They began starting their days with cantaloupe —it allowed him more patience for her.
It was something he could eat slowly while she checked her voicemails. He would tooth his rind into wide pieces so that when she made comments like “Did you hear what they have going at the band-shell on Friday?” or “Titty-Belle Warner seems in rough shape again,” he could raise his index finger just barely off the table, to indicate some time needed to avoid sputtering juice, and by the time he put it down she had changed subjects. Then he could sink back into the wedge and the cycle would repeat itself.
She circled back often to explain why she salted hers. How it made the melon taste sweeter and added an extra boost if the fruit wasn’t quite ripe. He hadn’t asked about it in fifty years—since he first tried it, per her recommendation, it wasn’t for him. He just knew to bring the shaker to the table after he cubed her a bowl.
Hard-Pressed and Cured
The desert dried out his skin. What he was doing for work didn’t help either, when he went in. He picked up long weekends as a shelver of shoes at the bowling alley. He was only allowed to put them back, never hand them out. Upon return his boss instructed him to give each pair two blasts of Seaman’s Turbo Disinfectant: “For as long as you would shhh a loudmouth in the library.” He hadn’t been to a library in a long time, so he timed the spray about one sneeze length. His boss seemed satisfied.
By the end of each shift a thick residue will have built up on his hands and made his shirt cuffs stiff and discolored. His palms would feel shrink-wrapped and cracked in the creases like the faux leather shoes he handled all night.
He felt jealous of his co-worker that worked checking out the shoes—always the one being thanked and kept baby soft hands.
He started taking long baths. Three a day, sometimes in a row, draining then filling the tub right back up. The gulping sound of the emergency drain relaxed him. His roommate—a farmer with a crooked back kept a 20-pound bag of Epsom salts under the sink. She had brought it home at the end of the tomato season. She was gone for the week, so he helped himself to the salt, pouring a significant mound into the water then mixing it up with his feet.
By the end of the week the bag was half empty and a thick crystal rim had formed around the lip of the tub. His skin was taught, flakey and inflamed. It snagged on his clothing. He couldn’t stand the feel of lotion so he continued with his soaks as the condition worsened. He blamed it on the stress of his roommate returning.
Aversion to Spices
A man came to the counter with the menu. The large group he had brought with him lingered behind him like an entourage, passing around the plastic sample cups that I had set out earlier. They sipped a few, each person going to different efforts to empty the ounce of liquid—some took it like a shot while others sipped slowly, licking the inner rims and chewing the edges like a pencil eraser.
They decided they wanted to share a plate and experience the full spectrum of flavors. Historic, modern, contemporary—all of it.
As the leader paid for the food, he said apologetically, as if fearing judgment: “My mother has an aversion to spices….”
I told him that I would, and had already intended to, place round sticky labels around the plate and pencil in a star across anything with a higher heat-level than cinnamon. He placed a dollar in the tip jar and went to find his group a table.
Later when I noticed them leaving, I waved and walked to their table. While I gathered the plates, someone from their party—an older woman—came around the corner and asked if I could wait just a moment.
She looked over the table and brought her face closer into the shallow bowls that had all been nearly emptied. She trawled her finger across the bottom of each bowl, leaving streaks in the remaining sediment before wiping a longer one down the length of her tongue. I could hear the grit popping between her teeth as she winced and put on her coat.
When Jean was young, he rescued a magpie from a fallen nest. He kept it by a pot of warm water for a few nights and it did just fine. He called it Marguerite.
Marguerite took a liking to the chickens during the day but made time to follow Jean to and from school. 3 o’clock sharp, she’d be perched outside the schoolhouse at the edge of town, eager to follow behind him and his mates, imitating their speech and nipping after the cigarette butts they flickered behind.
Some days they would pass the town fool, who was always wandering around to the next place to be kicked out of. The fool would spit at the boys and would be matched with a shower of rocks. He wore a long coat and boots that were five sizes too big. They rocked back and forth when he walked, like a rowboat around his scrawny bruised legs.
One night, Jean found the fool in their barn—the goat’s hind legs locked within those boots, being wrestled from behind and kicking hay into pillowed mounds. The image followed him into adulthood, stunting a handful of romantic encounters, mostly in the fall or winter when people need proper footwear to drudge through the elements. “Goat-fucking boots,” he would think to himself.
When school breaks came, Marguerite spent too much time in the coop. She began repeating back all the nasty things Jean’s mother would say when it was time to collect eggs for his breakfast. Marguerite’s profanities were rewarded with the toss of a mealworm or piece of sweetbread. Jean’s mother was proud because she had another mouth to do her bidding.
Raegan Bird is interested in archive building and interpreting personal and ecological patterns via image, music and writing. She has been published in Pets: An Anthology from Tyrant Books and currently co-runs the publishing project Blue Arrangements.