Variations on House and Home #17 by Joel Kopplin

He is smart about fixing my face: wood-handled hammer to pop the teeth. Lucilla screams and he uncaps the glue. He pours it thick over scab-fingers and palms that flake. The leather tongue of the tied belt—tongue on my tongue, tongue between the teeth he said were still mine. The teeth that are not I swallow, and he sifts through my shit to find them for his dresser, for the cup of coins and paper clips. If he cracks my face the crumbs are his and he saves them to show me. The leather tongue tastes like my father. My father flew on planes and left town. I do not know when he last saw me.

Lucilla screams and he slaps her. He breaks juice glasses and jelly jars. He gives her a glass rash and buries the bits. She shuts her mouth for a while, lies on the rug like Lady who was a good Labrador and got old and died. She cries but that’s okay because he opens the window.

He said he’d fix my face and he’s smart about it. He uses chisels and razors and wax picks and thread. He sewed my lips shut to see how my new eyes spoke—and they begged. They begged and bled at the edges and bulged because the words were backing up behind the string. He stretched the holes for larger sutures: the old shoelaces from the sneakers I wore when he caved in a socket. He cracked my skull for so many days I lose track, but it was summer—the supermarket. His car was cool and clean, his kitchen well-lit, walls made of wide glass. He held my head and said he knew I was ugly. I said I was ugly and he said yes. I said yes. I love him always.

He loves to glue things that are broken but good—old model cars he made when he was twelve, race cars with plastic wheels and wood bodies and numbers in double digits; he loves to answer calls calling after paper money and propane and credit and water; he likes to read without moving his lips but they move.

He tells me, “Jim.” He tells me while stitching the skin he split from my scalp. He tells me, “Jim, I’ve been blessed. Who could ask for more than this?”

The smell is worse when I pee the cushions and he fists my crotch and I hide my face he makes new every day. He holds my arm after supper of noodles and butter and he points at the elm trees that are yellow and shivers through his teeth, sucking air.

“I’ve been blessed.”

I find flowers for Lucilla in the dirt. I find impatiens in the trash, mums. I set them in the sun on the floor. She sits on the floor next to old noodles and pieces of cereal because he has a sweet tooth in the morning. She has palms pressed with small rocks and kinks of hair, and she is the sound inside our heads. I kneel my new face to her face which is without features. The vents along the floor blow air and she does not smile. She sits beneath the table while he bangs bowls and cracks them so they leak sugar-milk. Though those flowers are dead she kills them.

He likes to wear ties: red ties with white spots, ties with orange and yellow and white he ties at his neck to close the collar because that last goddamn button. He belts his pants up with the belt he belts me with on Sundays, the twist-tie to keep me still when he makes my face. He has nice shoes he keeps above the sink. He goes to work with a leather bag with a leather strap and I wave and sit in the long square of sun with the sand and cereal and hair. He loves to latch the door with keys. Lucilla twists her hair into knots and pulls.

The TV says such interesting things, and I think: That’s right: he’s been blessed. We’ve been blessed. She’s been blessed under the kitchen table, fingers afraid of open skin scraped from her cheek, those wet little sounds like my sister who was born without a spine, who could not hold her head up off the pillow, who died when she was twelve so Mom could be sad though she was happy. Blessed by that picture of Jesus hung above the dining room table where he keeps the glue, the broken axels of his wood cars. Jesus who doesn’t smile but wouldn’t hurt a soul, who just wants to sit and look up at the edge of the frame where his Father sometimes speaks, tells him what it means to be named Jesus. The TV talk is clatter like marbles and bolts upon the hardwood that gives me slivers. I talk to Lucilla though she is under the table making sounds like my retard-sister and I tell her the things inside my head with what teeth he says I can still have about how he is blessed, how she is blessed, me—about how this life we live it to love Jesus who wouldn’t hurt a soul. She is quiet and her face is a sink, but I could sit all day in the sun, cool breeze from the draft making my neck numb like it is not my neck. I say things through my windows and she shuts her eyes to keep me out.

When his wall of glass breaks above the counters the sun is close to the earth. The cereal scatters in the pieces and arms reach and rip at his curtains. Half a body ugly like I am ugly, like Lucilla, reaches in from without. Her face feels the room while the arms twirl and twist and fingers squeak against the varnish. These cupboards are so clean I can see the stitches under my eyes, the holes for my mouth laces. Her face finds us on the floor with the glass and she sees how we are ugly, how we share. Without saying how we share, she slips back from the frame. So now no face, just sun deeply set within cloud, house hemorrhaging heat.

Lucilla palms the glass and bleeds. I do not palm the glass because my face is now dry unless I scrunch my face and it splits fresh. I will not weep. She palms the glass and drags her knees and gags at the base of the cupboards, bangs her head against the doors while her hands reach and grip. Lucilla gets up on the counter which he does not like when she does that. Her feet are dirty and will make dirty all the dishes he sets there after work. This he does not love. And I tell her, I say, “This he does not love. He does not love it when his dishes are dirty from your feet on the counter.” She holds the house where it is not glass, where it is wood and not easily smashed. She steps through the hole and out of sight like the soap-water when he scrubs my scars. The room is lighter now that it is only me.

When the door bangs against the drywall, I am already in place. When the square of sun is small and on the other side of the kitchen, I’m ready to be tied. He is a man who works and works. Works here. Works away. When he makes my lips longer than they were this morning I know I am ugly and that what we do is never finished.


Joel Kopplin‘s fiction has been in places like Metazen, HOUSEFIRE, and Literary Orphans. His novella, Spaces, is now available from Outpost19.

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