We’re driving down Cinderella Hill when your knuckles start bleeding. The wisteria is in bloom. The sky is slate gray.
“You know, I’ve always felt so dirty,” you say. A motorcycle speeds past, tires skidding on the asphalt.
“What do you mean?” He veers left; you steer right. A crocodile crash.
“Like germs, you know. I just feel like they’re everywhere. I’ve got to keep washing. My hands blister up.”
It’s late winter, early spring. The wind whips the tips of my ears and there you are at the kitchen sink, a hidden memory from the old days: bare feet on a milk crate, pink curtains flapping everywhere. Suds and blood swirling down the drain; someone from somewhere calling your name. We’re twenty minutes out, on our way to your Mama’s house – that place of broken elbows and all-time lows; the place where I watched you scrub away at an invisible dirt.
We used to really get around back then. Do you remember? Walmarts and rodeos and music bumping from closed car doors. Picking each other’s scabs in the cooked air of summer, dropping spit into the craters left behind. We hurt each other in looping, lonely ways. I don’t know why. Life was rough; our hair was long. Anger was all over everyone in those days. No one ever noticed your skin, where it went, or who did what with it. We were just two poor kids running fevers in the public pool, half-broke, half-starved – scraping change out of crumbs on the floorboard. I remember, it was all whoop and bluster, Linda Ronstadt on the radio. I kept my head down in the grocery line, rode in your car in the half-light. But now we just have this moment, in this car – growing up and growing cold, your skin cracking open in the West Texas wind.
“Roll up the fucking window, then.”
“No,” you say, “I like the sting.”
I used to think that time solved everything, like how the green gets so green in the spring, but you still like to hurt, and I don’t know whether to crank up the heat or kick you in the jaw. And the sun’s going back and back and back; running away from us behind a gauze of clouds. We’re almost home, swinging open that old wooden door. Cold blue skies, speeding down the I-45. I grab your hand off the steering wheel, roll your fingers to my lips. Wells of red paint on each little knuckle. Skin and nickel in my mouth; tongue buzzing like a light in a video store. You laugh, and the sound is drowned out by a tractor trailer horn, windows down, black wind at sundown. The headlights move across the road. Close but no cigar.
Artwork by Elizabeth Laurence