Tiffany Promise
Cleft


At 2:24 PM, on the afternoon of August 28th, 2007, I am scheduled to disappear. It doesn’t matter if I end up in the sky or on the ground, though I like to imagine glistening pieces of me splashing against the clouds like backwards rain.

I saw my future in cast-off hairs and crusty toothpaste trails. My sink full of foreboding--something that bleach can’t clean. For a whole week, I followed myself around, taking stock of my leavings. Kleenex full of snot, footprints in the rug, little drops of beer at the bottom of the can, bloody band-aids dark with stick. Everything told me it was over. I had to start making arrangements.

You are the last to know because the telling is hard. My seashell lips curl over themselves when I try to speak. Thin bone crusts the corners. No amount of saliva will soften. You only need to take my pulse and check the insides of my eyelids to know that this time I’m not lying. You hide my sharps with the vigilance of a wet nurse, padding me with gauze and feathers and wool.

I keep the apartment cold so that you will have to stay close. We build a nest of feather blankets and couch pillows on the dining room floor. You feed me like a mother bird--softening food with your big teeth before kissing it into my lips. We are jammed up and tangled. Sticking to each other in every direction. Our limbs have become branches, have become vines. Our pores exchange fluids like osmosis: your salts writhe in my muscles.

“I can’t imagine never holding you like this again,” you say, mouth searching for my lips like a bird rooting for worms. But, I am hiding my red puffer-fished face deep in your armpit. I like the way it smells here: onions and dirt. I would like to take this with me, so I cache your discarded cells on the insides of my cheeks.

It feels like pepper spray is lodged in my tear ducts. I want to crawl into the freezer and lean my lids against the ice trays. I want to be a penguin or a polar bear. I want to be anything but human.

You claw at my soft skin and leave teeth marks in place of kisses. We break each other open like walnuts--reaching into soft pungent centers. Semen mixes with tears mixes with blood. We cleave and conjoin; skin plumping under the pressure. Like overripe fruits we bruise on contact. I’m not scared of breaking you because in Chicago there are plenty of doctors equipped with surgical tape and glue. Where I am going, blood isn’t necessary. Feel free to let it drain onto the bedclothes. 

Time is falling around us like dead flies and we are stuck in the middle of this avalanche. I’m trying to save every scintilla of air. Stockpiling it in my lungs. I put your mouth over my nose and lips, wearing you like an oxygen mask. I am hoping we can make it last a few more minutes. I feel the thrombosis thickening. I pry your fingernails into my throat, you don’t resist me and your keratin timidly snags the flesh.




Trinity
 

We do not read classic novels or drink hot tea. We burn toast and apply too much eyeshadow. We do not bake pies or attend PTA meetings. We date ex-cons and drink vodka for breakfast.

Instead of staying in fancy resorts on tropical islands, sipping mai tais and basking in the sun, we check ourselves into hospitals for the free drugs.

We are not the kind of women who get facials or manicures. We wipe the dirt off with damp washrags and douse ourselves in perfume. We wear houseshoes instead of heels. Rhinestones instead of diamonds. We have never owned a string of pearls.

There is always a little bit of lipstick on our teeth.

We do not do crossword puzzles.

We chase the dog around the yard in pink foam curlers and bathrobes.

We don’t know how not to be harpies or whores. We have come equipped with claptrap mouths and enticing eyes and hands that know too much. We do not have motherly dispositions, and any heir born into this painted cavalcade is an accidental accident--caused from too much booze and a lack of protection.

We take our children with us to the bar and let them play marbles under the pool table while we mix vodka with vicodin; gin with lithium. We look for men to be week-long fathers (maybe month-long, if they get lucky) and we hike up our skirts to show off our thick prickly legs.

The bartenders like us, they pay our kids a nickel to wipe down the bar, and let them pick whatever they want on the jukebox.

We like leaving.
We do it often.
And well.

We wander from bar to bar on Telephone Road every Saturday. We drop the kids at the Santa Rosa Theatre early in the morning with peanut butter and jelly on Wonder Bread stuffed in their coats. They stay there all day watching cartoons while we get tipsy and give hand jobs to men in bathrooms. We have no shame.

