Ben McCormick is a writer and high school English teacher from Milwaukee, WI. His fiction is forthcoming in Rind and has previously appeared in Green Blotter magazine. He is also the writer/host of the biographical WWII podcast series Who Is Edward Wallner?
THICK BLOOD AND THIN SKIN
Drip. Drip. Drip by the faucet. Faucet off. Off in a trance, zen somewhere, not here. Blood in the sink and blood on the brain. Eris doesn’t notice because she won’t turn away from the TV, one leg folded over its smooth other over by the couch, legs for miles. I’m standing. Leaking. Hiding.
We haven’t made up. I can tell we haven’t made up because we haven’t had sex.
“I’m just...tired,” she told me in bed last night, rolling over, burying her eyes in a forearm.
“Are we good?”
“Yeah.” Her feet twitch. A heel rams my shin. “We’re good.”
I pinch the vein and a few more drops emerge and it’s gone again. This, pain, painful, mindful, mindless, less is more, is better. Here, this silence, sinful, deafening, is not peace, but closer to something else.
“Are you going to fix that faucet?” she says over her shoulder, a blue haze over her face. She must have slipped the tab into her mouth already, probably one, maybe more. She just bought a quarter sheet, LSD on one side, the sketch of a comic book hero on the other. She prefers to do it alone, and when she does she gets everything in order before it kicks in. This, acid, acidic, gasoline, funeral pyre, is something I’m told by our narrow-eyed therapist I should “respect.” That it’s exactly who she is. And I do, because tonight, moonlight, candles, fireside, I’m confronting her. She’s going to tell me the truth.
I turn on the faucet and twist it off again. A warm steam rises from the bowl, and for a moment it smells like Utah when it rains--the iron in the earth smells of blood.
“All good,” I say, stalking behind her. Cartoons flash from the tube and I hold my open wound above her head. A drop steadies itself, an olympic diver ready to plunge into her shining brown hair. She’s separated a bag of Skittles by color on the coffee table, judiciously plucking one at a time, cleansing her palette with water between tastes. Eris has an unflinching sense of justice this way, equality, one I used to love; all for one, one for all. She refused to act in a play adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird in high school because Tom Robinson doesn’t get justice, and because she was the best actress in the school they changed the whole production to My Fair Lady. She’s immaculate when it comes to being anybody she wants.
We can feel each other’s presence without even touching. We’re too close.
They say blood in your veins is blue, blank, empty and weathered until it faces the world, its toes over the cliff. A drop throws itself off my arm, down, face in wind, before I catch it. It splatters on my palm over her head. She doesn’t notice, entranced, hypnotized, captured by the cackle of animated humans in the black box. A boy is being strangled by another, his throat closed, aching, broken, wrist flailing to express, revolt against silence. He’s thrown to the ground. Blood seeps from his knees and suddenly they’re all friends again. How nice.
Our grandfather clock next to our bookcase ticks, tick, tick, time invading, infesting. Minutes roll down the lane--gutterball. I wonder if, to her, its hands will melt before the night’s out.
I retreat, run a finger across my wrist and take a taste. I like it. I like the immediacy, my whole biology focused here and nowhere else. The blood is thick like packing snow, and warm. I press a paper towel to my wound, my fourth, a vertical tally mark level with the preceding three. I think I’ll make the fifth diagonal across the other four so she can see what she’s done to me, my family, our family. And won’t it look nice--every half-inch scar parallel to the others. Orderly and sane. Calm.
I told her not to go to the cops about Hastings, my brother, my family, my everything. I’ve already given her my sob story. That blood is thicker than water. That Hastings might be dopey (not knowing into his twenties that a “Train Xing” sign meant “crossing” and not a new word “ex-ing”), but he raised me from when our parents went over a guardrail in 1995. That we can get him help. Yes, we were there, we saw him nearly kill a man at The Reservoir, but we can handle this ourselves. That she and I have been handling ourselves just fine these last six months.
I remind her it’s been that long since I got friendly with razors in our bathroom sink last June. That we did what we needed to get by, move on. How she used to hold my hand above a wrapped wrist and say, “Whatever it takes.” Her hands were softer then.
Are we happy now? No, but surviving, some kind of victory. Sometimes that’s what a marriage calls for, doesn’t it? Compared to our last six months Hastings should be easy, put one in the win column, pop some champagne, stretch some rubbers.
“You’re a team,” our therapist said. “Cheer each other on.”
