imageTwo Mammals In A Room
Steve Finbow

     What are we doing here?
     I'm not sure, he says.
     You're not sure? she says.
     I thought you knew, he says.
     Why would I know? she says.
     You get the picture. She goes first – always.

She's on the bed scratching her armpit and he's standing by the side of the bed, his right arm crossed over his chest and his right hand clutching his left biceps. She's standing, legs apart, arms up as if about to exercise. He sits on a chair reading, thumbing the pages. Either way. Outside, a maze of fog is manacled to the village and the sun barks at the dogs breathing in their own smell. The space they inhabit has a right and left wall, a back wall, a ceiling, and a floor. The colour is a uniform grey. The space they inhabit has no walls, no ceiling, and no floor. We are looking at them from the front. It is not a stage. It is a room. It is not a room although it resembles a room. It has furniture. There is a door, but where does it lead? It is unfurnished and it is doorless. It could be a cave, it could be a cage, it could be a coffin, or a carriage. Whatever. None of these. She sneezes and he bends to wipe a ribbon of snot from her nose. Outside, a new town is forming behind the hills, on the other side of the lake, just out of reach, just out of sight. She lifts her head as if listening to a noise far off – a train, a bird, as if listening to someone call her name. He lifts his finger to his mouth and it is salty, slightly. He lifts his finger to his mouth and the distal phalanx of his right index finger pulses. He wipes his finger on his jeans. This is all he wears. His chest is crosshatched with hair the colour of coal, liquorice, or commas – you choose. Her chest too is bare, her breasts tiny, barely risen, her nipples erect, the size of jelly tots. She wears denim shorts. Her hair is cropped close to her scalp and there are two scars running along one side – I won't tell you which. She tells her friends the story of the scars when she runs out of other things to say. She fell. She woke. She was in the tub. The bath water was the colour of pomegranates, of stop signs, it was incarnadined. She stepped from it groggily, her skin a pale pink flushed by bath and that other thing. The living room was dark but silhouetted against the window she could see the television set and on the far edge – she can't remember which – she thinks the right – there was a piece of skin, some hairs. She lies.

Outside, the raspberries wither and then liquefy. He has heard the story a thousand times or more and is bored by it but he traces the scars with thumb and licks them with tongue. She kneels; her feet are too large for her body and she tucks them under her. His hands are red and hard from his job – I'm not going to tell you what he does, you'll just have to guess. His hair is longish, ragged, unwashed. No, it is short, neatly cut, clean. You decide. Who cares? He has a story too. His hasn't been told. But he'll tell it if you listen carefully. There was a basement, a dog, and a piece of string. What are mouths for? There was a hammer, a sack, and a river. He stumbled and sprained his ankle on the slippery stones. The end. Outside, the mountains look like swollen lips, blue, no – purple, no – black. Their faces mirror. You know the saying. To the strains of violins and their grandmother's warbling they entered into adulthood together. The breeze was like a lost soul. It was a rainy night. The treetops stirred. The house was the colour of tinned ham. The clouds were a curdled continent. He was a desperate man underneath. She was fascinating, savage. She got under his skin like a chigger, like an itch. They were made for each other. Or so they thought. So they were told. I'm not so sure. I doubt it. I made it up. They move together and hug. They move apart and shrug. He crosses to the door and tries it. It doesn't open. She gets off the bed and opens drawers in a dresser made of oak, no – pine, no – ash. In a dresser made of clay. Nothing. Outside, the horizon is the shortest distance. She takes from it a flimsy shawl and drapes her freckled shoulders.

Outside, the water birds’ bodies hum with life. Hum. He takes from it a glove made of leather, no – cotton, no – wool. Made of silk. He snorts like a horse. She bucks like a rifle. She kisses him on the ear. He rakes his fingernails along her chest. She sighs. She replaces the shawl. He takes off the glove. What were they made of? I can't remember. Can you? She longs. He doesn't. Outside, there is a whole field of them and they are inadequate, tampered with, totalled. They pace the room. They measure it out in steps. They have only just arrived. They have been here forever. Now you see them. Now you don't. She gets down on her knees and she wails. He reaches up to the sky and he howls. Lights out. Outside, the pigeons, as grey as wet newspaper, savage the desiccated husk of a baguette. What do you think? Let's stay awhile and listen.

     Are we done yet? she says.
     How do I know? he says.
     I thought he told you, she says.
     I thought he told you, he says.
     Not me, she says.
     Nor me, he says.
     What do we do now? she says.
     Wait, he says.
     Can't wait, she says.

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