“There’s a scar on my hipbone.”
I say the words aloud before I can stop myself, sipping lukewarm chai through pursed lips. Jasper glances at me from across the table and c***s his head. Dark circles bruise the skin beneath his eyes, marks of utter exhaustion, as if he’s slowly rotting away from the inside out.
“What kind of scar?”
“It’s been there for as long as I can remember.” I slide one hand into my jeans pocket, tracing the contours of the scar through faded denim. “My mom says it was an accident. She says they were preparing dinner together, and Dad was slicing turkey, and I ran into the kitchen and tried to jump into his arms. The knife caught my skin.”
Jasper frowns. “But you don’t believe her.”
“Why would she lie after all these years?”
“Not lying, exactly.” I stand up and sling my bag over my shoulder. “Mother and I are masters of repression and denial. Surely you’ve figured that out by now.”
“You don’t seem to be in denial.” Jasper follows my lead, and moments later we step out into the frigid streets, where a brisk March wind tears through the branches overhead and lamps cast wavering ellipses of light. I pause in one of these golden islands, placing a cigarette between my teeth.
“S***,” I mumble, shielding my lighter from the wind, and after a moment Jasper leans forward to help. A flame stutters to life, and I take a grateful drag to calm my nervous energy. Smoke fills the empty spaces, the dark spots in my mind where memories have blurred into a pallet of indistinguishable grays.
“My point is, you don’t have to let something like this control you,” Jasper continues, as we walk toward the end of the street and the freeway beyond. “There’s no use dwelling over something you don’t even remember.”
“There’s this dream I’ve been having.” I ignore Jasper’s words; I’ve heard them so many times they no longer hold meaning. “It comes every once in a while, but more often since the article. In my dream, we’re running through the woods. I can hear the branches snapping against my legs. There’s blood. Mom keeps calling me amai, and stroking my hair, but she doesn’t seem to notice the animals. They’re everywhere. They watch us run, and they’re screaming.” I turn to Jasper, handling the cigarette delicately between two manicured fingers. “So tell me, Mr. Psychology, what does it mean?”
Jasper shakes his head. “You would know better than I.”
“I certainly know about the animals. Dad wouldn’t let me have a pet when I was little, not even a fish or a gerbil.”
“I tried it once.” My voice hitches, but I can’t keep the words from spilling out. Jasper already thinks of me as a horrible person anyway. “I wanted to understand what Dad felt. I wanted to know why he killed Billy’s puppy, and that litter of stray kittens, and the gerbil I brought home from Kindergarten. So I got a knife, and I found an old cat sunning in our neighbor’s backyard.”
Jasper stiffens almost imperceptibly. “What did you do?”
“Nothing. I tried to kill it, but I couldn’t.”
“You see? It’s what I’ve been telling you all along.”
I stare at the gates rising before us, strung with barbed wires, which from a distance appear to be gossamer threads of silver suspended against a darkened sky. “But maybe it means something that I tried in the first place.”
We stop at the road leading up to the gates. Jasper folds his arms across his chest, shoulders hunched against the searching wind. A veil of clouds passes across the moon, but I can still see every bolt, every steel lock, the lattice of electrified metal that spins a web around Utah’s penitentiary.
“Are you going to go inside?” Jasper asks.
The cold claws its way down my throat and freezes the words in my mouth. I settle for taking a step backward, shaking my head.
“No,” I whisper, and turn back towards the coffee shop and my car’s muggy warmth, leaving Jasper to trail behind me.