I burned my knuckle, stretching up and out from my keyboard after too much time reading and editing a long, tedious policy. My hand brushed lightly on the lens that covered the bulb and I recoiled. Now a bubble of flesh with no feeling marks my left hand which always seems to bear the brunt of my clumsiness despite being right handed.

When I was seventeen, I was straightening my hair with my mom's straightener. The twisted cord suspended itself across the counter, down a row of drawers, and back up to the base of the beast, it's jaws mirrored ceramic plates set at 350 fahrenheit. I always needed something from those drawers. As I opened the lowest drawer, the cord pulled with it, and down came the straightner. Instinct – the wrong one – kicked in. I grabbed for it, sliding my ring finger between the plates and clutching my fist together, snapping the jaws closed. Searing, obnoxious heat. And I released.

My finger bubbled immediately down both sides, swelling the flesh to a shiny pink around the bone. A hotdog made of my finger in seconds. It was the kind of shock, the kind of pain, the kind of grotesque outcome that brought on big, teenaged tears even on the bus to school. My ring finger, damaged forever – unlovable, maybe.

I can still see the scar when I look at my hands, not because it's actually there, but because I can still remember the pain.

I've always loved the hands of my partners. Maybe because, for the most part, I've dated those who use them wisely. In fact, reflecting on my relationships, the ones I would describe with the kindest words, used their hands fabulously. Makers and musicians. Good people. It is the ones most like me – those using their heads and their fingertips only – that I can't stand. There's just something about hands used well.

He walks in and waits in line for a name tag. He hates name tags for himself but appreciates them on other people. He was known once, and still is, still deserves to be.

The first people he knows in the room are two women who he's pretty sure got his best friend fired. He pretends not to see them and first distracts himself with a handshake to the person who has invited him here. The room is narrow and crowded with tables and chairs first and people second, so he can't avoid them without stumbling over chairs.

“Hey you two,” he says, even though he knows their names. “How've you been?”

“Good,” the younger one says. He liked her, once. She was eager to please in the first year on the job. She said yes a lot. “How about you?”

“Well this jacket is a bit tight,” he jokes. “Haven't had to wear one in a while.”

“Athleisure,” the other woman says, gesturing to her outfit. “Solves for those problems.”

“Good to see you,” he says to them both. They nod and say “You, too.” None of them mean it.

He's here for a community awards show in the middle of the day. No one cares about this sort of thing, but there's a free lunch and the room is full of people who love to be places with people who don't know them but know of them. The blonde who has made a career of being the host of panels in rooms just like this one smiles at him. He's always liked her because she doesn't pretend about anything.

The community awards show is about to begin, and he was on the jury to select no-namers as winners of awards with names like “Food First Hero” and “The Good Business Award.” No one has bothered to define good business but he's pretty sure they all mean this. Free lunch, awards for average work, and a pile of sport coats in the same colour of blue over top of Oxford shirts with a bit more variety. Not much more, though.

God, she’s always so afraid of the world. It’s why I don’t tell her where I’m going. It’s why, when my dad tells me to have fun without looking up from the TV, my mom is committing my outfit to memory. She smiles, like she’s cool about it, but it doesn’t touch her eyes.

The night is cooler than it’s been all week and I consider going back inside for a sweater, but Maeve’s car is pulling into the driveway, the headlights casting long shadows with the lawn ornaments. Someone is in the front seat, but I can’t tell who. I shield my eyes but it doesn’t work.

I head for the back seat on the passenger side. When I’m close to the window, I see that it’s Ben Shipley.

“Hey Ben,” I say through the crack in the window. The same song that Maeve has been playing on repeat is too loud coming out of the speakers. She cranks it as I open the back door because she knows I can’t stand it.

“Hey Kase,” he says over the music.

I look up at the house before I slide in the back seat. My mom’s standing in the kitchen now, at the exact angle that I know allows her to see me but pretend she’s washing something in the island sink. I wave at her so she knows that I know. She doesn’t wave back, pretending that I don’t know that she knows I know.

The door shuts behind me and Maeve yells along to the song. I cover my ears to be dramatic. She reaches back to grab my head and pull me forward through the split in the front seats. Now she’s yell-singing into my barely protected ear. I yank myself back and we both laugh. Ben is on his phone.

“Where are we going?” I ask them and Maeve turns down the song and lets it flip over to a new one for once.

“Some party,” she tells me. She leans in to her phone that’s poised in one of those clamps that hooks into the vents in the dash. “Olivia gave me the address.”

“Do we know them?” I ask.

“Who?” She scrolls up and down in her text messages, looking for Olivia.

“The person throwing the party.”

“Ben plays soccer with him,” she uses her thumb to gesture. “Fuck. I don’t know where that text is. Do you know how to get there?”

“She sent it in Snapchat,” Ben reminders her.

“Oh,” Maeve slides through her apps. “Right.”

I hate going to the houses of people I don’t know. It comes from the part of me I don’t like to admit to myself exists. The pit in my stomach, placed there by my mother, whose always so afraid of the world, and has made me afraid, too. When we roll out of the driveway, I find myself cataloguing the things I know about Ben. It’s not enough. We’re mutual friends with the same people, and now all of a sudden Maeve.

Or we were. Because that’s the other part of this. By the time the night is through, the pit in my stomach will grow into a certain fact. One that my mom was always certain of, even before it had a name. Maeve. The ghost in the throat is my childhood best friend who between this moment and when I wake up tomorrow, is dead.

