Originally published in CUL-DE-SAC #1, the mini-zine of work by The Suburban Review staff.
SHE TELLS ME she has a hole in her head and I say, ‘Don’t we all?’ and I smile and sip my drink, but then she says, ‘No, really,’ and takes off her bright blue baseball cap and there it is—a hole in her head. In the middle of her blond bob is a circular window of translucent flesh. It’s about the same size as when you touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb—it’s A-OK. Through it I can see her brain, pink as a boiled prawn and shot through with thick purple veins, all sopping with blood.
‘It’s my fontanelle,’ she says. ‘It didn’t heal properly.’
I can’t think of anything to say, so I say, ‘Cool.’ I don’t want her to think I’m freaking out, and I realise that I’m not—well, not about the hole. I’m freaking out about how much I like her.
It’s her mouth. She could say anything she wanted with that mouth and I would say, ‘Cool.’ I realise I’m staring. I realise she sees me staring. I realise she thinks I’m staring at her hole—I am staring at her hole.
She says, ‘I can put the hat back on, if you’d like.’
I can feel my face filling up with blood and I hope that the bar is dark enough to hide it, but her smile gets bigger the warmer I get. I say the word ‘no’ at least three times too many. Then I blurt, ‘Unless it would make you more comfortable.’
‘I’m fine,’ she tells me. ‘I only wear it to stop strangers from grabbing me and yelling, “Oh my God! Are you OK?”’
And then she laughs and I feel like I’ve been punched in the sternum.
She comes over to my house for dinner and I make ragu, and there’s a moment when I look at her bowl and see the spaghetti tangled up in the sauce and how it kind of looks like a brain. But she gets down close to it and shovels it in with her fork like she’s afraid it’ll get away. Her hole peeks at me.
When we finish eating we sit in the backyard and sip red wine in the last bit of daylight. My house is old and the terracotta paint job is peeling all over like sunburnt skin. She reaches out and tears off a small strip and says, ‘Sorry.’
I put my hand on her thigh. She kisses me. After a little while I realise that her eyes are open. She’s staring at the ground. There’s a tree in my backyard that sheds flowers and when they dry up they look remarkably like chicken bones. I can see her wondering if we’ve recently had a barbeque and I tell her, ‘They’re camellias,’ even though I’m not a hundred percent sure they are, then we go upstairs to my room.
In the morning my room smells like skin and saliva. She’s a warm spot on my chest. I close my arms around her and she frowns in her sleep, my nose buried in her hair. I swear I can feel the tip of every hair on her body touching mine. I open my eyes and stare at her brain, watching for any subtle shrinkage or pulse. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to look in there and tell if she’s dreaming.