This page contains:
- Disregard for personal autonomy
- Body transformation
- Child abuse
- Drug use
- Sexism/gender discrimination
I didn't tell my brother that we'd been eating our father's cremains until a few days had passed. I know Ben well enough to know that he needs to be eased into things. In middle school when I wanted to grow talking plants I didn't start with the Venus flytrap, did I? No. I brought one dandelion into our room to whisper motivational phrases into Ben's ear while he slept, then I worked my way up from there. By the end of the month our bathroom was one very loud, very opinionated greenhouse, and while Ben wasn't sure at first, he grew to like the plants. Because Ben is Ben even when he's frustrated or sleep-deprived, and Ben is good. I was counting on that the whole time.
We hadn't seen our father for six years when a woman I'd never met before called to tell me he was dead. She'd found him sitting in his recliner with a cordless phone in his hand. He’d only been living an hour north of us the whole time. Part of me wanted to go to his trailer park, pick up the phone and press REDIAL just to see what number would pop up, to know if it was us, his children, on his mind in those last moments. I know that the phone probably would have dialed a Papa John's, but still.
I picked up Dad’s ashes and called Ben from a gas station on the way back home. I was airing up the leaking back tire for the third time that day and all I needed was a little support. Not even that much, really. We're talking the verbal equivalent of a stiff pat on the back, but instead, I got, "Shit. That sucks, huh? Just dump my half of his ashes in the trash, all right? Or no, in the Baker's burn pile. They still got that thing, right? Shit. I've gotta go. Dave's here to pick me up and I can't be late again. Call me later. Don't forget to mail me those insurance forms, all right?"
I sat there until some yoga mom in a piss yellow Prius pulled up behind me and laid on her horn. I hadn't felt lonely all day. A little annoyed at the long drive, a little tired, but not lonely. Not until I called Ben. And feeling lonely made me feel angry at Ben, so I did what any self-sustaining, tax-paying adult would do. I took Dad's ashes home, downed a few shots of Tvarscki, and came up with a plan. Ben had been drifting further and further away from me since he left for college. The thread between us had always been biological, but it was more than that. It was magical, too. I'd hexed and conjured my way through Ben's childhood. I fixed the broken wheel on his bicycle with a piece of dental floss and a well-placed verb. I maneuvered him through puberty with a handful of herbal salves and I kept him out of the detention center by glitching every security camera in the tri-state area. I could make us close again. I just needed to get him out of the city and away from his new friends with their professional haircuts and working cars and matching dinner plates.
I put on the Lion King and watched Mufasa get trampled six times in a row before I reached the proper level of devastated to call the movie theater where I worked. I sobbed about Dad’s death—Simba’s, not my own. My manager, who’d never heard me so much as sniffle before, panicked and gave me ten days off without pay. I called Ben next and convinced him that I was Having Feelings and Needed Support. It was mid-May and his summer break was starting anyway, so he didn’t have any excuses this time. He showed up two days later carrying a garbage bag of dirty clothes. I spent the next three days carefully spooning enough ashes to turn our quesadillas into Dead Father Quesadillas. We had Dead Father Lasagna and a salad with Dead Father sprinkled in the dressing. There was Dead Father in the fried chicken batter and in the oil I fried the potatoes in, Dead Father Smoothies with fresh strawberries, and Dead Father Brownies for dessert.
The morning that I told Ben that we'd been eating our father, he’d come out of our bedroom with his shirt off, turned to the side and said, "Do I look fat? I feel fat."
"You’re just not used to this good home cooking," I said. “You’ve been in those dorms too long.”
"I don't know. I haven't taken a shit in like, days. Since I got here at least."
"But I'm still hungry."
"There's oatmeal on the stove."
I waited until Ben was finishing his second bowl of oatmeal before I told him.
"Hey Ben," I said. "You know how I always wanted to make a golem?"
"And you know how people say that they'd do anything for one last chance to speak to their dead parent?"
"Yeah," he said, a little slower this time.
"Well. What if we combined the two?"
Ben put his spoon down. He knew me well enough to know that there were few things I wouldn't try. At eleven, he'd watched me give mouth-to-mouth to a frog I'd run over with my bike and, when that failed, watched me cut him open and stuff him full of sage, and reanimate him.
"Addie, please," Ben said. "Please tell me you didn't put Dad in my oatmeal?"
"You needed the calcium."
