Smoking cigarettes draws attention to my crooked fingers. I’ve been so stupid. My mother says I used to have piano hands. My fingers were long and thin and delicate as the veins in a frog’s throat. The last time I saw my mother, she made fun of the way I held a spoon. She said I looked like a crab trying to eat soup. I told her crabs don’t have fingers. She said neither did I, anymore.
What happened is I tried to catch a falling bookshelf. I had plenty of time to get out of the way. There was no one to save. But I stood there, arms up, expecting something miraculous to happen. I’d heard about people gaining temporary strength in dangerous situations. I was not one of those people. I now hold a cigarette like it’s a pencil.
My crush and I are smoking on the front porch. The rest of the party is inside playing a trivia game on DVD. I can’t work a remote anymore. It’s completely alien to me, like trying to toss a salad and keep every piece of lettuce in the bowl. Sometimes, I have to excuse myself from activities where my messed up hands would prove problematic. Smoking, I endure.
My crush puts one foot on the porch railing and does the sort of stretch you see joggers do at stoplights. He catches me staring at his hairy legs. He says, “The way you hold a cigarette is bat shit.” He takes his foot off the railing and lights another cigarette. His precision with simple tasks arouses me. His hands work together like ants. If my hands get too close, they behave like sea creatures, gliding past one another, always close but never touching. A magic trick that never happens.
I say to my crush, “Have you ever smelled bat shit? I went to the zoo in Omaha and they have these bat caves. The smell is just awful. It’s like wet paint and dirty dishes. And it’s all dark in there, so you can’t really see the bats anyway. You might as well be in someone’s basement.”
My crush sucks in on his cigarette. He bends over to touch his shoes. I don’t know what it means. I think it means he’s not listening. I push smoke out my nose. I hope I look like a dragon.
My crush says, “Yeah, Batman’s basement.” He gives me a high five. One of my fingernails falls off. This is the state of my body. I throw my head back and push more smoke out my nose. Now I’m a train. My crush puts his hands on my waist. We stomp around the porch making obnoxious noises. We stop when I have no more smoke to push out my nose. We act like we didn’t just do that.
My grandmother used to push smoke out her nose. She would sit in her kitchen and listen to saxophone music and smoke until she was dizzy. She would push smoke out her nose in time with the music. Little snorts of granny smoke. I was young. I thought my grandmother was a demon. Her hair curled up in a way that suggested horns. I swore to myself I would never smoke.
I say to my crush, “OK, one more, and then I’m going back in.”
My crush says, “This is it for me. I’ve got to run.” He clears his throat. It’s like a stuck can-opener. The stray cats under the porch all meow at once.
I say, “I’m not going back in there alone.” I try to give my crush a look, but it’s too dark to read faces. Someone’s playing the banjo on another porch. I start to cry. I put a hand on my crush’s face. He thinks I’m trying to tickle him.
He laughs and says, “It’s been a pleasure, man.” He takes my hand and shakes it. My finger bones roll around under my skin like loose crayons. I continue to cry like the people in movies. My mouth is an upturned worm. There are tears but no noise. My crush can’t see what he’s doing to me.
He climbs the porch railing and raises his arms. He says, “Fuck yeah,” and bends his knees. The pockets on the back of his jeans bulge like stuffed envelopes. He puts his hands on the railing. He resembles a cat about to jump from a table. One of my eyes starts to twitch. I grab the back of my crush’s shirt as he lifts off. For less than a second, he appears weightless, and I appear in control. He’s the balloon. I’m the little brat.
My crush snaps against the railing. His head splits in two equal pieces, like a cross-section in a medical textbook. I take the halves of my crush’s head and I push them together with my branchy fingers. I wait for something to happen.
The banjo’s still going. I’ve never been able to play music. I hold instruments like they’re alive. I’m not one for repeated abuses. When you saw on a fiddle, you’re hearing it scream. I try to hold my crush’s head like an instrument. I flick his ears with my thumbs. I relax my fingers and let the halves of my crush’s head come apart. I slam them back together, hoping for some sort of music. There is only sloppy sound.