Madeline jumped off the porch over and over for three days straight when she missed her period. She let the scalding water turn her skin a brilliant crimson color. She poked at her stomach with her bony fingers. She pulled at the tight skin on her belly. She pushed with her stomach muscles on the pea-sized life until her face was flushed and drops of dew formed at her temples. Nothing worked.
She held the pencil in her fist. She slowly pressed the lead into the coarse paper, making the outline of her squash-shaped belly dark and thick.
She smiled, nodded, and thanked all who wished her well. They said Alan was stable and would be a good provider. That’s important.
She beat the unmade bed. She ripped the pillow with her fingernails and bit it with her back molars. She collapsed into the feathers, choking on her sobs.
The smell of amaretto humidified the room. The air was tangy and sticky sweet. She sat on the sagging bed shoved up against the wall in the corner. The patchy-white plastered ceiling bulged toward her. Pallid and defiant, she choked her ivory arms tightly around her bone-protruding knees.
She enjoyed making him hard. Wrapping her legs around his hips and knowing that he wanted her. She touched the tip of her tongue to his dry lips. She rubbed her thighs against him. She let him feel her. She stood up on the bed and took off her panties. She laughed.
Tra la la
Twir la dee da
She drew swirls on the paper, big dark heavy swirling tornadoes.
Feel it? He pulled her closer. He put his hands to her hair, feeling it roughly with his palms. She stood on her tiptoes in order to put her hands higher on his back. She smelled him.
Can you feel it? Be kind to yourself. You’re beautiful.
You fucked her, didn’t you? So how was she? Damn it, Alan, tell me. How the fuck was she?
I just kissed her on the cheek. That was it. Everyone was dancing and laughing and having a good time. She was gyrating her hips back and forth, motioning for me to come with her. What was I supposed to do? Everyone thought it was funny and told me to go ahead. We’d all had too much to drink.
She thought of the red, black irises, and waving, white pink lilies.
Dear God, Stephan, the weather is absolutely beautiful.
Stephan looked up from his folded-over sketchbook. Yes, it certainly is lovely.
As Stephan looked away, the woman glanced down at her silky white skin and slightly disproportioned peach nipples. She began poking gently at the blue vein visible above her right knee, but quickly changed her poke to a caress as Stephan looked up.
Your chin. Yes, a little to the left.
She adjusted her left leg to cover the curly black mound. She frowned, seeing her dimpled thigh.
Madeline, my dear, you are stunningly beautiful. Come run away with me.
The woman smiled a little at the man. His face was unshaven. His eyebrows were thick and black. She noticed his belly falling over his loose brown slacks. His sleeves were rolled up. She could see that his arms were smeared with lead.
Stephan raised himself with effort from the lime-colored lawn chair and began to wobble towards her.
The sound of the brakes was much too loud as Madeline pulled into the driveway. She groped for the key to turn off the ignition. She felt for the door handle, anticipating the movement of her left leg onto the pavement and then her right. She assured herself that she had turned off the lights and had her keys in her hand. Her chest muscles tightened as she heard the door make the awful squeaking sound before it caught.
She turned toward the little white house illuminated by the golden half moon hanging above it. She could faintly see the layers of paint peeling, exposing decades underneath. She sketched the house over and over, lines upon lines, mistakes voiding mistakes, but the shape was always the same.
She counted dandelions on her way across the lawn. The windows were open, but no sound came from inside the house. She paused to listen to the drapes gently flap against the window casing.
She climbed the six steps to the front door and reached for the rusted doorknob and opened the door. She waited for her pupils to dilate, then walked through the living room, feeling her way over the piles of clothes, shoes and toys on the floor. She started up the stairs that led to the bedroom, but turned to sit on the stairs. She rounded her back, put her forearm to her abdomen, and breathed in the air of the house.
As she raised herself, she saw Alan in the kitchen. He sat on the floor against the cabinets with his forehead pressed into his palms. His brown hair fell between his fingers. His chin was pressed to his chest. He held his legs to his torso with his elbows. His body shook but he made no sound.
She studied her sketch. Yes, she had gotten it almost right that time, yes, she told herself, yes, that was it.
Madeline paused for a few seconds. The buzz of the machines kept him alive. Uniform ruby droplets dripped from the plastic bag above his head.
As she flipped through her sketches, she noticed her wrinkled sinewy hands with their purplish raised veins. Desire is not enough, she decided. Reciprocity and connection are requirements to not look the fool. The chaos of lines sketched on top of one another, mistakes made and retraced in the hope of—
Alan kept readjusting himself as he stared out the window at the snow, dirty against the sidewalk. His face had long deep crevices that flowed into pools of skin around his pale pink eyes. Horizontal lines were chiseled deep into his forehead.
Alan? What do you see?
She sits before them. She smiles a little as they faintly trace their pencils along the creases of her body. They know how to draw supple youthful bodies full of resolve, but there the woman, deeply lined and spotted, skin loosely hanging, sits before them, offering herself to their minds and their fingers.
She remembers the impression of their pencil lines: jagged and smeared: both their drawings and her impression. The chaos of those lines—sketchy, but bold and sure; those markings; mistakes; and second attempts; those crossings, tracings and retracings.
She remembers their drawings often. How difficult it is to get beyond the periphery of those lines, how easy it is to be consumed in their chaos. Always on the verge—of something.