"Oh god, that's disgusting. You're disgusting."
"You're the one with a belly full of father," I said.
He scraped his chair back and walked to the sink in two long strides. He turned the cold water on and scooped a handful onto his face.
"Oh god," he said.
His voice sounded a little echoey the way it was coming from the sink. Like he was talking to me from the other end of an empty church.
I said, "If it makes you feel better, he was in my pancakes, too."
"Just don't puke, all right? We have to conserve as much as we can."
"This is crazy. I mean this is really, genuinely crazy."
I dropped my plate in the sink beside him. "The oatmeal wasn't that bad, was it? You would've never known if I hadn't told you. And this is important, all right? I need a chance to tell Dad what I think about him. He can't just up and die before he knows."
It wasn’t true, of course. There’d been a time when I hated Dad enough to drag him back from the dead, but I’d dealt with that, mostly. This was the only way I could think to bring Ben back for a few days, make him stay. Ben didn't say anything, but he didn't grab his bag of freshly laundered briefs and walk out the door, either. I got a half-empty bottle of Pepto and some Tums and laid them on the counter beside him. I didn't know what else to do so I just stood there, listening to the creak of the linoleum unde his bare feet and to the twin gurgles of our stomachs.
We went to bed that night without speaking. We'd shared a room most of our lives, had often slept side-by-side because of bad dreams or thunderstorms or Dad’s drunken fits. In his anger, Ben tried to make up the couch, but the springs creaked like a sinking ship every time he breathed, so he opted for taking up his two-third's portion of my queen bed instead. But even being that close it still wasn't until morning that he talked to me again. I was debating whether a Dead Father Omelet would be too grainy. Maybe some Dead Father Yogurt would be easier. I had the kind with probiotics so it made sense, putting in the good with the bad, it would even out somehow.
"How do we animate him?" Ben asked.
I turned my head and stared at the bump on the bridge of his nose. It rose up like a knuckle in the center of his nose and it was probably my favorite thing about him. It was definitely the thing about him that was the most like me.
"Talismans," I said. "You know that cremains aren't totally pure, right? Like, there's no way to guarantee that what we have is one hundred percent Dad. So we're probably eating a little bit of somebody's dead Nana, too."
Ben closed his eyes, but I went on.
"So there's the possibility of calling forward someone who isn't entirely Dad. But I figure the talismans will be fail-safes. We just have to pick something that's significant to Dad, right? Something that we've associated with him." I rolled over and reached under the bed. "This is my talisman."
Ben opened one eye and closed it again. "I remember that."
The cheap plastic compass had been a much-anticipated prize in my favorite cereal. I planned to use it in another experiment, except when I got to the bottom of my box there had been no prize. Our father had driven us straight back to the store and demanded a new box. When the cashier didn't oblige, he'd gone back to the aisle, taken a box off the shelf, and dumped it out right there. I got my compass, but it would be another ten years before I realized how drunk Dad had been, or how scared the cashier had looked, but it was still the nicest thing he'd ever done for me.
"Do you have something like that?" I asked.
"Is it here?"
"Yeah. It's a cigarette lighter. He gave it to me the last time I saw him. I have to piss," he said. "Again."
He rolled out of bed and jerked at his pajama bottoms. I could see the curve of his belly as he walked into the hall. His bare feet smacked against the floor and every door he opened squeaked and groaned. I stayed there for a while and listened to the sound of someone else in the house before I got up and made a Dead Father Frittata and father-free French toast.
Things looked pretty normal between us for a while. Ben and I ate and slept and napped on the couch. We farted into each other's pillows when the other got up to go pee and we complained about the way our backs ached when we walked for too long. We took turns rubbing Icy Hot onto our joints. Even the backs of my knees hurt, the skin tender to the touch. My toes, too, and the space between my ribs and armpit, all these places I'd never noticed until they started aching.
One night, after a particularly bad day for burping, I walked into the bathroom to find Ben already there, staring at himself in the mirror. I doubt we'd ever looked more like brother and sister than in that moment—same Neanderthal posture, same hazy look in our hazel eyes. Ben's clothes were too tight to wear without stretching so he was wearing my clothes instead—baggy sweatpants and a white tee with stains under the armpits. Bugs Bunny's smiling face was on the front of the shirt with a circle of text around him that read: No Bunny Loves Me. It'd made me laugh at first, but then made me sad for some reason, so I finally shoved the shirt to the back of my drawer until Ben found it that morning.
