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To & From

Story by Joshua Helms (Read author interview) March 27, 2012

art by Megan Paonessa

I am tired of when I touch you your center is the first place I go. My hands are so tiny, all disproportionate & I am afraid of their memories. Do you remember the black & gold bowl & the cherry varnished hardwood? The rupture between our feet. A punctuation. A scattering.


We said we’d never talk about blood again. How hard it is to wash out of my white shirts. How neither of us can get the taste out of our mouths. Remember my body falling from the roof, my knee giving, your boot at the back of my leg. Remember when our couch went up in flames. Remember our burning faces.


I don’t know which set of bones will atrophy first, skull or rib cage. The end of each approaching. I am dramatic, remember. I am paranoid. I am anxious. I am trying to find my leftover Xanax & I wish you would quit thwarting the mission. Quit plunging elbow deep into cheap black hats pulling out dead rabbits. You are no magician. Put down the saw.


I’m not sure why you keep asking me to meet you here. I mean, I get it—the leftover holes in the ground are a metaphor. The swingset folded into itself behind the shed is your childhood. I’m not the bluntest knife in the drawer, you know. But why you come here is a mystery. This place you can’t seem to shake.


I know that we’ve been here before. The physical here. The you-asking-me-why-we’re-here here. I keep expecting the swingset to shift, to relocate. I keep expecting the holes to fill themselves. I keep expecting you to stop coming with me.


I’m tired of waking up with marks I can’t explain. I have five sets of dental records around my ribs, a few on either shoulder, a couple on my left hip. I already know you don’t remember. I already know you’re not going to stop anytime soon. Maybe you can tell me if you have a number in mind.


It’s you trying to make sense of things that always gets us into trouble. Trying to put things into order. Trying to discern. It’s you trying too hard. The way you pull every book from the shelf. The way you search for reason even if it’s nowhere to be found.


I’m pretty good at discerning. About as good as you are at dismantling. About as good as you are at creating situations & not walking away from them until it’s too late to walk. About as good as you are at introducing violence & being surprised when it shows up again.


You keep putting memories in the wrong order. You keep switching our hands & I’m not sure which of us did what anymore. There’s not much difference between a scalpel & a knife when you really think about it. There’s not much difference between keeping a coffee can full of empty paper & burying photographs in the front yard.


Things get complicated when you decide my body is your body. You unhook my brain & snap yours into place & it’s not the best fit. Sometimes there’s a lot of blood in the spaces your brain knocks when you’re moving me around. Remember that our blood types aren’t compatible. Remember my brain has a shelf life. Remember my skull is bigger than yours.


You never used to worry so much about the way we fit together. I mean, I’ve gotten used to bleeding a little. I’m okay with being uncomfortable if it means you’re still here. I don’t think so much about shelf life. I guess that’s where you & I are different.

About the Author

Joshua R. Helms is a candidate in the MFA program at The University of Alabama. His poems and fictions appear or are forthcoming in Copper Nickel, elimae, H_NGM_N, Monkeybicycle, NANO Fiction, PANK, Stoked, TYPO, and Used Furniture Review.

About the Artist

Megan Paonessa is an author/illustrator working out of Chicago. She is the co-founder of Flying House, an annual collaboration project that pairs artists and writers together in order to push ideas into new aesthetic directions.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Five

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