by JOHN MARCHINKOSKI
The man on stage can’t explain how it feels to burn. Nothing describes the sensation well enough. The fluorescent stage lights overhead remind him of the burning. He considers invoking them, but the audience doesn’t know their intensity. Edward’s bald, scarred head looks almost fetal under their glow. He wants to say he seceded from the rest of his body and became smoke, but this is too abstract for the audience and too close to the truth. He settles on the tautology that burning feels like being on fire.
“I’m sorry,” Edward says, his throat dry. “I know that doesn’t help.”
The crowd can’t accept or reject his apology, but some unsayable sense of decency tells everyone he never needed to apologize in the first place.
“The only thought going through my head was, I’m on fire. I’m on fire.” Edward shakes his head and exhales. “The burns made me more aware of touch, of sense. That’s one thing you never hear from burn victims. It makes you more perceptive. I can’t press my thumb to my skin without feeling every last atom grate against me. It’s sort of ruined my life, but it’s taught me something, too.”
Edward then explains to the crowd assembled for the Young Tech Contractors’ Conference that they should never take their fortunes or struggles for granted.
Edward has given speeches to military personnel, school children, retirees, to professionals senior and entry level. He has explained the importance of saying no to drugs, properly storing kitchen appliances, workplace safety, Christian devotion, atheism, and more. The origins of Edward’s burns change with the speech. His employer, Interminable Communicative Solutions LTD, pays him for these speeches, and their clients demand nimble narrative gymnastics. Today, Edward plays the role of a man whose faulty cell phone detonated next to his ear.
“I know what I’ve said hasn’t gone through. It isn’t your fault. I can’t communicate how it feels to have a lithium battery explode in your face. I’m not a particularly good speaker, and you have no reference for what I’m talking about. Thank God for that.”
During the Q&A, a sweaty young man grabs the microphone, stands up, and stares into Edward’s eyes. This is the first audience member outside a liberal arts school Edward thinks might cry.
“I just want to let you know, sir, that you don’t need to apologize.”
“No, see, that’s what I mean.”
Edward wants to rebuke this kid for his pointless sentiment, but it would clash with the tone of the speech he’s just given. “The point is we should divest from lithium-ion and look into integrating lead batteries back into phones and computers. Thank you for your time.”
Edward honks at and flips off the other drivers suffering in congested traffic on the way out of Washington. He hates the commute from the district’s offices, boardrooms, and convention halls to his house on the Potomac waterfront, where his girlfriend spends most of her day.
At home, Alana comforts Edward with her round eyes. They seem to say, My baby, what happened? The traffic again?
She doesn’t dare touch him yet, waiting until Edward tells her about the Q&A.
“I fumbled that question like a bitch,” he says. “Never again. I should have deflected.” “Deflected how? Isn’t that what you did?”
“Should have said I had no need to apologize for wanting to apologize.”
“Really want their heads to whirl, huh?”
“It would shut them the fuck up, at least.”
“It sounds like he wanted to be your friend.”
“It sounded more like he didn’t pay attention to my speech.” Edward loosens his tie, unbuttons his collar, and applies lotion to his scalp.
“That stuff working for you?” Alana asks.
“Nothing works. Just alleviates the pain.”
No amount of lotion can interfere with the friction searing through Edward’s hands and running over his head. Before the burning, Edward never knew the nerves of his scalp could feel just as acutely as the singed tips of his fingers. It seems his scalp transmits nothing but sick, stinging heat in place of the hair he once had.
“Been thinking of long term solutions?” Alana asks.
“No. Outside long baths and lotion, I don’t know what the hell to tell you.”
“You mean where they cut off a piece of your ass and stretch it over your face?”
“Sometimes I worry you’re not happy.”
Edward walks over to her and allows himself a smile. His head shines, temporarily cured of its aridity.
“I’m more than happy for what I’ve got.”
They stand so close together, but Alana clasps her hand around her wrist and refrains from grabbing him. They stand like this for a few moments, inches from one another, until Alana sits down in Edward’s office chair and starts to spin, knocking her foot against his desk with each revolution.
“Do you ever worry that maybe your burns enter the room before you do?”
“I don’t get what you mean.”
“I’m sorry. I suck at explaining this.”
“I’m sorry. It’s weak to do that, to apologize before you can even process my apology. I’m stealing your feeling from you.”
“You’re not. You learn this from me?”
