Hangnail Hurricane

By Maddison Thompson

       He and I are seated across from each other in my kitchen/dining room/living room. The wobbly kitchen table is balanced by 4 packets of Sweet’N Low beneath the shorter leg. Those who designed this building after Chicago’s second of three fires decided a living room or dining room was a luxury and opted for a kitchen with enough room for a fighting couple and a back door. After all, the paramount conversations happen in rooms with something borrowed and something blue. Every pan and pot in the cabinet are hand-me-downs and forget-me-nots from my mother, chicken scratch initials on the bottom in blue sharpie. Above our heads is drying laundry, hung onto a rope my roommate and I hammered into the opposite walls. We crack the windows open during the day, a coin-free drying cycle. In the list of rules they don’t tell you, the bathroom in the laundromat is like self-checkout at Target, you’re asking for things to be stolen. My name on the inside tag of my Levis has not proven antitheft like I was once told. The kitchen/dining room/living room is charming with its oak flooring and spotless cleanse, you can tell two tidy tiny women reside here and they both don’t eat at home enough to legitimately dirty anything. These two tidy tiny women share a wall and a bathroom and rants in passing after a long day followed by a bus ride west of the Chicago River that ends on the corner of Iowa and Damen. Soon, this apartment will decrease in size from paint buildup because the landlord demands a fresh coat after every renter. If we could wax over our past with layers of paint and primer, I would be technicolor. Behind me I feel the hum of the fridge, thankfully humming louder than my heartbeat. My body tells me it’s love by threatening a heart attack. It’s 4 AM and he is in my kitchen, keeping me company on my, “I woke up out of a dead sleep and realized I didn’t eat any dinner” dinner. We talk quietly, careful not to wake my roommate. My eyes on his eyes, his eyes on his phone. He’s snapchatting those from home, being smothered in “I miss you!”s and “Let’s Facetime tomorrow!”s. A local girl witnesses boy, a hometown superstar, face reality. In a turn of events, this small town Hoosier is not as famous as he had previously been. I peel my orange and the citrus burns a hangnail. I wince with only a fraction of muscles in my body. Like a storm chaser, he charges towards me, reaching and applying attention to the eye of my hangnail hurricane, a disaster irritated anytime anyone or anything touches it. After the oohing and ahhing of the storm dies down, the crowd subsides and returns to their whereabouts. An irritated hangnail does not compare to being tended to only when burned. I pop one last slice into my mouth and feel the juice coat my teeth, so cold I get goosebumps. I walk over to the cabinet and try to accurately size a tupperware container fit for my half eaten fruit. I size poorly, but the juicy part has already touched the plastic. By health codes, it must be washed. Annoyed, I toss the remains in the garbage followed by an echoing thud, mimicking the beginning of a wonky high school band concert. The giggles halt as he does a shushing motion, reminding me it is 4 AM. The frigid water rinses the citrus off my fingertips, I know his heartbeat isn’t synchronized with mine because he’s not at the sink with me, only if the water was too hot, only if I got burned. Perhaps I set myself up for failure when love becomes more than four letters, a list of promises and checkups. The moment passes and I am running the water for fun, cupping my hands making my own Grand Canyon. I can understand the pleasure of a man making a man-made lake, how freeing to jump off the pier having already seen the bottom. Tiptoeing 6 yards away, the creak of the closing door is enough to be considered disruptive. With a hand on the wall I rub one foot over the other to get the dust from his boots off. Dirty feet have no place in a palace. This still stands, even when there’s no butler or maid or bed frame. I join him on my mattress on the floor, him on his side with matching socks. Everything he does looks cinematic and I feel criminal watching for free. I graze my index finger along the top of his nose, making a splash when it falls off the end. If I cannon ball into honesty, I know he will not throw me a life raft. Resenting him is a choice, and I have willingly locked myself in this and swallowed the key. At night I let myself imagine scenarios where there’s no complications or mess. I close my eyes and imagine Christmas at his parents’ house. A father of all boys, a daughter-in-law is the addition the father never knew he needed. Wearing green is mandatory for the family photo. Everyone has had too much eggnog by the end of the evening, so we have to take it before the ham is served. We share stories of poor dinners and county fairs. I tease him for his snoring habit and he reminds me of the time I left the stove on while at work. It was one time that I seemingly will never live down. His mother touches my elbow in every passing. I help her with the dishes after dessert and she tells me she hopes I stay. The walk back into the living room is filled with hope that this is the first celebration of many that I am invited to. I look him in the eyes and he mouths to me “Merry Christmas.”

     I roll over and see we are facing opposite directions, east and west. If he and I both go in a straight line, we will meet. I will be careful not to sprint because we both know the importance of half-way. Someday he will see me with sweat on my brow and ask what I have been running from, when all this time it’s what I’ve been running towards. I will see him soon, even if in international waters, maybe in a hangnail hurricane.