Well, two days ago I had a feeling. I followed her to a half-empty used car lot off Port Washington Road, watched as she slid a thin envelope to a pimple plagued kid over the counter. He’s the son of a Shorewood detective, Gibbons, who lives across the street from us. One of our now too friendly neighbors after I got home from the hospital with bandaged, whole, but vulnerable wrists. Word traveled fast. She doesn’t know I followed her or that I’ve been checking our phone records and mutual bank account. That I know she snitched. That she tried to hurt me again.
I head upstairs to suss this out while lying on my half of the bed, the only square inches of this house, dungeon, chains, locks--throw away the key--I can’t feel her seeping into.
Some teammate. She’s done for.
Yesterday I got a call from Hastings hold up in his house, his voice spiking. “Greg, the cops are...shit...the cops are here.”
“Are?” I say.
“Were,” he corrects himself. “Somebody’s talking. I haven’t left in days, and I wasn’t going to call, but...They know you were there. Somebody’s talking.”
“Where’d you tell them you were?”
“Solid Gold, where else?” It’s a strip club on the south side, and yes, he spends time there lining panties with singles like he’s installing insulation in them. He thinks the employees will cover for him, but I know that only lasts as long as they stay in law enforcement’s good graces.
“Well, you know it isn’t me,” I say.
His temper flares. It always does. “For fuck’s sake, it’s a pretty short list of who gave me up, then, innit?”
It is. One.
Six days ago it was both a Wednesday night and a Thursday morning, almost bar time at The Reservoir. The place smells of barley and cigarette smoke still lodged in the bar’s wood since the ban levied years ago. Every surface is sticky with dried liquor. Ants commiserate in the corners. The Reservoir is located a place no one goes: Shorewood’s west side. It’s beyond the river, past the freeway, past Messmer High. It’s a lower tax bracket in that part of the city--and in the Milwaukee area where there’s a lower tax bracket, there aren’t any cops. We thought we got lucky.
It’s a signless bar run by a faceless man whose apron dangles like theater curtains. There are no ceiling bulbs, just pool table lighting, a chest-down glow. It’s almost burlesque, speakeasy, faces lingering in the shadows, dark, foreboding. The faceless bartender hardly ever emerges from the basement office doing god knows what. We would stomp into the rotting floor when we needed another drink and wait long minutes for him to emerge, but that night Hastings got tired of waiting--grabbing bottles from the well and pouring himself. It’s the magic of youth and the eternal spring of it inside Hastings, that the rules, boundaries, out-of-bounds, fifteen yard penalties, personal fouls don’t seem to apply to him. He started by reaching for rail liquor over the bar before working up the courage to walk around it and drink top shelf, whiskeys older than pop stars.
I remember it. I remember it because I was there with Eris, and I put my hand on the small of her back when he flipped a bottle of Glenlivet 12 in the air and she cozied into my shoulder giggling. Genuine, full, whole. I used to think one good night would get us past these tough months, past just surviving. Maybe tonight, I thought. Maybe now we’ll be happy. How stupid. Memory bends to no one. That’s why you’re happy when you’re young. You only know possibility, the future, odds in your favor, odds against, bet the house, buy a house, rent, never settle, never compromise. You’re weightless. Then the past adds slow ounces and pounds of memory and it never stops.
A lethal Wisconsin winter fills the window with dull white streaks of snow. Inside it’s the three of us and a lonely, bearded man at the end of the bar. He’d be quarterback tall if he stood or even sat up straight. He wore dirty wingtip shoes, khakis caked with mud. He never bothered to ask for a refill on whiskey, just brandishing a flask and doing it himself. Not that it was all that often--he stared into his glass for hours and appeared to almost fall somewhere, heaven, hell, or limbo. Until he didn’t.
Hastings’ twirled a shiny pool cue for us between his fingers, end-over-end like a windmill. He danced a two-stop as he did it, booze flushing his cheeks, making a real meal of it. I pulled my wife close. Tonight, I thought.
We stared at the stick and his fingers. Yellow nails, tough skin, moving as if rapping them on a desk. There was a mystery to their movement and we didn’t want any explanation. We preferred the illusion, a wonder that for a few moments lifted the lacerating, trapping anvils from around our ankles and minds; everything less complicated than it was in the minutes, seconds before. “My wife and I” were just that, and my brother was his best version of himself: bumbling yet charming. It was wonderful. But the bearded man just had to say something. He just had to, didn’t he?
“I could do a lot better with that stick if you bent over, big boy.”
