear-engined,
three-seventy-five-horsepower speeding ticket guarantee that he cleans every few days but only
drives every other week. You must be happy, I huff, because I know he is, he adores this
goddamned car. Id probably love it too if I
fit
, if my knees didnt push up into my chest and the
silver button on my jeans wasnt gunning for a cesarean. I shove a thumb below my waistband to
detach the zipper from my bellybutton and it peels up like tape, leaves behind a red, maze-like

brand. I tell my father


Ive been marked by the Devil!
to which he tuts and joggles the clutch, but I
can see the skin around his eyes ribbing as he beats back a smile, so I kick off my flats and turn on
the stereo.
When were in for a long-haul like the four-hour trip up to the capeor, worse, the half-day
excursion down southwe take the mid-size and he puts on the satellite comedy station because
its the only one that all five of us can ever agree on. But this ride caps at twenty-five minutes, not
to mention the fact that this car definitely wasnt made for long-hauls. Its got stiff springs and
low-profile summer tires, doesnt even have a working radio, and he keeps only two CDs in the
glove compartment, so theres a fifty-fifty chance were about to listen to either jazz-sampled rap
or a lengthy concerto. I have a split-second to guess before the center console is backlit orange
and, naturally, I guess wrong. I probably shouldnt have, these days hes been more partial to
Dudamels overtures than anything else, but a girl can dream. And its not as though the L.A.
Philharmonic mortally offends me. Rather, Im about to sit through a good half-hour of
faux-gospel and uninspired organ riffs, so Id like something a bit thicker to cushion the blow.
Weve barely made it three blocks before hes turning down the volume and inhaling like a
liturgist. You should really learn how to drive stick, he says, quite like he always does. Then he
continues slowly, with what appears to be consideration but is in all likelihood an intended
suspense: If this is the only car around with a full tank of gas and theres a zombie apocalypse
youll need to know how to operate a manual transmission or youll die. His words are trailed by
a heavy, sweeping viola motion, and he looks awfully pleased with the dramatics.
Okay, fair. If ever there is a need to escape a herd of mindless, reanimated corpses I
absolutely
want to do so in style. Do you think Maman will lend me her black Chanel sunglasses? How sick
would that be? Picture it."
He sighs at my vanity, so I make a show of rolling my eyes heavenward and reaching for the
sound control to dial it a few notches past comfortable listening volume. First-chair violin sounds
a bit electric like this, and it gets me asking him to
please
add Baptism to the bullet cars minimal
CD collection, because not only is it disgustingly fitting but red is also my favorite color.
I thought your favorite color was blue, he says, brow furrowed, and its kind of amazing how he
knows so much, practically wipes the fucking floor with the bovine contestants on Jeopardy every
night, emptied tumbler slack in his hand like knowing the exact year De Waele won the Tour de
France is no big thing, yet: Or is it purple?
And normally Id harp on it, but today is a holy day and Ive got Jesus inside me or something, so I
let it pass. No. But feel free to throw in some Prince, too, I dont mind.
Sadly, he doesnt seem to appreciate my punchy, quick wit. His answer is in the sudden jerk of the
car as he switches gears and my elbow colliding violently with the door handle, but I know hes
not actually put-out. He can't be, today is
the Lord's day!
and while I may not understand the Holy

Spirit no matter how many times it's explained to me you can be damned sure that he does, and
his generous attitude is something I exploit to the best of my abilitybut only on Sundays,
because I only sin when I know I'll be forgiven.

