“There should be two worlds not one,” says Tyson. This is how I learn my ex is his ex now, which makes me feel I owe him something. His hands are red and he keeps grabbing the side of his jeans, shaking them and I know he’s about to say, “Did we do the right thing?” Which brings me back to Loretta a little, her freckles like somebody shot her in the neck with an orange paintball.
We walk to Colonel Sumner Park and sit on the bleachers. I know he loved her or he wouldn’t’ve called me. In me, he’s trying to see what life looks like without her, proof that there’s an after. Unmaniac eyes, distance, the spirited confidence of my broken spirit. I try to look happy.
The sky is a mess of fall birds. Two healthy ladies in tapestry skirts push a wheelbarrow of rakes into the community garden.
“Where’re you going first?” I ask.
“Oklahoma, Cherokee Pride.”
He’s running a car key through the rivets in the bleacher seats.
“Know anyone there?” I ask.
He shrugs like it’s a ridiculous question.
“The whole time we dated,” he says, “she had that braid only yesterday she didn’t.”
“You don’t want her,” I say and he thinks about this and tells me it’s not that simple which is how men say, Look at my broken heart, look at my broken heart brother and tell me I don’t want her.
I barely remember if I left her or she left me. She was a child with a child which made her impossible. Of course she didn’t want another one. Tyson, God bless him’s got God’s thumbmark all over him. He’s the thing that went wrong on the potter wheel. Two hits of acid and he says if it was a hundred years ago his people would be enacting his visions and the symbolism involved would repel gunpowder and the power of white man’s disease to infect things. He says this in the bathroom of The Know with his dick in his hand and a beer in the other, talking to pornographic graffiti above the urinal. I overhear him from the pool table where Loretta keeps touching me every time she goes by because I smell like Johnson’s wipes which is the smell of responsibility and the ache that dunks a boy in water and pulls him up a man. I’ve got grey hair in my beard and my new tattoo is of a dog on my stomach looking tired and fierce.
No matter how much I wash my hands these days I still smell the sour buttermilk of baby turds; Karen says it’s in us now and she smells it when we make love.
Later, we’re in a basement sushi joint. The Japanese man wears a hat made of blue paper. I love his hands, watching him from the bar as we drink our hot sake. Thick knuckles and deep lines, the way he moves a knife separating lips of white marble, curling salmon into pink paper. With a redhead it’s the pink parts you look for, the rest is fire at the crown of Jesus’s mad heart.
“Thank you,” says Tyson. “Thank you thank you thank you.”
Because he’s drunk and we’re closer to something.
I make him try my unagi and he chews it with his eyes closed. The waitress points and I say yes two more. The sushi chef unwraps an octopus tentacle and I see the gold glint of his wedding band, the lengths he makes making mathematics of the ocean. I want to give him some part of me and watch him order it, cut me and lay me like wet petals on fists of vinegar rice. What is about being thirty-five that makes less sense as we move closer to the burning core of our women?
Tyson puts his head on my shoulder and his nose in my collar and moves back and forth. It occurs to me now this has nothing to do with my dating Loretta but Karen, the smell we make in the other world. The world Tyson almost touched. It’s the new smell of our bedroom as I hold Karen’s wide hips and she says, “Are my stretch marks ugly?” and I say, “No, I made them.”
“Do you think they’ll understand me?” asks Tyson.
“The Cherokee; I’m only one quarter.”
I hold my finger and ask for two ikura, point at Tyson, at hands that don’t stop rapping the table. The chef nods. He stops what he’s doing, makes two thumb-size patties of rice, wraps them in seaweed and drops in the roe. He sets them in front of us. Tyson doesn’t know what to do; I don’t either so I eat the whole thing. It tastes like my dad’s fingers.
We stood next to the Wilson River and he said, here, and he cut the old lure from my line and began tying on a new one. He made loops and I saw the hook stick him in his fat thumb and blood came but he didn’t notice. It took him six tries to thread the line through the eye of the hook.
I just want those hands now.
Clean yellow shit from the folds of your daughter’s vagina, Tyson, and tell me anything else matters.
Kevin Maloney is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK magazine and HOUSEFIRE. He graduated with an English degree from Johnson State College in Vermont. Find more of his writing at kevinmaloney.net.