DOMESTIC STILL LIFE
In this domestic still life, universals are impermissible, and so it would seem justice is impermissible too.
Margaret said, "Sit on your hands."
I can steal from anyone. The mess was not made by me. The mess was already a thing, inevitable. I choked it to the table and named it Max. The phone rang. The juice spilled. Who is it?
Margaret is eating toast. She looks up. She says, "What?"
I am talking about Margaret. So I will say because Margaret asked, sat, or smiled and everything will follow.
I said I could not keep my hands off her.
I asked who called.
I think so much about you, Margaret said, and I don't know what to do. She closed her eyes. I pried one lid open. Red shot through white and her blue eye slid by mine. Look at me. I ordered. It was hopeless. Herein lies our difference.
Margaret I have affection for you. Stop crying. Because it is my name, Max. She feigns consolation. Nothing can console her. Lets go to bed. She says, I'm sleepy. I agree. We yawn. We smile.
I asked Margaret about Max. I sat on my hands. I watched her, until watching made me a shuttling, a faucet running, a stain rinsed off her mug, a wrinkle flattened from her apron, the room swept under the rug. Not a girl, a great bulk of light crushed by a shadow. The shadow, this Max.
"Margaret," I said, "tell me again about Max, that handsome devil."
She was eating toast. She looked up, and said, "What?"
I ran my tongue along my gums, and felt my teeth, sharp.
"He was president of his class," I said. "His teeth were sharp. He was shot."
"Maybe," she said.
I tried to touch her mouth. My talons hooked her lip. Blood bubbled to the surface. She folded her mouth into her apron.
The phone rang.
I am a bird. I am a vulture. I wonder if I am this Max and if not what is our difference. Everyday the phone rang. I wondered if Margaret was lonely.
I have seen Max leave her house in winter. I run to Margaret's window. Her bed is empty. I told Margaret this.
She was gnawing on my eye-lid.
"Are you listening?" I said.
"Maybe Max had eaten me," she answered.
I began to suspect Margaret was lonely.
"Tell me about Max," I said.
That year I often saw myself peal off and become something else: a light in some other window, a cradled phone, a coffee cup. Everything is inevitable. The juice spilled. The phone rang everyday. I was a lonely husband. I reached across the table for my briefcase. I had no briefcase. I was no husband. I was the loneliest of husbands. The phone rang.
Margaret was eating toast. The juice spilled.
She looked up. "What?" She said.
"I said, someday, I will take something from you, dear, and never come back." That year the world was born over and over again. Everything was inevitable.
Jessica Alexander teaches and studies at the University of Utah. Her fiction is forthcoming in Alice Blue Review, Two Serious Ladies, and Big Lucks.