Triptych

By Matthew Dexter

A trip…three times over.

No Morning-After Pill for Madness

Some call them “beauty marks,” but you see them as cancer. So you’re lying in bed well after midnight, scratching moles off your face using dirty fingernails, searching for answers. Beneath self-evident revelations: adolescent insecurity. You see it rising to the surface as you peel the outer edges, destroying vermillion border.

It’s more difficult than you anticipated, tearing these hideous lesions. Protrusions like viscous poison drip from cheek, upper lip. But that mole under your right armpit is not much easier, hanging there like a grotesque question mark. Still, they can’t totally be removed; neither can the one on your stomach. Maybe you should numb it? Use a knife. Maybe go downstairs to the kitchen, dig in the drawers for a steak knife? Take an ice cube from the freezer?

But your fingers seem so much more natural, as if they were meant to peel such ordinary blemishes.

Who the hell needs a plastic surgeon? Not you. You’re a genius. Not worried about infection or the mild neurosis boiling below the surface. Fixation has taken a dangerous turn hours ago. Restless hours of digging: peeling, revealing the inner layers, a snake shedding its skin.

The inertia of exhaustion slows your mission–you give in just when you thought you’d already be holding your trophy: your milligram of flesh. In the morning, your face is sore; your armpit is purple; the pieces of the puzzle are hanging from a mirror that holds no mercy.

Dear Grandma,

I knew there were sharks in the water, but it just seemed right, the safest place to be. We watched from the patio sipping piña coladas, remember? Swimming parallel to the shore, their fins skimming the surface of the waves. The beach was closed after a surfer had her arm severed. The local media and everybody have taken to making a huge deal about the dangers. Especially after what you did!

Really, I feel safer in the sea than anywhere else. But I never expected you to follow me into that current Grandma. What were you thinking? I was just proving my immunity to disaster, my iron horse of a destiny; fate always protecting me where others have suffered. Mom says you swan dove into the wave?

Pedestrians were going crazy. They all thought you broke your neck in the sand when your wave crested too early. They saw your skull hit the sand. What possessed you to keep rolling down the beach, outward with that receding wave? They watched it pull you under; the sharks started struggling, swimming away from me. I rode her fins, but I couldn’t hold on forever.

The sharks rode your body to shore. They said your eyes were wide open, but you were fine, safe onshore. Bloody–but nothing fatal. Lifeguards were hoping for the best, running toward you. What made you roll back down with the wave again Grandma? They say you stretched out like a log and rolled yourself back into the sea.

You always wore shower caps in the swimming pool. They say thanks to you these sharks have acquired a taste for human blood. Where did this courage come from; this atavistic sacrifice to the ocean?

I rode the wave to shore and they were knee-deep in a frenzy, brave men and Mom almost up to her waist. They were screaming, searching for you, Grandma, as you swam underwater, deeper and deeper. Seagulls singing, sun shining, and freestyle into their midst you kept swimming.

Lemonade, Vodka, Honeysuckles

The first thing you need to know is that we had these yellow honeysuckles growing on a vine clinging to the wooden fence beside the swimming pool that tasted so sweet. We would lie on the ground and suck them, squinting into the sun, baking our wet stomachs against the pavement, water dripping from our bathing suits, sweet heaven dripping onto our tongues. You’d bite off the fresh tip of the stem, flick the leafy bell-shaped flowers on the shady pavement, and place the Lonicera Caprifolium inside your lips. Bees would hover, challenging you for the delicious nectar; that’s what summer tasted like.

We were schoolmates, roommates, young boys sucking honey on the ground as chicks took turns doing back double two-and-one-half somersault dives in pike position. Blue lane lines glistened. We would eat dozens of fruity honeysuckles at a time, bees buzzing as we tanned our backs beneath the Englewood, New Jersey fence; outdoor hockey rink invisible behind the blooming honeysuckles.

The smell of chlorine was enchanting. Eons nicer than those refineries on the New Jersey Turnpike. We were exit number seventy-one. What exit were you? Months with no commitments, honeysuckles blossoming sweet teenage chicks wearing bikinis, splashes, birds chirping, diving board bouncing in the wind. Those were the fucking days.

One afternoon I decided to reach deeper into the vine than ever before. I must have knocked over a hidden hive or something because the yellow jackets swarmed as their tentacles broke off inside my fingers and wrist. Running for my life, I did a can opener after a couple more stung me on the ankle. “Mother fucker,” I said.

The two ladies sharing an umbrella in lounge chairs were detested, my splash left their magazines wet and my obscenities were an insult to my upbringing. “Your mother must be so proud,” one of them said. “Humphhh,” said the other, turning her head in scorn. They were resting comfortably unaware that the bees were circling their bonnets, swarming their half empty cups of lemonade and vodka a few inches off the pool deck. Only their Newport Lights kept the flying insects away from their faces. Blacked-out Prada and Dior sunglasses camouflaging angry yellow jackets.

By the time the ladies noticed it was too late. They were stung dozens of times before they managed to scamper into the pool. The bees hovered above their heads–they only rose for air. After a half hour the yellow jackets dispersed. “Sonofabitch,” the women whimpered, tears dripping into their breasts like raindrops. I removed honeysuckles with extra caution that afternoon, sucked them like a nipple. My mother raised me better than those ladies.

Matthew Dexter is an American writer living in Mexico. He survives in Cabo San Lucas.

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