by Riley Manning
The emptiness of Arkansas pleases me. There are no land markers in Toad Suck or Goobertown or Bald Knob or Monkey Run. Green and brown fields sulk under the ugly heat forever, row crop convexing up toward the sky with a palpable aching, and if you don’t know where you are, the only thing to do is to keep driving. I lay down in a ditch and hope it swallows me, reforms me into a vein of maypop yearning up the side of a crooked light pole. It doesn’t, and at nightfall the coyotes drag me home and leave me on my own doorstep.
I have followed my brother and his wife here. She works at the neonatal clinic in North Little Rock, but we live south in Ironton. It is as far as I can get from Orange Beach, Alabama, which is where I was the last time I heard from you, or from New Orleans, where you cook smoked fiddlehead for strangers and live in a house with no doors inside it, or from Jackson, Mississippi, where I first became oriented with the topography of your wet mouth.
Every Thursday, Charlie roller blades over in the dusk and we sit at my back patio table talking until the sun goes all the way down. His calves are massive, and by the time he leaves they are splotched with blood from smacking mosquitos. Rejection saved my life, he says. Remember Rebecca Easley? That girl I was so strung out about in high school? Mom calls last week, says she strangled her husband with a jump rope in the middle of the day. All I’ve been able to think of, is that it could have been me. Took it 10 years to work out that way, though. I start to point out the finger-thick laceration around his neck that never heals, but I stop short.
I guess what he is trying to say is to be patient, but I am knowing less and less what that means. Hyperthymesia is a condition that prohibits the storing and deletion of memory. Its sufferers are able to recall every moment of every day of their entire life thanks to a runaway hippocampus. I remember things I shouldn’t, and I am scared to tell you because I am afraid you would think I am making them up.
I am rag-wrung and gutted from waiting, waiting for one of us to disappear from the other like a rejected tattoo, a re-evening of person. The heads of soybean plants watch me through my window and sharpen their leaves against one another, and the watering arms that sustain them awaken in me the sound of you crying. I see your face in every barn swallow and kingfisher and Egret.
I cut my thumb slicing a lemon for you on a cheap mandolin in 2013, leaving a scar in the same shape as that big red storm on Jupiter. Sometimes I take my shaving blade and slice it open again to watch the blood plip out in the exact same way, and I remember you sucking away the blood and holding my hand to your chest, and saying thank you.
Riley Manning is a Mississippi writer living in Tampa, and he attends the University of Tampa's MFA program. He is a friend of serpents and loves triple contractions.