Everything that Matters Can Fit Inside a Semicircle, or


A pair of semicircles, dangling from either end of the forked cord around my neck. I cant start
walking until I plug in and press play, I cant get anywhere unless I do it to a beat. I keep time
even moving uphill, legs pushing hard to the tempo while sweat beads at the back of my neck.
Yesterday was Curtis and Prince but tonight its Lenny Kravitz with the whammy bar, crooning to
every inch of rigid pavement that passes underneath my feet. I bemoan my dirty black sneakers
while he wails about white leather boots, but I reward myself for keeping pace with him, balance
out the cardio with the stick of tobacco lodged between my teeth.
The flint wheel of my lighter is rough on the pad of my thumb, it takes three strikes to light up at
the bottom of the second hill. At the top: a single car whining in neutral beneath the red light,
some shitty patinated sedan with a clipped antenna and tarnished hubcaps and an engine that
rumbles like a double bass. Something snubs the embers on the end of my cigarette, probably the
wind, and Im just pulling fire back up to my mouth when the driver rolls down the window,
meaty fingers curling over the lip of glass.
You know thats gonna kill you.
Im sorry, I laugh, startled, hand glued above my eyes as I squint through the darkness, blue
smoke brandished between my fingers, but who are you?
What kind of sad motherfucker putters
around like this, warbling from a decrepit car at solitary twenty-somethings?
I hold my breath and
Lenny does the talking for me, murmurs to this lonely guy about the single bullet in his chamber.
From inside the car an oily forehead gleams, and theres a circle of dark fuzz around a widely
opened mouth: he denounces my attitude with a sneer, piano-key teeth squishing into his bottom
lip. But this guy is weak, I can see it in the way his jowls pinken and tremble, how his eyes flash
up to the stoplight, so I entertain the logistics of shoving my torso through the open metal frame
and rupturing his fat jugular with the edge of my palm. Its satisfying to imagine eradicating the
source of my ire; Lenny agrees, and swears that Im a beast in the best way possible.
I find myself humming through a long drag, excess smoke charring my corneas as I wade through
the sludge of this strangers disdain. I check my hip against the cars wing mirror and the song

skips. Now Lennys saying hes a minister, so I say, And hows all this preaching been treating
you, does it pay well? and reach out to slap my hand against the dilapidated hood. The whole car
rattles and the man inside lurches in his seat. Oh
damn
, I purr, wiping rust from my skin, guess
not. Thats too bad, this baby could definitely use a tune-up.
Im unaware of his reply, it doesnt matter, I inch closer. The traffic light is still the same red as
Lennys album cover, and the slow burn of my temper colors my entire field of vision with that
same shade of scarlet. I flick my burning stick into the gape of the window and watch this mans
nostrils flare, wider and wider, until its like hes got a double-barrel shotgun pointed straight at
me.

This Couch has Grown into a Blind Spot


Its darker near the piping, a deep-sea navy where theres no risk of exposure. Starched cotton
gathers at the edges in an clumsy play at upholstery; baggy and puckered like muscle sheathed in
loose skin. Its easy to pinch, to take the swathes of cotton flesh between my fingers and tug until
I hear the cracked exhale of a thread breaking, until theres a messy fringe of broken yarns kissing
the air between my bluing knees.
The couch is saggy and lifeless but swollen with bated breath. Its greying and faded like a
sun-stricken glaze because the indigo is fake, just a thin film of sediment that erodes with every
chafe of my elbow. But this gradient and its blotchy nuances disappear under the cover of curious
hands. My fingers catch on the blue lip and curl over the brim, glance off an aged boxspring that
furls against my palm when my weight on the couch is displaced. I press down and stiffen my
arms to stay balanced, but the birdbones in my right wrist crunch under the strain, so my body
lists left. Then my forearm is falling into the brackish trench between the cushions and food
crumbs are grinding into my skin, potato chip shavings and gritty cheese dust and large grains of
salt that cling like theyve been glued. My fist gets sucked inside, punches straight down to the
couchs frame, and the hard impact of cold metal has me jerking free with a hiss. I stuff my hand
beneath the stovetop of my thigh.
My heart is a massive, thudding clot in my trachea, and I listen to the couch creak slow as I
breathe. Even slower: eyes roving over each deep-set cushion, every imperfection plucked out for
scrutiny. Theres a stain near the crease; a borderless, red-brown crust, the dirty dribble of its
archipelago spit-bathed into a smear. It flakes off like rust when rubbed, packs in beneath the
glossy overhang of my nectarine pinky nail.
Its a varnish color is so inappropriately childish its distracting. When I trace coalescing circles
into the fabric by my knee my nails circumnavigate in a ripple of fluorescent flame. The hue is
loud enough to block out sound of air whistling into my lungs, loud enough to mute the impatient
tapping of a foot that isnt mine on the hard wooden floor.
With one noisy orange nail I scratch into existence nonsensical shapes and tally-marks until color
is lifting from the couch, lines whitening like the scrape on my thighit's a long one, slashed

