Loose Rock

 

Marcus asked me how I feel about loose rock, and I told him I climb it sometimes, why? He wouldn’t just come out and tell me Betty died. Instead, he howled it downstairs, and with the thin walls and floors, he knew I’d hear him telling it to his dog. “She done bit the damn dust, Chacha,” he moaned to the small chihuahua. “She kicked the damn bucket.” I pretended not to hear him, but it made me sick to see him after that.

 

Walking down to my car one morning in the rain, with the chickens crying out of hunger, he was dragging some chunk of wood out of the river, and he told me the neighbor’s dog ate Loopy. That was the black chicken, but not Blackie, the other black one. I said I was sorry.

 

“I went inside for a minute and barely got my shirt on, when I came back out, that dog was down here, layin’ there, just eatin’ the eggs out of her,” he said.

 

“That’s awful,” I said, picturing the eggs once inside Loopy, picturing the neighbor’s dog with shells in his teeth and yolk running down his jowls. Then I asked “Did you bury her?”

 

“No,” he told me, “She’s in the freezer. Haven’t decided whether or not to eat the rest of her.”

 

About the loose rock, he said he wants some company around the apartment. He knows this place out in Virginia he can take me in the pontoon boat, just down the river. He said he’d take me there to the cliff, and if I think I can climb that loose rock, the ravens’ roost is up there. He wants me to grab one freshly hatched. He wants a bird he can train to talk.

 

 

Parallel Play

 

We split up because it got lonely, me wanting to go off somewhere and he the grounded type. I told him it made sense to be apart, and not to cry, but it’s hard to tell someone not to cry when they hurt so badly.

 

Then I had the dream where I beat up a little kid. The kid looked up at me with his broken glasses and asked why I would do that to him, when he’s just a child. I tried to explain myself: “You deserve it,” I lied. We both knew that wasn’t true. Then I tried a different approach: “This is just who I am, I don’t know, if you can’t handle it, then leave.”

 

I came over to get some of my things and he couldn’t stop crying. He said he was mostly upset he’d have to find a new climbing partner. “I signed up for a class on self-rescue,” he said. “I’ve been practicing different ways of anchoring myself with the sliding X,” he said. I smiled, because we both knew that was a decent metaphor, and worthy writing material. “I want to steal that, but I’ll let you have it,” I said. “Take it,” he said selflessly, “I won’t use it.”

 

I told him what we learned in Psychology — that there are some children who prefer parallel play: where they play next to other children, but not with them, so they can enjoy the company of surrounding people without having to interact with them at all.

 

Perfect, he said. That has been him all along, all his life.

 

It made sense to me, too, that he preferred parallel play. In bed, we shared our sex, but not our gender, so after a while we had our ways of getting off next to each other without touching.

 


Katie Quinnelly is a climbing instructor in West Virginia. Her work has appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Occulum, Moonchild Magazine, and The Ginger Collect, among others.