When the streetcar pulls into the station, the boy proclaims that all bad words start with S, like STOP, SHUT UP, and PROVE IT, all proud and stuff. Don’t you know your letters, kid? Eat this alphabet soup and learn some REALLY bad words, like SWEAR IT, PROMISE ME, and PLEASE, OH, PLEASE, because poets and princes swap secrets for promises that poke a million tiny holes in your teeth. We gulped down our soup in front of the TV last night when those idiots squandered money on vowels instead of spinning the damned wheel, so we know the truth.
Little Dianita with a bump on her head and wild grin, she ran up and down the hallway with her IV flapping, shouting “butterfly” and “mariposa.” With cross-eyed concentration she strung painted blocks along a wire track and fit each foam puzzle piece into its snug slot. The janitor brought a chubby kangaroo and the nurse blew a floury latex glove into a turkey balloon, all for Dianita, so many games! The doctor placed a baby doll in the crib and asked, did he touch you here or here? And, so many games, Dianita laughed and said, yes, yes, yes.
When the peacock scratched your face, I was thrilled, for a moment, to see the blood roll down your nose in the crooked trails left by its toes. But when I touched my own face—nose intact—I panicked. Your face was a mess! In one stroke, we had lost six years of symmetry. Later, I wasn’t allowed to come to the hospital with you; I was sent home to eat chicken rice for dinner. It tasted like flowers but I chewed it like an automaton and swallowed it anyway. I think you would have tasted the flower taste too.
Everything spoiled. Bundled celery roots, untouched since coming home, gave up the ghost months back while the rosemary wilted, only a handful plucked for garnish. The passion fruit preserve, which I bought because passion fruit’s your favourite but never went well with anything, inexplicably grew a black vein in its jar. Using is difficult, keeping even more so. Throw out the perishables, separately seal each item in plastic, bleach every surface and watch expiry dates. Come back to see this temperature-controlled miracle. Afterwards, we’ll buy heirloom tomatoes from around the corner and eat in the sun till we’re both sick.
Her voice belonged to a siren. It shackled me with awe as she sang while cleaning the dishes and my eyes locked to her hips as she swayed to the rhythm of her own tune and glided about the room. Some evenings she would sing while she played her father's guitar. Having long since ceased singing to me, she sang to sing, often wandering through her past one bridge at time. As I sat across the room pretending to read, nonchalantly distancing myself from reminders of my artistic inadequacy, I listened to her songs, wondering who she wrote them for.
The other night, I listened to music at a place wedged between empty storefronts with bars on the windows on a wide-open street with an occasional El Salvadorian market, a gas station, and cars always guzzling by. Inside the theater, a woman from Nashville played an old electric guitar and sang with that emotion where her head is cocked back and her mouth is a big black hole. The sound was everywhere. It had been so long since feeling art like this, and all I could hear was someone from an old poetry workshop describing my beer as amber nectar.
Today I went on a forgetting spree. I forgot to flush the toilet, forgot the toothpaste when I brushed my teeth. I forgot to take out the trash. I forgot my keys. I forgot how to drive my car—where was it, anyway?—but it didn't matter, because I forgot how to get to my office. So I sat down while I continued to forget things like the sound of my mother's voice and the color of my father's eyes and my email passwords. But soon I forgot how to sit so I lay down and forgot how to breathe.
I’m not sure you’ll believe me, but you can smell the difference between a blue crab and any other breed of crab, I could tell a sally from a sook on touch alone, and even when they molt, the oil won’t come off. I knew this, apart from the smells, before I knew the lab. I could’ve told you that we’d turn to blue crabs if this ever happened. They’re small enough to be prey but with enough fight to eat some, too, and in the middle, that’s where you tell how things are shaping up. So, the blue crab.
The table is set with shaky hands. There are the scrambled eggs, the cups of hot chocolate with the melted cheese blobs already resting on the bottom, the sweet rolls, the smells-like-feet papaya, the banana, the instant coffee with the too much sugar. This is a fight! papa cries, clattering the silverware. Never ever go to sleep angry, mama says, ever. What a terrible relief! brother says, may god, precious little god, be with you in every moment. And sister just smiles, pulling tight her pearl necklace of purple stitches, smiles until little red beads form between the purple pearls.
You have a cough medicine hangover and your eyes are sealed shut with sleep, but still I want to touch your ears and weave bobby pins into your carpet. Your thighs are heavy and you smell terrible. You tell me, “My lungs are filled with emotions.” I’m a small cafe and I’m open for breakfast. The coffee is black. The toast, too. I was hoping to impress you, but now I think we should burn everything and start over. This person bleeds like you bleed. Does that move you? This person pays bills like you do. Does that move you?