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FAREWELL PROTECTION by Jordan Clark

The still sweltering sun’s kitty-corner to the late afternoon moon—similar to yesterday, but we didn’t go inside then either. Gravel crunches under the weight of a wheeling propane tank behind the brittle fence; little shuffles treading alongside it. There’s chatter, glasses clinking through a screen door, and a white folding table aggressively flipping and clipping into place. We listen to its prongs scuttle and then a grill igniting shortly after. 

Standing in our dying grass, setting my paper plate down as I offer to smear her white from top to bottom. But she tells me it was chunky—cottage cheese-y. 

She finagled a mealy group of noodles into a skeletal chaise; two cup the nape of her neck and coddle her shoulder blades while another bears the brunt of it all—sinking beneath her crossed ankles. Wincing, she searches—unrelentingly—for the sweet spot. Her armpits are being rubbed tender. Flecks of foam flake off; sprinkling the slightly sloshing water like dead ants after a spray. Some get caught in her spatchcocked hair, some near the barren jacuzzi. 

Lounging, playing her mirror—though my supports far less potent, dull even—I scope between my toes to pity hers and her thickly cracked calluses. They’re encrusted in asphalt as if she’d eternally misplaced her shoes. Her plush skin’s discoloring around the open slots of her nylon bathing suit—the one she’d bought on a whim, the one that’s hiding her full bladder, the one she’ll incontestably drape over and let drip from the curtain rod tonight. Little beads of sweat caviar hang in her arms incoming buds. 

I teased her a bit; saying how she’s going to turn into the membrane of a tangerine, how she’ll peel, and how I’ll twiddle her snakeskin until it disintegrates. But it’s moot. Her stubbornness is to be adored.

She should’ve gone to war. All too simply could she have withstood the most brutal waterboardings. Cinch her down, wrench a towel over her face—let her nooks and crannies flourish—then pour; gallon after gallon, and she’d be fine. No gasp. No whimper.

The rippling water entrances me as she continues wiggling. I watch it marble and listen to the party revving up next door. 

Content and gooey; I pluck and pry at the clotted sunscreen braided in my chest hair. 

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