By Cory Fosco
We are walking home from the bodega where we get sandwiches two or three times a week. Paul ordered a large Italian sub with salami, prosciutto, mortadella, ham, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and extra dressing. I got a small turkey and Swiss with light mayo and yellow mustard.
I walk ahead of Paul and stop at the mailbox. I am waiting for a new credit card I applied for online so we can pay the rent. I open our box, hoping an envelope will fall out. It’s empty. When I pivot back toward Paul, a cold, harsh sting hits my face. My coat and scarf are covered in snow with specs of red blood.
“Holy shit!” Paul laughs. “I didn’t mean to. . .”
“What the fuck?” I shout, more shock than anger in my voice. I hold my hand to my nose. My glove is bloody when I pull it away.
Paul looks at me from the sidewalk.
“Don’t just stand there!” I yell. “There’s napkins in the bag!”
He rushes to my side. The napkins control the mess, but the blood doesn’t stop.
“Hold your head back and pinch your nose,” Paul says.
“That doesn’t work,” I snap.
“I don’t know, Stella,” Paul says. “Isn’t that what people say to do?”
“What people?” I ask.
“People people,” Paul says. “Like on TV or in the movies.” Paul pushes my head back.
I can taste the salty blood dripping down my throat. “What were you thinking?” I ask.
“I wanted to have fun,” Paul says. “We never have fun, do we?”
“I’m having a blast.”
The fun ended when the money stopped coming and the bills didn’t.
“OK,” I say. “I’ll play along.” I lower my head and watch drops of blood hit the ground. I pull my head back. “Let’s say you were trying to have fun.” I emphasize “fun” with an air quote with my left hand. “I’m a tiny person.”
“Yes,” Paul says. “It’s sexy as hell.”
I hold back a smile. Paul can be loving when he isn’t being an asshole.
“Well, Mr. Fun. You could have made that snowball smaller. Less compact. You could have used less force. You could have aimed lower.”
Paul looks down at the bag of sandwiches. “We should go inside.”
Paul walks ahead of me. I’m half a flight behind him and can hear him open the door to our apartment. When I get inside, I see that he has put the bag on the counter. He takes out a towel from the cabinet.
“Use this,” he says.
“We are not using one of the good towels,” I say. “Your mom gave those to us.”
“You need something more than napkins,” Paul says. “Trust me.”
I reluctantly take the towel and make a quick swap with the napkins. I have never seen that much blood on a napkin before.
“I don’t feel so good,” I say. I slowly move to a chair at the kitchen table and sit down.
Paul opens the bag, pulls out the bigger of the two sandwiches and the rest of the napkins, and places them at his spot on the table.
“Clearly, you don’t even feel bad,” I say.
“I said I was sorry,” Paul says. He pushes the sandwich away, as if caught stealing cookies. “I was just horsing around.”
“The words `I’m sorry’ never came out of your mouth,” I say. I tilt my head back with the towel.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Paul snaps. “I apologized for Christ’s sake.”
“You didn’t. You never do.”
“Listen,” Paul says, “Now is not the best time to get into it. You should get the bleeding to stop.”
My head spins. I take deep breaths and blink my eyes slow and hard. “Maybe now is the best time,” I say. “If I’m going to die from your need to have fun, I might as well lay it all out there.”
Paul rolls his eyes. “You’re not going to die. I hit you with a snowball. Have you ever heard of anyone dying from a snowball?”
I take a deep breath. “I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe.” I pull the towel away. It’s running out of clean space. I try to get up from the chair, but quickly sit back down. “I think I need a bucket,” I say.
“A bucket?” Paul asks. “Why do you need a bucket?”
I dry heave a couple of times. I look over at Paul in between breaths. I wipe my mouth with the bloody towel.
“What should I do?” Paul asks.
“Jesus, Paul,” I snap. “This is insane.” I take a couple deep breaths. “When this is over, we’re over. I mean it this time.”
“For the last time, I said I was just messing around,” Paul says. “This isn’t the same as the other times.”
“Exactly,” I say. “This is next level shit.” I pull the towel back from my face and look at Paul. “Is it still bleeding?”
“It looks like it stopped,” he says. “See, we’re all good.”
Paul walks over to his spot at the table. He pulls off the wrapper on his sandwich and takes a bite. He chews with his mouth open. Lettuce and bread crumbs fall on the table.
I grab a napkin from the pile and hand it to Paul.
* * *
Cory Fosco received his MA, Creative Writing (nonfiction) from Northwestern University and his BA, Creative writing (fiction) from Loyola University Chicago. He has previously been published in Teach.Write, 101 Words, Superstition Review, and Hippocampus Magazine. Cory lives in Chicago.