PRESERVE

She was sick. She would wake in the night with pains in her side. She would sweat. She was hot, she would cry to the open window, to the sounds of drunks and ghetto-birds, and other noises which tickled her palms, like carpal tunnel, or gossip.

 

She ate meat. But she would be diligent. She would offset it with greens and chards. She gave cigarettes to the poor. She drank juice. She wore white socks. She bought candles in the scent of Jasmine. She carried a small book which held her secrets.

 

One secret, which she told him that night, when she itched her face and wisps of hair were caught in her eyelashes. When she said, “I’m scared to say.” And he said, “It’s okay.”

 

“But you won’t forgive me.” “I will,” he said.

“I’m scared,” she said. She spread jelly on her toast and took three bites without speaking. “Is it someone else?” he said.

“No,” she said. She shook her head. “No.”

 

He crossed and uncrossed his legs. “Just say it then,” he said. “Can you do something?”

“Okay.”

 

“Will you turn away while I say it?” “Alright,” he said and he turned.

Behind him, he could hear her breathing.

It was weeks ago, she said. A vision came to her in the form of a man. She didn’t know if it was a dream. She still doesn’t know. But he’s as vivid to her as a white bowl of cherries.

 

Her voice cracked and she paused.

 

“He hangs over me and orders me around like a bad back seat driver. And he is ugly. He is really really ugly.”

 

When he turned around, she had tears falling from her nose, a spot of red jelly on her chin. “It’s food,” she says. “There’s always food.”

“I don’t understand.”

 

“He held a sprig of parsley with two hands, like a bouquet of flowers. He told me his name was Darrel,” she said, “His name is Darrel, and he won’t go away. He won’t ever leave me.”

 

He walked to the record player. He put a needle in Philip Glass.

 

“Say something,” she said.

“Darrel?” he said.

 

“Yes.” She put her hands to her face. “You can’t understand.”

 

The jelly on her chin had moved, now a thin smear on her jaw. He looked at her. Her half-eaten toast, fallen crust on a plate.

 

“Can you still love me?” she said.

“I think so.”

“Even if it gets bad?”

 

“I think.”

“It can get so bad.”

“Okay,” he said. He put his arm around her. He moved her hair from her cheek.

 

She sank in her stool. The sheet over the window moved in the breeze. “What do we do?” she said.

 

He didn’t know why. Except that it was the only thing to do. He pushed the toast to her face. He smeared her face with strawberry jelly. He squeezed the bread in his fist.

 

“Don’t,” she reached for his hand, “Please baby,” she said.

 

He couldn’t hear. He scooped a fistful from the jar and ran it down her chest, strawberry seeds and sugary goop.

 

She had her eyes closed. She pushed the jam with two hands from her collarbone down her waist. She said the name, “Darrel.”

 

He said “yes,” though it wasn’t his. He kissed her, the smell of strawberry jam.

 

He tried but couldn’t find it, a hint of what she used to smell like. His girl with white socks who smelled like Jasmine.

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All Content Copyright © 2017 Jessica Garrison

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