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janae green

New Fiction


by Janae Green

      "Today is a crying day," she says with her hand on my shoulder. Her skin is exposed in those mittens with the removed finger holes. They hang like teeth from the orange and white design: tiger stripes.
      "I'm fine."
      "It's okay to cry." She says.
      "I'm fine."
      She leads me to the car, her hand gripping my arm like it might fly into the wind if she lets go. Old friends pass with hooded eyes. I blink sideways at their departures. Behind the window, all the faces look ghoulish through the water stained angles. Tears are glued to cheeks, crusty and stretched with the effort of words. I want to pick. Marie shakes her head to their eyes as if to apologize for the dryness of mine, holding out her palm to touch each gloved hand. The crowds of gloves: leather, plaited and laced, some thick cotton, all without bare fingers, touch covered skin. I want to shove their hands into her face and scream: See, Marie! This is how an adult wears a mitten!
       The driver nods as Marie tells stories from the cemetery to my place on Parkcrest Avenue. The dead live in the layers beyond the soft ground. His head moves like his ears are full with grief, but the sounds from his mouth drones with the windshield wipers, words that say: Nothing new, nothing new.
      I want to pick.
      “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay tonight?” Marie asks me.
      “Yes, I’m sure.”
      “I could sleep in the guest room or you could come over to the house. I would love to sit around and watch the television with you.”
      “I’m fine.”
      The tiger’s mitten mouth breaks shape, almost toothless as she lets me out of the car. Her finger is already busy on the window button as I shut the door, rolling it down.
      “I love you, you know.” She says through the window shriek.
      “I know.” I touch her face.
      I want to pick.
      My body heaps across the couch. I don’t think Annie will mind if my feet are on the coffee table tonight. If it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to put my feet up on the coffee table. My boots powder sleet and soft dirt, Astroturf and dirt, over the slew of magazines.
      “Astroturf.” I say it out loud and my eyes strain to see my lips say it.
      “Astroturf.” Again, I say it because my lips resemble a beak.
      I turn on the T.V. and flip through the colors on each channel. My attention keeps going to that picture on the wall. The one of us smiling, the here let’s take this picture of us just smiling together, picture. I bang my boot down against the coffee table, just to watch the dirt fall once more.
      If it’s a crying day, I can go to my bathroom and pick.
      I swing my boots off the coffee table and gather the dirt with a sweep of my hand, a cluster, and carry it to the bathroom garbage can. A click, snap and I dust off my hands. It’s a relief to finally be here. I study my face in the mirror. There are so many dried flames on my skin. It must be the weather. I get out my tweezers.
      The television from the living room plays: Three’s Company, Sanford and Son, Roseanne. Roseanne? When did Roseanne become a classic sitcom? I move my tweezers under the faucet and wash the skin flecks and red residue down the drain. I think of my sister’s mittens, the tiger’s teeth with her fingernails red. Had her fingernails been red, like blood? Is that why they looked like teeth?
      I’m about to wash my face when I hear the front door slam.
      “Annie?” I call.
      She’s been mad at me for weeks. If it’s a crying day, then it’s a day for her to answer me when I call.
      I sigh. The tweezers go back into the cupboard, behind the aspirin and sleep-aids. I undress and nudge through the bedroom door. I want to turn on the light and look at her, but I know that she will only get mad, so I slink under the covers. This bed feels so cold.
      “I want you back, Annie.” I press my lips against the pillow bulk and steal the fragrance of her hair. When will this fight be over? I wonder. I just want her there.
      I want your words back, I dream. The scent of scourged soup fills my nostrils. It weaves like strands of blonde hair that sleeps. The pressure in the room is the sound of the front door. It bangs against my foot as I see her lying on the couch. Her face is waterless and I want to scream, but it’s so wet outside!
      “Do you know where you are, sir?” I wake to the groundskeeper’s tapping with the heel of his shovel. My feet must have gone to the cemetery in my sleep. My face is planted in the earth; I spit flakes of soft dirt.
      “I’m in the Astroturf.” I answer. My mouth smiles soil, a dirty laugh.
      “I just don’t know how you got i-”
      He talks and I don’t listen. He reminds me of that driver’s windshield wipers: Nothing new. I sit up and make waving gestures with my arms. He will leave me alone if he thinks I’m crazy. I sway my wipers from side to side in front of his eyes.
      “You’re bleeding!” He cries at me, “What’s wrong with your face? Are you okay, man?”
      My face? I touch my hands to my cheeks as he’s screaming for me to stop, wait, get back here. As I make it past the Parkcrest Cemetery gates, I wonder: If I’m in my shorts, how do I still have my boots on?
      I finger my face. The scabs I trace burn beneath my fingertips.
      The air seems crueler as I near my place on Parkcrest Avenue. The vehicles honk as if to expose me in my shorts, in case I hadn’t noticed the chill. This walk gives me time to think, so I think. I can use this story. I can tell Annie this tale; I can add in a funny run-in with the police. Maybe she will laugh. Maybe she will yell at me for being so stupid. Anything to get her words again.
      The front door is wide open when I arrive.
