Woman With Wadded Band-Aids
Kelly Dulaney
The chancre was the first thing.
It came up at the corner of my lip, a bantam bulb red in color. I thought it was a canker sore, caused by the stress of staying home and too many oranges. Or else, a cold sore, which he would have been forgiven for. It was painless and I didn't notice it until I made myself up one morning. I put down my sponge and said, What do you think this is?
Mark, holding dental floss, shrugged.
I said, I'm too old for pimples.
He said, It will go away.
I flattened it with my thumb and it oozed out a clear liquid. I said, Oh! And held a washcloth hot with water over it. He watched me in the mirror and his eyes paced over my chin, my cheeks, my mouth.
It isn't anything, he said. I can hardly see it at all.
I smiled—but only slightly—and tried to kiss him but he hummed and moved away from me. He threw his floss into the toilet and flushed. We watched it loop and coil in the bowl.
You should still put some Neosporin on it, he said.
I threw out my sponges, my brushes, my foundation and my powder veil. The chancre stayed. It bubbled and wept. I would wake with wet lips and a wet chin. We could not afford a doctor.
I bandaged it with cotton balls and sterile gauze. It was an ulcer; it was a lesion.
It went away. It crusted and shriveled and waned, until only the outline of the papule remained. He held me face in his hard-palmed hands, pecked my lips and said, There. Better now.
I sometimes remember his things, most notably, the small cat whose long forehead bore a letterpress M. She slept against me, a comma on my hipbone. And when she died (heartworm), I cupped her cramped cheeks and I kissed her stub nose. He took her little corpse from me and broke her little bones. He was weeping. I reclaimed her when I could and tucked her into the freezer, beneath the baby birds she had killed, the green parrots and quail.
He had also: bees, kept in his backyard; children, in the kindergarten classroom where he taught most mornings; bowls, stolen from former girlfriends. These were things that frightened me. Bees and children, because I am allergic, and bowls because I do not like reminders. The bowls I broke. I poured his bland bran into each and dropped them from a window. The green gravel shattered them.
When he woke, I gave him cottage cheese in a piece of Tupperware. The smallest curds caught in the dimples of the plastic, which had warped from too many carry-in lunches. I put a spoon in it.
Why no bowl, baby? he asked.
They're dirty, I answered.
He believed me, shifting onto a tall kitchen stool and scratching at his hairy, rashy thigh with the spoon's shaft. He lapped at the curds. They collected in his mustache and his mouth seemed to froth when he smiled at me. He asked, What are you having, baby?
Nothing, I said.
We're out.
He glowered and dew gathered where his forehead pleated. We're not, he said. He set down the spoon and the Tupperware. He opened all the cabinet doors and clapped them shut again. I rested against the wall and watched. The bowls, he said. Verra.
I said, We need a matched set. Then I snuffed at my underarm and said, I need a bath.
He bleated and pounded the counters. You can't throw them away, he said. His robe opened to his navel, which hoarded red lint and fallen chest hairs.
You need a bath, too, I said.
He threw his stubby spoon at me. It missed and landed in the sink instead. He grasped at his ears and said something in a language I don't speak.
I turned on the faucet and buffed the spoon with a sponge. What will you eat with now? I asked, but he had already gone. Birds flocked at the bottom of the window.
The rash was the second thing.
It came up under my breasts, arms, inner thighs. I did not notice until fatigued and feverish, I laid myself out on the shower floor and propped up my naked legs on the tiled wall. The cold water paled my skin. Little, solid sores stood out. I stared at them and then called out, Mark!
He came in and pulled aside the curtain. He said, Yes?
I said, Mark, my legs.
His face puckered and he bent over me. He breathed through his teeth. Then he snorted and said, The new detergent. You're allergic.
I traced over each sore with a fingernail, playing connect-the-dots. I made a seal, a fish, a paperclip. He frowned and said, You'll only make it worse. I ignored him. He took the soap bar from its dish. He rubbed me down with it. He was gentle and then rough. He said, Stay in today.
I said, Maybe I'll go buy some bowls.
He threw the soap bar at my knees and went out. I rinsed myself and shut off the shower with my foot. I dressed and did not bother with my wet hair. He followed me through the house. I slammed doors to stop him.
The doctor who saw me at the free clinic put on latex gloves and said, Oh, a CDC case. I began to cry. He patted my thigh and said, It's curable, honey.
But I blubbered anyway. The rash had spread to my palms and I saw splotches as I tried to rub out my tears. The doctor nodded. He said, There, there. The sit-in nurse came in for the pelvic exam and held my hand. The doctor said, I've got just the thing.
Kelly Dulaney is currently an MFA candidate in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Kelly's work has previously appeared in the Albion Review.