"What're you doing?" I asked.
"Taking a bath. What're you doing?"
"Taking a bath," I said.
We were too tired and too bellysick to fight over who got the first bath, so we made a gentleman's agreement and returned with our bathing suits on. The jut of my belly made my suit tight in all the wrong places so it felt like I was a squeezing into skin I'd worn five years ago. It didn't fit, but it was the best that I had.
There was no way not to touch each other once we eased into the water, and nothing else to look at but each other. We'd both lost weight. I noticed it most around Ben's ribs, which jutted under his skin despite his bulging belly. There were faint cherry-colored stretch marks appearing on his sides that made me think of Ben as a father. Neither of us had really talked about having a family, but if anyone was going to have a white picket life, it was definitely Ben. I tried to imagine me there, in grown Ben's yard, grilling chicken thighs and talking about school districts, but all I could see were neighbors, the perspective skewed as though I was across the street, not there with him, not invited.
"Can I touch your belly?" I asked, wanting something else to think about.
"Seriously? Of all the things that've happened, me touching your belly is the thing that grosses you out?"
"Fine," he said. "Whatever. But I'm not touching yours."
I reached out and poked the place just below his belly button. I expected it to be hard, like a cantaloupe or some other fruit that I don't eat, but it wasn't. His belly sank in like a water balloon around my finger. Ben leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes.
"I think this might be the worst thing yet," he said. "And I never thought anything could top that first séance."
"Come on, that wasn't so bad."
"Addie, we had to spend a solid hour explaining to Uncle Morris why a woman like you was allowed to wear pants."
I was sixteen then, which meant Ben wasn't even in middle school yet. We'd been going through Dad's room looking for money or a clue to where he was staying when we found a bunch of pictures under his bed. Our grandmother was there in grainy black-and-white and we decided to invite her over. Nearly everything we owned came from her—the house, the furniture, the 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass that I learned to drive in. I only met her once as a kid when Dad took me to visit her in the nursing home. I thought it might be nice to see her again, to say thank you. But I was a little lax in my invocation and Uncle Morris answered the call instead. He appeared blue and quivering with his necktie undone and a scowl on his face.
"You have to admit it was an interesting Christmas," I said. "At least it's a good story to tell your friends."
Ben slipped his fingers between my toes, like he wanted to hold hands but their pieces didn't fit quite right, then he dropped my foot back into the water.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said. "I just haven't really talked to my friends about that stuff."
"None of it?"
Ben shook his head.
"Not even the time we called the worms out of the ground?"
"Especially not that. I still don't even know why we did that."
"I read about it somewhere. I think people used it to find gold coins or something, but I didn't have the right words for that, so I improvised."
"Right," he said.
"Do they at least know you have a sister?"
Ben reached for a towel and my voice fell in with the sound of the water splashing. I asked again, and got a muffled, "Yes Addie," in response. His shorts dripped water onto the tile as he climbed out of the bath. He lifted the toilet seat, turned his back to me and pissed into the bowl.
"You're dripping everywhere," I told him.
"I'll clean it tomorrow."
He flushed and dropped the lid back down. A rush of cold air came pouring in from the hallway when he opened the door. I sat there for a while to prove that I wasn't leaving just because he left. I didn't need him to enjoy a hot bath or a lukewarm bath or any bath at all. I wiped the floors when I was finished and scrubbed the bathtub, too. I dragged my fingernail across the toothpaste stains on the mirror until I could almost see straight through myself. I didn't stop cleaning until my fingertips were bright pink from scrubbing. I didn't stop until the bathroom smelled nothing like either of us.
We didn't talk much the next day. Ben spent most of his time texting and I spent most of my time testing new flavors of antacid. My throat felt raw from all the Dead Father bile I'd swallowed. I kept waiting for what I'd eaten to reach back out of me. A bony hand covered in black fur, its fingers all gnarled and twisted. I waited for it to knock on the back of my teeth and ask to be let free.
Ben didn't seem worried. He went outside to make phone calls and when I asked who he'd been talking to gave short answers like, "Brian," or "Dave," then shrugged like I should know these people with their JCPenney catalog names. I imagined them as mannequins, their genitals smooth as river rocks, their smiles vacant and toothless. I hated them. I wanted to invite them over and feed them Dead Father Casserole topped with outdated, store-brand cheese. I wanted their polite middle-class manners to force them to say "thank you" to me no matter how miserable they were.
