Rumpus Original Fiction: Flap

By

Calvin is at the candy store in the mall with Bob (whose name isn’t Bob but Calvin doesn’t know his real name) and they’re remembering the candies they ate as kids, as if it were longer ago for these teenagers than it is, seeing where they converged before they knew each other, which sugars had dissolved in each of their mouths. Bob has a birthmark on the back of his neck, and each time he turns away, kneeling at a plastic casing of sugar and food coloring, Calvin finds himself lifting his index finger ready to touch it, stopping himself every time.

*

Bob has a birthmark on the back of his neck. His sister, Bethany, would press into it with her thumb, though Bob told her to stop. She would also pop his pimples for him, catch him off guard and force on him her long nails. After, Bob would hide in the shower, running the water with his clothes on. He couldn’t tell if he was crying or not amid all the wet. He kept gummy bears under the sink for times like these, placed them one by one on his tongue, these small bodies helpless to his swallowing.

*

Bethany does not touch the boy as they stand close in the rain. She isn’t scared, or at least that’s what she tells herself. Their hands hover close to each other like small haloes, but they do not touch. It’s spring of her senior year of high school, though the boy is a younger boy from the next school district.

Bethany doesn’t tilt her head back to let the raindrops run down past her epiglottis. Bethany does not know the word epiglottis, though she’s heard it, and their words between each other are not drown out by the incessant rain.

*

Epiglottis. Bob says the word to Calvin as he stands up in the candy shop, twisting a plastic bag, thumbing the tie to expose the wire choking the plastic. It’s such a fun word to say, Bob says. A flap to determine entry, or deny it. A flap whose failure determines choking.

Calvin was never good at anatomy. He breathes self-consciously, heavily, hoping to feel every part of flesh between his mouth and chest. He clenches his fists, clenches his teeth.

*

Everyone else is gone at home, and Calvin takes a shower so he can masturbate. He tries not to think of bodies, only the sensation itself, soapy hand only his own hand and not a stand-in for anyone. As he gets close and his body clenches, there are flashes of images of bodies, of Bob, of Bob’s sister Bethany, of a cousin he hasn’t seen in years, of the largest boys in school, each of their hands all over him, each body filling the space with no room left, bodies spilling out from the tub, come painting the tile, fingers—so many fingers—painting shapes all over him.

*

Calvin walks down the street on the way home from Bob’s house—who, in his mind, he still refers to as Bob—stumbling, distracted, counting the sections of sidewalk. He walks onto a block filled with trees—thick, towering, dense—and hears birds flapping in each of them, though he doesn’t look. Feathers are falling everywhere, piling onto the street like autumn leaves and soon the street itself isn’t visible. The birds shit and when a glob of it approaches Calvin’s head it stops and hangs suspended, until he passes and then it falls, splats, a trail of shit behind him.

*

Bethany has started college, and after her first semester she moves out of her father’s house and in with the boy, Joe, who has his own apartment. She moves out of his place not long after, but she doesn’t return home. She doesn’t tell anyone, not even the boy, as she packs her things while he’s out. She doesn’t tell anyone anything, just writes it all down in letters to her dead mother, stacks the letters into a suitcase in envelopes, a suitcase filled with nothing else but these letters. No one knows where she’s been living, and soon she stops showing up to her classes, too. She stands in a public bathroom looking at the mirror, starts to write the letters in white ink on her own skin.

*

Calvin asks Bob to choke him, and he does. He doesn’t want to but he does. He sees hands over his own throat as he does it but he does it anyway. And he does harder. And his arms are hollow like a bird’s bones. And he feels the blood moving through as if there is nothing within his arms but blood rolling, waving, small hollow bones spinning in the mass of liquid. And he feels the blood begin to harden and he’s lost in his locking arms. Calvin claws at Bob’s wrists until Bob breaks from his drift, releases his clasped fingers. Bob rises and runs to the bathroom—Calvin lying on the bed, coughing, gasping, grasping at his neck.

*

Bob happens to run into Bethany at the supermarket in the candy aisle.

“Help me,” is all Bob can find the words to say.

He pulls out a knife, hands it to her, turns around. Leans his head forward, points to the birthmark.

*

Toby is in the candy store at the mall with Calvin, though Calvin calls him Bob, still—even after he found out Toby’s real name from Toby’s sister Bethany, who had corrected him. Toby decided it wasn’t worth it to say anything, so he still allows Calvin to call him Bob. He feels self-conscious about always having his back turned, though he would feel more self-conscious to be face-to-face, to tell this boy how he wants to dissolve on his tongue, to spend time winding through miles of hollow flesh.

Neither of them had ever been with a boy before. Toby had briefly dated a girl infamous for how she snapped pencils in half when she was bored. When Pricila asked Toby to prom, kindly, softly, saying she understood if he wanted to say no, for whatever reason, Calvin just stared at her. Like Bob, he was never really one to say much.

*

Toby has been in the bathroom for a long time now so Calvin goes to check on him. Toby’s name is smeared in blood on the mirror. There’s blood running down his spine.

“Touch it,” Toby says. “Apply pressure to stop the bleeding. It’s okay.”

Instead, Calvin licks up the blood, starting at the lower back, slowly, all the way up to the birthmark’s new absence, and Toby shivers the whole time.

*

They haven’t spoken in a while, not even when they’ve passed each other in the hallways at school, but Toby and Calvin run into each other at the candy store. Neither of them has ever learned how to say sorry. So they say nothing. They each buy their own candy and leave. Alone, at home, they each watch sugar slowly dissolve from sweat, cupped in their hands. Birds noisily watch them from outside windows, pecking violently against the glass until their beaks bend.

***

Rumpus original art by Richelle the King.


Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and is the author of the chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020). His poetry has been given homes by Indiana Review, Waxwing, and Iowa Review, among others. He teaches writing and literature at University of Michigan, where he earned his MFA in poetry. More from this author →