Here are the people that I find very difficult to understand:

Those who wear socks in the summer. Those who have only read three books unless one of them is The Outsiders. Those who use 😂 when they're angry as a way of being insulting. Those who drink double doubles, or worse, triple triples. Those who are voluntary picky eaters. Those whose favourite flowers are red roses. Those who drive loud Honda Civics (or comparable) with spoilers, lift kits, or neon lights under the frame. Those who watch golf. Those who are parents of children they don't speak to because of who they are. Those who prefer Mustangs to Corvettes. Those whose favourite Christmas movie is the stop-motion animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special from 1964. Those who wear low-rise jeans.

I walk through a night lit up with street lights and pulsing with teenagers having a good time. I never a had a good time.

I can't have a conversation of bodies the way some people can. I saw an old roommate last week. She's doing well. She said “Do you remember?” alot. And I did, sort of.

Her memories were about the bars. The way men would dance with her easily, kiss her, and they'd go home together. A conversation of bodies. I was never there because I couldn't handle that sort of night. But I remember the stories the next morning, already losing the sharp edges of fact and turning rapidly into lore. Stories really do bring people together, even when they're not true or only half true. Now they're the only way we can speak to one another.

I'll see here again in five years and we'll tell the same stories and I'll remember it however she tells it because I like the revisionist history where I had a good time.

january 24

i used to drag my family on tours of a cemetery in batavia, new york drawn to the headstones of children with echoes of the fun that they used to play toys that would litter the grass and the marble said more than the epitaph may with trees covered in wind chimes and the quiet of midnight peaceful in the middle of the day

pay me a tribute in permanent marker on a bench, by the lake, with a view miss me only enough that you can still get through the day but never let the grief consume and when you notice the stars for the first time when you look at the sky and ask them why i hope you remember they pay us no mind and let me go

the man on the corner always smoked on a schedule he'd wave but never said much got up in the middle of the night left the bed, left his wife to inhale a nicotine dream it was cold, 3am, and January when the heart attack hit disoriented and bleeding he crawled down the driveway and settled under the light (all night) his wife woke up, an empty bed, concerned and wondering where he went she found him barely alive and in the morning he was declared with vital signs too low to save my mom met up with a neighbour to scrub the blood away

pay me a tribute in scratched away bark in a forest, in the night time, with a view miss me only enough that you can still get through the day but never let the grief consume and when you notice the stars the first time when you look at the sky and ask them why i hope you remember that they pay us no mind and let me go oh, let me go

✒️ Somewhere on my computer, buried in the depths of a much longer story, is a band called Spinster Youth. One of their albums is titled January 24 and the this is the title track. The rest of the song lyrics and the CD booklet itself also exists and will probably make it here one day.

It starts with a warning and then it turns to falling. The motion sensor lights catch the snow on its way down, turning it to glitter. Some of it stays and then more if it stays and then all of it stays. It builds and it covers. The world is sleeping and the glitter falls. No one is around and the motion sensors do not trigger. If the snow falls during the night and there’s no one around to turn on the lights, is it still glitter? Yes.

The house down the road is odd. It has too many additions from too many times when someone walked its halls and thought “more.” It turns into a home when it’s wrapped with glitter and I can imagine the people inside. They smile easily and they make the sort of tea everyone likes. At least for today, they look at their house and they think “enough.” I hope it stays.

I come to in a pharmacy refrigerator aisle. I can’t remember how I got here, except I remember it vividly because it happens like this all the time. I get high and I get a craving and I disappear into myself on the dark three block walk between my apartment and the drug store. I tell myself stories so that I don’t think about getting shoved into a van that comes out of nowhere down the dark street. If I was smart, I’d keep my wits about me — but what has awareness ever gotten me except knowing too much about things I can’t change? I wander the aisles and check my phone for the time and text messages that don’t come through. I think about the rainy day this summer when I followed Claire down the makeup aisle as she ran her nails over the plastic tubes of lipstick and mascara. She stole a cherry chapstick and a pair of tweezers. Subtle and quiet for only a moment, I watched her slide them both into the pockets of her dress. She looked up at me to make sure I saw before she started tapping her nails against the nail polish. Her smile said: I take what I want. I tried to tell her: Take me. We went to the market and bought two pineapples, a jug of orange juice, and a bottle of vodka. We drank screwdrivers from the messily carved out fruit with novelty straws that had penises on the end. She kissed me with cherry lips between cold showers.

“How do you think they get Mountain Dew that colour?” I ask the clerk. She looks down at the bottle of Arizona Green Tea. I don’t really remember choosing it and it’s not what I really want. “Pardon?” She looks confused. “Mountain Dew,” I gesture to the fridge aisle. “The fluorescent yellow. How do you think they get it like that?” “This is Arizona Green Tea,” she clarifies for me. She thinks I’ve lost it. “No, I know. I was just wondering about Mountain Dew.” “Oh,” she uses the scanner gun on the Arizona Green Tea. “I don’t know. Is that all?” I look around and down. “One of those scratch cards.” She pulls out the tray and lets me pick. She scans it. Four dollars and change. I tap my phone on the terminal and take my tea and scratch card out to the sidewalk. The neon lights and TV reflections from the sports bar next door remind me of a casino and I regret my scratch card when I remember what a scam the whole business of gambling is. I tuck it in my purse and crack open the can for a sip. It’s not what I wanted. I didn’t see anything I wanted but there’s something missing, something lacking. I pull out my phone and call a friend. “Do you think I’m losing it?” I ask him. “Are you losing it?” “Maybe.” “Where are you?” “The McDougal drug store.” “Come over. I’ll open a bottle of wine.” That’s not what I want, either. “Yeah, okay. I’ll be there in ten.” When I hang up the phone, I see two texts from Claire.

What are you doing?

I miss your lips.

I delete the conversation. I head down the street, a little more aware of the cars coming up behind me.

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