I was folding the laundry. There is something about folding my husband’s underwear that makes me feel all sentimental like I might even cry. Especially the old ones that are worn thin like onion skins, translucent and useless like calling the post office or trying to stand still in the ocean. I’ve never put my wedding ring into my mouth, but I know exactly what it would taste like, cold and lumpy and vulgar. I was folding the laundry when my husband called down to me in the basement. His voice rang, hanging like a thread between my ears, and I put down the underwear. My husband was not an urgent man, but now he cried for me like a hungry cat.

“Can you please come here?” Like a present, “We need to talk.” I pulled the bow up the stairs. A young woman, 18 at most. Dirty slit hugging my chair. “She is the perfect one, my one true love, the love of my life! She brought me back to life! For I was so frozen, so tired and mute and beneath her plaid skirt the house was on fire. The smoke swallowed my heart and my tongue and my knees. I am better fed than any man I never wondered.”

I couldn’t believe my ears.

I was good, I thought. I didn’t bother him too much. I was rarely a nag. I looked good for my age, that’s what everyone told me. I wanted so badly to be good enough. I mean, I guess that was the hitch, if you catch my disease. I wanted so badly to be fucking special that I was boring as hell. Isn’t that just side splitting, tuck in your spleen hysterical?

“I… I don’t know what to say,” I said.

I felt so sore all over, I thought, I hoped, I might die. Her dirty sheath was still fanned out across my blue and white striped cushion, legs spread. She even sat like a whore. Can you believe it? This woman, you know, if you can even call her that, was barely a lick older than our two daughters. Bloody hell, she was only a child! A child! Only monsters hate children. I couldn’t bear to be a monster, to hate a child. I couldn’t bear it, so I buried it. I surrendered my vanity, my pleasure, my pride, for god’s sake, I surrendered my life! If you cut me out, it sure was a pretty picture, him standing, her sitting at the round table in the kitchen, holding hands like fucking teenagers. She was a teenager. The tablecloth that matched the cushions and the drapes and the wallpaper. The toes of her heeled mary janes looked towards one another like crossed eyes and a piece of lint choked on her plaid skirt.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” I said. I’ve thought so many times of what I could have done differently, of all the things I should have said instead. I can’t believe how weak I was. I must be sick. But the truth is it is what it is. Whether I like it or not she’s like a daughter to me now, and that’s just how my cake was iced, you know?

I looked into my back and felt around

the edges of the box with my fingernail

I wasn’t sure how to open it.

Does everyone have secrets sewn into their kidneys

or is it just everything I do to please you?

Not just you but I want to feed everyone I know and then I want to be the one who does the dishes, too, while everyone is still laughing.

I had coffee again this morning even though it just makes me sweat

The smell is like chemicals

but I did pick up the dog shit and call the gas company

they owe me 15 dollars and 41 cents.

“It’s late,” she said.

It was true. Pitch black outside and who knew when the bulbs would run out. Those of us who were off duty sat around the gray foldout table we had duct-taped to the floor. Everything these days had to be taped or glued or bolted down. We had learned the hard way that a chair or a fork out of place could summon the angels of death. Playing cards were stranded, face up, bleeding across the table and mingling with half eaten cans of sardines. I was wearing my “I’ve got a wild cherry” t-shirt, the same pit stained torn up shirt I’d been wearing when they found me, a month or so before I guess. I don’t know, I don’t care, counting didn’t matter then, it doesn’t matter much now either.

“Let’s dock for the night. Looks like a storm is coming.”

A storm was coming all right, coming for us and the wind was howling, chanting, plowing deep into my ears! Our vessel, our savior, was churning left and right twisting through dark waters, past drowned houses on cramped streets. We lowered two of our girls on an inflatable raft into the water to search ahead for a safe place to rest.

I was thankful to be off duty that night, a night without a moon, I’ve never gotten over my fear of the dark. My heart pounds in my ears. I’m like a child, a big coward, a freak. I’m a dumb little girl scared of the boogeyman, scared of every shadow. I sleep with my head under the covers as if that might save me.

“God, I’m so tired,” I said aloud and felt stupid and cursed myself because of course we’re all fucking tired. Wobbling, tossed around day and night. All the fingers on my left hand had been numb for over a week from pulling on bristly ropes, but so blessed was I to possess 10 fingers, 10 toes. A joker gazed up at me from my hand, leering with curled lips, he knew as well as I did that I was a dead weight, another hollowed out can of sardines. I should have stayed in the water.

“We’re all fucking tired!” Thank god someone farted and I forgot all my bullshit and we laughed like hell, snorting and cackling and choking on our spit like the seamen we pretended to be. We fancied ourselves real sea-lasses, rugged and ballsy and full of beans.

A faint light glowed behind us, breathing brighter and brighter.

“Someone’s on our tail.”

My throat closed up as though it had swallowed a bird. Briny breath on our necks, just an arm’s length away. We sped up, but so did they. Crossing back, crossing back, crossing forth, crossing forth, parroting every move of our dear ship’s hips like a dance.

And just like that, like out of some crappy old movie or porno their ropes strangled our beams, their feet smashed onto our decks. 19 of them and only 14 of us. Those scummy creeps didn’t waste a second, pressing their foul cases against every one of us, pushing us down, ripping our clothes, tugging our hair.

The strongest of us, we fought. Fists. Teeth snapped in half. I was too unfastened from my skin to scream. Dirty fingers full of mouths, of buttons, praying for a gun. To shoot squirrels off the back porch one by one.

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