The pool cue crashed to the hardwood. Hastings put a fist around an empty bottle of Old Style on the bar (it could have been there for days). His words came from a coal fire inside him, and someone down there was shoveling fast.
“The fuck you said?”
Hastings took slow steps toward the bearded man. Hastings’s feet filled the silence, heavy on the floor. The jukebox clicked off. The bearded man didn’t flinch in his response.
“You don’t speak English goodly, do you, big boy? I said--”
Hastings flattened the glass bottle over the man’s eye. It shattered, split, cut, slit the whole socket. It happened with such force it made a bright, collective sound, like a service bell you strike with your palm.
It knocked the bearded man out cold. He slid silent off his stool into the bar and settled on the floor, blood dotting his cheeks and running from his scalp like exposed veins. Hastings’ hand was bleeding, swollen.
“Well, shit,” he said.
“I’m calling the police,” said Eris.
“Like fuck you is,” said Hastings. He pointed a crimson, bayoneted finger at her. “I’ll take that glass pitcher on the bar and do you with my other hand. How’s that?”
Eris pushed me. “Is that how you’re going to let your brother talk to me?”
Murmurs rose from the floor. The bearded man pasted a painted red hand over his eye, and wobbled to consciousness. He let out a shriek that could have blown cake off birthday candles.
“I’m blind,” he wailed, sobbing. “911, 911.”
Eris started to panic. “He needs an ambulance.”
Just then, a rumbling from the basement: “The hell’s going on up there?”
Hastings’s head was huge, splitting with rage. “We gotta get out of here now, and you’re both coming with.”
He grabbed the neck of the broken bottle from the floor and pointed its tip at me. The end shined in the billiard lights, dripping something. I hoped it was beer. Then I met his gaze. He spoke in the almost fatherly voice he developed in the years after our parents’ accident. “Gregory, right now.”
Eris spoke up. “I’m not--”
I clutched her arm. Hard.
“Now,” I said.
It’s been a half hour since I treated my newest wound. Cartoons are bending Eris’s neurons into knots when she texts me. I’m upstairs in our room. Breathing, living, one second at a time.
“Honey...come back down here,” it reads seductively. Honey. A year ago that meant she loved me. These days I’m betting it’s something else. She wants something.
“Sit,” she tells me.
I sit on the far side of our plaid couch, rife with coins and crumbs; a mouse bungalow. She looks at my chest, then my whole face. I make no expression.
“You’re waiting a couple hours to talk to me, aren’t you? Until I’m peaking.”
I don’t respond because I don’t need to. She’s beat me to the punch. One of the reasons I married her.
She leans in, drags a fingernail painted red down my forearm. She digs, craters, burrows into my skin and laughs. “But honey, we’re not going to talk at all, because you’re talking to the police.”
“Oh.” She punches numbers into her phone, “you better shush.”
She turns the screen. It shows “911” with her thumb over the call button.
“You can’t,” I plead, as if she’s in any mood to discuss. “Hastings’s got no future if he goes away. Prison doesn’t cure a man of anything except goodness.”
She purses her lips and speaks in a velvet voice. “Oh, honey. This has little to do with your brother.”
“Then what are you threatening to call the cops for?”
“I’m not going to turn Hastings in. You are.”
A violent shiver drives up my back. “Me?”
“This is about you--you doing the right thing. And” --she sighs-- “as always, I’ll help you get there.”
“Wait, what are you doing?”
She lifts her shirt and shows a fresh purple and orange bruise over her flat belly.
“Whatever it takes.”
I shoot to my feet and start backing away, trying to cover the low panic in my voice. “Whoa, now. I didn’t do that.”
She keeps her shirt up as she’s talking. Her pupils dilated. “Who’s going to believe you? You’re emotionally unstable.”
She laughs, lipstick shining in the television’s furious glow. “Nobody who carves a scoreboard into their wrists is fine.”
I’m too upset to speak. Eris draws forward, lowers her shirt. “Feel my pulse, baby. Go on.” I don’t move. But I imagine the peaks and valleys over her skin, soft, almost lush. “It’s even. I’m calm...for now. All you have to do is do the right thing, honey, and this bruise,” she’s lifting my chin with her finger now, turning her tone sweet, “and all our other bruises go away with it.”
“The kid at the used car lot--”
“Ah, shush,” she says, raising the phone again. Calm, in control. “I gave my statement. Written, sure, I tried to do justice. I couldn’t call. I knew you’d check our records. Listen, they need you to corroborate the story before they’re comfortable making the arrest. I got a letter from Detective Gibbons, they’re going to come here tomorrow afternoon to talk to you, but I want you to pick up the phone and call them right now. No more bullshit. That man lost his eye, and Hastings needs to pay.”
