I collect the lint from my navel in a small jar we found by the bayou in New Orleans. I hope to weave it into a catgut replacement so I can restring my tennis racquet. So I collect, so I weave—then restring and take to the courts again. I run drills for hours each morning, the force with which I strike the ball is fearsome. Surgical precision. I have 0% body fat, despite the pizza I eat from the Onion Field, and the two Cahill sisters—angels both— who work there and tease me about my thinness.
The younger one is a bratty schoolgirl; a smart-ass with a pixie-like quality that makes me sweat. When she trades her pixiness for cast-iron puritanism, her family sends her to a clinic on the Beara peninsula. They prefer the original version. When she comes back home it is with a seagull’s head where her own lovely one used to be. We meet on the 46A to Dun Laoghaire; me on the way to a tennis tournament, her seeking the brine of coastal air. As the bus trampolines up and down I touch her neck, right where the short after-feathers fluff outward.
Her feathers say we shall not—cannot—be together. Her coat is threadbare at the elbows and a burgundy sweater pokes through. My head fills with rattling husks, the bus driver is going too fast and, left, the green-blue sea bubbles and blurs. The scab on my knuckle from where I skinned it on the coal shed lock hangs like a hinged potato crisp. ‘Shall we feed the birds on the pier?’ I ask, then cringe inside. A feather bristles on her nape; I examine my dirty fingernails.
Stained glass windows, the sun in blue, in green, in red. Jesus falls a third time. In the shadow of the confession box we sit close, her thigh against mine, our pinkies touching. Love is a dream, some form of penance for thinking it might work out in the end. My words are knots, tied fisherman’s, stumbling to be said. She kneels on the pull-down cushion and joins her hands. O clement, O loving, the rain-stained pavement leads us to the sea, where we shall search for winkles and valvular shells. I love the fragile feathers, the way she turns her head to look at me, her clear black eyes and sharp beak, and how the tubercule sits within the nare, as if a pearl trapped in oyster.
In a box under my bed I keep one of her feathers, and a black hair scrunchie I found in her pocket. When I dream of her she changes from one to the other, the feathers melting into luster. I stole her nail polish, the foam-green one, and with the door jammed shut with a chair, I paint my toes and the thrill ripples through me like that time I put my wet hand on the lightswitch. Holding her hand on the road to the pier, the light hits her nails and my secret is safe. I want to paint her toenails, too. Her hands are paler than snow, her blood a cold blue layer beneath the skin. On a garden gate a thrush perches on a silver fleur-de-lis, and the wind blows saltwater mortal sin.
About the author:
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His work appears in many places, including The New Orleans Review, Elimae, Connotation Press, and the Molotov Cocktail. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.