She wants to know if it’s true, what her friend told her about the one-armed man.
Her friend is an accomplished liar, but sometimes reality has a way of sinking its hooks into fables and the fantastical. Which is to say, one never really knows.
They picnic at night under a bleak moon with a lazy fire lapping the air. It’s more of a campout than a picnic, but she and her friend have brought sandwiches in baskets lined with pink gingham napkins. It could be any decade, but it’s not; it’s the one they’re living in.
She waits until she feels bold enough to ask again about the one-armed man. What did he look like, besides having one less limb? Why did he choose you? Did you like it? Where is he now?
Her friend responds by pointing north.
But that’s not an answer.
Her friend continues pointing. Her face has turned ghost-white and her chin twitches, as if there’s an insect inside her skin trying to worm its way out.
It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me after all.
From then on, every day, she sees the one-armed man wherever she goes. On the bus. In the mall. At church. He shows up in the mirror while she’s brushing her teeth. He sits on the ledge of the tub while she’s taking a bath. He always wears a long-sleeved shirt revealing one right hand and a barren left cuff. He never says a word.
Sometime later, she marries the one-armed man in a quaint steeple smelling of dust and honeysuckle. The one-armed man’s kiss tastes waxy, like sucking on dried glue, but even that cannot stifle her arousal.
That night, their honeymoon night, she naked lies in bed and tells her new husband, Please remove your pajama top.
She wants to see it, the stub. She’s waited all this time, her imagination crafting so many different possibilities.
Her husband is as stoic as ever. He flips the nightlight off and slips between the covers soundlessly.
She’s about to reach across the mattress and have a feel of what she’s coveted all these years, but the serpent beats her to it, slithering across the sheets.
Its eyes are piping red with horizontal, black slits. It hisses like water spilled over hot coils. It opens its mouth and uncoils a forked tongue. Next come the fangs which are quite large and impossibly sharp.
And since we are speaking of love stories, notice that the alligators decimated dessert and have tossed their bloody napkins in the swamp where we used to swim.
Yesterday you waltzed while I walked deadbolt into traffic. You spoke ekphrasis, said, “The Pope plays poker with Jesus, but neither of them ever wins.” There was a grin stuck between your teeth, another victory lap glistening on your lips.
The landlord filled out faulty tax returns while every squirrel spun, squealing, high on splinters.
At some point, your new boyfriend undid his tool belt on your chest and performed an emergency hat trick.
I guess that makes him heroic.
Me, I’m still lying in the crosswalk, singing songs without a chorus, still looking for the right key, the road to higher ground.