The Necessary Arrangements
They're in the sandbox. She's in a sparkly, silver two-piece that flashes blades of sun into his eyes every time she moves. She dumps dirt from a Holly Hobby pail onto a mound that she says will become a castle. He digs the moat. His sand-washed calves jut out of his puke-green shorts, which slip every now and then exposing his bony hips, and a slightly burned back. He accidentally digs too close to the mound and her sand comes tumbling into his hole. She shakes her head and purses her rosy lips into a hard pout, but their mothers are close, so she lowers her voice when she whispers, "No, this is your spot." And when their mothers turn away, she draws a line in the sand and shoves him back.
They are playing in his backyard, she puts on his holster and says, "You'll be the princess. I'll save you." When he shakes his head, she frowns. When he refuses to move, she puts a leaf behind her ear and punches him in the stomach, "Say 'save me'," she orders, and then punches him again. He starts to whimper and his eyes well up. She draws back a clenched fist, he mumbles, "Save me."
They are sitting on an old wooden bench, holding hands. They're waiting for the contest to begin. His bunkmate is the judge. He has a stopwatch and a cap gun, he tells the couples to line up. They stand, a cap is fired, they press their lips together to win a Chipwich. Her lips are glossy and smell of bubblegum, and he wants to taste them. But as he rubs his lips against hers she becomes rigid and pinches his arm until he stops. Their eyes are open and they see everyone else separate, gasping for air. She pulls him closer, holds the back of his head. When they are the last standing, the judge fires another cap and announces them winners. She opens her mouth for a split second letting his tongue touch her lips and then she is gone to retrieve their prize.
She is standing in front of him, straightening his bow tie and brushing an invisible spec off his black shoulder. She announces to their parents, "He'll be the doctor. I'll be the lawyer." The parents smile and laugh and click their cameras. She smiles, but doesn't laugh. He stares at a tiny pink spot near her nose that she has tried to cover up. He thinks about her picking at it, making it bleed. He thinks about it bleeding and feels faint.
She is visiting him at college. He watches as she gets up out of bed and pulls his wrinkled button-down over her head. She fingers the plastic skeleton that stands in the corner with little tags marked: distal clavicle, acromion, and glenoid. She lights the clipped butt of a cigarette and sits on his wooden desk chair with her arms wrapped around her knees. She says, "We should see other people." He stares at the twirls of smoke that rise and then dissipate.
He is sitting in his apartment staring at the TV. There is a knock on the door. He shuffles over, looks through the eyehole, and opens it. She walks in. She runs her hand over his unshaven face. She rummages through his kitchen and finds a garbage bag. She throws the empty Chinese food cartons and paper plates in it and then gets a separate one for the bottles. When she's done, she rests them both on stacked pizza boxes by the door. She goes over and turns off the TV. She brushes the crumbs off the couch and sits down. She says, "I think we should get married."
He comes home and she is in the bedroom. She sits Indian style on the bed surrounded with bags. She hands him a stack of plastic wrapped boxers. She says, "We'll have two children a boy and a girl." He puts down the boxers and takes a deep breath, he says, "I only wanted one." She smiles.
She strides past his patients in the waiting room. She goes behind the desk and exchanges pleasantries with his nurse. She is sitting in his chair when he comes into his office. He puts his files down, kisses her on the forehead and sits down in a consultation chair. She takes brochures out of her briefcase and splays them out on his desk. There is one for Alaska, one for Peru, and one for a "Cruise Around The World." She points to the latter and says, "I think it's time." He says, "It's pretty busy. I'm pretty busy." She says, "No, I think it's time."
She is lying in a cold white room surrounded with flowers. Her head is wrapped in a navy blue scarf with elegant golden horseshoes printed on it. He tries to count them. She says, "I've made all the necessary arrangements. So, you don't have to worry about a thing." He tries not to look at the bruised darkness around her eyes. He loses his concentration and has to start counting all over again. She says, "Everything has been taken care of," and then she pats his hand. He tries not to think of the moment that she'll stop talking, stop patting his hand, stop reassuring. He tries not to think of the moment her eyes will close and then just not open. There is still time, her doctors said there is still time. He lets her voice roll over him, wrap him up in a blanket of words. He tries to count the horseshoes.
He is leaning over the casket, his two children have stepped back with their children, they said, to give him his time. He is throwing dirt onto the casket with his hands, he is on his knees digging up the dirt in handfuls and throwing it down onto a mound. He doesn't feel like he can stop. There is dirt under his fingernails, in the cracks of his psoriasis, in his ring. He opens his mouth to speak, through the dirt, through the casket, to her, he says, "What now?"
About the author:
Michele Melnick received her MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. Her stories have appeared in the Brooklyn Review, Many Waters, and Contrary Magazine.