October 28, 2009

Gary Presley

I Could See My Blood

Beth wore blue jeans and a pale pink bra when she slapped me. And the rest was familiar too. Our bedroom, hardwood floors, the desk and the lamp, and our wedding picture above the bed. Beth's black hair, ice pale eyes afire, the weight of her breasts, and the slope of her belly, and the cradle of her hips.

I even remember the low, hard description of Jill, her sister, and our dance at last year's family reunion. But I don't remember what I said, or didn't say.

A quick hard flick. Her hand hit my nose. My eyes pinched shut with pain. And back across. Her wedding ring cut a furrow above my eyebrow.

Then bright blood streaming down my hand and onto my wrist as I wiped my forehead, salty bright blood when I licked it from my fingers. And my hand raised, cocked, ready to swing. But then Beth suddenly sat on the bed, looked at me, and smiled, lips together.

"Do it," she said. "Mark me."

I banged out the bedroom door, across the hall, and down the stairs.

"Daddy," Katie yelled, coming in from the garage. "Two tents or one?"

"Geez, Katie, both. Four people, right?"

I cranked open the tap over the kitchen sink.

"I didn't know if Aunt Jill..." Her voice trailed off when she saw the blood."What happened?"

"Nothing. Bumped my head." I dipped my face and watched blood mix with water and swirl down the drain like some obscene confection. "Get some ice cubes and a paper towel. Then go load the tents."

I splashed bleach in the sink.

"I don't..."

"Go ahead, Katie. It's okay. I took a breath and let it out slowly, exhaling until the room began to shift. I pulled her to me. "And take the stuff in the fridge, too, baby." I kissed the top of her head.

Katie mumbled, moved, and I took another breath and started up the stairs, first one by one, and then by twos.

Then I was in the bedroom, and the door was closed, and my hands behind me gripped the knob and held steady against all I might have carried in with me. Beth sat where I left her, on the bed, on my side, in blue jeans and pale pink bra still. She didn't move, not even when the door clicked shut.

Silence. I willed her to look at me. Nothing. I drew in her woman scent, the flavor of my sheets and pillow cases, of my skin in the middle of the night, of my memories midday.

Silence. I moved, pushed her knees apart, and knelt. I lifted her chin, my hand on her throat, and felt heart beat, its rhythm slow, steady, undefeated.

She leaned into me, sealed my mouth with her fingers, and pressed her lips to the cut along my brow. I ran one hand up her ribs to cradle her breast and slipped the other into her hair. No words. Nothing but her lips and my hands.

Finally, she pulled back. "Not you," she said. "you're mine. She can take, take, take, but she'll never take you."

And I could see my blood on her lips.


Gary Presley is an essayist whose memoir, SEVEN WHEELCHAIRS: A Life beyond Polio, was published October 2008 by the University of Iowa Press. Find links to his other work at http://www.garypresley.com

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