“Then again,” Alana says, smiling, spinning. “That’s just as bad, isn’t it? We could do this forever.”
Later, Alana hovers her hands over Edward’s bare chest.
“You need to go slow with me,” he says.
She has heard this before and she will hear it again, like ritual. The eczematous stretches of skin, the bulbous nodules peppering his back, and the purple scars winding down his hips all command her to go slow. She doesn’t need to hear it from him. He closes his eyes, revealing her favorite part of him—eyelids pale and unburned, eyelashes wiry and black. His look of deep meditation suggests he must surmount some spiritual obstacle before she can touch him, but his eager posture, his bestial breathing, and the knuckle-whitening force with which he grips the bed sheets make her wonder whether he really fears the pain anymore. As she presses her hands to him and reacquaints herself with his warm, malleable muscles, she questions whether Edward wants or downright needs to go through these rhetorical motions, as though they are just as integral to sex as the act itself.
They have no time for questions. No one speaks. She knows where to avoid, where new nerve endings press right against his skin, and what stretches of his body are dead, robbed of sensation. It would have taken a map, at first, to chart all these corporeal pitfalls and pressure points. It’s easy for her now. She manages him deftly, like a scout wending hinterland trails strange and incomprehensible to everyone but those who live there.
The tender heat spreading across Edward’s body excites them both, brings them toward a frontier of feeling neither understands. As the sensation builds, Edward allows himself a single cry from an unknown emotional origin. Alana shivers. The room fills with the smell of musk and, yes, smoke. Alana has no precise words for how this makes her feel, but, if she had the time or the care, she would admit to loving the tandem pity and gratification she experiences when Edward puts them through physical and emotional hell just to feel whole again.
A postcard arrives in the mail beside the newest check from Interminable Communicative Solutions. Edward, wearing his straw hat and sunglasses, endorses his check and slides the postcard into a drawer with the others.
He only receives postcards from his ex-wife, Charlene, who left him and converted to Pentecostalism almost immediately after his disfigurement. This one reads the same as the rest.
Greetings from Christ’s Kingdom!
“Another?” Alana asks. She can’t control her pitch as well as Edward can. A single word seems to give her away.
Edward turns his back to her as he writes a check to his sons, Edgar and Edwin, who live in Oklahoma with their mother. Charlene has enough money saved to preclude child support, but Edward sends money to his sons nonetheless. It’s penance—Alana had to remind Edward of Edwin’s birthday last year, and he somehow ended up sending gifts and a card addressed to Edgar. Alana doesn’t like to imagine the scene, but it still comes at her quite vividly—Edwin excited, eager for a call or gift from his dad, Edgar confused to find a package and card in his name, Edwin crying, face red and flushed… It’s difficult for Alana to reconcile Edward’s innate sensitivity and goodness with his parental incompetence.
“I’m not annoyed. I’m really not,” Alana says. She wants so badly to convince Edward the way he convinces his audience.
“She’s not trying to convert us. This is just her way of saying hi. Is it backbiting? Sure. It’s her idea of friendly.”
Much to Alana’s discomfort, Charlene is one of the few people in Edward’s life to escape his swears and insults.
“I know. It’s fine. I’m sorry. I know it seems like I’m trying to act cool, like I’m working overtime to avoid being the bitchy, young girlfriend. I mean it. It’s all good.”
“Why do you keep apologizing all the time?”
“Don’t say it.”
Interminable Communicative Solutions pays Edward more than an enough for Alana to stay home, and during long stretches of quiet day, she finds herself hungering for Edward’s vulnerability, for his coarse language and dark eyes. She tries, lying in the living room, eyes shut, to liken domestic isolation to his sons’ loneliness.
The room disappears. The Oklahoman sun flushes a desolate lawn. An empty swing sways above yellow grass. Edwin shimmies up the gutter, Edgar behind him. A crooked cross of Lebanese cedar droops toward the earth on the lawn below them. Noon disappears, the sun slips behind them, and shadows creep out from beneath their feet. Their silhouettes reach eastward, their bodies impressed like artwork on the ground. They stand, gesticulating like giants. Their fingertips stretch across flatlands, lowlands, and badlands, across states and cities to espalier the brick wall of their father’s colonial townhouse where, hidden inside, Alana lies like a therapy patient on a divan, the lights off… But this is theater. She hasn’t met them, and the shade playing across the hedges outside originates not from across the country but from an errant cloud overhead. A wave of pressure forms in her sinuses. Her lower lip turns elastic. Tears gather, small and vestigial, behind her eyelids.
The feeling dissipates, and the living room returns.
Do they talk about their father or his young girlfriend? Perhaps they, like Alana, lie down and try to imagine them.
Alana is, was, and has been beautiful, gorgeous, striking, hot, whatever. But these are only words — signs pointing to another destination. She didn’t exactly discover it for herself. She perceived it in others—in dilated pupils, in fidgeting hands and sweaty lips, in the constant verbal tumble of Jeez. Oh. Hi. How are you? Her beauty cleaves to her. It is the sticky membrane through which she, sometimes advantageously, sometimes begrudgingly, interacts with the world. For a time she might have mistaken the trap for something cozy.
She learned the truth of it early. All these feints—the simultaneous self-effacement and cultivation of her beauty—dissolved with a tablet of Rohypnol in an untended drink. A house pulsed with collegiate bodies and percussive song. Glasses shattered. Furniture broke. An impotent garbage disposal struggled to slash through vomit and bottle shards. She lost track of time and herself and eventually perceived, through a lolling haze, a bedroom. The jetsam of ordinary life littered the floor—worn sweaters, shoes, papers, and books. Beneath someone’s seething weight she could see a family picture propped on the nightstand. She didn’t recognize them, nor did she recognize the man raping her, but these are the things she remembers, that she latched on to like a drowning swimmer to driftwood. The man blinkered in and out of reality, seeming more like a bleary malevolence than an actual person.
She woke up missing keys, articles of clothing, long stretches of time, and her way of looking at the world. She gathered what she could and abandoned what she could not. Her hands shook, and she broke into a cold sweat, but these were just symptoms of the drug, she told herself, even as they persisted for days, months, years afterward.
Flashbacks, she thought, her hands still trembling, her heartbeat erratic. A psychochemical condition.
And this, she learned, was the greatest tyranny of what happened to her. Even if she tells anyone what happened, she will never shed herself. She can never, despite the drug’s intended purpose, forget what happened. People will continue to look at her, follow her, and see her life as little more than an extension of its beauty. She still casts a glare wherever she walks, loosening spines, decentering optic nerves.
She attended counseling at the student health center but couldn’t bring herself to confess what happened—it would have jettisoned her back into those gurgling hours of inanimateness. She talked with the counselor about abstractions, about control and agency and guilt, but never about herself.
“I don’t even know why I’m here,” Alana said.
The counselor populated their sessions with anecdotes—nameless, of course—no matter how far they strayed from Alana’s experience. They talked about rape, violence, drug abuse, mental illness, and petty crime. Alana never offered anything beyond what was already self-evident. She was a beautiful girl, yes, but she’d already mastered the art of appearing unapproachable and pissed off. Normally she only needed to keep her lips linear, joyless. She tilted her head back and lowered her eyelids. She didn’t go to parties anymore, and this was apparently enough to become, in the eyes of others, a bitch. It took practice and application, but the bitch’s mask had become more than comfortable—it was necessary. She gave this same measured expression when talking with the counselor. She abandoned the sweet, feathery tone everyone just sort of expected from her. Every sentence unadorned with niceties played straight to the bitch character. She hoped to look and sound like she wasn’t quite over the hump of teenage apathy.
“We’ve spent our sessions talking about other people. You’ve immersed yourself in their stories. This is going to sound formulaic, so bear with me, but do you feel like you’re searching for control?”
Alana considered divulging stray details of what happened, but this risked reliving it, somehow. But how could she relive stolen time? She imagined herself on her childhood lawn with a branch wedged under a large rock, too afraid to turn it over and see the bugs beneath it.
She didn’t attend any more counseling, preferring instead to cultivate catharsis straight from the source. Like a sadist or frustrated novelist, she fell into attending support groups she had no business being at. Unlike Edward, she didn’t lie about why she went where she did. The cancer survivors, battered spouses, drug addicts, and alcoholics whose trust she earned quickly shut up and stopped returning calls when she confessed that she came to these meetings only to collect their stories, to talk about anyone but herself. She didn’t transcribe or film these traumas—she catalogued them in her head. After the meetings, she lay supine on her bed or couch, her eyes closed, relaxed by the ceiling fan’s tantric whir, until she could visualize the ill housewife shaving her head at the bathroom sink, one hand on the electric razor, another on the porcelain, her veins swallowing her fingers, latticed into a roadmap of time’s unfair, ineluctable march. She saw an addict’s collapsed vein transposed over her wrist. She felt the tender creep of opioid slurries up her arm, the electric crackle of freebase cocaine tingling in her sinuses. She scoured imaginary drawers for used cotton filters, hoping to extract trace amounts of Valium in times of desperate jonesing. She didn’t turn to drugs—she never wanted to risk feeling the way she felt when she was raped—but subsisted off stories of addiction and loss.