      Just as I’m walking inside, the phone rings. The bedroom door is also wide open. From here, I can see that our bed is empty. I grab the receiver.
      “Annie?” I ask.
      “I tried your cell eight times! Where have you been? I was so worried!”
      It’s Marie.
      “I went for a walk.”
      “Did you just say-“
      “The funny thing is: I forgot to put my pants on.”
      “What! Oh Jack, I’m coming over.”
      “I’m kidding, sis. I’m fine.”
      She talks and talks. I don’t listen. Her voice seems to drown and break in waves. The rain outside is louder. It’s pouring. I had just missed the downpour. I move my arms back and forth like wiper blades, watching through the door still wide open. The volume seems to rise.
      “Call me if you need me, please.” She says.
      I set the receiver down; I have 5 new messages on the machine. Annie never leaves messages, she hates being recorded. You can’t fix what’s been recorded, she says. What if I do something embarrassing in the message, like sneeze?
      Her sneezes are always so loud. It shakes the glasses.
      I smile, closing the front door.
      My cell phone is lying in the couch between the cushions. I grab it among a handful of dust ashes. I flip the receiver open, 6 missed calls from Marie. You called 8 times, Marie? The envelope notice shows a full mailbox. I dial Annie. It rings. It’s her message machine. I dial again. It rings. It’s her message machine. She must have gone for groceries.
      But she left her slicker, I see. It hangs dry by the front door.
      She’s going to be soiled when she comes back, I think.
      The warm aroma swells as I heat broth in the kitchen. I chop celery, carrot stem, and onion. Marie left me some fried chicken in the refrigerator. I peel the remaining pieces, setting the skin to the side. Annie likes to eat the skins. I will let this simmer until she arrives and watch the television.
      My weighty eyes flicker the channels: Green Acres.
      Hands find my face. Scratching the crust and scabs, I close my eyes.
      A chicken squawks over Green Acres, acres of faux green. He bobs his head into a double rhythm. He must be lost, it’s so cold here. He’s confused that he can’t find seed. It’s so green here too, violent green, where could it be? He can’t settle on the grass, it tastes like plastic. If he only digs deeper, maybe he will find what he needs. Past this hoax of grass, deeper, his feathers falling in flakes. Feathers, feathers, feather flakes that crumble-feathers don’t crumble-but fried skin does, fried chicken-I want to pick-my beak buried into the soil. It’s so soft. I have to dig six feet under. I need to find seed, I must find, I must find-the smoke alarm.
      I’m chewing, nose deep into the couch cushion when the smoke alarm wakes me. The taste of seared leather is thick on my tongue. I rush to the stove and turn the burners off. The broth has evaporated and the pot is filmed with a boiled brownish muck. I open the kitchen windows, whapping my arms into the air.
      “Annie?” I call.
      My stomach growls, as if in response. I think I will watch the news. She should be home soon. Maybe I will put on some tea. Annie loves peppermint tea.
      I click on the news: “-out to get the groceries Tuesday morning, found his wife lying on the couch, the house-” I turn the television off. Yesterday was a crying day.
      I go to the bathroom and pick. My skin is so rough. There are so many dried flames; it must be the weather. The ways these flakes crisp as they hit the sink, they remind me of something. What? My belly stirs, it hurts. I never got to eat my soup. The air smells so good; it’s a warm aroma, something like fried chicken. There’s so much skin, fried chicken skin in this sink. Annie loves eating the skins. I will save her some, but I have to have something to eat.
      The front door slams.
      “Is that you, Annie?”
      The house has fallen to shadows. She must have gone straight to bed. I will talk to her tonight. Apologize. This silence between us can’t go on forever.
      I nudge through the bedroom door. I want to turn on the light and look at her, but I know that she will only get mad. I slink under the covers. This bed feels so-
      I’m digging, blonde hair says, I’m digging myself deeper into a hole. I tell her I don’t want to fight anymore. It’s so cold out here, I say and she laughs and tells me I’m silly, darling, for not wearing my mittens. She gives me hers with that beautiful glow, its Eva Gabor in acres of green; no it’s my wife standing on the Astroturf. I’m sweating because of the fire. Annie, I ask, how are you so dry? Her skin looks waterless, but it’s raining and she has her slicker inside. My fingers are blistering. These mittens look like tigers, wiggling like teeth, no more like worms crawling over an oblong wife-box buried beneath the phone. The phone inside is ringing.
      My back suffers the reach as I silence the ring.
      “Hello?” I ask.
      “Oh good, you’re awake. Jack, I just wanted to check in. Are you doing alright?”
      “I’m doing fine, Marie.”
      “Can I come over, please? Have you been eating? I know Annie used to do all the-Jack, something rather disturbing happened last night. It’s on the news.”
      “I’m fine, Marie.” Pulling off my boots, I hang up the phone. My head feels like I haven’t slept much, I need to go back to bed. I nudge through the bedroom door.
      “Annie?” I ask.
      I turn on the light to look at her.

Janae Green is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in print, regularly, with coffee stains. She hates the smell and won't drink it, but its okay as an ice cream or yogurt. Follow her @thenaeword on Twitter.

This story first appeared in Turk's Head Review.

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