I didn't say any of this to Ben, of course. I did make a spider out of oak twigs and spit on the thread that bound its limbs so it would move, but only in one direction, and not for very long. I sent the spider skittering across the back of the couch toward Ben, but he ignored it, and the spider broke when it fell off the other side, one damp twig twitching until it stopped.
We'd been together for a week when I found Ben sitting at the kitchen table with our father's urn.
"Let's finish him," he said. "I want to go home."
I wasn't surprised, exactly. I'd seen it coming, but that didn't keep Ben's words from bothering me and "home" is what bothered me most—Ben using that word as a thing separate from me.
"I feel like I should tell you this before we get started," he said. He pulled a cigarette lighter from his pocket, his talisman. "Dad gave this to me two years ago. I tracked him down after I started school. I was pissed, kinda like you, because I felt so out of place. Everybody there—" he stops and shakes his head "—they all seem like they knew what to do. Like they were prepared. And I didn't have that. I didn't have anyone to get me ready for anything. Hell, you had to teach me how to shave. I nearly cut my lip off with that Lady Bic, and it was all because of him, you know?"
"Yeah," I said, but I was shaking my head, and I wanted to say that, to say no, or even more, to say I tried.
"I took a box of things that belonged to him, stuff I'd brought from the house, and I was going to burn it in front of him, all symbolic and shit. Show him that he didn't mean anything to me and I didn't need him anymore, but when I got there, I realized I'd forgotten a lighter. He gave me this one."
Ben turned around and the hem of his shirt was stretched taut over his stomach and he looked so bizarre standing there with his ripe belly and his sleep-fuzzed hair. So much a combination of things I knew and didn't know.
"It won't feel as good as you think it will," he said. "Bringing him back. Saying that shit. It never feels the way you want it to."
We mixed the rest of the ashes into a milkshake and drank what was left of our father. If I was our mother, I might have said something to Ben about life or the people we have. But our mother died years before and I was no replacement. I'd tried to be. I'd tried to be everything to Ben, mother and father and sister, and had somehow ended up as none of those things.
After a while, Ben's stomach made this sound, something like a voice, almost, or an old man grunting as he struggled to his feet from a stiff park bench. We walked to the backyard and spread a plastic tablecloth onto the grass. We knelt down on either side, facing each other. Ben's shirt rucked up against his stomach and I could see the chickenpox scar above his bellybutton and I wanted to ask him if he remembered how his skin felt when it was fevered and blistered because I did. Somebody was mowing their grass in the distance.
"What do we do?" Ben asked. His stomach was still burbling, but it was softer now, a kind of fish tank sound that would have been soothing if you didn't know where the sound was coming from.
I started to answer him. I got as far as, "I don't," before I stopped.
Now, when I started this whole thing I had a lot of ideas about the way that it would end. None of them looked like this. None of them hurt as much as this would, either. It wasn't supposed to burn my throat and spasm my chest and twitch my fingers. It wasn't supposed to feel so much like dying, but there I went, my throat upending me, something dark and dank pouring from my mouth. Then Ben started. His back arched and he vomited, quick and violent and loud. I didn't have much time to see at what was happening, but I did catch glimpses of colors. Yellow-white like mucus. Dark green or gray like molded bread. And that medium brown color that everything seems to turn to eventually—dead leaves and cooked meat and dirty skin.
When it was over we both stared at each other, breathing hard. The lawnmower had stopped and the air smelled like grass. And vomit. I burped and something came up so I leaned forward and spit the last mouthful of our father onto his quivering chest.
He was the right shape. There was a head and arms and legs and hips and fingers and even toes. I swear he was the right height, too, right down to the inch. His hands were thick and his hips were narrow. If I turned him over I knew his ass would be pancake flat, like Ben's, and that when he walked, if he walked at all, he would do so with a slight limp. There was no texture to his body—no eyebrows, no hair, no indent for knuckle or knee. He was the same lumpy brownish grayish color all over.
We each pressed our talisman into our father's chest. His skin, if you can call it that, rose up around the lighter and the compass with a soft sigh. The dial of the compass started to spin fast and faster until it stopped and pointed north. Dead Father's eyes didn't open so much as burn through him. They appeared as two coal-red lights in the center of his face so that he never really blinked or looked away. When he sat up the sheet crinkled beneath him and his skin crinkled, too. He struggled to his feet. His body was awkward and his feet slipped on the plastic sheet. We stood in front of him, watching him look first at the house and then the sky and then at himself until Dead Father finally turned and looked at me.
