We're cross-legged on Angel's bed, her last four phones spread out in front of us. She tells her mother that her latest stopped working and she gets a new one. I'm at least three models behind her. I pick up her iPhone 6.
"Can't you sell these on eBay?"
Angel gives me that look she reserves just for me – kind of do you even live in 2018? – combined with do I look like I need the money? Her mother is a special kind of superstitious, beginning with Angel's name. Everyone knows that Angela is the feminine form of Angel, but she's named after a stillborn brother. This is where it gets complicated. He was christened Bryant, but because he's presumably an angel and her mother got pregnant again immediately, Angel gets stuck with being the reincarnation of her dead brother. See what happens when religion sucks all the logic from your brain?
"Lulu? Your father needs you to pick up milk on the way home." Angel's mother pokes her blonde head in the bedroom door. Her hair looks like a bathing cap, sleek and the color of dandelions. I wonder if a hairdresser convinced her this was a good look. Angel gives me her half-smile because we both think her mother is more than a little off, kneeling before all these tables she has set up with pictures of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus. It ruins the flow of the house, kind of an anti Feng Shui.
I don't think my father cares about milk. He’s just checking to see if I’m really at Angel's house. After three letters from school informing him of my unexcused absences, he makes feeble attempts to monitor my whereabouts. He's crafty, my Dad, pretending to need help moving furniture or fixing the insulation so I'll stick around. Once he saw me put a jackknife in my backpack before walking to the bus.
HIS NAME WAS Patrick O'Rourke and he was Vietnamese. The spot where they cut her throbbed with knowledge that skin acquires when it is cut must grow a hood to heal. Standing in the lobby, Elsa wore layers; black turtleneck, jewel-colored blouse; mauve over jacket. Her luggage remained untouched. Noon; she guessed by the rumble in her belly. Her name spoken quietly by the rapidly blinking desk clerk. Elsa. Her room wasn't ready. She wondered about luggage and whether he had arrived by bus or car. The funeral wasn't where she belonged but her mother could not travel. Standing in for someone else was a role she knew but this time was harder, the surgery only two days ago. Although the doctor said she could go; she couldn't lift anything.
A scarab, that's what it was; some kind of beetle tattoo on his wrist; she saw it when he bent down to pick up the worn leather briefcase and she remembered Gregor Samsa and The Metamorphosis. We're all becoming something else. What did he think of when he sat still for the needle to etch the perfect tiny insect into his flesh? His name was Patrick O'Rourke; P.X.O. on his briefcase. X as in Xavier or Malcolm X or anonymous, illiterate. X as in Xu or Xi. Now he met her gaze in the way that strangers do when they recognize something of themselves in others. Not young but fortyish and trim. Well-dressed in a gray sport jacket and black wool coat draped over his arm. He extended his hand, picked up her rolling luggage. Elsa followed him with buoyancy where she sank into the swirls of carpet. No words, just recognition. Either he was the dead woman's son or he was a stranger. He would take her to the funeral or he would rape and strangle her, careful not to soil his ironed white button-down. His name was Patrick O'Rourke and his mother was a war bride.
Visible Wounds is the first story in Lisa Taylor's debut short fiction collection Growing a New Tail (Arlen House/Syracuse University Press, 2015). Read the rest of this story where it first appeared in Map Literary Magazine and others in Growing a New Tail, which is available at: Syracuse University Press and Bookshop.org
So there we were, ten years after the honeymoon, and him clomping across the cafe in his steel-toed boots to find a seat near the front window, cluttered with taped-on flyers advertising church bazaars and yoga lessons. Outside a few zinnias flapped limp petals in the humid puff of air they call a breeze around here. He pushed over a stack of Time magazines and newspapers to make room for his macchiato, double order of bacon, and sketchpad.
I sat on a cast iron chair near the back, by the espresso machine. There was a painting of a woman in a gauzy dress kissing a man under a red umbrella even though I swear it didn't look like a speck of rain was falling, her dress all billowy and the blue-white of those tiny flowers that dot fields back home in May. Just how it is with us, we prepare for rain where there isn't any, a damn hurricane or one of those funnel clouds that the airbrushed woman on Channel 55 says there's a thirty percent chance of it hitting somewhere, tearing up roads and picking up pets and even cars. Sometimes ten years can make a woman feel like life has caught her in a headlock, and she's choking on all that monotony.
Clem's the quiet kind. He eats too much and smokes those Maduro cigars so I'll probably be a widow someday though God's a fickle sort, taking my Auntie Viv at forty-two and letting my bastard Grampy Murray live long enough to gamble away the family money. I order up an egg over easy and iced tea, pretend not to see his extra bacon though Doctor Song warned him in April about fat. Clem doesn't believe in anything but fate. If it's my time, it's my time. Fine. I'd like a guarantee that his time won't drag on for years, draining all our meager resources.
"Anna, you're gonna marry me. You'll see."
Growing a New Tail is the title story in Growing a New Tail (Arlen House/Syracuse University Press, 2015), Lisa Taylor's debut short fiction collection. Read the rest of this story where it first appeared in Bartleby Snopes and others in Growing a New Tail, which is available at: Syracuse University Press and Bookshop.org.
The tail protrudes from the wheel well
of my Toyota. I think it is a twig
until I see its utter pinkness,
glimpse of matted fur dark with blood.
I've been unconsciously spinning away life.
I pretend I'm not a part
of this drama.
I was only doing thirty.
Harsh, vital world.
Lives catch under wheels.
I have to stop my rushing,
these continuous murders.
In the night, the bleating goat wind
comes calling, plaintive cry
that seeps under the door until
the animal is at my bedside rubbing
his white horned head against my pillow
and I want to give him hay,
a promise and a ring.
I kneel praying to the long-haired woman
in the moors wind,
her dune-colored locks stirred up
like a lapwing beating
wings in a crazed tumble
through laden air.
Stranger rapping at the door wind
arrives in time for tea,
four short, one long;
windows answer with breathy sighs,
This morning the wind
on a stone wall, a tentative cry
leads me to unlock
the door, gather her
into my arms, make porridge
with fresh cream and honey.
In the afternoon, the wind turns old,
full of rheumatism and rotting teeth,
a shallow exhalation
that takes unnaturally long.
Now wind is a sure lover,
hands all over me,
drawing breath in sharp little intakes.
I’m panting so hard,
I forget to hold onto my cap
and he takes it, holding it high
as I chase him down a path
rimmed with brambles;
collapse amid spurge and milkwort,