Pensaukee, Wisconsin, 2003

Rebecca Meacham

He rips people. That’s the main thing. He pushes and —don’t tell him I said this—I’ve seen the evidence. Yes, I was at his place the night Kae went missing. I’d stopped by the horse farm to give him a trim. He said, like always, “Trim. Ha! Sure you know what to do with that, boy?” and he got rednecky and slapped my ass, like that would set me prancing. Sure, I wear tight shirts, but please. Get some new material.

So Chantel and me have been friends since forever. Grade school. Her husband is not a good guy. But I don’t judge. I even did her bridal updo. Two years they’ve been married and nothing major. Then last month, Chantel says her husband’s over at Kae’s all the time. She asks me, What’s he doing at my step-mom’s house? Why does he need to use her computer? And of course I tell her, He’s just playing Call of Duty, it’s nothing, every guy needs dumb playtime. What we really need to discuss is your color. Which is true, because their water’s hard, and I’m the best colorist in town, and I can’t bear the thought of her being seen at Target with spaghetti noodles on her head. Every six weeks I boost her reds to spark her old Goth girl edge. Chantel hates the mud-booted-harpy he says that she’s become.

It’s not you. It’s him. Ditch the horses and come out with me some night, I tell her, smoothing her wild brows. They caterpillar if you don’t pluck, which she never does.

I will say this: a while back, at their kitchen sink, when I tucked the gown into her shirt, I saw a bruise on her collarbone—a thumbprint. Horse nip, she said, and I tucked carefully, not wanting her to flinch. This is Chantel, my oldest friend: we emptied our parents’ liquor cabinets together. My point is her husband is not a good guy.

So Saturday, I closed the salon and got there ten-ish, maybe. Sometimes me and Chantel make a night of it— margaritas, scary movies. But Chantel was in the stables when I drove up. My headlights caught her waving. It was warm, the kind of evening you’d open your windows and shout “Spring is here!” if you lived anywhere but Wisconsin. The forsythias at my place just bloomed, which means it’ll get worse before it gets better.

I didn’t say anything about the nick on his eyelid. I thought maybe they’d got into it, him and Chantel, maybe her French tips found purchase. I will say this: I hoped she’d drawn blood. It wasn’t like Chantel to stay in the stables, so I figured maybe she had war wounds, too. Me, I’ve had some shaming moments. I know, you’re thinking, The way you carry yourself, you can actually feel ashamed? But yes, I can, and some mornings after, I’ve had to wear my sunglasses at the salon. Beauty and brutality almost rhyme. That’s not a coincidence.

For the record, my shears have never broken skin. But I will say this: that night, I wanted to. Snip, my blades were at his jugular. Snip, right at his temple. It’d be so easy to slip the line. But I don’t, for Chantel’s sake.

You understand what this means, right, me talking now with you?

His demeanor the night Kae went missing? His normal self. Coiled. He had dirty fingernails. In fact, just to dick with him, I reached down and took his hand in mine.

“Men get manicures, you know,” I said. “I could buff these puppies up nice.”

I held his hand for a minute and thought about Chantel. I looked at his knuckles. I didn’t know Kae was already missing. I didn’t know Kae’d been messaging her sister in Bangkok and stopped typing in the middle of a sentence. I didn’t know Kae’s car was sitting at that bar she never went to. You know he was a bouncer there, right? All I know is Kae’s getting her Bachelor’s—Whoa! we’d say, Look at Chantel’s step-mom at the private college! We joked her dad had mail-ordered Kae, that he should upgrade when she got fat from studying. She isn’t fat, though. Not any fatter than me or Chantel. Kae’s actually very sweet, with gorgeous natural hair.

I can tell you his nails had grit beneath them. Not oil. Earth. And it’s too early to plant around here. Plus his hands were cold like he’d been outside for hours.

So I poked at him and he pushed back. He squeezed my fingers hard. My fingertips purpled, I felt my bones, but I didn’t peep. You’d never guess I once served on an aircraft carrier, but I did. I can size a fight. I will say this: my shears wanted to land in his throat. But you’ve seen my record, you know I’m just a party boy. I’m harmless.

We stayed like that for a minute. Then he let go and I flexed my fingers back to life.
“Just the usual,” he said.

I cut his arches high. And I will say this: something was different, I don’t know if it’s important. His earring was gone. The hole was definitely torn—I remember thinking, It’s like a little busted mouth. It made me want to leave, and I did, after I brushed the clippings from his collar and took his cash—he paid double my usual. In the driveway, I tried to lure out Chantel, but she stayed in the shadows.

Before I left, though, he bent his head for me to do his nape. Think about that tender space, the trust you need to let an angry man so close. The nape of the neck’s a blind spot, you know, totally wide-open, even if it seems as rigid as the frozen ground that— like my grandma says, when the forsythias bloom—will be buried in three more snowfalls.

Rebecca Meacham’s short story collection, Let’s Do, was published in 2004 as the winner of UNT Press’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction and was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program selection. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Indiana Review, Necessary Fiction, Paper Darts, Sundog Lit, Wigleaf, and other journals. She is an associate professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a blogger for Ploughshares.