upwards from my knee and punctuated with a small crescent. Im not sure how it got there, but I
know its new because its only just starting to pinken where the tail end whips beneath my
shorts.
Except it doesnt turn pink because my skin is turning colder, and soon my leg is a scratchpost of
blue veins. And the scratching, like all my other gestures, leaves me aching and anxious. It takes
effort to force my hand back into my lap, and even when I do I cant stop fidgeting. I pop my joints
like kindling, push my thumb into the fold of my elbow. My eyes find that ruddy crease stain
again. Its coastline is slightly more blurred now, worn from worrying, though the ridges of my
fingertips have been filled mostly with blue. Theyre tacky, like theyve been cradled in a soft pad
of ink. The dye tinges in excess, draws out all the red in my skin, and I wipe it off onto my bare
thighs in a series of hurried presses that mottle like gangrene and linger like bruises.
Hands now clasped together in a fit of restraint, my unease manifests in a bloom of cold sweat.
My arms pimple like ostrich leather and slide against the couchs stiff back in all the wrong ways.
Its sticky-hot and uncomfortable. The padding has been squashed flat, compressed into dense,
cotton-covered wedges, and the lack of give beneath my ass has me squirming until Im half on
my side, legs curled up and toes flexing. There are no throw pillows. The couch is only two
cushions wide, can barely fit four legs and the yawning space between them, but its got armrests
on either side that are plenty broad for propped feet or chicken-wing shoulderblades or the slope
of a limp neck.
At this rate my whole body is tinted blue, each warm limb discolored like a pie-stained mouth,
and I blend right in with this soiled couch. I think about holding my breath, sinking into the dark
fissure behind my back, peppering myself with old foodstuff.
There is only one shaft of sunlight to highlight my new cobalt skin, and its splintered by sharp
blinds. It reaches over my kneecap in stripes of viscous albumin and makes the couch blanche
under a wash of grey. By the time the light is hot enough to cook with my shorts have been ripped
to my ankles, so its got both my bare legs to broil. They bake with a burnt smell so cloying it
makes my eyes water, but the skillet of my temple turns leaking saline into vapor. The sun chars a
thumbprint into my calf, smokes the skin just below the bend of my left knee, grills tandem prints
into my hips. Here on this bluish couch I am forcibly seasoned, my bones ground into broth and
flavored with a spice that curdles in the back of my throat.

Twos Harmony
I crack both sets of knuckles on each finger, listen to the snap of gas that bubbles between
coupled joints. I can prop my hand on my waist and bring the wing of my arm forward and pop
my shoulder too, and once Ive done one Ive got to do the other. Sometimes my refractory period
is less than twenty minutes and Im able to do it every ten; sometimes I do them at the same time
and I get a cacophony for my trouble, the sound of bone lifting slightly from its socketbone
thats sleeved in two different colors of skin. Yet somehow black-and-white failed to make grey so
Im stuck with a honeylike amalgamation that reddens only when Im close to the equator, peels
off under the sun in blotchy, dark bronze flakes. The black-and-white manifests in other ways,
tears my body up at the seams to root in the puggy slope of my nose and the tealish hoops of my
too-light eyes; the flaxen dust of hair on my forearms and the sable arc of my brow; every part of
me paired with an equal opposite. There are two more like me, two boys brun and blond, with a
chasm hacked so wide between them its a wonder we dont find ourselves lost in it.
Were living
question-marks
I used to say, back when my thicket of curls had flatironed ends, and wed be
greeted with a chorus of confused sympathy and downturned mouths, a natural reaction to
ethnic ambiguity. But then I hewed that eroteme in two and took from it a coiled comma and a
period.
Everything is a whole that can be split into sticky halves, right up the center if youre so
inclinedI certainly am. I pare things down with the intensity of the obsessed: a butter knife to
overripe lemon skin and suddenly Ive got two sour vessels cupped in each palm; a plastic straw
folded in half and pressed together by my teeth; an inch-long strip of double-sided tape torn from
end to end because whats more fun than breaking something apart when its sole purpose is to
fuse things together? Im fond of addition, but I shorthand with the ampersand and splinter
sentences apart like paperback spines. Ive got a home in each parent but a split-level mind and it
makes thinking in more than one way easy, dressing up words by weighing them down,
garnishing my vowels with extra consonants. I like my food soaked in hollandaise and slit down
the middle, my armbones pried apart and my cerebellum spliced cleanly with a cleaver, but when
I take a blade to my homonyms Im always whittling air.

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