by Casey Hannan
You hold my left arm as if it’s not attached to my body. As if you unscrewed it and it’s yours now. The same way you held a bottle earlier before you broke it and stuck it in a guy’s face. Like you loved the bottle more than what was inside, though you loved that, too. You’re drunk, and I’m drunk, and if there’s anyone at this party who isn’t drunk, it’s your wife. She leans against the kitchen counter while you stroke my tattoos.
“See how beautiful a tattoo can be?” you ask her.
But you look at me.
I shake. I didn’t take my medicine today. I don’t always take my medicine. When I’m drunk I shake. That’s not the tumor stretching out. Not a seizure.
Not a seizure. Not a seizure. Not a seizure.
Your wife bombs a can of soda into the sink. She says three words (“Fine. By. Me.”) and lights a cigarette inside the same house where she’s forbidden guests from smoking.
I’ve never been someone’s itch to scratch. The morning will be ugly. I’ll face your face. My face. Her face, maybe. Unless I can be quiet. Slide back into my clothes like a snake trying on its old skin. It’s nothing I’ve seen in nature, but I haven’t seen everything.
You grab my waist.
“You with me?” you ask.
We’re on the back porch now, sharing a rocking chair. You say you caught a cat sleeping in it once, but you didn’t know whose cat it was. I tell you I’m a cat person, and you tell me you’re not. You don’t like how cats who have nothing else to chase end up chasing nothing.
I don’t see your wife anywhere.
Bottles sweat in the grass. Everyone else is gone. They cut pieces of the party and took it with them. There’s just enough party left for us. We drink from the bottle we both hold tight. It’s one way to keep from spinning. Another way is to grab each other and kiss.
I look over your shoulder into the kitchen window. The house is dark. I don’t see the eyes I feel watching us.
“She knows I play a little.”
“You talk about it?”
“You never talk about it. Shut up.”
I can do that. And I can do what comes next. I can take off my jeans and fold them over the porch railing. I can ignore the chill. I can accept a human knife. It’s like getting a tattoo.
No one dies with just one tattoo.
You forget about your neighbors and yell at me like it’s my job to get fucked harder. A dog barks a block away, and you bark back. I tense every muscle but the one that counts. I make no sound that might be identified for what it is.
When you’re finished, we’re both finished, even though I’m not done. We lie back and fail to see the stars. The sky is mold blue for the morning.
You show me my tattoos because I don’t notice them anymore. They aren’t clothes or jewelry; they’re my skin. They might have always been there. You ask about the blindfolded horse I gave myself with a hot quilting needle and some India ink. It took enough hours to make my leg numb, but right now I can’t remember what it means. I’ve been awake too long.
My left arm jerks. Raises. Disappears beyond my head.
I think the worst. The worst is seeing my dead father’s smile in a pillar of smoke. The worst is hearing my name repeated by a downpour. The worst is picking up something that looks heavy but turns out to be very light. Too light. My brain discards gravity. Sound, too. It keeps taste for one more second, and in that second, I taste butter with hair in it. I taste a spoonful of rancid oil. I taste my own tongue. The worst takes over. I tell myself it’s not a seizure so maybe it won’t be a seizure. I find blood in my mouth. Then a sentence.
It’s a seizure.
The sky changes into your face covering my face, changes into blackness gridded with silver lines, changes into a bright hospital room you just left. Your shadow hasn’t even cleared the door. I remember my horse tattoo, and I scream what it means.
“I run the race, but I run it blind!”
You turn around. You’re the knife. You’re the beer. You saw the lightning in my roots, and you called an ambulance.
I want to know more.
“It’s a short story,” you say, “and we’ve reached the end of it.”
You lean against the door frame. I fill in your details like I’ve never seen you before in my life. There’s the gap in your front teeth. There are your chewed nails, your hairy arms, and your own tattoos, faded and sentimental. I didn’t notice them in the dark. Mom in a heart pierced with an arrow. The year of your birth. A baby’s face. Your wife’s name. Men don’t rate. If I’m on you anywhere, it’s under the skin as a blind impulse with long legs. I’m one of the many strange men you didn’t ask for but can’t ignore.
You throw me a note I read when it lands.
No name. No kisses.
“Thanks,” in pencil, is all.
Casey Hannan lives and writes in Kansas City. His debut collection of stories, Mother Ghost, is available from Tiny Hardcore Press. He can be found at casey-hannan.com.