A Series of Unsustainable Arrangements

by Jessica Alexander

Brick's city was not lovely in autumn or in spring. Neither was he, exactly. Despite this and for reasons, with which Blanche was unequipped, a stranger settled into their bed. Each night the stranger rubbed oil into Brick's scalp and thighs. The stranger elbowed Blanche off the bed. Blanche took to the sofa. She described the arrangement as unsustainable.

She said "Last year, you promised—."

Brick raised one hand.

"Blanche," the stranger said, "please, stop talking."

"Blanche," the stranger said, "maybe you'd better leave."

***

Blanche said travel made her head feel funny like a punctured tire or legs down the aisle of a moving train. In Pittsburgh she bought a postcard of a swooning starlet. It read, "I'll simply die here." In Oklahoma a man, who drove smashed cars to wrecking yards, sat beside her. He pointed to a Buick. He said, "Wheel alignment." Then he told her she could go to bed. "I won't touch you," he promised.

Blanche went to the bathroom instead. She sat on the toilet and decided to cry. She covered her eyes, she said, I miss you so much Brick. But nothing happened. It occurred to her that what she'd experienced was not sadness, but a spell of discomfort. She fell asleep and dreamed that strangers with rotting heads and body parts were tearing her arms and legs off. She woke in Texas to an old man tugging her sleeve. "You cannot sleep here," he said, "the bathroom is for everyone." Someone had scratched the word socks in the mirror. Not red or white sox, she said, just socks.

I look like a pelican. I know my bones are too big for my skin. Nevertheless, I said, I'd be at the depot when her bus got in. I am not prone to symphonies of mutual exchange, only a clairvoyant said I'd die with a woman named Blanche Custard. I have a precipitous hand, each letter clamoring up the back of its predecessor. I wrote every Blanche Custard with an address.

The Blanche Custard who wrote back said, I don't go in for this sort of thing, usually. Only for too long I have mislaid the laurels of my incredulity upon the very dubious head of a man, whose habits of consumption are monumental, if unoriginal.

I said I'm no romantic. It's more like rolling you're sleeve up, and fishing the gun shot out of a murky last act.

"What," she asked, "is the fastest way to your house?"

***

We ate blow fish. We made a list of unintelligent decisions. I asked what kind of death she envisioned. She said she'd like to be torn apart by wolves. I said, I'm not going to care about you, Blanche. She said that's sound and ordered two old fashioneds, which the butler refused us. She asked for daiquiris. He said he didn't work there or anywhere for that matter. We settled on hiking. A sign read: "Bears travel with friends." The way was narrow and unpaved. A rock's cleft snapped my high heel in half and a dog with mange sniffed our feet and ankles.

At the hotel, the concierge said a message had been left for us. It read: do you feel your behavior towards me is honorable and respectful? Blanche ordered two manhattans, but the concierge was ill-equipped to procure them. We settled on red wine of anonymous varietal. I said, I am no beauty queen and Blanche agreed. Some people in the ballroom were getting married.

We saw Brick in the lobby. Blanche said, "How did you find me?" He held up one hand. "Blanche, please," he said, "don't make a scene."

She ordered four mint juleps.

"She is dealing with an internal issue," said the stranger.

I went to get some wedding cake. When I came back they had left.

Later that year Blanche was married in a bathroom stall. My clairvoyant eloped with a man who sold insurance. None of this took patience or practice to accomplish. It is incidental if three or four things are too wonderful for me.


Jessica Alexander's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Pank Magazine, and Denver Quarterly.


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