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Katie Jean Shinkle

How We Act When We Think No One is Watching is How We Act All the Time





We are sitting in front of the children’s museum, I am crying. My shoes are too tight, they are pinching my pinkie toes, crushing them, sidewalk weight, last-bits-of-summer-humidity weight, weight of us exploding sideways, imploding from each side, like a meat grinder, squish and partition, from solid mass to shreds, shreds of skin on my toes, a pocket of fluid, I am crying.


You are saying: You should have worn better shoes. Stop. Crying. You should have worn better shoes.


I tell you that we should take a taxi from downtown so I don’t have to walk. If we do take a cab, I know you will leave me. You will have the cab drop me off at my house last. Normally you would cross the busy intersection with me, where the one way has turned into a four way with bicycle lanes. Drivers do not know what to do with this change: a little girl got hit on her bicycle in the new bicycle lanes. The news covered the little girl’s death, subsequent Town Hall Meeting following, for approximately one day and then some celebrity got married, the coverage over. You would normally cross the intersection to make sure I was safe and double back to your own house. But not today.


We walk past the memorial of make shift reed crosses from the little girl’s accident almost everyday. We walk past the cardboard cut-out crucifix from a Huggies box with her picture sloppily super glued in the middle, RIP underneath in hot pink marker, the script of a child lost, the script of a child in grief.


We sit in silence while I nurse my blisters, not really doing anything at all, just watching them balloon, turn hard in the middle. In the museum, a teenaged person with green hair and a beige Children’s Museum official-looking shirt comes to the windows and walks slowly, staring at us. You laugh.


You say: Are they really concerned about us? You with your foot in your hand looking foul and me in my sunglasses with no sun? Like we can even see in there anyway.


They are just making sure we aren’t perverts, I say. I watch our reflection, the windows are slightly tinted.


You say: Let’s go. I don’t want them thinking anything about me.


You walk away and I am far behind you. I try my shoes on but cannot wear them, rubbing against the blisters like rock salt under ripped open skin, soap in blood. I pick the shoes up, cradle them. A child with curly hair smashes its face against the window pointing behind itself at the worker with green hair. When the worker comes near, the baby begins to cry, slamming its little face into the glass. I lift my cradle baby of shoes and kiss them on the toes.






I find you coming in through my kitchen window, one hairy leg, foot in my sink. The sink drips because it is broken normally but it is even more broken so there is a steady stream of water and it is flowing onto your sock, down into your leather shoes and they are ruined. You are stuck with one half of your body in the house in the sink and the other half stuck on the fire escape. I hear mother fucking cocksucker. I turn the faucet away from your leg but I do not help you.


Why didn’t you just buzz me? I would have let you in I say. My mother died today three years ago you say instead.


We are sitting on the kitchen floor, you are out of the window, we are eating almost rotten oranges, the juice in yours traveling down your arm to your elbow. My orange is not juicy, it is dry and I have a hard time swallowing but I do not dare get up and get a glass of water right now as you are telling me that your mother died three years go and I didn’t even know your mother had died. You stop talking, we sit in silence. I fold my legs underneath my nightgown because I still wear nightgowns as if I am eight years old. You suck the juice from the orange of your fingertips, lick the whole underside of your arm but stop at your elbow, which is calloused, cracked. You grab my hand, lick my fingertips gently. I do not pull away but I cannot look at you. You kiss my knuckle. I sigh.


You stay the night but my bed is too small so we pull all the cushions from the couch and make a makeshift bed on the floor of the kitchen. We leave the window open, you sleep with a steak knife near you on the counter. I laugh. You are the only person that has ever broken into my house, I doubt you’ll need that, I tell you.


I wake up in a panic several times in the night. When I get up to use the bathroom, I realize the electricity is out. There is no heat. It is a blizzard outside. You will not leave for several days, which will be as long as it takes to restore electricity. After that, you will only leave overnight once more and that is to pack the things you want to bring with you, move in.


The day after you move in, we adopt a cat. We name him Crackers.





Several more blizzards, some ice rain, some sleet, hail as big as your ballsack for a week, two more downed electricity bouts, a fight about whether we should move away from this block because of all the downed electricity bouts, some more fights about the heat bill being so large even though we were without power for so long, more ice rain, more blizzards, one final day of rain and the sun is out today, the next day, the next day. A whole forecast of bright, depressing days you say.


You hate the sun. Who hates the sun? Don’t ever trust a man who hates the sun, my co-worker says when I tell her. Don’t trust a man that won’t go out in the sun, he has something to hide.


You say, this isn’t working out. You say, I’m moving into my own apartment down the street, we need breathing room. In the sun, as we pass the one way gone four way with the bicycle lanes that you will now live on the other side of, I notice for the first time that the cardboard cut out of the little girl who died is in the shape of a heart; a broken heart. A heart-shape defined by two humps adjoining in a v-shape at the end with a zig-zag down the middle. RIP from a broken hearted child. RIP in hot pink letters. RIP I say aloud, you roll your eyes.


I don’t like the sun because it’s annoying you say and I tell my co-worker and she doesn’t know what to do with that information. What does the sun do but bring life and warmth and sustenance? she says. This guy sounds like a real winner, no offense.


The forecast says more snow soon. The sun was false, phony, a groundhog’s day shadow.

The sun won’t come to see us again for a very long while.



Overcast, Cloud-cover


Crackers disappears before you move because Crackers was out on the fire escape basking in the sun and trotted himself down to the very last step where I’m sure he whined and cried until someone freed him and now he is on the city streets like a fugitive and he’ll never be able to get home and now we no longer have a cat.


You slept on the kitchen floor the night he left with the window open, the snow blowing, blowing, ruining my curtains. You slept shivering on the linoleum waiting to hear the ring of his collar.


Crackers disappeared because of the sun, you say. This is why I hate the sun. This is why I don’t go out in it.


While we are eating dinner, the electricity blips off and on so the radio comes in waves for awhile, readjusting itself after every blip. Those wires hang so low across the street, someone needs to fix them you say. Call the electricity company, I say. You, you say. No you, I say.


When we walk from the Farmer’s Market downtown, we do not hold hands.


Later, I meet a friend-of-a-friend who says do you know my friend? and you turn around. I shake your hand. I smile coyly. Hello, it’s nice to meet you I say. Hello, you say. I will be home and in bed before you and when you slip in, I don’t even notice.

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