We drank together for a sonnet’s worth of years. Our bible invited toxic ablutions of thirst, tumblers full of prayers. It seemed like nothing could ever be consumed enough. But that’s the boring part of the story.
She was the girl with a dark smudge on her cheek. When we were children, we dug up worms and put them in jars with leaves and dirt and pink flower petals. It was nice, how we liked to get down on the ground together. We twisted our fingers under the humid summer soil, pinching squirmy, desperate creatures. Sometimes she had to use both hands to yank a night crawler out of the mud. The tenacity of life was beyond us.
We walked the sidewalks of our small Iowa town in jean cutoffs with no shirts on. We’d reach into bags of potato chips with our dirty fingers and eat handfuls as if we were starving gourmands. The world’s elements all blended together without borders. Now, I have a bottle of hand sanitizer on my desk to squirt on bacterial invasions after I shake hands with another person. My fingers know plastic, stainless steel. My fingers write checks to others to get dirty for me.
We cut each other’s hair when we were seven with our dull kid scissors. We couldn’t get our bangs anywhere close to even, but we kept cutting, and we kept cutting. The futility of it was somehow fulfilling. It was more intimate than sex. We gazed into each other’s eyes as we sliced parts of ourselves away.
We never had enough money. We always wanted more. We traipsed from house to house and raked people’s yards for $5. I remember the toasty scents of the leaves as we burned them in a bonfire, the flames leaping about in a rash fit, looking for hell. I pretended the rifled columns of smoke tumbling up into the sky were bombs going off on a battlefield.
The summer before our junior year, one of her incisors chipped when we were swimming at the lake, and formed itself into a single, piercing point. It looked like a fang. It cut across my tongue when we kissed. Sometimes it caught on my lips. I waited for it, always.
We talked about rationality. Coherence. We talked about making clear decisions.
“My dear,” I said.
“My dearest dear,” she responded.
“What kingdom should we conquer?”
“What bed shall we lie in?”
I once watched as a beetle walked the length of her arm. Her parents met when they waited tables in a mental institution’s dining hall one summer. “I come from madness,” she joked. She wrote love songs in her pajamas. She had a three-legged dog named Keith Richards.
Our kitchen that final summer, tinged with sparkler smoke and the sticky smell of beer. She told me I needed a name that sounded more important, so she started calling me Etheridge.
Everything can change so unexpectedly.
Once, she asked me how the world would burn, as if that were somehow inevitable, necessary, an expectation embedded in each disciplined pump of our hearts.
“Naturally, we all fall to pieces,” she said.
I ponder this phrase.
Now, I brush my teeth, I rub sanitizer on my hands, I exercise three times a week. I’ve forgotten how many lines are in a sonnet. I can’t remember if it’s 12 or 14 including the couplet. No matter. I like to live in those final two lines, the place where passion resides, separate from the rest of it all, a lonely and everlasting climax.
Grant Faulkner is the executive director of National Novel Writing Month and the cofounder of 100 Word Story His stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines, including the The Southwest Review, 14 Hills, Green Mountains Review, and Puerto del Sol. His essays on creativity have been published in The New York Times, Poets & Writers Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. He recently published a collection of one hundred 100-word stories, Fissures, two of which are included in The Best Small Fictions 2016. His book of essays on creativity, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo, is forthcoming from Chronicle Books in the fall of 2017.