by Lee Matalone
Buy a plane ticket around the world. Get on the plane with the one you love. Go to beautiful places with pristine beaches and postcard sunsets. Go to ugly places with shantytowns and bloated children (these may in face be the same places). Only leave one another’s side for bathroom breaks and runs to the convenience store. Spend as much time as it takes to do this.
Once you’ve circled the globe, get off the plane at JFK. If you’re still in love, get married at the airport.
She wanted to find bones, a cow skull in particular. This was Texas, and there should be skulls lying on the side of the road, falling from the sky, she thought.
“Out in the desert desert, you know, way out there,” he said, driving with one hand pressed to his chest, “you used to be able to find Mexican guys with skulls strung up in trees.”
“What happened to them?” She scanned the hills, ranch rolling into ranch. No trees with skulls. She turned around to stroke the head of their cattle dog sleeping in a curl in the backseat.
“Texas isn’t the same Texas anymore. It’s gonna be a blue state soon. Think of that.” Along with the radio, he hummed a tune she didn’t know. “Maybe in Houston we’ll have some luck.” He took her hand and brought its cracked skin to his lips, the song vibrating the molecules in her knuckles. “I could probably listen to this song a million times and never get sick of it. It’s just that perfect.”
She popped the glove compartment and removed a pair of sunglasses with one arm missing. Out the window, she let the wind carry them away.
“What did you do that for?”
“I didn’t have any use for them anymore.” It was her car, her idea to take this trip. He would have preferred to stay home for the week of Christmas vacation, go to his parents’ house for goose and pie. She began humming a different song than the one playing on the radio. “Is it getting any better?” On top of the hand pressed firmly to his chest, she placed her own.
“I don’t know what’s going on. It’s probably anxiety, though I don’t know why I feel that.” He balled his hand into a fist, kneading the knuckles into the area where something was causing him pain. “The pain’s the same. Maybe worse.”
“I’m sick of listening to music. Can’t we just listen to nothing?” She switched the radio off. Against the window, she laid her head and closed her eyes, the moving pavement echoing through her skull.
The town square was bare except for a few adolescent leland cypresses planted at uneven intervals around the perimeter of dead grass. From inside the car, they could smell smoked pork emanating from behind a storefront, the B-B-Q painted onto the glass with a white marker.
With the dog leashed, they walked to the center of the square. Gingerbread houses stared out at them from all four sides.
“Maybe you and me will get old in this place.” He sat down on the grass and extended his legs, crossing one bony ankle over the other.
“Here?” She watched a man across the street sweep his porch with a broom with a broken handle, his soft skin folding over him as he leaned over. Togetherness here was not something anyone would want.
“Look at me,” he said.
She could give him this, a look, a look to be his, to stow away in a locket alongside a piece of her hair, to tear up in pieces and shove into the bottom of a trash bag.
Togetherness is a puzzle missing the corner pieces.
He’d get a tattoo on his chest, near his heart but not on his heart, of her name, a memento mori of their togetherness, a way to paint out their death in some romantic-tragic way for the next woman to openly detest but secretly covet. The next woman would swoon over the Heart in him. This was what it was to be human.
Which is sad, she thought.
She would give him the look and the tattoo and the woman. She would give him those things.
She didn’t so much sit down as collapse onto the grass, her arms fanning out, the worms squirming away as fast as they could.
This was a town that had no name, or didn’t deserve one. Later, neither of them would remember where they had been. Some border town bordering on isolated country. The motel’s sign glowed neon blue like Neptune.
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
Reaching the Gulf they parked the car along the road and let the dog jump onto the pavement. There weren’t any other people or cars to worry about.
“Just give me a minute,” he said, tugging at his socks.
She unbuckled the straps of her sandals around her ankles and left them by the side of the road. She ran after the dog, and he after her, running faster, knowing that he was staring at the back of her neck, her spine, her thighs.
The dog stopped. She found him, his nose pressed into the sand alongside the carcass of a tortoise, its shell burned white. The dog took its carapace into its mouth, cracking a thin line diagonally across.
“No,” she scolded him. “No you can’t do that.” It was just a just a dead thing. Part of a dead thing. Not even the whole dead thing.
He put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her and the dog along the beach. “There will be more, you know,” he said.
She looked back at the car sitting alone on the road. She pulled his arm around her neck, putting herself into a headlock. Maybe there was a kiss in there somewhere. She would not remember.
She dropped to her knees and cupped her hands full of sand, tossing piles of it around his feet, patting the mounds down around his ankles.
“You’re going nowhere,” she said, beating the sand with her fists. The dog dragged the shell into the ocean and lost its grip, the water taking it back out into the sea.
In their memories, the ocean was barely there.
He extended a hand and pulled her up beside him. “I wasn’t planning on it.” Then he lifted his right foot.
Lee Matalone‘s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Bridge Eight, Bookslut, Flavorwire, Perversion Magazine and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans.