umbilical

by Shea Stripling January 22, 2018

Flyers shiver like prayer flags in the blue of December. Multicolored flocks of “Fermentation Classes,” “free guitar lessons,” “NUDE WOMEN!” are clipped to the cord. Women in the neighborhood throw their wet panties across, balance bras cup side front, hope they don’t find them floating down second avenue. Children play jump rope with the slack.

The yawn of sunlight at the window. Hot breath. Holy hell. You’re swaddled in sweatshirts, balled up like a large teenage sock. All warm in your coconut macaroon crumbs, you lean out to the sound of the mourning doves. “Hey!” You beat on the window with a fist, feel the sweat and press of your breasts under the Piggly Wiggly shirt snug against you.

You stand in the full-length, cup breasts with left hand, two breasts becoming one in a grasp. Wink at the sun in the corner of your eye there, reflected. You are blinking with love: a geriatric’s  turn signal. Red and red and red. Every moment a slow churning wave to the next thought about him, your body a beach swept beneath.

He hasn’t called, you know. You shouldn’t be the first. You know. And you’re hungry for his attention, the crumbs you feast on. You’re also actually, literally, really  hungry. You grab those cookies that are either Danish or they’re not. Take a handful into bed, bite the bow on the wreath, watch the way it crumbles. Red and red and red.

Sometimes it pinches. Like now. A quick red rush to your middle. You feel his dreams dripping into you. Mist and mulch. Your wedge ankles propped on shoulders. Breathing peppermint oil. You feel the night being reconstructed molecule by molecule inside you in your Dallas studio. He’s in Connecticut. He’s got his finger deep in the batter of that night with the glass underfoot. You feel him quiver on the other end of the cord. He’s chumming your channel with lust, little bits of love tacked to meat dropped indiscriminately in the deep.

It’s morning and you’re in love. Love. Love. Love. You’re in love. Right?

“Show me.” You run one hand, fingers first (Patrick Swayze 2 Jennifer Grey style) from the tip of your armpit to the top of your thigh.

He knows this gets you, has gotten you. He wants you, but only in a passive way. Chinese food in the middle of a thunderstorm. The quarter you dropped on the bathroom floor. You finger the cord in your middle. Run one finger down the length of it. A snap like a rubber band string in a Kleenex banjo. Hush.

You feel a message come down the cord. You’ve stopped texting. You never called anyway. Now you communicate like ants, all pheromones and hazy impressions of feelings. When this started, it was like the first taste of alcohol, warm onset: sunset through the screen door. The slow shift in light, the way your body responds to circadian rhythms. You would rush into a bathroom stall just so you could pull up the hem of your dress and show him your warmth.

With time, the dim impressions sharpened. Colors became feelings became words. At this point, you could carry on an argument through pulses. Ink blots. Smoke signals. A cocktail of hormones sent down your shared channel.

“You up?”

The cord wasn’t your idea. He thinks it was, but it wasn’t. That dinner when he proposed the whole thing he reached across the table for your hand. Held it there warm in his, kissed it once for luck. You didn’t think he watched those movies. He said please, and you said okay and emptied the bread basket while he was in the bathroom. Felt relief when you didn’t find a ring. Or did you mean grief?

He thinks you wanted it this way. Together when you’re apart. But never altogether together, never altogether apart. Blown back and forth in the breezes of each other’s whims. You cracked the window for him once, and now you can’t close it. Now, the cord spreads across cities, across states, across an expanse you can’t walk with these callused feet. You wonder how long you could walk away from him until the rubber band snap would bring you falling backwards into his arms. The cardinals have started making a nest in the tree below your window. The wife perches on your line while she watches the progress of her love.

You’re always feeding off of each other. But he doesn’t know you’re hungry all the time. Doesn’t know you have a dull ache right where the cord starts, a feeling that settles right above your hips. He pulls you over onto your stomach, sends this pink feeling down to your toes. This is the color of pleading for pleasure. He’s giving you the memory of the night of his birthday when you danced, glass shards underfoot, Cinderella. Gin and tonic and gin and tonic until you led a finger down the primrose path of his chest hair. He said, “I’m going to fuck you tonight,”  you corrected “I’m going to fuck you tonight.” Heavy on the lipstick and the italics that night.

You sit up and wrap the cord tight around your fist three times before yanking it up. Three sweaters and a pair of polka-dot panties balloon into view. You pluck off the green sweater and let it go limp again. You rise and put on glitter eye shadow. Smooth it into the creases. Wing your eyeliner even though by 11:15 tonight it will run down your left lid, line the inside of your index finger, be found on the edge of your glass, the underside of your lip. You’re going out. Fuck him. You’re wearing the antlers with the bells and singing “Wonderful Christmas Time” because g.d., you love it. You’ll get a very specific kind of hot-chocolate-with-peppermint-schnapps kind of drunk. You’ll cut a hole in the sweater for the cord. You’ll text from the bathroom.

About the Author:

Shea Stripling has a poetry collection about Bill Murray out from Hypertrophic Press, a pair of purple mannequin legs, and a chipped tooth. In that order.