When she sat in on a support group for burn survivors, she found herself transfixed by the veins splayed in varicose patchwork across Edward’s neck. Her gaze strayed to his eyes, that one part of him that escaped the fire. This was where she focused her attention for the rest of the meeting, and, as he spoke, she found herself lifted to that state of reverie she could only usually induce in a noiseless room, the lights off, her eyes closed.
Edward was a natural choice. His speech captivated her. He could extol himself one moment and tear himself down the next without seeming inconsistent or unstable. It didn’t hurt that he didn’t pose much of a threat—he deliberated the worth of every physical interaction. Even shaking a hand for a moment too long made him wince. It was nice, for once, to watch a man shrink away from insouciant touch. Even so, he didn’t seem afraid. His eyelids,
yarn-crimped with cirriform lashes, seemed to wink without blinking. How interesting, then, to watch them thin and crinkle into a kind of optic smile when he told her that he was just practicing, that he attended the support group not, like her, for benediction, but just to warm up.
Alana learned Edward loved his job when he had no trouble whatsoever lying to an entire pediatric burn unit in Georgetown. Those children looked more like Edward than his sons ever would. Edward asked Alana to accompany him there. She greeted the kids but did her best to keep quiet because Edward needed to convince them and their unscarred parents that a burn victim could have something approaching a spousal relationship.
He told the group the true story of meeting Alana at the support group. Edward didn’t tell the children he earned her affection by doing exactly what he’d done to them—telling his horrific tale of injury in full detail, then talking about his burns as a source of strength.
Edward never confessed to the children what he confessed to Alana. They walked together, the pavement of the streets and sidewalks slick and glimmering with old rainwater.
“I haven’t been entirely honest with you,” Edward said.
He told her that although he really did try to look at his burns as a source of strength, they still made him feel like he’d never be more than a burn victim to most people. He struggled to position himself favorably with everyone around him, especially the beautiful girl sitting in on the support group. In fact, Edward told Alana he’d lied throughout most of the meeting and desperately wanted her to like him for his grace and sensitivity. He told her how he performed the role of a burn victim for his job, how this was all practically clockwork.
And even though certain hardwired parts of her wanted to turn and leave, she had to admit she was hooked. She didn’t quite care that this maneuver might not itself be honest but pointed to some deeper, even more sinister lie. She wanted to hug him. The fact that she couldn’t, both because she’d just met him and because his skin likely couldn’t handle the pressure, made her want him more.
“You’re not burned, are you?” he asked.
“I mean, I guess it’s pretty easy to tell—”
“It’s more than scars. We can tell by the small things, too. No pressurized cotton clothes. You don’t fret over your posture, seem to lean back freely in your seat. How did you even end up here?”
“Well, I noticed another burn survivor at a support group for opiate addicts—”
“Common pitfall for burn victims. At first, you need morphine for the pain. Once the bandages are off, you need it for the mirror. Not something I’ve experienced but, well, it’s a speech I’ve given.”
“I’m not a drug addict either.”
They said nothing more but kept walking, the night lit with traffic lights, the ground jeweled with leaves. Nightfall had robbed the city of its chalky realism.
A wordless understanding passed between them—Edward would tell the stories and Alana would live off them. They already seemed to know better than to ask too much. Neither wanted to unyoke the silence that bound them. Both Edward and Alana knew they could never un-ask a question.
But these questions don’t hang over Alana’s head like sentences unmoored from a page. They come as ghosts, as images. Time has impressed itself on her curiosity. Edgar and Edwin, whose pictures she’s only ever really glanced at, manifest in her living room during her daydreams. In a prepubescent soprano whose subconscious origins Alana can only guess at, they ask, Where’s Dad? She wishes she knew.
