The sun soothes my achy joints. It draws away the chill from my recesses and warms my skin, which, once healthy white, has gone ghostly gray.
A blue Honda CRV rolls in. I have visitors. Woman, who wears a yellow sweater dress and boots, alights. Man in faded jeans and sneakers, a baseball hat on his head, follows. I’m ashamed of my appearance. Dust and sticky bird shit cover my body. At places, the skin curls up and peels off like eucalyptus bark.
I suck in my breath. I’ve been practicing holding it in for a minute longer each day.
Man’s hands are at his side. Woman’s clutch a snakeskin purse, which matches her brown shoes. As they walk toward me, he doesn’t touch her.
My thoughts drift to the day, three years ago, when Suzy and Frank arrived. A silver sedan with the words“Just Married” in red hung on the windshield. Frank lifted Suzy in his arms, gently, as if she were a bouquet.
Man and Woman crane their necks to inspect me from different angles, top to bottom and side to side. Woman visors her face with a hand. Man places his hat on her head. She rises on her toes and pecks him on the cheek. He wraps an arm around her slender waist.
Can’t expect all couples to be how Suzy and Frank once were. They’d made dinner and love, often mixing the two. When they didn’t touch each other, something of theirs did: pillows, toothbrushes, and towels. I kept still, careful not to disturb them. If I had to ease on one side or awaken a sleepy limb, I did it after they slept.
Man knocks at my sides, pulls at my joints. Woman feels my skin in the good parts, presses a finger to assess the damage in others. In between, they give each other looks: sometimes brief, sometimes lingering. Smiles of varying width. Maybe their understanding stretches deeper than words.
Suzy and Frank bantered about little things: his not using drink coasters, her not replacing toilet paper. Then, bigger ones: his family, her friends. Night-long arguments then week-long battles ensued. An invisible line, a meridian, bisected the queen mattress, the row of hangers in the wardrobe, the stacks of lotions and soaps.
Woman gazes at a spot where a wound peeks out from under a worn bandage. I see kindness in her eyes, keep my breath held.
Frank submerged himself in the bottle. Suzy emerged, wearing lipstick and heels. I languished in the thick silence, punctuated by Frank’s ramblings, broken by dishes he flung when Suzy returned. Gashes and bruises covered me.
Man discovers paper ash inside my belly. “Sweetie, look.”
“Letters? A book?” Woman touches his arm.
Man pokes the ashes, places an unburned corner of glossy paper in his palm.
“Pictures.” He sighs.
One night, Frank burned the wedding album. Walked away. The fire was small, but its heat lingered for days, incubating my wounds. Suzy covered them, hoping to stanch the festering odor. Her efforts were unsuccessful. She packed up and left. Visited to spritz me with useless fresheners, her mouth and nose under a mask, eyes filled with disgust.
“Good bones,” Man bumps a fist playfully into my side.
“Nothing a little love won’t fix,” Woman places a warm hand at the thinning plaster that covers a cut. Her caress feels like Suzy’s—back when she used to care.
“This is it?”
“Yes, our search is over,” Woman’s face is lit like the day outside.
I’m so overcome with relief, joy, and other things that I drop my guard. I exhale.
Woman pulls the cowl of her dress to her nose. “Something stinks,” she says in a nasal voice.
Man contorts his face, looks around for the source of the odor.
“A dead rodent?” Woman says. Man shrugs.
Something that rots worse: a dead marriage with its innards splayed out in the open, blood and gore smeared all over, decaying slowly, fouling the air. But, I can’t tell them.
Woman removes a lavender spray from her purse, and mists the air around her face. Man covers his nose with the crook of his elbow. They look at each other, communicating in their wordless language. Man starts the car. Woman slides in. No goodbye, not even a glance. Only dust from the tires lingers, forming a gray cloud, obscuring the sun.