Ben took a step back. I could feel him waiting for me to say something, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about this moment before. For a long time, I'd wanted our father to be ashamed, to feel helpless under the weight of his ineptitude. I'd wanted him to apologize so I'd have the chance to deny it. To tell him how much I didn't forgive him. How much I didn't need him.
And the thing is, I didn't need him. I hadn't for a while, and yeah, it bothered me, how much Dad took and how little he seemed to care, but what could I do about that now? I'd brought Dead Father back as a way of bringing Ben back and now I had them both but neither in the way I wanted. I had to say something, so I said, "Why did you leave?"
The air was starting to warm and I could see a haze of bugs swarming around the trees in the distance. At the right angle, it looked like Dead Father had a halo of gnats swimming around his misshapen skull.
I said, "I almost understand. If I don't think about it too much then it almost makes sense, you know? You were scared. I get it. You didn't want to get stuck here. You wanted a life outside this place. Outside of family, even. Something that wasn't so messed up, probably. I can get that. I can. But you don't even tell your friends about me?"
"Addie," Ben said.
"Did you ever even think about why I did that séance? Why I did any of the weird shit I did when we were growing up?"
I kept looking at Dead Father because it was easier. I had a rhythm down and I knew I could only keep going as long as I didn't look at Ben.
I said, "Do you know how I remember that Christmas? I remember waking up early so I could go downstairs and call Dad a hundred times. And I got angrier and angrier every time that it rang because I knew that he could have answered. I knew that he wasn't going to come home and I knew that all we had in the fridge was a half-gallon of milk and some fucking sliced cheese. We had six pieces of bread including the end piece, which I took, and some PB and J. I'd already asked Dot for twenty dollars that week so I could get those lousy groceries, and I couldn't call and ask her for anything else on Christmas. I figured if I could do something fun, like bring somebody across the goddamn veil between life and death, then you might not notice that we didn't have any presents. We barely had anything to eat. That's why I did it.
"And I liked it, okay? I did. It was fun for me. It's still fun for me. There were a lot of things about our life that I felt bad about, but that Christmas wasn't one of them. And you weren't one of them, either, Ben. You never were."
I was opening my mouth to tell Ben that he was wrong, it did feel good to say this, it felt fucking incredible, but Ben rolled his eyes and said, "It took you this long."
A cloudy bubble formed on Dead Father's lipless mouth. It grew to the size of my fist before it burst. His head tilted back, startled, before it bobbed forward again.
"What?" I said.
"I knew something was bothering you. If you'd wanted to tell Dad to fuck off you could've just had another séance. I knew it had to be something else. I know you, too, Addie."
"Well," I said, which, I'll admit, was not my strongest comeback.
"Look, I didn't leave to get away from you. I just had to get away from home. I don't like it here the way you do."
I didn't tell him how many times I'd thought of throwing all my shit into the back of the car and driving north to see him. How I could crash on his couch and scrutinize the amount of gel in his hair every morning and find a better job in the city.
He said, "I needed something useful to do. I needed friends."
I didn't tell him about the dozen unfinished experiments in my closet. How I'd made talking birds out of feathers I'd collected in the backyard or lizards out of used Popsicle sticks or how one night last winter I put one of Ben's old T-shirts on a stuffed bear and held it in bed because I kept having bad dreams about a hive of bees buzzing in my throat. I didn't tell him how I'd been choking in the dream and woke up choking still. How I didn't call him even though I needed to hear his voice.
"I'm not gonna die in some trailer park, Addie. I mean, I might, but it would be a nice one. With satellite. And your number on my speed dial," he said. "If that's what this is all about, then don't worry. I love you, all right."
I didn't tell him I loved him, too, because it wasn't the same love. Mine was too big a love. Too focused. Mine was too much about all the things I didn't get and not enough about Ben or what he needed or even about what was good for me, but it was all I knew how to give. I could try to love different, but it still hurt to know Ben could never give my too-big too-much too-Addie love back.
So I said, "Gross," and watched Ben smile.
There were birds in the trees around us—dozens of them. They had been singing the whole time but I didn't notice until that moment. Then I felt something warm and a little damp on my arm. Dead Father's hand was pressed against my shoulder. He swung the other arm up and wrapped that hand around my other shoulder.
