Exquisite corpse or murder mystery? A drawing becomes a poem becomes a story becomes an illustration, while dogs get nosy and bodies fall apart.
The catalogue: I thought it all was metaphor—
not Jazzercise, of course, not sweat or marriage—
but disappearing body, that struck me as a figure
of speech: an arm and a leg or one foot
in the grave, or work like a dog or wolf at the door—
It’s hard to focus—I keep thinking
What will fall off next? I’m hoping for a slice of hip
or ass, or maybe upper arm. But focus: wildfire,
the body, furred, uncovering. Follow your bliss
along his shirtfront’s ruffled pleats to the last
button before the light-blue wedding vest,
the cufflinks, hands. The emerging body;
but there won’t be much of mine, no thigh
to garter. The hand, at least, remains:
solid, white, and ready for the ring—
but no—the bare, blunt arm
hangs dumb as the hand unhooks itself,
swoops, pirouettes, its diamond sparkling
illegibly in the hot lights, fingers
fluttering to the music, flexing wide:
a star, palm fronds and open palm, a slap.
Gleaming, aerobic, it alights
wrist-downward on a pedestal; it snaps
to a rhythm I can’t catch. The music
coils and sizzles. Outside,
the rustling of invisible leaves, the click
of heels retreating. A rough snuffling. The drag
of a long wet branch, or a tail.
After that morning in the kitchen, I watched Jason and Marjorie more closely. If they were standing with another person, for example, who did they look at? Did they look at that person as much as they looked at each other, or less? The answer was: less. They’d glance at each other, faces damp, and I hated them, but I knew they must feel good. Secrets work like brass polish; hidden things gleam.
I watched them so much I forgot about the toe. We all had. It stayed on the sill, but its time as the thing we talked about had passed. One night someone showed up with fireworks—little ones at first, sparklers and black snakes—and that became the thing. We’d stand on the roof and argue about how to light the fuse, and then in a flutter of silver it would be over.
Marjorie knew her way around a Catherine wheel, and those weren’t easy. But for Jason’s birthday, she tried something new, a Roman candle, and from across the roof, the wrapper seemed to be giving her trouble. He bent a little to help her and caught my eye as he did. I turned away. I heard them light the fuse and scurry off. In the windows of the building across the street, I watched the fountain of gold light rise and mist away. People cheered. At that moment, happiness seemed inexpressibly remote: like the Statue of Liberty, a thing way off in the distance. Afterward, Jason came over to me. “Hi,” he said, putting his hand on my hip.
“Hi,” I said, and I knew I was right.
The foot arrived the next day. It was sitting on the kitchen table, unwrapped, when I returned from the grocery store.
“It’s mine,” Jason said from over by the window. “And look.” He pointed to his left foot—the one still attached to him, or the one that would soon not be attached to him, or in any event simply not the foot on our table—and there was a clean scoop of space where his big toe should have been. I looked at him looking out the window. Outside, a large black dog rooted about in our garbage cans. The air smelled like tulips and wilted lilies from the deli downstairs. We stayed there together a long time.
For a while after that, things were good. I took care of him. We drank bourbon in bed. We didn’t have any more parties and we’d sit on the roof, watching the pigeons and gulls. Sometimes we played cards. Then his left foot disappeared, and it was hard for him to climb the ladder, so we stayed indoors. We kept getting packages, but we stopped opening them.
At night, I watch him sleep and I tell myself, better gone than gone away. As the traffic light changes, his skin glows green and red and green again. I hear the dog in the garbage, searching for something, sometimes barking, and let me tell you: it feels so good to get what you want.