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Emberly doesn’t do tender. Does triple-locked doors and capped X-Actos in her socks. Does shoulders folded inward, like a sealed envelope. She scales a red snapper with the back of a spoon, grating away the cloudy, fingerprint-sized plates as Windy de-veins shrimp with toothpicks and chipped French tips. They’re different kinds of messy these days, the two of them. Emberly doesn’t wash her hair often enough, and Windy perfumes her own pillows with two-thousand-dollar fragrances—sambac jasmine, cabbage rose, vanilla—because smelling is easier than sleeping.
It’s their first dinner together since their breakup. We’re making each other ugly, Emberly explained, and it was true: near the end, Windy’s swagger spilled into the silence between them; her vanity; Emberly’s rage. In relearning each other now, the briskness of Emberly’s hands as she bears into the fish’s white belly with a knife seems bland and undangerous. Pacifistic, even. Not about Windy at all.
Windy thinks she likes that.
The two of them met through a mutual friend, Kaz, who was solid and unapologetic and favored a rosy lipstick called Cravings that Windy carries around in her pocket. She was murdered in July. Shot by an obsessed ex-boyfriend at a convenience store. Windy still hasn’t begun accessing that fury because she busied herself these last months with the cello and Emberly’s mouth, and because the cop they interviewed on-scene said, “These things happen to girls.” Happen to. Occur upon, if you’re working alone—if you exist, or smile too long at somebody lonely—
Windy touches upon that gas station security mirror in her mind, sees her small, distorted reflection, and bounces off its convexity back into Emberly’s kitchen.
The throat is the best part of the snapper. Emberly grills it fins-on with butter and lemon while Windy finishes the shrimp, heating them into chubby pink curls. They haven’t spoken since they started cooking, but now Emberly smiles, little twist at the right corner of her mouth, and says, “Asleep.”
“Awake,” says Windy. It’s a game they play.
“Love,” says Windy, though she knows Emberly meant something like ‘debt.’
They cheated on each other on the same day, Windy with her chauffeur, Emberly with Kaz. Windy came home smelling of leather cleaner and airport to find Emberly showering off the stains of Cravings between her shoulder blades. They didn’t talk about it. They fell into one another, redeeming themselves with bared teeth, and it was new and it was transcendent and it was the last time. Emberly was gone the next morning.
Forgot a few things, though. Her safety pin earrings. Two pairs of dark wash jeans. A spiraled roseum succulent in a tiny jam jar. Windy brought everything back, and Emberly vacillated between a kiss and a handshake at the door for so long that a nod became the most appropriate. She slips the red snapper throat onto Windy’s plate now, though, and that’s as much apology as it is question. The two of them stand at the stove’s heat together, shoulders touching.
“Are we going to be okay?” Emberly never asks.
“Yes,” Windy never replies. “These things happen to girls.”
After ten minutes, I’m beyond my party limit, am starting to shake, and am working my way to the door. She says, “Hello.” If I assume cooperative principle, it follows that she is talking to me because she wants to; and, furthermore, I’m talking to her because I want to. That, I think, is a […]
“Come to the Kimball tonight,” Melanie said. “They’re showing that French movie I told you about, with the dog.” She knew I didn’t speak French, didn’t much like foreign films or her friends. But I went anyway because she was tall and blonde and her voice hit me right in the solar plexus every time, y’know? The […]
My first trust fall was in the summer after ninth grade. It was 1995. It was the summer of Alanis’s Jagged Little Pill, of Jim Carrey as the Riddler, of “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” For me, summer of ‘95 was also the summer of the Ulster Project.At that point in my academic […]
In the den at my Oma’s house, I found Aunt Olivia smoking grandpa’s meerschaum pipe. She was allergic to smoke, yet here she was, taking deep drags, a small light glowing from the bowl. The smoke eased out of her nostrils, and she sighed.“I see him,” she said, pointing to the old woven chair in […]
My husband writes the names of his nine demons on post-it notes and burns them in the kitchen sink. He eats only apples.An apple a day will keep them away.That’s the doctor, I remind him.It’s all the same.A priest sent us incense and holy water and clippings from his own beard. This priest had good […]
I tell myself Miranda would have wanted this.I know as I stand in the ship’s blood-splattered control booth, that Lilith sees me. Her Pilot processors whir, approximating my height and weight. My muscle mass. My age. Miranda programmed her to assess potential threats, after all, and my wife was nothing if not thorough, but Lilith […]
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