5.08 / August 2010

Like Nobody’s Business

Patrick believes that his heart is the shape of a triangle, not made of end-stops or two inverted treble clefs, a curvature. He believes, because of his triangular heart, that he understands the space in which many different people can love many different people. He laughs easily and often and when I first met him I didn’t understand the pattern in which he laughed, at what, the how. Here he is, laughing and I imagine he is laughing at his own entrails, splaying out of his chest, horrified and delighted. I imagine his guts smattered and smeared; this is my preferred way to see him, imagining his public suffering. In actuality, we sit in a booth across from each other in an empty restaurant on a hazy Sunday afternoon, entrails intact and burrowed privately beneath our skin. We listen to the rain outside. We spend the  afternoon in half-smiles, we need to talk.

All cutting boards should be made of bamboo my mother tells me. We are chopping vegetables, drinking wine. There is no laughter. She has deep lines curving her small mouth like fermatas. Here is her end-stop. I am troubled and deeply saddened by the lines and I do not understand my own sense of loss. I toss the red leaf lettuce, I gulp the last of my wine.

Patrick tells me we need to talk. He sets his newspaper down. His mouth begins to move but all I see are pools of fluid, entrails steamy like fresh fish, his hand covering his gaping wound, his newspaper’s words illegibly soaked through. Instead, he unfolds and folds the paper until the creases tear. Here we are again. We need to talk.

My mother tells me, after the wine is gone and replaced with gin, after the red leaf lettuce is gone and replaced with chocolate, that she is already resigned to her wheelchair, metaphorically speaking.  I understand only in the way that children never understand their parents. But at least you have Patrick, you won’t be alone the rest of your life. Mom, I want to say to her, Patrick is in love with A Man, Every Man, Any Man  and all these other men are in love  with so many other men. No, technically I am not alone, I am contending with many, many other men. Here is our dilemma. Here is our triangle. Here is my handicap. Mother sighs, blows chocolate-gin air up into her silver bangs, “I’ve had enough! I’m tired of being alone!”

Patrick stopped coming home once or twice a week, and then altogether. When Patrick stopped coming home altogether, I began to have terrible night-sweats, night-terrors. I would dream of his entrails in colorful arrays of rouge hues all over the bed. I would roll over and find him filleted from toe to forehead. I would examine his innards in a wonder, in a stupor, feeling the sensation of being made of clay, of humidity so thick for the rest of the day, unable to shake it completely until sleep would come again. I can’t be with just one person exclusively, he says. I just can’t anymore, baby-doll.

My mother tells me that her troubles aren’t the worst troubles anyone could have and neither are mine. There was a period of time when your father slept at the office every night, it’s not so unusual, they always come back to you, they eventually need a home-cooked meal and their underwear washed. She lets the water from the kitchen faucet run until steam creates moisture on her temples. She washes the dishes, puts them away wet, doesn’t let me dry them, tells me that the cool air is enough to keep everything dry.  She looks outside of the window, frowns in a way that lets me know she is not conscious off her facial expressions. I can’t live like this forever, you know.

Patrick, our constitution isn’t indestructible. Baby-doll.

Before he stopped coming home altogether, before he stopped coming home once or twice a week, and even further still, back before the triangle of our affection existed, we would park his car outside of the airport, lie on our backs on the hood and watch the planes depart and arrive. I would cup his hand in mine and did not thread fingers. In a moment, he’ll drop my hand. In a moment, he will sit up straight, drape his arms inside of himself, shift his ankles, create distance, a folding. Here is where I understand the difference between landing and perpetual falling. In these moments, I remember that I am falling, that I have not landed yet to where things are complicated and misleading. In the moments before I cup my hand into his, I lay my head on his chest. I’ve had dreams where I touch his chest and sometimes he has breasts. Sometimes, in my dreams, I touch Patrick’s breasts. Dear Patrick, you have the most beautiful breasts.  He will fold so deeply into himself that I will forget we are in the same place at the same time.  I will look at him desperately to understand. We always half-smile. We need to talk.

Here, at the restaurant, within the erratic beats of the rain, he will explain to me once more about his triangular heart, about how there is room enough for everyone, how we shouldn’t be so limiting as to expect we go through life with just one person by our side. He needs A Man, Everyman, Any Man. How will these men deal with his large intestine hanging out? Tubes and tubes of guts, the shine of meat product, the pastel tones of springtime. Will they sew him up? I want to tell them its too late for that, that Patrick gets agitated with the stitches, pulls them out unless he’s sedated. Patrick doesn’t like to be put back together.

My mother says she will be alone the rest of her life. She says she never misses my father. She says you get used to being alone, to everything be silenced after awhile. She has voice recordings of my father on VHS tape that I find in her VCR in her bedroom. She told me long ago that she had them but claims she doesn’t listen to them. She claims she doesn’t even know where they are. When I press play, the screen is black: Do you love me, Bob? Only as far as I can throw you, Sandy. I rewind the sound-bite over and over again.  That Patrick, she says as she falls asleep in her chair, is a keeper. You’ll never be alone. She falls asleep in her chair in the living room most nights, she hasn’t had to make her bed in a very long time. Get that thing out of my face, Sandy. It’s not like I’m going anywhere anytime soon.

Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of one novel, Our Prayers After the Fire, forthcoming from Blue Square Press. Other work can be found in or is forthcoming from Barrow Street, FLAUNT Magazine, New Orleans Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere. She serves as incoming Associate Editor of Denver Quarterly.
5.08 / August 2010