It Started With the Socks
It started with the socks. I keep my socks in pairs but he hated to match them, see, preferred to have the left one complement the right compliment, we’d joke looking nice today, rightie. I’d mismatch my pedicures looking nice today but kept my socks in pairs. Kept my socks grey and white and black and sometimes argyle always in pairs— I sell junk to multi-millionaires, I’d say, I can’t just have mismatching socks. So I come home from doing laundry it’s been months and I go to pair my socks and there is one only of everything. It’s how he bought socks before, you know buy a pair and unpack them and throw one out. And so it started with the socks like that and then it was the shoes. The shoelaces to be specific. He tied them in knots instead of bows, see. Said he’d never trip that way said they’d never come undone. Said, Steve, just tie your shoes in knots would you? whenever my laces came undone on walks. (But I sell junk to multi-millionaires, I’d say.) So I tied my shoes in bows, untied them to take them off leave them in a line at the door. You know, for all his eccentricities he’s still— he was neat as a pin. Always after me to pick up my matching socks off the floor. So I’d leave my untied shoes in a line at the door overnight and in the morning when I’d go to put them on knots, all of them. But I don’t tie them in knots, see. Sure, I’m sure, I’m sorry excuse me I’ve just been so tired since he came back. That’s what it is even if it makes me well, you’ll see. The ties, next he came back to untie the ties in the closet. I told you he was neat he didn’t care about matching or conventional footwear or much but wrinkles he couldn’t stand. You’ll ruin the ties he’d say if you let them wrinkle into the knot overnight. I’ve never been good atthe windsor is that it? The knot so my ties stayed tied and sometimes we fought about it. And he’s dead still fighting about it. Now every morning my socks don’t match and I have to tie the tie and the shoelaces and my face, do you see it? In all of my forty-seven years I’ve never successfully grown a beard and now his beard I can’t shave it I lost my job. They said I violated the dress code and it’s him it’s him with his mismatching socks and his beard I miss him but he’s ruining my life he’s dead and still ruining everything. He’s dead. Of course, the fire. It’s the wrinkles, you know —no, I already told your colleague I don’t want to die we don’t believe in an afterlife or we didn’t. I guess we were wrong. Still no dying won’t bring him back and judging by his behaviour I don’t want him back anyway. The wrinkles is why he burned our house down dead and ruining my life dead and trying to iron my dress shirts and he always left the iron on and our smoke alarm it was so sensitive he hated the sound I had to be there in the living room while he ironed and he ironed compulsively at night at three a.m. at breakfast the wrinkles and now he’s burned our house down dead and still can’t stand the wrinkles and ruining everything. Because I wasn’t there to make sure he turned the iron off. He never learned or listened or maybe he liked having me there but he always put the iron left it face down you should have seen the ironing board.
Betrayal Will Do That to a Body
She had forgotten her water bottle at the gym that morning. She had packed soda crackers with her lunch, she had packed too many soda crackers and her tongue crackled between her lips, dry from salt and air conditioning and that conversation with Iwan. She had forgotten her water bottle and not noticed until there were just two crackers left and she reached into her backpack to grab the water bottle and it wasn’t there. But she couldn’t just leave two crackers, so her tongue crackled dry between her lips while she texted Lish on the sixth floor to see if she could bring up a drink; she’d forgotten her water bottle at the gym.
Lish’s shaved head appeared hovering over the cubicle wall just as Emily was certain her lips were going to peel back right off her face, and when the body appeared in the entrance with a bottle of Santa Cruz raspberry lemonade she was fairly certain the raspy crunch from licking her lips snapped through the whole floor like a weak clap of thunder. But nobody said anything. She took the lemonade and drank quickly and deeply even though it stung and her eyes watered.
“Still avoiding the water cooler,” Lish said; a cruel observation of facts, with the forgotten water bottle and the lemonade and the soda cracker crumbs.
“Just looking out for the planet,” she said, the lie crispy in her papery lips. Observations and lies, Lish and Emily, lemonade and soda cracker crumbs. All the usual suspects. “Thanks for the rescue. Can’t believe I left my water bottle at the gym.”
But the lemonade was just a little too late, and together they watched Emily’s lips flake off slowly and huddle together under her chair, figuring out what to say this time.
“Shit,” muttered Emily, the sh-sound leaping off her face and diving to the floor, gesturing here and there, organizing the whole ordeal. They watched her lips peel and reassemble beneath the chair. Emily sighed. The lips would have their note ready soon enough, her secret out again. But never really a secret anyway.
