sweet honey pink, down the side of his neck is what I do in the car. This is what I do with his racquet: unzip the cover, test the spring, push my skirt up my thigh with the metal handle. It has to look like an accident, and he has to look like he doesn’t notice. My suntanned thighs, spread soft and wide on the front seat of his Chevy Nova, can keep the ball deep. On a slower court, I could win nearly half the sets. But I’m not here to win. I’m here for the raspberry seltzer kiss on the drive home. So sugar soaked, I can still taste it when we find ourselves alone on his mother’s sofa. We take turns showing each other what to do. With my shirt on the floor beside me, I watch his mouth. I let him lick the apricot skin strung tight across my stomach. I kneel below him, hoping our children will inherit his backhand, as he spills
sour silk on my tongue. I learn lemons are the meanest fruit. Put one in your mouth and count to ten, you’ll see. To suck one is worse than the splinter your mother pulls from your hand. She says it works for plucking eyebrows. I say it works when he calls to say he’s loved another woman. This is when I stand in my kitchen cutting lemons, sucking on lemons, coughing up the slick seeds. I go to bed with the rinds in the sink, wake up in the morning to the sound of mowing. He’s trying to mow my yard, but I won’t let him. I run outside to yell things he can’t hear. He cuts the motor and carries me back in. He came for this: the smell of my hair, the sky blue vein on my temple, the small, shiny scar beneath my right breast. Smooth as a seashell’s stomach, he strokes it gently. As I sink,
salty stung, into his chest. We alone can put the ocean on a table. I know how to keep an aquarium warm. In a blackout, you wrap the tank in the morning paper. I trap the heat in yesterday’s scores. With the lights off, I think about that other woman. I decide she smells like suntan lotion and cigarettes. I imagine her in satin sheets with a water softener in the basement. I wonder if she knows what I know: he likes his fish on a paper towel. Kippers, split down the middle, covered in oil. The first time, I didn’t know he would eat the skin. That sticky silver resting on its greasy prize. If she isn’t careful, he’ll kiss her lips slippery. He’ll fill her throat with brine. A trick I learn is not to open my mouth for anything. It’s not until I’m hungry I remember
bitter tastes good if you swallow fast. I like it when we don’t waste our time. In his front hallway, we take each other in. I clutch his shoulders and open my damp eyelids. I make the sound my mother made when I fell off my bike. But tonight, we ride to the beach in silence. We drink cola and share sandwiches wrapped in foil. I knew he’d want more paprika in the egg salad. What I want is her name. To spin inside me, fresh and cold as the lake. With my hands in his jacket pockets, I close my eyes. I pretend he isn’t a man I know. This is our first date, and all he has to do is make me laugh. I lean forward until his face is almost touching mine. It’s easy to kiss a stranger: you just shut your mouth and wait.
Sara McKinnon received her MFA from Ohio State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fugue, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The Los Angeles Review, New Ohio Review, The New York Quarterly, Quarter After Eight, and Quarterly West. (updated 7/2009)