“He’s my brother, Eris. We can get him help--real help--chairs, addicts, first-timer chips, and coffee. In-patient clinic if he needs it. He’ll come out of prison a real criminal in a year or five. I swear--”
“Now, or I call the police. Use your phone or I’ll use mine. And if I use mine, this gets ugly.”
Laughter emanates from the television and I sidestep in front of it to see her face. It’s pale, chilly. She repeats herself. “Your phone or mine.”
I turn and sprint out the door to my white sedan, peel out to the avenue. I roll stop signs, ignore yields, punching pedals with years of tracked-in dead grass matted beneath them.
“Are you sure nobody followed you?” Hastings whispers.
“We’re in your house, why are you whispering?”
“I don’t know what they’ve set up around this fucking place. They were here again an hour ago, knocking on my door, looking through my fucking windows.”
He’s not shaking, but he looks startled, eyes still, unreal, like a plush doll. I sniff the air. It smells like dried dill pickles.
“Hastings, are you high?”
“Calms me down.”
“Fucks you up,” I say. “Makes you paranoid.”
“No. But you better get rid of it before the cops quit knocking at your door and just kick it down.”
Hastings lives in a dark, single-story ranch. It looks near vacant, idle; a veritable warehouse. The lamps are set on the floor and don’t have shades, just bulbs that’d do a better job with a good dusting. The interior consists entirely of a sofa and a fat television with wires running from its back like cobwebs. Nothing else. He has no bed frame--the mattress just lies on the carpet and it’s got the stains to prove just how charming Hastings can be when he pretends to put himself together. The best decoration he has is the small pipe and baggie resting on the sofa armrest next to him.
I’m a little pissed. This is my brother in vintage form, but I always believed there’d be a time when he’d understand TV personalities don’t smile as much off screen as they do on it--that when the cameras are on you, when you’re being scrutinized, you just do what the audience wants. As I came over here I actually thought with the cops nipping at his heels with a prosecutor not far behind he might rise to the occasion and play nice. A pipe dream that was. I calm myself as best I can and explain everything that had just happened to me: Eris, the bruise, the phone.
“Did she call? Are you just dragging them here?” he says.
“I don’t hear any sirens. Least not yet. Besides, she’s tripping, nobody’s nuts enough to call any cops while--” I stop myself. She just might.
Hastings packs another bowl in his filthy green glass piece, lifts it to his chin. “That wife of yours, I tell you…”
He makes an ass of himself, wants my help, and has the balls to bitch about my wife and what she did. Someone may wrap my wrists in metal and call me an accomplice, an accessory, and they’d be right. I love my brother, but I have my limits, cliffs of my own, and I’m wondering if I’d rather push him off before going over it myself. I won’t be taken for granted. My hand smothers the pipe and I bare my teeth.
“You don’t get to tell me anything about my wife. You took out a man’s eye. I am your everything right now. If I don’t talk, they don’t have enough to arrest you. You do what I tell you. And for starters, you shut the fuck up about my wife.” Hastings pushes my hand away and presses a flame to the bowl, inhaling sharply, pausing, exhaling white smoke.
“Little Gregory finally stands up to big bro, but still lets his woman push him around.” Hastings cackles, forcing a cough, “like the puss he is. Oh, this is rich.”
“God, screw you.”
Hastings sits up and makes himself big. A grizzly; dominant. “People say a lot of things, but Greg, it’s what they do that counts. Nothing else. Your wife scared you and you acted. I’m proud of you for not just folding like a lawnchair right then. Didn’t it feel good?” He lets the next words slide off his tongue, born from the smolder and smoke in his lungs. “Yeah, I put a bottle into that man’s eye, but I’d do it again right now. The only way I’d respect him is if he took that pool cue and shoved it up my shithole. You earn respect with action. An eye for an eye. Sure, I’m scared right now, but I’m scared of prison. It’s five-to-twenty years in this state for aggravated assault, but I’m not sorry for taking that guy’s eye. I’m not sorry one bit. You talk shit, you get hit.”
“Jesus, you need help.”
He lights another flame between his face and mine. “There is no Jesus, Greg. There is no God. I’m Jesus, I’m God. You’re Jesus, you’re God. Don’t you get that?”
“Aren’t you sorry?”
