Pocket Full of Posies
I have scars from childhood. My father used to burn me with cigarettes. It wasn’t punishment. He would just call me over and push the cherry into my arm or chest or back. It must have been too much for my mom to watch. She left us when I was ten.
I met Sandra during a moment of sobriety. She was crying on a bench, head in hands, her red hair whipping about her face. I sat next to her, placed a piece of gum on her thigh.
When we moved in together, neither of us had jobs. We both had our ways to make money when we needed. Our apartment was cold and sterile, but not in a clean way, more like a Laundromat. Half buried, our view consisted of the bare branches of yews deprived of sun. All the lights a bit too yellow, making everything look like the pages of an old library book. We tried for weeks to cover a smell like burning metal, origin beyond our determination.
Months later, we sat in our living room on couch cushions we found left along the curb. Her sobbing—strangely soothing like white noise—and I found my eyes fixated on the fibers of her socks turned red.
My sister OD’d a few years back. Our father possessed a certain, failed, Machiavellian logic. To keep her a virgin he cut her face, ear to nose on both sides, so no one would want her. But he never overheard my friends justify to each other, “You don’t fuck her face.” And she did whatever she had to do to get her fix.
After the abortion, Sandra started cutting herself. She uses a serrated steak knife that makes me cringe when I watch, as it pulls and tears the skin. I usually have to go to the other room. She always falls asleep afterwards. I’ll go lay with her. When she wakes up, her clothes are stuck to her in dry blood.
One morning I woke to a scream. The familiar smell of burning flesh came back to me. Lying on the kitchen floor in nothing but a baby-blue thong was Sandra, twisting and writhing like a salted slug. The stove still ticking, a burner on high. I picked the skillet off the floor, and, with it, strings of melted linoleum clinging like mozzarella from a pan pizza’s first slice.
Everything in our apartment has been broken. And now, I dig through the dumpster to find glass bottles for Sandra to throw against the walls and for me to pick up the pieces of.
Our carpet is gradually turning brown, drop by drop, stained from our blood.
I walk in to find a fire burning on the stove that was the hair of Sandra, now bald. She turns and looks past me as smoke fills the kitchen. Her nipples poke out at me in an accusatory fashion. Later, she gets pissed when I suggest we could’ve given the hair to charity, for cancer victims. I open the windows to help clear the smell. Snow blows in with the cold air as the screens are no longer there.
She hasn’t left the apartment in months and she tells me on a Sunday morning that she wants to go to church. But she won’t get out of bed, even after I feel the warmth of her piss spreading across the sheets. I go cook pancakes.
Sandra looks like she just got out of a chemo session. Her eyes are sunk and her body sways if she sits up. I leave the apartment every day now and get a newspaper. I read the obituaries. I look for her name, as if they might know before me. I read them all to get a sense of style.
I come home to singed carpet and air escaping Sandra’s lungs in a sound I can’t recognize as a scream or a demented, strained laugh. She is laying in a mass of old newspapers, lighting matches. But when the paper catches, she squirms and rolls and smothers the fire with her body. Then, after a moment, she goes back to the matches. I pour her a glass of orange juice, and, with the tip of a steak knife, I scratch into the drywall, revealing layers of paint upon paint. Chartreuse, covering mauve, covered by taupe. Over it all, eggshell. I carve through it deep into the paper sheathing:
Causes—as natural as any
Preceded in death...