We do not go to the dentist, but instead learn how to smile without showing our teeth.

We stockpile Aquanet.

We do not knit.

We fall asleep with our makeup on at least 3 times a week, we have yellow nicotine-stained fingers, and we eat Eskimo Pies for dinner.

We stopped having hangovers when we were twenty-two. A bottle a day will cure you of most ailments.

We leave home at 16. We never look back.

These habits are inherited like eye color or diabetes. Mutated genes hide discreetly in strands of DNA. They can’t be seen on sonograms or heard in heartbeats. If our blood is looked at under a microscope it will twist with anxiety. It pumps through our trunks, transforming our postures. Our backbones are cracked, our tongues are thick, our nutrient-empty milk leaks thinly from our breasts.


                                                                                    ***


We were more than one, but less than four.
Nesting inside one another like babushka dolls.
We were Estelle and Tanya and Lilly.

Estelle:
had a wagonful of children but no husband to claim them. When the kids were bad, she would swat them with switches that they had to pluck themselves from the tree. She owned a tiny restaurant in downtown Houston. Food and girls made up her menu. Her customers were beerbellied construction workers with beards and wedding bands. They mopped up their runny eggs with her sticky biscuits. Her mouth was dirty from cigarettes and swears. She had hard hands but soft lips. She knew how to turn a trick: bat an eye, lift a leg. She never loved anyone but herself. She grew old in piles of dirty laundry and overflowing ashtrays.

Tanya:
was married seven times and had seven daughters. Not one of them looked alike, but they were all equally bad. She was always on the run from abusive exes and bill collectors. She lived in hotels, hospitals, and on houseboats. Always changing, never slowing down. At the age of 47 her first facelift had already failed because a hack doctor in a back room sewed her tight with too little thread. She loved to shoot morphine between her toes, almost as much as she loved running up cable bills in hotels rooms and escaping with aliases and bad checks cracking under her heels. She carried her meds in grocery bags, tucked behind loaves of bread and cracker jacks. She was never caught empty-fisted. She had too much charm for her own good.

Lilly:
was the baby. She learned from her sisters how to break the rules. She learned from her stepdad what the rules were. She got pregnant at 13. Wasn’t pregnant anymore by 13 . She carved curlicues in her thighs, put cigarettes out on her ankles. All she owned was a suitcase and a notebook. They took both when she was checked in. State hospitals are particular about what they will allow. Wire spirals on notebooks can be used to slit wrists.


                                                                                    ***


Shuffled through procedure, our queens are locked tightly inside. Housebroken and not homicidal, they aren’t in any rush to place us. Our injuries don’t appear critical, we seem coherent, have normal vitals. We are sent to a ward with screaming fat men and ladies who twirl like ballerinas. No one pays us much attention. The doctors are busy. The nurses are nervous. But, we are warm.

For a few weeks, things seem better. No static in our head. We are almost content: quietly enjoying old sitcom reruns and mashed potatoes with brown gravy. We have our pills and pillows. Cigarettes and trashy magazines. The tranqs do their jobs well. We are able to relax.

After a few months, we are told that it is time to leave. We haven’t missed the outside world. This place has become our kingdom. We feel like holy mothers wrapped in cotton sheets: airy and graceful. Everything is clean and white and measured. We want to stay here forever.

We are scared of being back on the streets. We know that we are too wrinkled to be turning tricks. Too tired to be digging through trashcans. Too old to be sleeping on tracks.

We easily romance a bottle of bleach from the janitor. It only takes one kiss and one tug. Nothing is beyond us. We tell him that we just want a cleaner tub. We promise future trysts. We scrape the insides of his lips with our teeth. He hands over the contraband with indiscretion.

Late night finds us alone on the cracked linoleum. We sit quietly--sipping. We are good at drinking disgusting things; years of rotgut leaves the tongue tasteless. This seems like the easiest way out. Withering us one by one, until all that is left is an empty shell.

We cave.
Heave. Choke. Wretch. Foam.

Insides evaporate and spread to the surface.

Blood blooms beautifully (almost biblically) on our lips.