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ONLY AT NIGHT

 

by Caleb Tankersley

        

                                                                                        

I got the call during my sixth hour class, shocked the students by running off with my face red. Scott had been in an accident. Involving a saw. They wouldn’t say more, just get my ass to the hospital.

Traffic jammed up, so I jerked the wheel and drove down the shoulder. I’m a rule follower, so it put a pit in my stomach. You should have seen their faces, a gallery of “What the hell?” and “Who does she think she is?” Every rumble strip jarred my brain, like someone was shaking my shoulders, willing me to turn around.

I shrieked when I saw, Scott’s face half covered like a mummy, his uniform soaked in blood. But Scott waved his hand, kept repeating “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine” until I realized it was the morphine talking.

When they finally let us go home a suitcase of bandages came with us. The nurses had been taking steady care of him, but now I had to change his gauze twice a day. I didn’t want to let on how this would excite me, how eager I was to get a good look. Unpacking the suitcase, I laid out a row of ointments and pills. Scott picked them up and sighed, like this was any other day.

The first time I removed the bandage I pulled too fast, took a few hairs from his beard. “Guess you’ll have to start shaving,” I told him.

And there it was.

I’d imagined Scott’s wound as an elegant line, a clean and deadly slice letting you know he was a good man but with a thin river of darkness to him, just enough to be interesting.

The cut started small below his right eye, barely a dot. But curling down his cheek, it grew. The saw must have twisted, or maybe he fell and turned over it. His skin seemed to expand or fold open as I followed it down. By the time the cut hit his chin there was a canyon so deep I could fit fingers in, cup his jawbone in my palm. There were no clean lines, every edge jagged, the whole thing puffy and discolored like ripped beef.

“How is it?”

I didn’t want to tell him. That he was hideous. That I was so disgusted my body went limp.

When I didn’t answer Scott walked to the bathroom mirror. “Well,” he said with a steady voice, “there’ll be a scar.”

I loved my husband. I really did. It seems silly to think this would change anything, a new curve on his face. Another mark of our many years together.

The healing took weeks. By then the skin was pink and glistening, every fold visible and bulbous like melted wax. I tried to ignore it, but at certain angles his scar reflected light in my face in a way that made me gag.

Scott didn’t seem to mind. He went back to work after two weeks, got a small injury settlement. He wasn’t the one who had to look at it. I returned to the classroom but couldn’t concentrate, drifted off in the middle of lessons. Students squirmed in their seats against the heavy silence of the room.

I could look Scott in the face only at night. We’d never paid attention to the lighting during sex, but I started keeping it dim. While Scott slept I could face it straight on, that hole in his face, in who he used to be.

I started dropping hints. “Did they talk about grafts?” “Plastic surgeons work miracles these days!”

Did I ever really love him? If I’m supposed to be in this for life the skin shouldn’t matter. It’s just coating. Does it do more than shape us?

When you’re lying still, an ugly thing hiding next to you in the dark, the questions become more disturbing. Is this the real Scott? Has he been this way his whole life and only now revealed himself? What are each of us really capable of?

I was packed by the front door, the same suitcase we’d used for the bandages. A pen hovered in my hand over a blank page.

We hardly had a fight in twelve years. How could I explain? Words had been insufficient my entire life.

Putting the pen down, I grabbed the paper between both hands, fingers tensed against the page. I ripped the pulpy tissue in half, the small roar of it echoing from the walls like a ragged bolt of lightning. Scarred paper fluttered to the floor as I picked up my suitcase, left.

* * *

Caleb Tankersley is the author of the story collection Sin Eaters—winner of the Permafrost Book Prize—and Jesus Works the Night Shift. His writing can be found in Carve, The Cimarron Review, Puerto del Sol, Sycamore Review, and other magazines. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of St. Thomas and serves as Managing Director for Split/Lip Press.

TUSKEGEE REVIEW

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