Inhale, exhale. “Yeah--sorry you got hurt--but look at the stones on you now.” He claps me on the back, “a real man.”
He walks to the refrigerator, his open leather jacket dangling, ripped, split ends, splitsville, a chasm, looming, swaying from his broad shoulders as he pours us milk in the only two glasses he owns. “You remember that Bruce acoustic tune, the one about family Dad used to lecture us about whenever the boss came on the radio?”
I do. “Highway Patrolman.” I start to whisper the chorus and Hastings picks it right up and sings the rest: “A man that turns his back on his family, well he just ain’t no good.” And Bruce is damn right, I think. When it all goes to shit you fall back on your family, whether you like them or not. The people who keep you alive, who keep you at all. This isn’t the first time we’ve recalled this particular song together, but today is the first time I’m not sure I believe myself humming the words. But I shake the feeling, take the milk and sock my brother in the arm.
“So tell me,” says Hastings, packing another bowl. “How are you going to turn her out?”
Up on the ceiling there’s a brown water stain shining in the moonlight. Tap water drips in the sink, it echoes, sharp. Wind whistles under a crack in the window pane. The sounds ground me where I am. Not just in that house, but as Hastings’s only ticket out, ticket punched, I’ve got a front row seat, climbing on stage. I slam the window shut.
“Grab your shoes. Get in the car,” I tell him. “And gimme the key to the back door.” He hands me the key and is almost out before he darts back like I know he will, stuffing the pipe and baggie into his jacket pocket.
Hastings spoons the last of his buttery hash browns into his mouth, hardly chewing at all. “Two hours in this shithole diner and you still haven’t answered my question.”
He doesn’t have to say--I know what I’ve been stepping around, stepping out, cheating on. He’s rocking on his stool all doped up, pawing at it for balance.
I take a sip from my fourth coffee. “Well, is this place a shithole compared to prison?”
He removes the paper placemat beneath what’s left of his hash browns and scrambled eggs to dangle it in front of me. “It’s not exactly the Taj Mahal, now is it?”
We’ve taken two short spinning stools at a twenty-four hour diner just off of the local university campus. It’s three-AM, and there’s two other tables of drunk college students who, like all drunks, are either celebrating something or celebrating nothing. I recognize the sole employee serving and cooking for all the tables and imagine he’s making decent cash tonight. He’s got thick sideburns and thicker muscles, and he’s been doing variations of pushups every half hour on a blue mat he brought in and spread on the slick tile. We’re sitting close enough to the grill to hear the sizzle and smell his handiwork. Close enough to hear him mumble about these “addicts-in-training,” how it’s all poison, how sad it is to soak your brain in “alcohol,” though nobody who drinks ever calls it that. He treats his body like a temple; Hastings treats his like a landfill.
“This whole place smells like burnt toast,” Hastings says.
The cook chimes in. “It’s the customers more than the food. Fights every week.”
“Ever call the cops?” asks Hastings, a little loud. The cook snickers. “Never anything I can’t handle.” Then he considers me, staring further and harder into my face every moment. “You sure you never been here before? You look familiar.” Immediately he’s hailed by one of the loud tables.
Hastings leans into my ear as he walks away. “No way that guy smokes reefer. He’s straight to the bone.”
This much I’m counting on.
The table has six people, four boys and two girls, a blonde and a brunette. Each of the boys has gelled hair and polos of varying colors, all one size too small to showcase their muscles (child’s play next to the cook’s). Their nipples jut out of the cotton and they know it. Hell, they flaunt it. One gets up for the bathroom revealing a tiny lower body and I suspect they all share this characteristic; four wine glass shaped boys eating with two attractive women. He passes, smelling like a mix of pit stains and Aqua Velva.
By the time he returns his friends have emptied the table caddy, folding the paper silverware wraps and launching them with forks. The ketchup and mustard squirt bottles lay on the table, salt shaker overturned. Their laughing grows louder, as does the yelling, too, with every swig of the brown flask Mister Universe doesn’t notice. The boys make dramatic gestures and the girls lean toward the table to show what they’ve got. It’s a drunken hormone carnival.
“Ah, shit,” I tell Hastings. “It’s cash only. Don’t move, there’s an ATM right around the corner.”
I have to walk right by the table of six to get through the door and two of the guys eye me up in drunken paranoia on approach. I’m counting my steps on the maroon tile, breathing steadily, even, odd, measuring my strides, planting heel-toe-heel-toe until I’m close enough. Then I fall. Face-first. Right over. On my way down I reach out my left hand, squishing the ketchup bottle and dousing a boy in a tight white polo with red ooze.
