by Lindsay Parnell
“It’s a waste, lager like that—I’ll make something good for you,” says the barman from Kilkenney whose face and voice and hands are hero handsome like Peck, before her gaze settles above the fold:
An FBI agent put a bullet between the shoulder blades of some guy who was loitering near the trunk of his curb-parked Lexus in Queens. An FBI agent stood at the window frame of his second story bedroom and figured that this guy was going to lift his car, so he shot him: “In Rare Case, R.B.I. Tries to Fire Agent Who Shot a Suspect Intentionally.” The agent is named Navin and the unarmed man is called Adam Ricketts by his mother but The Times refers to him as Jamaican immigrant. Adam Ricketts was shot on July 18, 2012 falling to his knees and there’s already talk of how fibers splay in the same second a bullet enters flesh how the FBI sends evidence to its headquarters in Virginia before releasing any commentary on official matters. Before Ricketts is shot he’s Jamaican immigrant, but after there’s a slug lodged between his wings, after a dive beneath the printed columns of election coverage he’s Mr. Adam Ricketts, green card holder. They misspell his surname in the closing paragraph and double the ill-placed comma of the penultimate sentence. Twice she failed the copy-editing test for The Village Voice but the job she has now offers dental and vision often offering her unsolicited promises and palm of a married man most weekdays.
“That’s last Saturday’s—” He sets the glass onto box scores where the Phillies sink to last place in the NL East.
High-top tables face the bar, lined narrow as a twin bed. Her glass slick with saliva and lipstick and backwash. Through the window foot traffic thins, riding the fall of peak hours. Across the street strangers cluster with urgency, their bodies sloping forward with no desire to still. Intersecting city blocks splay like limbs. Smokers toss cigarettes to the ground, empty-handed no longer anchored to the cobblestone throat joining the bar and that Jewish deli where you need your whole party present to be seated but by the time her glass is empty the boy bleeding from his ears and mouth who was nailed by that cab who couldn’t stop had either bled out or was speeding towards Mount Sinai before she had even noticed he was laying in the street at all like how the ulcer had been there months before she knew it birthed. The ulcer wasn’t there until it was the way she woke, its sharp pulse reminding her to breathe. She made a list of the things she figured made it be. Triggers, or whatever the things are that make other things happen are called so it’s black coffee that is chewing a hole in her stomach lining, tearing further with each cup swallowed. She keeps the list tacked next to the thermostat in daylight but sunset reminds her to pin it above the kitchen sink and get some sleep even though it was him who first said you look like death so go lay down already before she found him silent well before he left but it was his words she heard still.
“Never held a switchblade or a crucifix,” he said. “Who are you if you haven’t? Who do you tell people you are if you haven’t?” calling each other vulgar until he thumbed the minor chords that made them sleep. She knew his mother only from the photos falling forward onto his desk where he wrote rhythms before she got that job with benefits and he found his Missus from Chicago who loves him proper.
In his city she is embalmed, always and she still hasn’t gotten around to taking that cab back to Philadelphia because it’s the cab that runs from midtown to the train station to take the train that takes her to Philadelphia to catch a cab home where she has Sunday delivery, the paper and arts supplement and magazine too.
“I said that aint today’s. You want today’s?” Suspenders split before his spine stops. “We still got the review cause nobody’s nicked it yet—”
An Irish novelist reviews the work of an American novelist. Both novelists are men and both have been met with critical and commercial praise. The Irish novelist is more talented than the American novelist and it’s because of the Irish novelist that she’s reading the review in the first place with no interest in the American novelist or his book so much so that she skips each quote pulled from the novel itself. “Colm Toibin is just divine,” she says to no one except the waitress who has a face like the midwife who lives in Philadelphia, that midwife who has a face like Diane Arbus like Charlotte Gainsbourg who works at the bar called McFadden’s just around the corner from the Brazilian Consulate on East 41st between 2nd and 3rd so adhere to the list of prohibited items and forbidden behaviors. Fixed to its entrance is a sign warning of guards prepared to search your bag. If you smile enough and bring your own glue stick to apply you passport photo to the visa application itself, they won’t.
“You don’t gotta be Irish to work here, but it don’t hurt—“
“I tip well,” was what she said before the sin that became their sin was locked behind a stall reminding her that the act is not the sin the act is the gift from a stranger the sin is the story when a bed has nothing to do with it is the story I choose to tell you, the words are the story I say with the barman from Kilkenney before she found herself with a ticket to the exhibition.
