“Miss Gloomy, Miss Glum” by Sage Marsters
--page 5


        “They’ve got these giant beds,” he tells me. “French beds, beds for kings, satin stuff, jeweled pillows, canopy beds. And clocks. Paintings. Every kind of statue. Jewels. Every kind of art, everything you could ever think of.” He looks up at the ceiling, jiggles his knee.
         “Really?” I say. Maybe we’ll drive down the coast, a picnic basket waiting on the back seat. I’ll wear a polka-dot headscarf and red lipstick, smile into the wind. He’ll show me things. I haven’t seen anything yet. I wander and come across things, an all-night pie restaurant, military ruins draped in silver weeds, a tree in the shape of dinosaur, but I never really know where I am, and I know I could never find anything again.
         He nods. “You know about van Gogh and his ear? With van Gogh it was the ear, and he cut it off himself, right? But this guy’s son, the Getty son, or the grandson, maybe it was the grandson. A member of the family. He got his finger decapitated by someone else. It’s different, but the same idea. I think it was a finger. A finger or an ear, a small part like that. For ransom, somebody cut it off him and stuck it in an envelope and mailed it to the father, or the grandfather, in the mail, said give me the money or else you get more parts. This guy part after part, right? Till the money comes? Crazy, right?”
         His knee keeps jiggling, knocking mine, faster, faster, his speech changing, speeding up, as though controlled by a knob someone else turns.
        “That’s weird,” I offer. It’s a good story, and I like the way it came out in a rush, as though Franklin has been waiting months to tell me. He nods vigorously, color flushing down his neck.
        “I like to know about history,” he says. Then he asks, “Do you have a tattoo?”
         I’m glad for this, an easy secret, it moves things along. I tug my sweater up and the lip of my jeans down, revealing the tattered edge of my underwear and a tiny blue strawberry. I usually forget it’s there.
        “You should add stuff,” Franklin says. “Like make it three berries and leaves. You could make a whole scene, like with a toadstool and little animals or something, like with bunnies, different creatures, the whole thicket.”
        “Maybe someday.”
        We order more drinks. I look down and notice that Franklin’s sneakers are caked in dry mud, as though he spent the morning wading through a swamp. I rub the back of my neck, feel the memory of that bird there, from my dream, its chubby, feathered body, still warm. Franklin drums out a beat on the edge of the bar with his fingers. I lick the salt from the rim of my new glass and squint down at the woman flipping cards, trying to see who she is, what the cards are, what she’s doing with them. Are you my mother, I shout in my head, like that book with the bird talking to a cow and a dog and a steam shovel with its bowing metal head, are you my mother, are you my mother, are you my mother, and then I laugh to myself like HA HA HA with a horrible red mouth, gnashing my teeth.
         “Are you hungry?” Franklin asks. “I make chicken four different ways. Barbecue chicken, chicken cacciatore, chicken cordon bleu, and chicken Thai-style. I want to make you chicken. After this you can come to my house and I’ll cook you chicken. That’s what I want to do.”
        He puts a hand on my thigh, first just a fist, resting there, then his fingers spreading out, unfurling, ferns, I think, vines. I watch it, keeping my thigh still. I wouldn’t mind some chicken. I think of the apartment where I live, the empty rooms, Bethany wandering the hallway in her socks. We live so simply, it’s almost feral. Mostly, I huddle in my room, my tiny nook, it’s meant to be a walk-in closet lined with shoes and dresses. The lights are always off, the TV very low. There’s hardly any furniture. The place smells of herbs and roots and moss from the teas Bethany drinks, there’s something wrong with her stomach; my rent is meant to buy her medicine. Sometimes, hearing the hallway floor boards creak, I think it will be an animal coming around the corner instead of Bethany, a quiet deer, and I will realize that I have not been living with a person, but with a deer.

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