You ask me what the softest part of the body is. I say it is probably the lips and you ask which pair. I tell you both. It is a night when you and I are lying on the floor, looking up. We’ve broken glow sticks and splattered their innards on the ceiling. We are staring at the galaxy we’ve created for ourselves.
“Is it toxic?” you ask me.
Until eight months ago I was married to your brother. Until eight months ago you and I hardly said more to each other than we had to.
We keep our eyes on the constellations that float above us.
Later, when you are asleep, I look up what the softest part of the body actually is, and a long-winded web forum tells me that it is the brain. Soft enough to be plied and pulled out of the noses of Egyptian royalty during the mummifying process. I look at you and watch a drip of snot trickle down from your nostril until it dampens the rug.
I find a photo in your wallet after ordering Chinese delivery for dinner. A family picture from decades ago, where my husband rests his hand on your shoulder and you both smile zealously for the camera. You are coordinated in plaid. Green and black. You wear a jumpsuit; he wears a clip-on tie.
I lock myself in the bathroom with this photo for hours while you pile spare ribs and chow mein and broccoli coated with garlic sauce at the foot of the door, its smell seeping through. When at last I come out I pick up the food from the tiled ground and throw it at you. You pelt me with a fistful of rice.
The photo that I hand back to you is crumpled, jagged lines flowing through it in all directions. You flatten it out between your palms and put it back inside your wallet. We spend that night with the air conditioner on just so that we can hold each other tighter.
The next morning, from across the kitchen table, you look happy. Your face is bright, your skin powdered with an even coat of foundation. Your eyes are lined like a cat.
Your long, thin fingers bounce a teabag in and out of a cup in front of you. Herbal. You don’t drink caffeine. Don’t like the way it makes you feel. My husband drank lots of it. This morning you look like him. The same dark curls framing the same elongated forehead. The matching set of jade-hued irises. Green and black.
I stare down into my own cup, the over-pouring of milk and sugar, my coffee now a light, muddy color that is too cold to drink. I drink it anyway.
It’s taken you and me months to get this far. Months of you coming over to console me with wine, bottles of it, and then, when we were drunk enough to pretend we didn’t have control over our bodies, to entangle them.
After my husband left, the emails were the first thing I found. They weren’t well-hidden. I wondered for a while if you knew about them. If that’s the type of thing a brother tells his sister. You tell me now that you don’t know where he is. Don’t know where he went. I make myself believe you.
There were messages written to dozens of women, photos exchanged in nearly every thread. When I discovered them the first thing I wondered was how my husband was able to take all these pictures on his own. How he was able to get the camera that low, to get the lighting that right. Now, if I look at them for too long I waver between sick to my stomach and turned on. Sometimes my throat burns with acid while my cunt throbs. I’ve always hated that word. But that’s what he called it. A cunt.
One of the women, Jasmine, the one he wrote to the most, is beautiful. She is thin. Charcoal black hair. Full of life. My husband wrote to her that he liked her name. That it is his favorite kind of flower.
I ask you if you like jasmine tea. You don’t. Herbals, you tell me again. Always herbals. I can’t tell if you flinch at the name. Chamomile, you say a minute later.
He emailed her daily. It only took him two weeks to push past the small talk and to start writing about what he would do to her body if they were to meet. The places he would touch and the ways he would touch them. He does not call it a cunt when he writes to her.
You ask me what I want for breakfast. If an omelet sounds good. You start pulling vegetables out of my fridge. Cheese and eggs. As you slice a tomato, I sit down at the computer and find a video that he had sent Jasmine. I click the play button and am startled by the sound of immediate moaning. You are startled, too. The knife slips. Your skin breaks. The blood from your finger mixes with the pink of the fruit.
“Damn it,” you say. You say it like your brother. I stop the video. I close the inbox.
“What the hell was that?” you ask me.
“Sorry,” I say back. I haven’t shown you the emails yet. I’m not sure a sister would want to see them. I’m not sure if you already have.
I open a browser and start looking up photos of mummies, of zombies, of creatures that fall somewhere between alive and dead. Fact and fiction. On the screen is a woman, Egyptian royalty, her organs removed from her body except for the heart.
“This is sick,” you say over my shoulder.
“Haven’t you ever seen a mummy before?”
“Not like this,” you say.
I wonder what mummies you have seen. If they have all been wrapped in toilet paper or wearing latex masks that can be pulled off one after the other by a band of teenage detectives and their dog.
You turn off the monitor and hand me the spatula while you shuffle around behind me getting plates and utensils. I’m not sure what this game is we are playing. You don’t belong in my kitchen, yet you are here and he is not.
We eat the omelet in silence. When you squeeze the ketchup onto your half, it has separated, and a clear, wet liquid comes out of the bottle first. I lose my appetite and take out two wine glasses. You pour. I drink until my lips are stained and you keep up. It is not yet past 11 a.m.
On the couch your skin rubs against mine and I am reminded of his smoothness, of his hairless arms and tattooed chest and the way he used to trace my body from ankle to neck. You have a line of Roman numerals printed beneath your breast. I don’t know what they are for. I don’t bother asking. He had a sparrow.
I take your hand, place the finger you cut earlier in my mouth, taste the steel of dried blood.
I want to take our photo and send it to him. I want to make a video.
Instead, I give you back your finger.
“It’s the cunt,” I say to you.
“The cunt is the softest part of the body.” I tell you that it is softer and more supple than lips or breasts or thighs or stomachs. I am lying to you. I am always lying to you.
When you get on top of me, I deflate. When you ask if everything is alright, I pull you closer. Your body is warmer than his; your curves are something I can hold onto. We stay on the couch. We sleep and we pretend to sleep. We wait for the day to turn into night.
A headache wakes me and I slide out from beneath you, turn your shoulders over so you do not fall. When your hand continues to go limp over the cushion’s edge I think about filling a glass with warm water. Of dipping your hand in it like we did to the girls who were unlucky enough to fall asleep first during childhood sleepovers and troop camping trips.
Instead I return that hand to the other, where there is already a thin line of dried blood beginning to seal your skin together.
There are band-aids in the bathroom, scratch and sniff, fruit-covered. I take a strawberry one, put it across my breast. Above my heart. I scratch it and scratch it until I catch a faint scent of pink and plastic.
You wake up and ask me what I’m doing with a band-aid on my chest. You ask if you can see the cut. You lift your finger up to my clavicle, ready to make us blood sisters. When you find nothing beneath it you look disappointed. Sorry, I tell you.
We open another bottle of wine. You pull a small container of pills from your purse. I take one without asking what it is. You take two. You like the way these make you feel.
As the room begins to have more life, I ask if you knew about the emails, the other women, the one he left me for. You tell me you did. You tell me that you know where he is now. That he is not coming back.
The booze sloshes around my stomach. We do not move until at last one of us reaches out a hand and puts it somewhere soft.
We stare up into the ceiling at what’s left of the fading galaxy. The stars turn back to chemicals. We decide that tomorrow we will get more glow sticks. Long, thin lines that we will crack and together make beautiful.
Rumpus original art by Dara Herman Zierlein.