At Bay

by Tamar Jacobs

I was chopping peppers when Ronnie came home. I’d been thinking to go to Safeway to see if there were any open bags of candy I could take from, or maybe walk down to the water to feed my birds, but then I saw him and all those ideas went up like smoke from my head. I hadn’t seen him in two years. He got out of the car and stepped into the sun, one whole big part of his skin a new lake of blue. I saw later up close it was all made of little tattoos lifting and blending together, but from behind my side of the kitchen window that day, it looked like he’d been afflicted with some kind of blue sickness. Down his arm and up his neck and some up on his forehead right above his eyebrows and a little trickle from just one eye. He’d gone away, got dipped in color and come back. I found this extraordinary and mysterious, and it kept me up at night thinking about it, touching my own skin wondering what it might feel like to go blue.

After Ms. Eva got done bumping into everything around her with her car like always when she parks, and they slammed their doors closed and went inside her house, I squeezed my eyes shut and chopped as fast as I could, felt tiny sharp prickles of cold pepper water punching into my fingers. I could not look down, because if I did the pepper water became the licking tongues of snakes trying to kiss me away from my knife, trying to slither out from under the blade I was hacking on them with. But as hard as I could I refused to see and they gave up moving and I heard Ms. Rose roll over the loud spring on the couch and I tried even harder because I could not let her hear me chopping in a crazy-sounding way or she would know I’d been skipping pills again. I would not feel sorry about those snakes. Would not, would not, no, I told myself.

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