D. Nolan Jefferson
I have this thing about opening bottles and jars barehanded. Fancy imported mustards; cheap plastic receptacles of Ibuprofen with ribbed caps; Coca-Cola or Hefeweizen in slim glass bottles. Some have twist-off tops, others are described as child-proof—though I often struggle to get the lids off—and others still that require a pop-top opener. I should probably use a dry dishrag not just for the extra traction it provides, but because these cloths act as a barrier between the caps and the soft, fleshy inside of my palm, as I don’t differentiate much between the types or pay very close attention to the methods. And because of that, thin lines of fine, nearly invisible gashes that I’m unaware of until later appear, like when I’m plunging my hand into a Cambro full of saltwater and spices along with the chicken I’m brining for dinner the next day, and the sensation shocks me back into time again.
Not unlike fine dicing a Fresno chile or a jalapeño without latex gloves, whether or not you remove the ribs and seeds that contain the bulk of the heat, and not properly washing, rewashing, and rewashing your hands again to free them of the lethal, burning oil from these peppers until you rub your eye to dislodge that one errant eyelash taken to freedom, or shake the last few persistent drops of piss free from yourself at a urinal. Quickly then, it’s woefully obvious what’s going on and that burn has been transferred from the very ends of your forelimbs, from your hands, from the tips of your digits, your fingers.
There’s a ribbon of scabbed over, yellowed dry skin where the base of my index finger meets up with my palm and I keep the abrasion going, never allowing it to properly heal. Sometimes it mildly burns, a dull drone of buzz just shy of pain that I enjoy more than I probably should though I’d never admit it to anyone I’d call a friend. There have been times when I’m on the subway, and I’ll thrust the cut into my mouth and wonder if there are enzymes in saliva that might cause it to heal a little faster, running my tongue across the salty berm of the wound. It distracts me from the banality of the commute. And here I am, so lost in thought, thinking about both the abrasion across my hand, and the one you struck across my heart, that I blow right on past my stop.
Dancing my thumb across the slit, especially where the pink beige skin goes coarse, is something I do without much thought. Like in meetings at work when I grow bored, or while waiting for the dryer to cease its tumbling. It’s okay, I tell myself. It’s fine, I say, even if I never allow it to heal completely, this perturbation that pulses between the tips of my fingers and the edge of my wrists that won’t let me move past your sometimes green, sometimes hazel eyes depending on your mood and maybe the weather, and that the evenings I now spend alone are also shared by millions of others around the world in simultaneous solitude. Armed with a half dozen Trader Joe’s cheeses, including nearly always a fresh chèvre (because it’s my favorite), a baguette, and a couple or three bottles of fruity red from Chile or Argentina, I resign myself to bed ignoring the crumbs and splotches of oxidized tannins that sully the sheets.
So when you walked into the cafe promising a reconciliation after what felt like years, though it was only months and maybe just weeks, and I allowed myself to slowly look you up from your feet (and I thought to myself, new boots—cute), and up your legs and past the bulge in your jeans that still sparks one in mine, to your haircut that either screams hipster trendy or alt-right asshole, my thumb took to that weathered patch of skin by instinct.
I walked away from you and your thoughts as they both grew increasingly erratic, when you grew impossibly difficult, because even fools like me have their breaking point. I felt the jagged edges from the cut and found comfort. I wondered which vessel was responsible for the tear this time. Was it something from the kitchen? or the bathroom? while I watched your mouth move and you said your peace and made amends? I probably even heard some of your apology, something about how you’re now dialed right in on new meds while my mind was far away, thinking that as you said these words, at the very moment they flew up and out of you that somewhere a tree thousands of miles away and hundreds of years old was falling to the ground and hit with such force, birds took to the sky for safety. And at the same time, on the other side of the world, in someplace where it was already late and stars were strewn about the dark like ribbons, a baby laughed for the very first time, filling the insides of new parents with such joy that they smiled, and then wept before I blinked myself back to reality, saw you for your truth, and thought that maybe, finally, I am enough. I floated out the door and found the strength to not look back. I felt invincible. Triumphant. Later on tonight, the very hand burdened with those miniscule cuts from the stubborn lids of jars, the ones that held dried herbs that ended up in homemade salad dressing, heavy on the vinegar, or from pills I’ve obtained with prescriptions that weren’t mine, will inch its way down my belly and in between my thighs and each prick-point acid sting will cause me to suck my tongue, but this time is different, and so am I. The name that slips out of my mouth, barely above a whisper, is mine, all mine.
D. Nolan Jefferson is a writer and a member of the library faculty at American University. A California native, he won the AWP Intro Journal Project Award for his short story “South of Eight” in 2017. His fiction appears in Tahoma Literary Review, Red Savina Review, and South 85 Journal among other publications. He enjoys tacos, collecting records, and fellow introverts, and tweets at @geekandahalf.
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