I wish I was a canyon. I wish I was a Jersey cow.
The man asks me if I need a ride, and I say I do. “I am going to my sister’s house,” I mutter. “She lives on Saline Street.” He wears a green plaid blazer and a small bald spot at the top of his head. I pretend not to see the bulge in his pants. I can hear his blood pounding, even now with Harry Nilsson on the radio. I always liked Harry Nilsson.
His car smells like musk and tortilla chips. Sweat lines his forehead, and I can smell that too, overripe.
I am long past worrying about men and the things they can do.
I am not much on talking, but he is chatty enough for both of us. He asks questions that do not want answers.
I wish I was a reflection. I wish I was a wave. I wish I was the long strand of yellow hair on his shoulder, waving dangerously against the cracked window.
“Too cold to be out walking around,” he says. “I bet it feels good to be out of the weather. I bet I’m doing you a favor. You shouldn’t be out walking on your own, not with all the devils here. You don’t know cold like hog fat cold. When I was a boy, we would castrate pigs – tie and slice, tie and slice – with our cheeks against their rough, fat hides. It was icy then, worse than now. I don’t think it will ever be as cold again. Should I crank the heat up?”
Before I can say it doesn’t matter, I learn he was born with two left ankles. He thinks ferrets are creepy. His godfather was burned alive in a church building while rewiring the lights above the altar. The pages of the pew Bibles were crisp at the edges but not charred through, and it was a miracle of miracles, as wild as the West itself. His godfather was not a kind man anyway.
I say I do not much care for churches, and he says that’s not a bad thing for a girl like me.
I remove my scarf.
He stares at my neck, teases me, asks if I know what bliss is, asks me if I ever did any dancing.
I wish I was a red rock. I wish I was a tumbleweed.
“I have never been on this side of town,” he says. “My old lady lived over here for a while when we dated in college. I never picked her up though. We always met places. She was proud of her independence. You’re the right kind of girl, you know. You act like you need somebody. A man needs to be needed.”
This is the way it goes. The words escalate, not in rapidity but fervor. Soon he will be reaching across the seat. His hand will tremble and fall. He will feel nothing. I will feel even less.
I thank him, pretend not to see him reach for my wrist, leave the car, walk up the sidewalk, and enter the house.
This part is for me. As I watch from the window, I eat the moment with a spoon like one would the custard of a pawpaw. He stays parked for a few minutes on the street, searching for a reason to walk up to the door. His thin lips move, plotting his speech. Then he spots my scarf on the seat.
He almost runs to the front door, his feet stomping in Morse code.
He rings the bell, and my sister answers. Cradling my scarf, he explains I left it and asks if he can see me. His words topple and spill. She clutches it to her chest. She looks like chalk dust, like gossamer, like the frost on the picnic table as the sun comes up. Her knees dimple and cave.
She says what she always does: that it is my item of clothing, that it does sound like me, that I died many years ago. She is good at this. She has done it many times. Both of us watch him turn and leave, and the taste of his disappointment is sublime.
I wish I was a prairie. I wish I was a creek. I wish I was soles of his loafers, lumbering away.
L.W. Nicholson is a librarian and homesteader in Southeast Missouri. Her work has appeared in Moon City Review, Shirley Magazine, Passages North, and others.
Artwork by: Natalie Ciccoricco
Natalie Ciccoricco’s mixed media collages are original, analog works that mainly consist of embroidery thread and found images, which she use to weave together new narratives on paper. By re-using old materials, it is her hope to give them a new life and meaning.