On Saturday night, at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, Kathy Fish introduced me to Robert Lopez. Since then, I read Robert’s story collection from Dzanz Books, Asunder. This is my response to Asunder:
“Someone In Particular’s Tongue”
Someone in particular tongued the tracheotomy scar of the woman who talked out of the left side of her mouth. The scarred woman felt watched and pictured a monkey squatting on the back of the couch next to their heads, egg yolk dribbling over his chin and fingers and falling dangerously close to someone in particular and her.
She imagined too a man on a train with flowers. This man plucked the red rose petals to a chant of, someone in particular loves me, loves me not. He then pushes the asundered petals into his mouth. Rose juice stains his teeth and gums. The man and monkey comment in unison, say someone in particular’s tongue looks like it’s covered a lot of geography. Outside, rainfall sounds like laughter.
In her head, nonsense talk won’t shut up, Resnick rhymes with lick and the world should be starved of mens of the houses. She tries to focus on someone in particular’s tongue at work, to let it wash over her. Her mother and sister also scale the walls of her mind. The monkey sucks the last of the huevos off his hands and chatters in time to the rainfall. Babble also pours from the television and keening rises out of the gramophone she’d inherited from her grandmother. The man on a train with flowers chokes on a shred of rose. She can still smell the smoke from her scars.
Someone in particular licks and licks. She wonders if he can taste windshield. He murmurs and it’s her language, but she can’t understand. She wishes for paid help, for someone to sign with interpreter’s hands what he’s saying. But sign is another language she can’t understand. There’s noise from her scars, like a vacuum. Someone in particular doesn’t seem to hear. Scars as white and expectant as beverage napkins. Someone in particular lifts his head and asks if he should keep licking, says he doesn’t know anything about anything.
She fixes them drinks. In the corner of the kitchen, on the floor, ants are acraze. They drink outside in her car. She almost died from a car and so likes as much as possible to live from a car. She shows someone in particular the roll of caution tape. Ever since the accident, black and yellow are her favorite colors.
“Is that weird?” she asks.
“Sometimes when I drive,” she continues,”the windshield becomes blades, sharp and whirring, like a ceiling fan on high.”
“I’d so many holes in my face and neck, I couldn’t even drink a glass of water.”
She stops herself from telling him it could be worse, she could only have one lung.
He complains the Polish vodka burned his tongue. She worries maybe it was her skin, her scars, that had burned. He balances the roll of caution tape on his head. They laugh. She also doesn’t tell him that lying there broken on the highway that night, she’d felt she was sinking, drowning. Her neighbor’s dog bays. She sometimes dreams about red swimming pools. Once, the crack of billiard balls brought her right back to that highway. Another time it was bowling pins. Then during a baseball game. In the emergency room, everyone had huddled around her, working on her in a frenzy, and she’d recalled Jesus and the apostles gathered around the long table during the Last Supper. He asked to go back inside and watch television. She needs to use the bathroom anyway. Her surgeon’s hands were like those of a porcelain child.
From the television, streams the blues. She wants to exercise, to run.
He drains the last of the Polish vodka. She considers pretending to fall asleep in his arms and allow him to peek.
“Just so you know,” she says. “All my scars are showing. This is it. Todo. Totus.”
“Thanks,” he says.
“A lot of people have allergies to scars,” she adds.
“I’m good,” he says.
She feels like an empty park.
“Did I say the wrong thing?” he asks. “Should I go jump off the pier?”
It always comes back to drowning. She wants him to tell her a story, any story about anything but drowning, but it’s embarrassing to ask. Instead, she tells him a story about tables in restaurants and how as soon as one party leaves the table is wiped down and the glasses, flatware, and napkins are replaced, everything about those last people at that table erased.
“If I was a different person,” she finishes. “I’d think there was nothing sadder than an empty restaurant table.”
For a time after the accident, they thought she might remain blind, that her corneas might be cut beyond repair. The first thing she saw after her bandages came off, was a tree. Seeing that tree, it was like coming up out of the bottom of water, right as you thought your lungs would burst. Someone in particular looks from the television and into her face and she’s not sure if it’s the show or her he doesn’t seem to like one bit. She tells him her mother had wanted to name her Betty.
“I prefer Danni,” he says.
She smiles and offers more vodka. “Protein?”
He refuses, and she suggests a Chinese take-in.
“More poison,” he says.
He gets up to leave. After something like that, he asks, do you mind dyin’ more or less? She shrugs, These things will sometimes happen. She again wants that sign language person to appear, to move her hands and communicate something of substance between someone in particular and her. He’s the first man not to look at her with pity. There’s a sensation at the back of her throat, like mice scratches. As soon as he leaves, she’s going to mop her kitchen floor. She tries to think of something funny to say. She’d like to touch his face, to read it like Braille. He lifts his hand and she thinks maybe he’s going to read her, but he waves, as if they are at a distance. Her lungs crash together. He’s going to follow all the others to Timbuktu. She wonders what’s the opposite of drowning to death. He speaks, a question, but again she can’t understand. She replies yes and no and maybe so.
“Try Chop Suey,” she tells him. “It’s the gateway to Chinese.”
He leaves, and as soon as he’s out of sight she returns to her car. She wonders what would have happened if she’d asked someone in particular to leave his tongue.