Clean Water

Lesley C. Weston

The Match Box Man lives in the bedroom closet. All day he sleeps quietly in his wheelchair, but after my sister turns out the light on the table between our beds, he opens the closet door. Creak, creak. Out he rolls, rattling the small, cardboard box of wooden matches he keeps in his blue work-shirt pocket. His pale eyes are mirrors in the moonlight. He stares at me with a finger pressed against his lips and whispers, shush, and I see my reflection. He strikes the match, sulfur whisks my nose, and I see the flaming torch fall into the long, black nest of my sleeping sister’s hair.

My father’s only sibling, a sister, died yesterday. Convinced she couldn’t survive without his help, my father took care of her all his life. My father died 13 years ago.

I walk down a long, winding sidewalk of uneven bricks laid in a chevron pattern. I watch my step, silently counting each point in the pattern as I step over it, but the irregular surface catches the toe of my embroidered cowboy boot and I fall face first onto the pavement. One by one, I spit my front teeth into my palm, then try to shove them back into my bleeding gums.

My lover has a pergola attached to the back wall of her home. At night, I stand under it and watch the smoke rise from my cigarette through the silvery undersides of magnolia leaves. I make a wish on the first star I see. My mother’s hand is cool on my sweaty forehead. The blood gush between my legs is hot and thick and sticky and the bitter taste of iron coats my tongue. You didn’t want a child, my mother whispers as I cramp and pass a clot the size of a tiny fist.

I got a library card two months ago in the town where I now live. They sent an email today to let me know the books I took out are overdue.

Running down the road, I jump over a wide puddle. I keep running and jumping. The puddles I leap over get longer and longer as I bound them until my feet barely touch the ground. I fly then, sitting upright on a hard, wooden slat-backed kitchen chair.

The woman who runs the water-testing lab has six cats and two dogs in her office. Everything is covered in shed fur. She holds her bristly grey hair off her face with an old bit of ribbon. Faded peace signs straggle across her forehead. I wonder if I can really trust her lab results and drink my well-water.

The enormous turtle holds itself upright in the shining stainless steel pot of boiling water. It’s flippers rest on the rim directly over the blackened wood handles. Sweat drips into its eyes, runs down its face, collects in the hollow place where neck and carapace meet and then splashes into the boiling water, releasing a fragrance so sweet and bitter that my mouth fills with saliva and my stomach rumbles with gnawing hunger.

Sometimes, I forget to swallow and walk around for hours with a swig of coffee, a juicy bit of breakfast bacon, or half-chewed nuts in my mouth. I often do not know the remains are there until someone speaks to me and I attempt an answer.

Lesley C. Weston lives on a sweet meadow surrounded by surly trees. She stays up very late at night, she also awakens early in the morning.
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