By Billie Chang
I left the napkin there in the book, that day my mouth split open, when I screamed so loudly it made the wind stop. My ear had been hurting all morning; baby Eric was crying and Mom couldn’t get him to stop, so I slept with my headphones in. When I woke, the wires were tangled in a way that made me think of Chrissy, who told me she almost strangled herself one time when her hair got caught in hers. Chrissy lived with her siblings, two sets of twins, in a house not far from mine. Her parents dressed them the same, so it was difficult for the neighborhood to tell the twins apart. I think it was the reason why Chrissy stood out – she had learned to separate herself from her family, in a way that made her intimidating and independent. Whenever it was raining, she would jump her fence and throw one big rock at my window. It happened so often, Mom bought me duct tape to cover over the crack that was beginning to grow.
Chrissy was dating someone older; he was 28. We were 19.
“My parents are seven and a half years apart,” Chrissy had said when she first told me.
“They got divorced when you were two.”
“Whatever. They still got married.”
He had a large mole on his left cheek. They met while bagging groceries at Ralph’s. I knew him by face only; we had class together on Mondays at the community college down the street. After she told me about it, I’d sometimes catch him staring at me, in a way that made me feel on display. When I spoke in class, he’d roll his tongue against his teeth, tap his leg, purse his lips. I wore red lipstick one day and he’d sat next to me, pushing his knee against mine. From then on, I could see why Chrissy liked him.
What was most frightening about that day was that it was not raining. I heard the crack at my window and assumed a squirrel was wanting in. So when I saw Chrissy instead, her hair dry and the rock still in her hand, it felt like something was shifting.
“I’m coming in.” Chrissy said, her eyes wild.
“Okay.” I didn’t know how to talk to her now, scared I would say something about Travis. “My mom wants me to prep dinner.”
“You gotta move out. It’s so freeing.” Chrissy had moved to the small annex in the back of her parent’s house. She spoke of it as her own place. I don’t think she even paid rent.
I handed her a knife and we began to slice the carrots in half. I was thinking about Travis and how last week, he said he’d finally break it off with Chrissy once she got over it all. Her cat had just died. “Good riddance,” I had joked. “He smelled like old cabbage.” This had made Travis laugh against my cheek, his hand pressed into my back. We were on his couch, at his apartment, while Chrissy was at work. It was a routine we’d settled into.
“I have to tell you something.” Chrissy said, the carrots hitting the board in chunks.
I scratched my eyebrow, hard. “Okay.”
“Trav asked me to marry him.” Chrissy looked at me, her eyes wide and innocent. I noticed then that she wasn’t wearing her usual eyeliner.
“We went to the farmer’s market and we were under the gazebo and he just asked.”
I glanced at her hand. It was splayed across the cutting board now, as though trying to grip the surface. She noticed me looking.
“Oh. He didn’t give me a ring. Well, not yet, anyways. It was more of a thing that just happened.”
I stood there, my skin itching, picturing his hands over her body. The image made me feel like a bug under a shoe. There was something powerful about the both of them together, their bodies intertwined in my head so that her cherry-brown hair mixed with his, her lipstick coloring the sweat on his cheek.
“Jayden?” Chrissy’s hand inched across the cutting board, grazing the fabric of my shirt. At her touch, I reflexively swung my hand out and down, my knife slicing through her arm in one jagged cut. She cried out, her blood coloring the wood, my hands, the carrots. When our eyes met, I held my breath, counted to ten, and began to scream.
I hadn’t driven since I hit the curb and flew over Mrs. Cho’s flower beds last April. Still, I took the spare key above the shelf in the garage and sat myself in the front seat of Mom’s minivan. Chrissy was in the back, her face so pale, I felt I could push her over with just my thumb.
She pressed a towel against her arm; I had gotten a glimpse of the bone before she covered it. I must’ve hit an artery – the minivan leather was already staining. I peeled out and onto the street. I was going 65 and the buildings were passing quickly. Each window looked like an eye: leering, taunting, condemning me for what I’d done. By now, Chrissy’s head was lulling against the window. At the fourth traffic light, I wondered if Travis would care if she were dead. If he’d feel grateful even: I’d saved him from marrying her, committing to her.
“Can you call Trav?” Chrissy said, her voice tight. We hadn’t spoken one word to each other since the cut. “Maybe text him. He’s at work.”
I nodded. We were 15 minutes from the hospital. A glance in the rearview mirror told me Chrissy’s lips had gone blue. I spit up on myself then. I had never seen so much blood before, except for the time Dad hit a deer with his pick-up. This was all new to me.
At the eighth traffic light, I remembered an article I’d read in anatomy. About how the Brachial artery ran through your arm. And about how if you cut it deep, you’d die quickly. I sucked in my snot and my eyes became damp, the tears coming so fast and so sure that they were already down my neck before I could wipe them away. I screamed at Chrissy then, calling her ugly and conceited and selfish. I wanted to say only the horrible things, so that she’d wake up and start talking again – so that she’d fight me and prove that she was still alive, that she wasn’t any of the things I’d thought her to be. She didn’t defend herself; I think she’d passed out. The towel had fallen to the floor, so that her arm now bled freely. I hit 85.
When we got to the hospital, Chrissy hadn’t spoken for the past 8 minutes. I watched as the Scrubs pulled her out and inside, their gloved hands massaging her flesh. It was then that I noticed the knife in the passenger seat, a bit of carrot still on it. I must’ve held it in my hand when I ran out of the kitchen.
The sky was darkening when they finally let me see Chrissy again. I smelled as though I had bathed in a fountain, like I was buried in thousands of washed-up pennies. Chrissy was in a bed, hidden away by some skinny curtains at the end of the hall. I heard Travis before I saw him. He had a labored way of breathing, like he was gasping for air every time he took a step forward. He was about five feet in front of me, his hair tucked beneath a pilling cap. His curls peeked out at the nape of his neck, making me think, panickedly, about the first time we’d kissed, beneath the damp underpass five months into his relationship with Chrissy. I thought about the napkin that he’d given me after, where his scrawled print read: “This is our secret.” I’d hidden it between the pages of my copy of Jane Eyre, where I knew it was safe; Chrissy hated reading. I worried, then, that Chrissy would never know what happened between us. She’d marry him, love him, not knowing our betrayal ran deeper than a cut to her arm.
Travis reached Chrissy’s bed, his hand pulling back the curtain. I felt myself start to run, trying to catch him. He turned around, quickly, his eyes meeting mine. It was the first time that his gaze made me feel cold, as though a hair was being plucked from my head.
“Chrissy.” My voice bounced off the walls. She was visible now. I saw her face crack into a tired grin, her arms opening to welcome Travis’s. I watched as he reached behind, pulling the curtain around their two bodies, severing me from them. I felt my feet sputter to a stop. I felt my feet sputter to a stop. My nails were still stained with her blood.
* * *
Billie Chang is a Chinese-American writer based in Los Angeles. You can find her published work in The Racket Journal and Litbreak Magazine.