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“I’d never want to go to the holy land. That sand, it’s red for more than one reason.”
She has a hard time getting her words out. I try to help her along, guide her with my own voice, but I think my words are wrong. Worst of all, she knows they are. She shakes her head, no. Her fingers grope the air with a gnat kind of laziness.
“What’s that word, it’s Arabic, isn’t it…” She talks with a cottonmouth, like she’s got socks stuffed to the back of her throat. She swallows. “I can’t remember, but it was a perfect word. I picked it up somewhere, I even wrote it down.” She smiles reluctantly and shrugs but her shoulders look like they’re iron, the way she heaves them around, like they’re unbreakable. Like they’re the unwanted indestructible kind of weight that just hangs there. She looks out of place in her body. Her bones stick out where they shouldn’t, everything about her is captivated by the belief that it doesn’t belong.
And it doesn’t help to wear black, she tells me sometimes. She pinches the skin under her jaw. No tricks work for her, she cries. “God cursed me with my broad shoulders.” I say nothing, not because I agree, but because I’ve taken a vow of indifference, since the first time she came to my apartment. She squealed at my wallpaper. She cooed and clucked at my shortcomings in homemaking, only she said “interior design”, with the ending consonants drawn out to match a dialect she herself wasn’t nurtured in.
She continues, “It’s because my mother dropped LSD once. That’s when she thought that Ted Nugent was going to kill a snake on stage, because a boy told her so. And that boy turned out to be my father.” She chuckles, and elbows me. Everything is rich to her. She says so, she’ll say, “That’s rich” and laugh with her head tilted all the way back. I imagine she imagines herself then sixty years old with pancreatic cancer and no immediate family.
But I already booked the tickets, dear. Two thousand dollars for both of us, to go to Israel. She must not have heard me.
“Well see, dear.” She holds my hand with one of hers, and pats the back of it with her other. “I wasn’t being serious when I suggested it.”
Dear, you suggested it numerous times. She doesn’t hear me because I don’t say this. I think it and focus it at the stray, stiff hairs that stick out from just beyond her temples. She licks her fingers and smoothes them down.
“You don’t understand my wit, dear. Be a good sport about this. I know you feel silly.”
And very endearingly I begin to laugh, a deep groan that emanates into more of a gargle of the words I choose not to spit out at her. I swallow these words. Instead I court her with an unsuccessful jab of reasoning,
“You wear the star of David,”
“You also wear rosaries.”
“You’ve solved the mystery yourself, bobbalink.”
She brings a brush to her hair. I bring a glass to my teeth. And instead of drinking I chew, I grind ice with enamel before I even realize I’m doing it. The brush makes a splitting sound against her scalp. She smiles tensely as she pulls it through knots of her brown hair, each time the brush coming out with more pieces of her attached, hair hanging around her neck like tinsel.
“Are you ready?”
She twists the lamp off, and sits in the darkness while I crush what I’ve been crushing for one moment too long. I have something to say with the light off, but I cough instead.
She stands up and says, “I never knew it got so dark in this room.” And then, “Okay” as she bumps into me, and then “Are you…” as she opens the door.
I answer her, “There isn’t a clean translation. For cursed. There’s at least fifty ways to say it.”
If you haven’t guessed it, I didn’t say that either.