SPOTLIGHT: In Memory of Exoskeletons by Rebecca Cuthbert

Three Tears in a Bucket

My wife never says what she means. The first time
we made love she said “You break it; you buy it.”
And “Would a starving dog
steal a baloney sandwich?” was her answer when
I asked her to marry me. When she got pregnant
the first time, she said “There’s a squid
in my tank,” and she laughed
as I sat stunned.

When our second child was
stillborn she said “This Mexican bean
won’t jump” through her tears and
no one corrected her
that we were Nicaraguan, or that our grandparents were,
at least.
She never mentioned trying again.
I don’t think she had words for that.

When I was offered the promotion in Tampa
she said “A bear will always find the food tent”
and boxed up
the contents of the linen closet. When
I got laid off she said “Poisoned trees bear ugly fruit.”
I asked her, am I the spotted apple?
Am I the blackened branch?
She answered “We can’t eat either” and went back
to ironing. I looked closer. She was steaming
a tube sock flat. I backed into the kitchen where I made
Hamburger Helper and fed our child.

Six weeks later, when I caught her with the building’s super, she said
“Did you think a cactus would water itself?” I didn’t
think they needed that much water,
I didn’t say.
She picked up a job at the corner grocery, and
I got hired as a gas station clerk,
working third shift.

I came home one morning in mid-August to find a note
on the fridge: “Gone to greener pastures,
Then I heard a shuffle in the bedroom, a huff
as she lugged her suitcase behind her. Were you going
to tell me? I asked, noticing the dishes in the
drainboard, the floors swept clean.
What about our child? I thought to add.

“This printer’s out of ink,” she said, and shoved past me to the door.
Tell me what’s wrong, I said. I can fix it, or try.
“This printer’s out of ink, John,” she said, irritation
edging her voice. She slipped on sandals, left her slippers,
locked the door behind her.

I walked to the closet, counted 26 empty hangers.
A full pot of coffee burbled on the counter. She’d left the morning
paper but taken the magnets from the fridge. Three casseroles
sat in a polite stack in the freezer.
I opened the cupboard.
The iron’s cord had been cut.

I opened the window and looked down. A blue Chevy idled
near the building’s door. Its driver climbed out,
heaved Lorraine’s bulging suitcase
into the rusting pickup bed.
A handlebar moustache curled handsomely
against the man’s pitted cheeks.

She looked up from the sidewalk, shading her eyes from
the early sun. For a full minute she watched me watching,
then waved like a kid excited for vacation.
I held out my hands to her, flexed my fingers stained
dark from a night’s dirty work.

She got in.
The truck pulled away.
I poured a cup of coffee, sipped it black.
This printer’s out of ink, she’d said.

I dipped my finger into the mug,
wrote her name in sad fat loops of grime and coffee
on the white cotton tablecloth, thinking
how the color was nothing like her eyes.


Inside the broken-necked chapel, kneeling in the debris of other people’s faith, she held up a stained glass fragment outlining Mary’s perfect suffering.
“I could be like this for you,” she said. “I could mourn you so hard it would bring you back.”
I saw her then, in blue, lips bit ragged and bleeding, eyes luminous with the power of a loss unaccepted. A sunrise or bomb blast would turn the world into her halo.
But there, in the church, she brushed dust from her cheek with a pilled sweater sleeve, then held the colored glass flat between her palms. It disappeared like a street magician’s trick.
She was supposed to wink. I was supposed to clap. But I took her empty hands in my own and to anyone looking through the rafters’ gaps, it would seem like we were praying.


“It’ll be just like playing house,” she’d said. “You’ll wear slippers, but not cologne. I’ll wear an apron, but only on Thursdays, only in April and June, and not if I’m not at the bus stop.”

She made me a key, but I saw the framed pictures, coffee rings and toast crumbs I didn’t leave.

Her hair smelled like hyacinths. She left the porch light off when she kissed me goodbye, ignored my declarations, told me not to creak the gate.

It’s August now and I sit behind her on the early bus. She focuses on her crossword or stares out the window, and I wonder if she’s pretending now, too.

In Memory of Exoskeletons

And there it goes—another shingle chipped off,
chiseled away this time by the righteous cliché of a baby’s stunned
laughter, and in Trump’s America, I’m lying naked on the banks of a mosquito-clogged swamp
and the hungry bastards are full of malaria,
pink eye and mad cow disease.

He’s not my first nephew,
I wasn’t a great big sister, but watching my baby brother’s baby
shriek joy and kick fat legs is somehow brand new,
a sneaky tectonic shift
that moves everything in my life two disorienting inches to the left.

I watched a Facebook video featuring a Sulcata tortoise
whose shell had been damaged in a house fire. Chunks missing,
mottled flesh exposed
to cruel breezes and sunshine, but do-gooders made him a 3-D
printed shell
and it seemed to do the trick.

I’ll have to watch less news, drink more, but Darwinism
will eventually claim me, soft and angry
wrapped in layers of beige cardigan sweaters that aren’t helping, and
by then I’ll probably
go so quietly.


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