Instead of telling the pediatric burn unit the complete story, Edward mentioned how a particular brand of burn relief cream, the name of which both Edward and Alana have long forgotten, gave Edward the peace and confidence to even approach Alana in the first place and made all the essential physical acts of romance—Edward used holding hands as an example in front of the kids and their parents—possible and painless.
Edward finds comfort in the sculptures and paintings at the Hirshhorn Museum. Like him, contemporary art produces looks of bewilderment and pity from strangers. Visiting Edward’s favorite gallery demands not just silence, but performance. Alana has learned to weigh every gesture, every expression, and every touch. She never considered the amount of rhetorical data just standing in one place, arms akimbo, could transmit. Normally she stands upright, spine straight as a pole, taking in whatever it is she’s meant to take in. Sometimes, if only to convey skepticism or judgment, she crosses her arms. She thinks about every motion, every step, every stray sway of her hips. When was the last time she felt connected to her body?
They pass through a jungle of papier-mâché and textured plastics, through entire wings dedicated to the Japanese avant-garde. Edward hides beneath his straw hat and sunglasses, hoping to pass through as nothing more than an observer. Alana lingers at a third-floor window, wowed by the dusky smattering of seraphic light and granite low-rises stretching small and whitewashed beyond the National Mall.
“Can we stop for a sec? My feet hurt.”
Edward turns, smiling. The surface of his lips blurs into the rest of his seared skin. “I thought you would have sprouted your museum legs by now.”
“It’s nice to hear you talk.”
Edward laughs, prickling the egos of the stuffier art patrons in the room. “You don’t already get enough of that?” he asks.
“We haven’t spoken a word in two hours.”
Edward sits on the bench beside Alana, having apparently nothing to say. Alana knows what’s happening—he’s turning every word over in his head like a curator examining a priceless object or a cook checking the surface of a burnt pancake.
“Do Edgar and Edwin know?”
“Do they know about your condition?”
“Why are you asking?” He lets the counter-question slip too early.
“Why haven’t you told them?”
He doesn’t respond. He’s given away too much already.
Alana looks at Edward. It’s hard to find anger in his face. He has no eyebrows to furrow, no smooth skin to wrinkle in a scowl. Even his voice, comfortable only when enhanced by a microphone, quavers near silence, as though raising it would shred his throat.
She grabs ahold of his hands. He can feel them itch.
“Listen. If you think they’ll be afraid, you might be right. They might be afraid for a few minutes. But if you don’t see them, they’ll be angry for the rest of their lives.”
For someone so young, Alana pulls off a nurturing voice remarkably well. It frightens Edward to hear her like this, so kind and calculating. She squeezes his hands the way a girl her age might squeeze her boyfriend’s hands. It hurts. She knows it hurts. He goes to pull his hands away, but she tightens her grip, and his skin, as grooved and worn as palimpsests, strains under her pressure.
“At this rate, they won’t know until you show up on TV one day.”
“Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing,” Edward says. “A little static and distance would ease them into the truth.”
“We could fly to Oklahoma next week, even tomorrow—”
“Not happening. I have speaking engagements.”
“You can cancel. We have more than enough money.”
“Lana, let go. You’re hurting me.”
The intensity of the pain pales beside the emotional trauma she’s summoned in applying it. Beneath his sunglasses and straw hat, he has trouble looking pitiable.
“Fucking let me go.”
Tremors spark through Edward’s muscles. He remembers a vast roadway, the last innocent moment of distracted driving before vehicular impact. The memory is so uninteresting and distant that it seems almost boring. It returns—the final rubber scream of the tires, the automotive crunch of the collision, his disintegrating hair, the smell of gasoline wafting into evaporating nostrils…
She releases his hands. Her eyes shine with a thin film of tears. Only here does he realize that she needs this for herself. For a moment, when his hands stung in her grip, he imagined that she only wanted to assure herself that he had the courage to be, if not a good father, a father in any capacity. Now, seeing her eyes trained not on him, but on the floor’s reflective sheen, he knows there’s more to this than he can imagine.
They needed to rent a car from the airport and so have spent the last hour and a half silent, absorbing the road’s undeviating straightness, their eyes drawn to a horizon unchallenged by trees, buildings, or inclines. Edward has wrapped his face, already obscured by his hat and sunglasses, in layers of gauze—a costume redolent of his first surgery. Plenty of rubberneckers gawk at the mummy loose from the exhibit, and Edward sticks a defiant middle finger, warranted or not, outside the driver’s window.