“Iwan again,” she said quietly. Lish nodded her head: of course. Nobody could piss off Emily’s lips quite like Iwan. Betrayal will do that to a body, and Emily’s body held grudges her heart could never keep up with. The lips had gathered a small notepad and pen and were beginning to write their list when Iwan strutted up to the cubicle entrance. He stood with his feet too wide apart and his body too centered, taking up the space of at least two people, maybe three. He held his cell phone out in front of him: he never used it other than to avoid conversation when venturing into the cubicles from his corner office. The lips shuffled out of site and trembled; Lish and Emily looked at each other by way of staring at Emily’s clasped hands in her lap. Iwan shifted his hips and increased his space to four people. Emily leaned away. Lish stared. Iwan thrusted his hips forward and spoke at the same time.
“Oh wow,” he said, looking directly at the lips working their way off of Emily’s face. “You best clean that up when they’re done.” Lish’s eyebrows skittered across her forehead: a quick V of anger, a double-arch of bewilderment, settling into a stiff single arch, accusatory. Emily’s sank heavy towards her eyelids.
“Sorry,” she said. The rest of her lips leapt off of her face in a hurry and scurried further under her chair. Lish clamped her own lips and teeth around a squirming tongue while her eyebrows cycled through more figurations. Iwan glanced at her.
“You should see someone about that—Liz? And Emily: When your lips are done, there, I’ll need them in my office.” His eyebrows waggled quickly before he could fling his hands up to hide them. “Come on down when you’re ready.”
The lips had resumed activity under Emily’s chair; her eyebrows sank further into her eyelids; she let the weight of them close her eyes, let the weight fold crows’ feet into her foundation. Lish watched a little longer, but the note was none of her business. “Let me know,” she said quietly to Emily’s heavy eyebrows and folded hands.
When the lips’ rustling settled, Emily unfolded her fingers and brought them to her face. She pushed up her eyebrows, smoothed her crows’ feet, pulled her hair into a ponytail. She looked at her assignments from the lips. She knew this would be the last time.
Lish took them by the gym and the liquor store on the drive home, Emily’s you quit banker’s box rattling in the back, the lips settled into the baby’s car seat. They went by the gym and the liquor store and the lips waited in the car while she gathered up her hydration, late, too late. Emily double fisted her drinks, alternating sips of lemonade and stale water. The lips waited in the car settled into the baby’s car seat with Emily’s phone, sending lists back to all incoming texts.
The you quit banker’s box rattled in the back until Lish pulled up in front of Emily’s building and Lish and Emily and the lips all walked up the six flights of stairs. Lish and Emily sat in silence on her couch, and the lips arrived several hours later out of breath from the six flights of stairs, and Lish had come and gone, and Emily sat in her IKEA chair that everybody has and waited for the lips to come home and add their list to the wall, and Lish warned on her way out not to look at the wall again but Emily sat in her IKEA chair and turned it towards the wall and she read, just like she promised she wouldn’t.
The lips arrived several hours later and new ones had already started to grow back on Emily’s face. The old lips were out of breath from the stairs and angry at the lack of hospitality. They glared at the thin pink slash swelling around Emily’s pristine teeth, they glared while they caught their breath and shuffled over to the wall to pin up their note. They had added to it.
“I promise,” she said, soft and sad and dented through her thin new lips swelling a little at a time. She took her phone back from the old lips and read the messages. Lips again? and Sorry, Em. and Let me know when they grow back, happy to talk with you. And Lish: I told you not to read them.
The new lips stung a little as they swelled and the old lips glared at her from the wall while they scrawled Iwan on the bottom of the note, almost half the wall of notes signed with his name. Mistakes and grudges she forgot to keep track of; men she forgot to avoid, failed to walk away from; nos she didn’t whisper quite clearly enough. The old lips glared at her but sank closer and closer together and rose and fell quietly and once she was sure they were asleep she left her IKEA chair for the shower. A little late, like everything today, bits of her body having already fallen off into the cheap IKEA upholstery—tomorrow’s problem—and a little trail of herself like breadcrumbs between the IKEA chair and the shower. The bottle of Drano ready because this shower always clogs the drain, the bits of her body flaking off.
Betrayal will do that do a body.
The bits falling off and she’s pink underneath and her thin swelling lips pulse under the water and she can feel they are almost full again and she promises again, louder, and she continues to flake. The water pools at her ankles. She is pink everywhere and her lips are full again and she promises again, louder, and she is done flaking and steps out of the shower and pours the bottle of Drano down the drain and feels how it sears—the shreds of her thighs, her stomach, her neck, sticking to the drain and burning in the Drano and flaking, flaking—and she promises again, louder. In the living room her phone vibrates and half the wall ripples
I can’t believe that you don’t want to see me –
just please more time –
I’m sorry I don’t know how you feel
from Iwan’s apology.
The Drano sears.
Nicole Brewer is a writer, editor, and micropress publisher from Toronto. She is one half of words(on)pages, a little press that runs a reading series, publishes chapbooks, and produced the literary magazine (parenthetical). Her recent work can be found in the Hart House Review, untethered, and the Quilliad.