Photographs matted and framed hang at eye level. The exhibition educates, the Times had told her and the others too whose current of bodies shuffle through the warehouse like a riptide knocked lame. It’s mirages she’s caught, his Missus who is a lucky girl indeed, pressed delusions beneath glass and nailed to plaster:
Mediterranean courtyards, coastlines of the South of France and East European skylines caught beneath volcano smoke, the falling shoulders of cobblestone sanded level into a tourist’s footpath. The sea is black and without shape. Guardrails line a highway, trailing a mountain basin, its lip waning into the dusty margin between the tarmac and cliff’s edge. The stained glass windows of cathedrals lit with sunrise and teacups overflowing with gin cocktails. Union Jacks draped over fences and skimming the sidewalk. Every country the soles of his Missus have graced, earth and sky and her silhouette. She knows her best light and angle. The flesh of his Missus’ face is sunburned, caves fall beneath her cheekbones and in the foreground she is raw. His flesh and hers with limbs intertwined. A lucky girl indeed, his Missus catches and claims with shutter clicks, a delayed flash in theft. A robbery, stolen and framed and mounted and calls it her own. But no shots of the times when he used to scrap until he couldn’t stand, back at university in the damp corners of his favorite park, the most northern point of the city centre. “Boxing and slaps and swipes—the best touch there’s ever been—” he used to say before his Missus, before the photographs that show she’s been somewhere, been somewhere for corroboration of her statement, evidence of who she is and was and did and is so that perhaps she isn’t a liar, no a thief, after all. The images are the story his Missus shows us. The story is what his Missus has mounted for your gaze to see the story.
Snaking her right arm through his left, his Missus laughs with her throat naked, mouth slack and smile eroding. Her hair is cropped, flat and colored as a rusting nail head. Filings dot her molars long dead and her swell marks them only a few months gone. His Missus must know languages too but is silent still, keeping her tongue for show and convenience, waiting but she’s stolen things unattended, plucked with impulse to claim. His smile is cued with fingers tapping the inside of his wrist.
She hadn’t known him to wear a watch or heard him trouble a stranger for the time. Without purpose she finds him paralyzed the wedding band suits him, gives him weight and purpose and fluency of signs. Thin and gold without visible blemishes. His limbs stagnant beneath clothes he didn’t buy, his shoulders fall in a quiet curve, his collar wilting and his body still
unlike the times he would tilt forward to meet her, slanting to her flesh. The times in which he was her italic, her favorite font and necessity and words and story but this is not her story this be the exhibition.
The hips of his Missus align to his in silence and they know he’ll never leave her.
Stale tongue clucks of midtown trains swallow last call commuters. Kiosks sell roast beef sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, coffee and the dailies whose birth announcements and obituaries are stale, already forgotten like how no one ever remembers proper who it was it was who stopped first who imploded without apology but this isn’t the story the story is not the things she allowed him to say or the things she forbade but the name of the things she asks him still the words of the story I tell you in silence there is story still what’s it called—hey, called when […] there’s not a word for that […] sure there is, there’s a word for everything that has ever been thought or done or hasn’t […] Rarely there was talk of how things will be and so there will be times later when the thought of him or black coffee nudges the ulcer but those are days coming, happening every three or four without interruption but there will be times too when his name won’t cross her lips or commune on her tongue once, maybe twice, two days when she’ll convince herself that she’s lost sight of them altogether, of him completely and the words that were and weren’t. There he stood among the ticket holders, maybe, that man there by the photo of the brackets and knick-knacks in Spain on their honeymoon beneath the gallery lights, him there, he’s somebody’s husband, some stranger’s someone who speaks the words that are the story I tell you. The story is what I say. This is the story. But she’s forgotten all of the things she never would have said in the first place like how once he knew the words she never could find, never found himself lost for a words, never swallowed communion he did but it’s not like he was baptized so where’s the sin the story in that? Is it a sin if no one sees it? But if no one sees there can be no photo and without a frame who saw it? what’s that worth what’s it called when no one leaves? When things just stop? The word for that—what is it to begin with? In boxing it’s the decision when it doesn’t go your way because you won’t take responsibility for your own shortcomings and fears and inadequacy and so you figure it’s the referees’ blindness and fault. Lawyers got this one too, but they don’t have a word for it but it has a name the hooks of his question marks pluck the eyeballs clean from her sockets. “Why don’t you pretend I’m mute or dead,” he had said more than once, “whatever words it is you need, you best find them—”
Ash chases her lips burning like a long dead limb in the hollow throat of the station at the same midtown altar where he last left her.
Lindsay Parnell’s debut novel, DOGWOOD, was published by Linen Press in 2015. Her short fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, Litro, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Underground Voices, and The Prague Revue. Additionally, she shares a birthday with eighth wonder of the world Meryl Streep and owns 16 copies of ‘The Bell Jar.’