Tupelo. Tu-pe-lo. This city curls my tongue. Mississippi. Front of the mouth joy. Mis-sis-sip-pi. Hippie tippy lippy Mississippi. We married and lived in Tupelo and my husband could be lifting weights at the gym in Main Street if he were still here.
The last of the wine fills my mouth, fills it to the brim. I swallow slow. The drained chianti bottle and glass balance on the bathroom sink. On the radio, Elvis and his choir soar, once lost, now found.
Next door, the school children are freed. Three p.m. They squeal, shout and ricochet around the playground as they flee, their fast wheeling limbs and shining faces.
I sit on the icy edge of the bath and remember the shape of my husband’s fingernails, each and every one of them.
I leave the house in a short dress, fluffy boots and badly-drawn smoky eye, spread my arms wide, and say, “If you can’t fall in love with me now, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
He says he’s a paramedic, his name is Adam. He tells me I fell in the street.
Strange faces arc above me. I smell blood on concrete.
“Save me,” I say, clutch Adam’s arm.
He says, “You’re not going to die.”
“But I will.”
“I mean not now. Not today.” He pats my shoulder, says, “You probably tripped in those boots.”
My furry lilac boots lie on the sidewalk, abandoned, askew, dead animals. Inside me, my husband laughs.
The bruise on my thigh rainbows red-blue-purple-yellow. The lump at the back of my head subsides.
I meet Adam at Radium, the bar I fell outside five nights ago.
“Radium,” I say. “I knew this place wasn’t safe.”
“You’re safe,” Adam says.
“How do you know?”
His slicked hair, pressed shirt and cologne make my jaw ache with the uncried. I should tell him—leave now, don’t make an effort for me, honey.
He rises from his chair, says, “Do you like craft beer?”
“Please don’t call it craft beer.”
“What? But that’s what it’s called.”
“Could I have a glass of the cheapest wine?” I say. “Make it a bottle.”
My husband is above me in our bed. I touch his face. He draws back as if to speak. Tell me. He moves. We both do. I trace his lips and his mouth opens. It is possible to pull his mouth wide, so wide that I climb into him.
Adam stops on the porch of my house, says, we don’t have to, you know? I tug him inside and clamber up his body, the front door open.
His syrupy molasses bourbon mouth. I bite the cold shell of his ear, say, pin me down pin me down.
Adam pulls away from me to the end of the bed, drags off his boots and socks.
“I’d forgotten the logistics,” I say.
He smiles over his shoulder at me, slow, like we have all night. My heart speeds, although I lie still, and I race from my body.
The art of balance—Philippe Petit walks the high-wire between the Twin Towers, Leonard Cohen is the “Bird On The Wire”, Tom Waits sings for me to hold on.
I push my hands over my husband’s arms. Here is strength and force, muscles, man, him. The seam of afternoon light around the blind is lithium-silvery-white. I lick his sweat-slick sternum and taste salt. My heart hammers. It leaps! I devour his fingers, tongue, cock. He disappears into me as I eat him alive.
Adam says, “You look at me so—”
I don’t say, I am making calculations, deductions.
He says, “You need to get out of your head.”
“I am trying to not think,” I say, grab him, inhale his man deodorant.
He seizes my chin, says, “Open your eyes.”
An elderly woman complains to the store clerk about her achy arthritic knees. I open the bag of Doritos from my shopping cart and crunch them until they are all I hear.
I slide beneath Adam, pull him over me like a blanket.
He smiles down at me, says, “What do you need?”
“Yes. I don’t care which song.”
He searches his phone. My arms encircle him as the guitar begins—“I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You”. He stretches away to leave his phone on the nightstand. I squeeze him tighter, as tight as I can, and still he glides out of my embrace.
“Slippery fish,” I say.
He laughs, says, “You can’t catch me.”
Adam lets a ribbon of honey fall from the spoon to his toast and the morning sun turns it golden, translucent, stained glass, simple, quiet.
Sunday night mass, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. I slip into the last pew while the congregation sing, “Abide With Me”. Help of the helpless. Breathe in for four, out for eight. Here is beeswax polish, incense, deeply cold stone walls, open-faced longing. I kneel when everyone else does, rest my forehead against my clasped hands.
Outside, I shelter under the eaves. Inside, the priest gives his final blessing, go in peace.
Parked at the front of the church, Adam reads his phone in his car, blue-lit, rain-streaked, anonymous, any man. I had said to him, you don’t have to wait. He said, I’ll wait.
The congregation sing “The Lord’s My Shepherd”. I step into the rain and petrichor, unsteadily descend the stairs to the grass, brilliant sodden green in the church light.
Adam leaps from the car, opens the passenger door, hunched under his hoodie.
He takes my arm, says, “Get in, you’re drenched.”
In the café, I dry by the heater. Adam orders me a hot chocolate on almond milk and this is how it starts.
© Melissa Goode
[This piece was a finalist for the 2020 Forge Flash Fiction Competition, and was selected by Jacky Taylor]