The white polo cusses and the girls thrust napkins at his torso. The other polos slosh to a standing position. One grabs the mustard bottle and squirts the yellow goop all over my face. That’s when I hear Hastings. He lumbers toward us and plants a fist in the teeth of the mustard guy. Fists fly. I kick out one of their legs. There’s a crunch. One slips on the goop and everybody tumbles onto me. My gut takes a hard elbow and now I’m getting hit. Sides, head.
I hear the cook from far away. “Hey, what the hell?” A spatula hits the floor and I hear him slide over the counter.
The girls and onlooking table treat the fight like a hot frying pan, reaching to help then retreating. Hastings is squished next to me, fighting anyone around. Backs slam against the underside of a table when we try to push them off, rattling the plastic cups and dishes on it. A drop of blood falls on Hastings’ forehead.
I feel the cook pull off one of the guys with a single swing of an arm, and I turn over on top of Hastings in full view of the onlookers before he can pick up anyone else. A fist tightens on the back of my shirt to pull me off. Hastings is focused, propping another polo up on his knee, taking cracks at the kid’s ribs. I thrust my hands into Hastings’s jacket pocket, tighten my fist, and tear out all I can. The small pipe and baggie spill across the floor. I’m thrust backward and the momentum throws me into the metal counter. When my body stops my insides keep going, squishing and curdling into my spine.
One of the girls whispers to the other. “Wait, is that…”
It’s about this time, with Hastings still tussling on the floor with the only jock left, that the cook spots the goods. They’re bright on the tile among the grime and spilled condiments. A vein pops out of his head. He hulks both fighters off the floor and twists their arms into their backs. The detained jock is bleeding from above his eye, and it spurts lightly every time he blinks.
“Somebody call the cops,” commands the cook, and the blonde girl obliges. The entire onlooking table bolts for the door like undergraduates will when anyone uses that particular word: “cops.”
“Is that theirs?” the cook asks, his upper body heaving for air.
The brunette points right at Hastings, accusing, prosecuting, judge, jury, executioner. “No, it came out of his pocket.”
Hastings tries to jostle himself loose to no avail. “She’s lying, she’s fucking lying. That bitch didn’t see anything.” He scrambles for words. “G--Greg, tell them. It was those kids who just ran out. Teenage dickbags. Tell them, Greg.”
The cook looks at me. The ketchup-stained boy at the bar covered in napkins turns, too. Soon it’s everyone.
“Go on, Greg. Tell them it’s not mine.”
Police sirens wail in the distance. Hastings’s voice shrills, desperate.
“Fucking hell, Greg. Tell them.”
I’m a man. I don’t much care if anyone thinks I’m a good one, whether I’m fat, thin, big dick or small, whether it’s coming from a crusty homeless guy on Oakland Avenue or my own mother. I’m a man because I’m here. I’m alive. And I’m free.
“It’s tender, let me go,” I tell Eris as we’re spooning on the couch. She’s rubbing my hand over the bruise on her stomach. She laughs deep and hearty, then I join in.
She moves my hand over her breast. “How’s that?”
The television glow flashes across our faces. It’s a commercial, a man explaining how to install a window air conditioning unit.
Remember, water is going to leak out the back of the unit, so be smart, put a bucket under it. After a few days or weeks, give the plants around your yard a good bath. Amateurs patch the leak with putty and all they get is mold. Use the leak, don’t stop it.
“It’s good to have you back, honey,” she says, reaching for an acid tab from the table. She runs her hand across the marks on my forearms, then up to my fingers, separating them equally. Her breath is hot against me, searing, permanent, branded.
“Assault and possession? The judge will lean toward twenty,” she whispers. “He got what he deserved.”
I taste the words on my own tongue. “He got what he deserved.”
“You’re a good man,” she says.
“I’m a good man,” I say.
“You’re my man.”
“I’m your man.”
“And you won’t ever hurt me like this again.” She shoves my hand back over her stomach. I think I should shudder, but I don’t. The skin is tough, enduring.
“And I won’t ever hurt you like that again.”
See, martyrs never do anything but wither, sink, opening their veins to become a sentence in a book, a platitude for a sacrifice that won nothing and stays smothered, closed, scabbed, eaten. I’m here and I’m alive.
Eris tries to slip the tab into my mouth, but I stop her. We catch eyes and her jaw dips as I take the tab and do it myself.