A friend reminds you it takes seven years to digest gum. You swallow it and grin, all to uphold your reprobate image. You begin thinking of other things that have been said to take refuge in your body. Watermelon seeds come to mind. Your mother told you when you were ripe for watermelon obsession — probably seven or eight — that the black seeds will pile up in your belly, that you can die from a mountain of them. Once, when you were in seventh grade, Tim turned around in class and stabbed the back of your outstretched palm with a blue pen, in the bay between the ends of your index and thumb. You have a small blue freckle, still to this day. When you return home during your sophomore year at college, you see him at his fraternity house in town. You are both drunk, and you both laugh about the tiny dot of ink. Your laugh is not genuine. The tiny dot of ink is part of your arsenal of go-to-jokes: Look, I have a tattoo too. It’s the world, but really far away, you tell your tattooed friends. You begin noticing that you like to hoard things. Receipts, an old lover’s mug, letters, a friend’s scarf you forgot to return on purpose. Soon, you begin collecting things that were never yours. You find a screw in the dirt, you tuck it into your wallet. You find pennies on your friends’ rugs, and you figure it’s not stealing. Pennies are fair game on the ground, you tell yourself. Soon, when your friends wander off to Spain, to Nashville; your lovers to the Kentucky Derby, you are left with some ripped-off vestige of them — with barely anything. Your gas station receipts don’t let you booze with your friends. Your mug doesn’t let you fuck her, the letters pile up like a maze of newspapers clippings — nothing adds up to a human. Your scarf doesn’t get high with you and have discussions about how people are just puzzles with missing pieces. The screw, the pennies, they don’t bring you back to Cortland or Ithaca in the rain of April or March. They are just things; they are not part of you. They are not your ears, your eyes, your tongue, your elbows; they are things you can lose, you can drop, you can forget. When you move, you bring them in bags and boxes, in your wallet. You wish they were like watermelon seeds, or gum, so that even when you are naked, alone, in bed, they are with you, inside you piling up as they will. A few weeks later you check your friend’s facts and discover the whole gum-seven-year-digesting-tale is untrue. You realize, the only person that you have with you all the time, everywhere you go, is the boy from seventh grade. And he won’t wash off. You think about handing a pen to your mother, and pointing at your shoulder. As hard as you can, you will say.

About the author

Benjamin, better known as bird, doesn’t travel often. Aside from being on his couch, he’s been to his kitchen.

Read the full bio

Issue 17 · March 2013

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