Remembering How Beams of Steel Disintegrated While Whole Sheets of Paper Fluttered Down Like So Much Ash and Dust to the Street
With a strip of clear Scotch tape the woman attaches, to the already fading scar running the pale length of her forearm, a small paper calendar from the year 1980, rolled up like a joint so the dates are not visible.
The man has left and is gone for good this time. She is almost certain.
That morning, she awoke in the dark. She thought it might be good and right to do something about the clean line of young skin that looked like a tapeworm that might wriggle free of her body and out into the world. So, to refute his absence or confirm his former presence or for a reason she will be unable to identify forever, she sought out the calendar in a box of odd acquisitions in the basement and circled the day he first arrived, more than two decades ago, that twenty-second of October, in red lipstick that smelled sweetly like the Sunday mornings of her girlhood when her mother was alive and would kiss her awake. The lopsided red loop around the twenty-two gaped at her, gave her pause, made her think Okay and think I am fine and think I will be, soon. I will again.
The next day, when she wakes with trouble breathing, she gets the scissors from the junk drawer in the kitchen and cuts a word from the newspaper’s front-page headline. The word is the man’s last name, which is also the name of this town that they grew up in, but this is just a coincidence and not an indication that his family was or is or could ever be anyone. They had a routine about this. The woman used to say to the man, Mister, you feel like home to me, and he would reply, I wouldn’t if my last name was different, and they would laugh and laugh together, the sound—like joy—high in their throats, though their eyes remained wide open and dull like the eyes of caught trout.
Thinking of this, she staples the clipped name to her throat to cover up the gaping hole she is certain must be there, though the mirror does not show it and the neighbor lady saw nothing wrong when consulted. But the neighbor lady and the mirror have got to be wrong because the woman’s breath comes down through her lungs feeling ragged and worn, so she knows there must be an opening there, a small one at least, where things can come and go as they please. Four small dots of blood spread through the paper, saturating the fibers and eventually converging, then drying.
For two days afterwards, she manages to live like this: accessorized with history and his name, her lungs never quite full, but certain she must be mending.
The third morning the woman wakes, again in the dark, and cuts strips from glossy magazines. While the sun comes up she collages over the remainder of her exposed flesh. Little by little, she brushes glue over her skin, lets it seep into her pores, and lays down the rectangular fragments of other people’s bodies and words.
The process takes hours and she is stiff and exhausted at the end. She takes a long consideration of the finished product in her bedroom’s full-length mirror. She brushes her long black bangs away with her fingers in order to appreciate her almost curveless form. There are the narrow legs and undeveloped hips, the small nipples and slim shoulders and all the rest of her, now a parti-colored sheath assembled in preparation for the unlikely event that the man tries to come back some day and rub his flesh on her flesh as if to create small divots along her body to let in the notes of what he might call the descant of their shared toil, the melody of which she could never quite hear. Let him come back and find my fragileness callous and intact, she thinks, and let the birds do the singing.
Catherine Averill was born in Milwaukee and lives in Philadelphia. Other recent work has appeared in Animal Kingdom Publishing and Entropy Magazine.
Illustrations by Meghan Irwin.