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"Bellows," excerpt

Tuesday 9/10/19

The girl considered opting for her foot, given that her finger was not working.

Recurrently she poked her brother’s shoulder, but he continued to stare out the backseat window. She felt as if she was jabbing a loaf of bread and wishing it to say “what?” and knowing that it would not. This was not the response she wanted.

“Alex,” she said. “Alex, Alex, Alex.” He remained undisturbed. They would not be able to say goodbye like this. She began to unbend her knee, thinking as she always did when it was the goodbye time, that a kick, softly, smartly delivered—not executed in abrading—or upbraiding—fashion would result in him turning to her so that the goodbye would last longer, in case there were to be no more. She pondered, fidgeted. Took stock of the floor, noted the pebbles at her feet, observed her calf. It reminded her of a champagne glass. The bottom near her ankle, where her skin seemed to draw in on itself, was the start of the stem; the base of her muscle, like pink pudding, the rounding out of the hollow where the first-poured liquid would splash and fizz.

She had never tasted champagne. It always seemed like it was raining during these car rides, as their parents sat in the front seat, murmuring, praying, but she knew that could not have been true. Weather does not work that way. Nothing does. Weather nowhere in the world.

Jassie stopped her poking, re-bent her knee, having decided against the use of her foot. Now she would be still. There was an order of operations to these car rides, the lead-up to the goodbye. She looked at her brother. The underside of his jaw seemed to glow as if translucent strips of silver—blotting paper made from an extract of fireflies and melted salvers—had dissolved into his skin, accounting for its hue, like a zinc beam playing in the refraction field of a tiger eye marble.

The rain always reflected the gray light that way as they drove. The edges of his mouth were not discernible as portions of lip. The redness had gone. He looked off-handedly galvanized. The red would come back when he opened his mouth again. Now it just looked like additional skin from his cheeks or his chin, poised in case some kind of a graft was needed.

Each time she attempted to come up with both the best goodbye and a goodbye that would mean he would come back to her, that it would not be the final one. She tried to put magic into her goodbyes, boomerang goodbyes. She wasn’t sure if they had been working and that was why Alex came back. He might have come back anyway, but she did not want to take any chances. She knew he was going to sit at the piano and play the best he could, try to play the best anyone could, with everything that made Alex what Alex was. So she tried to say goodbye the same way, to balance him and her, and make sure he came back again.

The car stopped at the musicians’ entrance behind the symphony hall. First her hands went around his neck. She always hugged at the neck when they were sitting. It was hard because she wanted to be with him again in a couple of hours, but if they never saw each other again, she also wanted to make sure she said goodbye the best way possible.

“I won’t kick you anymore,” she said. “I’m sorry. Goodbye.”

He said goodbye, too, red restored to the edges of his mouth.


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