I sat on the wide arm of the chair where he was sitting, the large comfy chair we called the grandfather. I handed him the needle – I had first toasted it free of germs with a cigarette lighter – and then held out the finger with the splinter.
He had me squeeze my hand into a fist, except for that finger. Hold still, he said, and don’t look.
I remembered my father performing these sorts of minor surgeries: splinter extractions and tick removals. So I watched intently, keeping my breath even, ignoring the small pain.
There, he said, and held up the tiny splinter on the tip of the needle. Now, go put some iodine on it, he said.
Mercurochrome, I said.
Iodine, he insisted.
No, I said. Mercurochrome.
He brushed my hand away from his ear where I had been tracing its shape with a fingernail.
You sleepy? I asked.
I’m not, I said.
You should be.
I shrugged, turned over onto my back and pulled the sheet up. Did I ever tell you what my sister said?
Which one, he asked?
‘bout my mother. Laurie said my mother told her my father was a great lover. Laurie said she asked how my mother knew without comparing, and my mother said she didn’t have to compare, she just knew.
You mean, your mother never fucked anyone else?
So. Do you compare?
I turned to him and whispered: you’re in-com-parable.
Oh, go to sleep.
I said: my mother once told me about when my father had to wear a condom when she had some female infection or something. She said she liked not having to sleep on the wet spot.
What’re you saying?
Nothing. I’m just telling you about my mother.
You saying you always get the wet spot.
No. Not saying that at all.
He turned on his side, away from me.
Don’t do that, I said, and spooned myself along his length. I wrapped my arm around him and placed my hand over his heart.
I said: I remember once when my father had a trip back East. After he left I found my mother crying. She told me she was crying because she hadn’t slept with my father before he left. She said they’d had a silly argument.
My parents fought all the time, he said.
Tell me something else, he said. Something not about your mother.
I put my forehead against his back and thought for a moment. Then I said, in Mah Jong, that game? Did you know a pair of tiles is called a pillow?
No, I didn’t know, he said, pulling my arm around him tighter. You on the wet spot, he asked?
He was sitting at the table, working. I was rocking, in the rocking chair, and staring at the turned-off television screen.
Do you have to make that noise? he asked.
Sorry, I said, and scooted the rocker forward a few inches, off the spot on the floor that creaked.
What are you doing? he asked.
Nothing. I’m just watching you in the t.v. It’s like looking into an old box camera. Everything’s reversed and it’s sepia, like an antique foto. The only color are the trees in the window behind you and a spot of bright sunlight on the floor near your foot.
I hesitated in the bathroom doorway, watching the man who half lay in the deep, footed tub. His eyes closed.
Hey, I said, and the man opened his eyes. I held up the wine bottle and the two glasses.
The man shook his head.
I smiled and came into the room. A cheery red, I said, you likee.
But, again, he shook his head, and closed his eyes.
I sat down on the floor near the tub and poured myself a glass. As I leaned back against the wall, I spilled a splash on the cradle of my skirt. Damn, I whispered, and watched the burgundy-red stain bleed into the white cotton. It looked like a flower, like a big, pink cabbage rose.
I knew I should rinse it out quickly, but made no move to do so. I thought instead that maybe I’d embroider it, make it look like it was on purpose. Then I remembered reading about some ancient church in Spain, or was it Portugal? A convent church where they had framed sheets, under glass, there on the chapel walls, sheets from the wedding nights of local noblewomen. I wondered where I could have read such a thing. Maybe I dreamt it?
When I finished the wine, I poured another glass, then stood and went to the small window, placing both my glass and his empty one on the sill. The window looked out on a field of yellow, summer-spent grass and wild sunflowers. Dusk had put a purple edge to the field. I wished we could live there forever.
I left the window and dropped to my knees beside the tub, rested my hand on the rim and my chin on my hand.
I’m getting out soon, he said, though he did not move and did not open his eyes.
What do you dream? I asked. Tell me.