Loie Merritt

Egg Skin

A moment ago she was remembering her grandparents, that New England prudish stoicism, four children, eighteen grandchildren, and one hundred eighty-five years between them. But really she had been smiling, just thankful for that single afternoon when her grandmother took her and the boys to Smiling Hill Farm. Three different ice cream flavors for dinner on that April day when her parents attended divorce proceedings in a damp upstairs office, two hours away.
  In that instant before right now, the clean towel in her right hand found its way into the microwave and the cold cup of coffee was spilling into the cupboard where dish cloths and oven mitts lived. Oops and a humble exhale.
  The eggs had jostled in the water for thirteen minutes. The kitchen was now steamy with that hard-boiled rotten smell and sticky rancor. Her husband hated these mornings, when breakfast was left to her limited devices, but he had left early. Quite simply, this was all she knew how to make. It took her years to figure out that thirteen minutes was the proper time, to make the insides burn. Liquid into solid. Not dissimilar to her own insides but a slow thirteen and in reverse, turning her from rigid solid to burning liquid. The last time they made love to the sound of the AM alarm was
  God damn it. Stupid. That water was boiling not thirty seconds ago, pay attention, Christ, or you'll burn your fingerprints clear off. You have to take better care of yourself. Escaped a nasty burn there, just a touch to her left temple and a turn under the cold tap. Her toes go a little numb. Her skin tingles. Tender flesh. Outside the domestic window a fire escape rusts. The sun crashes into a misaligned skyline. The yoke of the sky pregnant with late morning and she still can�t get what she wants. In her nightmares she gives birth to stacks of newspaper and dead pigeons. A dilated blink. The taste of burnt caramel and onions in her mouth. She�s brought back to the now, just as Monday�s group meditation has taught her. Still, caressing her hairline. What a sad place this has become. When did it get so damn quiet? So lonely. She needs to eat. The last time they fucked in the afternoon was
  She gently slams the eggshell into the aluminum countertop. Some people go to therapy to screw their heads back on or to reconnect with their sexuality by way of strange encounters, just to feel a pulse; others listen to the windy hollows of Joni Mitchell. Her choice has always been Harry Connick Jr., but she uses him for different reasons, like the extendable Kohler showerhead or the old servants� staircase at the back of the building, at midnight or later. She crashes the egg to surface again, feeling the shatter beneath her palm and turning it one handed again for impact.
  Who knows when he�ll be home? A deadline tonight for some report or projection, market stats, and a sports bar martini more important than her. She�s ovulating. Eyes closed again, she�s feeling dizzy. She�ll go to Thursday Bikram this evening and sweat it all out. She peels back the tough exterior, revealing a slick, virgin white. The warmth rises from its boiled core. She can already taste its sweet and sour. The smooth nothingness of layers, biting into the thick center of an unfinished life. It is a quick breakfast, nourishing for now until dinner, alone. She will finish her latest book club read, iron the placemats for Saturday�s brunch, make another appointment with the doctor. Fertility is a dirty word. The last time they tied each other in a knot, laid bare and sticking to one another, was
  A thought occurs: she could burn all the books in the study, shred his pillow and cover herself with quarterly report ash and feathers. Wait for him to suspend his anger and then demand that he break her apart.

Our Brother's Keeper

Up in that ether, Arthur thought about a lot of things. This afternoon, for some reason, it was his brother�s wife. Wondering now what she does at home while her husband sucks money from the city, statistics chosen at random, dictating markets. Fine scotch and shrimp cocktail for lunch. Arthur never understood the frivolity of bonds, trading other people�s savings. He was never good with the numbers game. With sympathy, he thinks: she�s sitting at home alone, with her miscarriages. What a shame.
  Arthur just turned forty-three. The gray at his temples actually serves him well, bringing out the deep brown of his eyes, although he was never the handsome one. Older and wiser but not the cute one, he once joked with his brother�s wife. He made a note on his sketchpad to check in on them this evening. Over the intercom now:
  Hey, Art! Artie, you awake up there? Time to get goin again, ya lanky bastard. Sorry for that mix up. The pile-on�s gotta go to the east side of the dock, now. My bad.
  10-4, Tommy.
The crane lobs its pitch the opposite way. Arthur likes the jackknife feeling when he eases the lift lever up and then places the load down just right, often on his first try. Fifteen years working up in God�s house will do that to you, although he still often wonders how he ended up here. Like any one else these days, his sacrifices are many and his dependability rests solely on what the weather is doing.
  So, think you can cover Jim�s shift on Saturday? You know it�s my bachelor party tomorrow night. Be a pal.
  No problem, Tommy. Load coming down now, tell the guys to lean left a bit on those ropes. The wind�s rocking this one. Ain�t nothing I can do about it.
Arthur has the qualities of some softer kinds of metal, gold even. He looks like mercury when he sleeps, but only for a few hours at a time. Bad back. He performs his job quietly with steady stability, selflessness, and patience. His responsibility is self applied, obsessed with the well being of those below, many as lonely as he seems to be so high above. Arthur has never forgotten his binoculars, not when it takes one hundred thirty-seven steps of a ladder and a trip to the parking lot to retrieve them. And that would be his whole break, forget taking a whiz or grabbing a crappy cup of coffee down the block.
  Arthur watches the millions below, picks out one or two to follow for the duration of a job. He knows people don�t want him or his machinery there, banging around close to dawn. Everyone assuming someday he�ll drop that load on a kid or some handicapped homeless. He never has. He never will. But they need him. They all pay his wage in one way or another. A city needs building and he serves this function from high above. The bird�s eye view. Arthur is good at it and finds satisfaction here and there.
  Arthur spies on people during his breaks, mostly women. Choosing not to hike down, to sit with the other guys for lunch. He stays up there among the horizons, deals with bodily functions as needed. All this trouble so he can watch a somebody through sheer curtained windows, walking the cross walk, smoking a cigarette under an awning, or avoiding the jeers and catcalls from his men on the ground. Thinking a lot about his sister-in-law, his children in Hoboken living with their mom full time now, sometimes contemplating masturbation, sometimes the weather report on WFUV.
  Hey, Tommy. How many times I gotta tell you, make sure the guys don�t bully no ladies. We got a job to do. Do it. Foreman will have a field day if a lawsuit comes outta this one. Sometimes, Arthur stops believing in what he�s doing, although he didn�t always feel shame, building the future and all. But sometimes, these days, his doubts are many as he notices the rust eating away at his cab. The crane itself, decaying before his loyal brown eyes. It�s almost quitting time and he�ll have to leave his women for another night. Back in the morning though, as always, ready to move. Ready to watch over. The sun stopped bouncing into his window a couple hours ago and now the streaks of white rays float across a gray and flat sky. The matte of his city below and one of his women going out for the evening in furs.
  Arthur can see his breath and doesn�t need to look at his old Timex to know that it�s time to go. Up in the air he can breathe and watch over all that seems so brutal, so lonely down there. If he didn�t do this, then what the hell would he do? He likes to think he�s watching over us all. Over the intercom now:
  Get your ass down here, man. Shut it down, and don�t forget your binoculars this time, asshole. You gonna join us for a beer tonight or what?
  I don�t think so, Tommy. Looks like snow, gotta get home.
Got a phone call to make. Arthur swings the cab door out, turns the key counter clockwise and the blinking lights fade. He tightens his belt around that middle age gut and reties his steel-toed boots for the climb down.

Loie Merritt

LOIE MERRITT is a writer and mixed media artist raised on an island off the coast of Maine. Her work has been featured in print and online, most recently in Lemon Hound. She is currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Colorado where she serves as the Prose Editor for Timber and teaches creative writing.

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