The Okies at the gas station can’t help but look at him too. Edward sets the tone and course of every interaction. He can stay silent, ask them not to stare, instruct them with a kind tone, castigate them. Nobody—except for impulsive children, of course—ever say anything. They gape. They fidget. Their defenseless curiosity attracts their gaze to the slits of skin visible between the gauze.
“Momma, that man has a face like a melted candle!”
An ovoid mother, flushed with embarrassment, yanks her kid behind a snack aisle.
“Thanks lady!” Edward calls out. “Be sure to snuff out those insensitive genes!”
Alana tugs Edward outside by the sleeve of his coat while the remaining patrons blink.
“Do we need to go pull over somewhere else?” Alana asks. “Do you need to cool off?”
“I’m fine. I’ve been cooling off every day since the accident.”
“Jokes? That’s the most naked form of deflection. You’re not even trying to steer me.”
“Not like we can turn around now. They already think I’m coming. Disappointing them now would be worse than not showing up at all.”
Alana can’t argue with this but, unwilling to cede any rhetorical territory, stands there, arms folded, until they get back in the car and move along.
The house, the yard, the field—it looks little like Alana imagined. The place bears no obvious iconography, with the exception of a single inscription from the Old Testament, Psalms 30:2-3, hanging on the front door. Before Alana can finish reading the verse, the words move toward her. The door opens, and Charlene steps out onto the stoop.
“Oh Jeez,” she says, part laugh, part lament. “Eddy, you’re coming here wrapped up like that?” She hovers her palm over his forearm, apparently aware, like Alana, of the volatile nerve endings resting there.
Alana intuited, from the half of the phone conversation she could hear, that Charlene wasn’t thrilled to have them visit.
“Eddy, I just don’t think now’s the time—”
“It’s time. We’re coming.”
Charlene’s small, sciurine eyes gaze up at Alana. They endure, as adults should, all the competing neurochemical shit this sort of thing entails.
“Why don’t you two wait near the drive? I’ll have the boys out in a few moments.”
Edward and Alana step away, and Charlene shuts the door.
“She’s not going to invite us in, is she?” Alana asks.
Edward blinks behind his sunglasses, the butterfly-flutter of black eyelashes just barely visible behind his tinted lenses.
“No. I don’t think so.”
They wander back to their car and wait. Poking over a fence in the backyard, Alana can see a tall object. It’s not an ornamental cross, as it turns out, but a structure of metal and cloth. They both see it—an impressionistic but small model of a cell tower. Alana doesn’t need to guess at its origins. Who else could have fixed up their idea of a transmitter but Edgar and Edwin? Only a child could have conceived such a thing, this blur between effigy and edifice, between spell and tech. This is where Edward’s money has gone, to an impractical monument. They must have spent long hours here, in heat or moonlight, cobbling together this make-believe thing, hoping it might pull their father across the country or, just maybe, pitch their frequency into his dreams. The tower doesn’t bear resemblance to any real piece of cellular infrastructure—not an air-conditioned warehouse of monolithic servers, not a spider web of fiber optic cables and steelwork. Alana doesn’t need accuracy to know its impetus. It bakes in the sun, casting an arrow-shaped shadow across the fence. Its base is plywood, its radar dishes made of ceramic molds or old dinner plates, its stratified fibers simulated with straw and steel bristles plucked from old wire brushes. Bands of leather thong tie it together. Scraps of loose, multicolored flannel flap in the wind like the flags of an international delegation.
Could those shirts have belonged to Edward once?
Charlene’s screen door clatters and groans on its frame. They can see the two boys standing on the stoop. Edward’s breathing grows heavy and audible. He has fearlessly mounted more stages than he can ever hope to count, all under false pretension, but crossing this flat driveway now, with nothing to bear but his face, seems almost impossible. Alana holds her hand out to him. He grabs it, holds it tight, and lets the pain arc through them both. Here, finally, Alana has the sense both of closing and opening her eyes, of standing and lying down, of imagining and experiencing, as if two parallel moments have finally collided.
With his free hand, Edward unwinds the bandages from his face.
They take synchronized steps forward, their hands held, the driveway dust rising at their ankles, staining the discarded gauze a fulvous red. Alana closes her eyes one more time, as if savoring an especially long blink, and finds no image there to greet her.
John Marchinkoski’s work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Quarterly West. He will begin his PhD in English at Harvard in the fall of 2018.