CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
After weeks away, and days on the road, I scan my studio apartment. I don’t remember leaving shoes out, the knife on the counter; the peach soap in the bathroom, but then I do, how I purchased things at Walgreen’s, the stack of tissues since I was sneezing a lot.
In the mirror my skin looks bright, my eyes wide, different than at his place, and I figure it must be the light. My figure. Thinner than what I see in his full length.
I put my bags down on the hardwood, get in bed, and look up at the ceiling. Closing my eyes, I feel the road, moving, still, a monster, how that truck jackknifed right behind me, the lights in the view. I must be spinning.
I imagine being back at his place, with its marbled counters. There, on his king size, how I reached over to find him. His soft white hair, how he’d lost it since the death of his fiancée, me, the fate of the ice.
Me, a figure, soft and white, with my slippers and a knife the size of a wife.
I woke to find an apple on my table. Shiny and red, like decoration. I lived in a studio, alone, and wondered how it got there, if, in sleep, I’d driven to the co-op, but the co-op closed at ten, and I’d gone to bed at midnight.
I looked in my fridge. There were no other apples in there.
I put the apple in my hands. It was hard, like some construction. I looked for a freckle.
I put it to my ear, thinking of the bombs on the news. If maybe the Greek man with jazz hands who I had ditched the week before had gotten into my apartment, had maybe taken my keys, made a set for these occasions.
I put the apple on my pillow, just seeing it there, if maybe it would walk off and make me some hot chocolate. But it just sat there, like that Greek man did when I said I might be pregnant. It didn’t take long before he was running.
But the next week there was blood, and when the man wanted me back again, I told him he was useless.
I got in bed, with the apple. I put it to my mouth and smelled it. It smelled like an apple. I noticed then, the stem. It looked crooked.
I licked it first, to make sure. I wasn’t even hungry, and this wasn’t the kind of apple I was fond of. I closed my eyes and bit. It wasn’t the tart I’d hoped for. It wasn’t too sweet either.
I put the apple back on the table, took a shower, went to work, and when I got back the apple was gone, with a new one to replace it. Green and big, kind of lopsided. I sat and stared at that one, more my flavor. I thought of the white-haired banker from two days before, our meeting in his office, which ended up more than a meeting. How he’d told me that he would never leave his wife even though she couldn’t have children. He’d winked, said, you know what I mean, dear?
I took that apple, cut it in two, and ate it like nothing.
I was born with a birthmark on my chin in the shape of a giraffe. It was dark, like birthmarks are, only mine kept getting darker, looking like a tattoo I had put there on purpose. As I grew older, from what I see in pictures, the giraffe’s neck got longer, his body like a stump, and it started looking like a swan, of course a black one.
When I was in restaurants, sometimes in the bathroom, women would point to their own chins, like telling me a favor, or maybe like they were checking for blemishes of their own. After a while, I’d just smile and say thank you. Me, the martyr of the birthmark.
After I turned twenty, when I was in the Air Force, some military doctor said he could maybe help, though it was experimental, of what kind he couldn’t tell me, and I had to sign a waiver so I wouldn’t sue, which was kind of weird anyway, because I knew when I raised my hand and did the oath thing during my senior year of high school, you just couldn’t sue the Air Force.
So he put me under. When I woke up, I didn’t know who I was right away, which I guess is supposed to be normal. I couldn’t feel my face, and abandoned hope—like that day on the pew when my father had the breakdown, like that day I found out that my boyfriend made his living making porn—that things would ever be normal.
A nurse came to give me water. She told me not to worry. When I asked her for a mirror she wouldn’t let me have one. I noticed then, the giraffe on her own chin. And a giraffe on the next one. Everyone had giraffes. Some, the ones with the prettier faces, they had swans there. Even the doctor, when he came to see me, had a giraffe, though its neck looked slanted, its tail wound around up to his cheekbone. The next day, when I could finally feel my face, I was handed a mirror. I closed my eyes and held it. I smiled, opened again, looking at my chin, which was white except for a few tiny scars.
Kim Chinquee is the author of Oh Baby and Pretty. She is the recipient of a Puschart Prize and a Henfield Prize, and lives in Buffalo, New York. □