"What's he doing?" I asked.
"I don't know," Ben said.
"Is he going to kill me? Are you going to kill me?"
There were no muscles in the Dead Father's face to contract, but his skin did wobble a little in the place that might have been a cheek.
"He's hugging you," Ben whispered.
And he was. Dead Father pulled me to his chest and I didn't fight him. I stood there with my cheek pressed against something that didn't smell that much like vomit anymore. He was warm, my Dead Father, and he was soft, and for the first time since I was a kid, I hugged him back.
There wasn't much to say after Dead Father let me go. Well. That's not true, but there wasn't much that I knew how to say, so we just stood there for a while, forming the world's saddest triangle.
"Should we let him go?" Ben asked.
I shrugged. Dead Father's firelight eyes dimmed. A robin landed on his shoulder and he tried to turn to see it, but his neck wouldn't bend, so he turned his whole body in a slow, loping circle until he nearly fell. I reached out and pulled him steady again.
"We brought him all this way," I said. "We should do something, at least."
Neither of us knew what to do with a Dead Father, so we did all the things that we never got to do with our real father instead. We went inside and ate breakfast together, sitting at the table in chairs that mostly matched. We had store-brand cereal with milk, which dripped down the Dead Father's chin, and Ben reached out to wipe it away with the sleeve of his shirt, and for the first time in a week we weren't eating anyone.
We pulled the Monopoly box from the closet. We found three nickels, some face cards from Guess Who, and a dessert fork mixed among the pastel money and the little metal pieces. We tried to play, but all three of us wanted to be the racecar, so we gave up. We ate ice cream straight from the carton. We stayed on the floor of the living room for most of the day. We took turns picking movies and television shows and we let Dead Father choose, too; judging by the glow of his eyes that he liked Willy Wonka better than Mad Max, and it made a certain kind of sense.
At one point Ben looked over at me and said, "It's not him, is it?" We watched Dead Father walk from one end of the room to the other. He liked the windows. He liked the light.
"No," I said. "It's not him."
I think the talismans made the difference. We both picked objects that represented a moment of kindness, no matter how inappropriate, so we brought back the good in Dad. We didn't call back the whole person, so we didn't get a whole person. This was the closest Ben and I would ever come to having a child together, something made of only our memories and ourselves. Thinking that didn't gross me out as much as it maybe should have—it still doesn't—but it wasn't a good thought, either. Not with the way Dead Father lurched and wobbled, the way he didn't belong in this world no matter how hard he tried. Ben and I made something incomplete. We needed other parts of our father and each other and ourselves to make something better.
We waited until the sun was starting to set before we led Dead Father back outside. The air was cooler and the birds were gone. There were stars, though, at the darkest edges of the sky.
"You want me to go first?" Ben asked.
I hadn't moved or spoken in what must have seemed like a long time, but it was nice. The standing. The quiet. It was nice to have the three of us together in the same place with no one feeling bad or guilty, no one yelling, no one sad.
Ben pulled the lighter from Dead Father's chest and Dead Father's eyes glowed as Ben said, "Thanks for this. And for today. I hope you're happier now."
I said, "Bye Dad," as I pinched the compass between my fingers. Dead Father's skin sucked around the backing and made a sound like a kiss before it let my compass go. It was still a little damp when I put it in my pocket.
I was afraid that Dead Father would return to what he'd been before and that Ben and I would be left standing in front of a puddle of vomit that neither of us was prepared to clean, but he didn't dissolve. He broke apart, like someone blowing on a dandelion puff, split open and swept away, and all the little pieces of him looked like pollen or like a swarm of blackbirds lifting off a telephone wire from three miles away. The wind picked up and carried him in different directions. I sneezed twice and, when I looked up, Dead Father was gone.
After a while Ben hitched his shoulders and said, "You know, I don't have to be back to campus for a couple weeks."
"All right," I said.
He ran the palm of his hand over his stomach and his skin made a sound like static where it touched. Our bodies had deflated almost back to normal, but we could see the ghost of stretch marks on our hips and stomachs. Those would never go away, not even months later, not even after a year, and we would compare them often. Ben would hate his marks because they were hard to explain to girls and I loved them because it looked like something terrible and strong had tried to tear us apart from the outside and had failed.
"Hey, are you hungry?" Ben asked.
"Yeah," I said, "I am."