Chewing the Cuticle

By Derrick Truman

The fresh green pricker weeds grew through the iron rod fence bellow. They vines grew up and around the rods, climbing till the top where there they fall and run the length of rust sideways till they grew all the way out. The rust colored was tinged with green, and living lengths of green were piebald in flakes of red. Giving each other an aura of life to each other. The house stood enclosed around the iron fence, which itself was covered in the same green vines running against the crumpled black bricks. Ionic columns of painted cedar hold up the enclosure that guards the front door as it has done so for the last century and a half, and it will do so for the next hundred, until the rot chews through. The house has weathered years of war and strife; blood and tears stains the floorboards as it does the ground. To this day, there’s still lodged on the flat western face of the house, an artillery shell shot by Sherman in his march to sea. The rest of the house was spared for the owners quartered the officers one night. Now, in the house lived a family of three, and they owned a TV, only one; the small, rabbit eared, thing sat on an out of the way counter in the kitchen, and every morning, regardless if the news was new or not, the mother turned it on. It set the tempo for the morning.

“This is World News tonight on ABC with Peter Jennings: “Good evening, the deadline has come and gone. The Iraqis are living on what President Bush calls: “borrowed time.” It is no longer a question of whether the war will start, but when.””

Danny bolted down the circular staircase, leaving a vapor wake of macaroni and nine-year-old smell which lingered in the kitchen for at least a few moments. Mother took to the dishes leftover from the night before, too ‘done’ to deal with them that night. The party ran too late for her taste, the arch of her heels too high, and her husband too taken with the whole event. She yawned, mended her copper hair into a loosely packed bun, and rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hands. A little thing she has recently become aware of. At her discovery of this impulse, she feels only more compelled to create yet another morning ritual, another little tick to the day that one enjoys. And, as soon as she finishes rubbing her eyes her pulse deems that she must look out the kitchen window above the sink, and her pulse says she must watch, every morning, her little Danny make the rounds around the fence. With unmatched socks and backwards Captain Kangaroo underwear, the blue gum still clinging to a few hair strands, he tramples around the back yard mudding around in his socks while looking for the stick. He finds it, and in the second his hand wraps around the stick he dashes off running along the fence, letting the wood rattle against the iron rods, he never looks more free and happy than in the early mornings with his Mother. His face beams the joys of untouched youth; this is bliss. His shrieks are ones of rejoice, for it is morning, and everything right. Tapings of wood on iron breaks the calm of the morning and fills it with a life; too much life for the Mother this morning. The noise of the TV rang on behind the gaze of the Mother to her son, Harry in suit-and-tie, descends the stair case to await the morning’s breakfast.

“The firing of the ship’s five-inch guns, the testing of the ship’s anti-missile system, preparations for war. A crew member relates to us his preparedness: “I’m ready for war sir, I’m ready for war. That’s what this ship came over here to do.” The commander of the Wisconsin has put the ship on DEFCON TWO alert…”

His feet smartly thud against the wood of the old floor as he waltzed across to the Mother at the window, the fresh smell of aftershave clung to his face, his dark brown hair well-molded as usual, and he hugged her from behind and kissed her on the small of her neck and said: “Hello, honey, how did you sleep?”

“Alright enough, how about you?”

“Excellent, thanks for asking,” he said, taking a seat at the table, sipping the cream-only coffee that was there for him. “Hey, so listen. I’m going to be running around all day at the office, Lennomax is opening up their IPO’s today and we’re getting on the ground floor of some hot shit right here. So, I’m probably going to be a little late getting home tonight, I might just have to spend the night up in Carson. I really hate to leave you here with Danny, but I just don’t think I’ll be able to make it,” he said, spooning the hash browns into his mouth from the plate that sits next to a perfectly rounded coffee ring from his coffee cup lay.

“Its fine, I understand,” she said as she began the dishes. She didn’t know where he was exactly going or what he would be doing, she couldn’t care if it was just only for work. After enough nights alone with Danny she stopped wondering ‘why’ and started wondering ‘why not?’ Starting with the big copper pots, she began scrubbing the insides with scalding water and dish soap. The open wounds of her finely bit fingers comingling and stinging with soap and water and the angel hair pasta that clung to the insides.

“I wonder about Danny,” she said.

“Wonder what, hon?”

“How is he ever going to be like the all the others. He’s going to fall behind and he’s never going okay. Right now he’s fine, but someday, he’s going to watch everyone grow up, and he’s just going to be our little darling. Always a little darling.” Tears begin now to well up in the corners of her eyes, ready to run along the makeup left on her face from the night before. “I mean, come on Harry, how can you not think about him at all?”

Lifting his head from his plate: “Hey, listen to me right now, I thought we already agreed on discussing this. There’s nothing that we can do about it, alright. There’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t help him, the doctors can’t help him, he can’t help him, okay? There’s absolutely nothing we can do but be the best we can. That’s going to need a lot of work from both of us. You and me, we’re in this together, we’re going to make the best Danny as we can. Are you going to be okay?”

Mother lifts a raw finger to her face to wipe away a budding tear. Her chest heaves out and lets loose a good long sigh, and she looks at Harry, red eyed, and she says: “okay,” shaking her head and loosening the knot in her throat. “Yeah, I’m here Harry. I’m here.”

“Great, I love you, hon, you know that, right? I love you and Danny more than anyone else in whole world. I just have to keeping on plugging down over there till we can get somewhere closer. I know I’ve been spending a lot of time down there and I can only imagine what it’s like for you here. I get it. But with the job there, and Danny needing someone here, it’s tough. ”

“We don’t need to go through this again, I know you love me, and I know you love Danny, too. I don’t know. Bad night’s sleep I guess.”

“Okay then. I gotta go now if I want to make it to the city, I’ll see you. Tell Danny, I love him.”

She stood there, paralyzed by the quiet close of the side door, listening to the faint mechanical hum and lurching’s of the garage door opening. Spark plugs ignite. Her hands stung as she embraced tighter, the robe around her shoulders. Danny’s tapping rings off in some distant world. The Mother begins to chew her nails again. She turns to look out the window to see the green and the rust, and the blue gum that still cling to that boy’s head. Still making the rounds she sees. The TV blurbs on in the background:

“The firing of assault weapons and explosion of grenades increase the realism for, what many here believe, is the last step for battle. Of course everybody is nervous. I don’t know a single man that isn’t scared, and if they say they ‘aren’t’, they’re lying.”

It wasn’t the sound of Danny’s flailed running and tapping that made her chew the flesh of her fingers; it wasn’t the fact that Harry was going off again to god knows where, again, doing god knows what. It was the sound of the house, or rather, the lack of: the empty space of it all. She broke skin. It’s as if the whole space sat on the on the precipice of life that would never fall: a house too well supported. The killing anticipation that something would happen, even though the house is supported with steel gutters that seem to flaunt all physics. What could go wrong, rest assured, would not go wrong. Blood welled from her finger. And, it wasn’t as if she really wanted to the see the whole thing crumble, all she wanted was a change of pace. Harry had to go out for the “sake” of the family; she had to stay for the sake of Danny. Now weaving nuggets of joy out of the everyday. Picking blue gum like beetles from the back of a chimp. The blood is running. Mother did love her two boys, but that love only stretched out to the inside of the front door. The only thing that wouldn’t leave her in that house was that little TV, showing a world on fire and alive that ostensibly surrounds her. ‘War’ was always her favorite channel for it is the furthest thing away from this house that she can conceive.

Danny runs face first into the sliding glass door, rebounds off, cries a little bit, and keeps on with his running. The Mother went back to her dishes. It was only Monday. Harry needs to trim the vines this week.