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MeredithJennifer Natalya Fink

Item One:

Oh Meredith. I think you'd be happy to know I still wear the makeup.

Recall my nails tracing, retracing my pale face, framed in its curly tendrils. And you, keeping time to this fleshy metronome as your fingers move around your breasts, caught in the rapture of one of your endless self-exams. One of you will doubt me, you tell your left breast as you press in a circular motion counter-clockwise around the aureole. And one of you will betray me, you tell the right one, probing for suspicious lumps. Your fingers stand firm upon those pliant disciples, sternly investigating what might be growing beneath their visible surface to the beat of my scratching.

Afterwards, I'd apply creamy beige like a rag across the scratches and acne. Scars would form around the pancake, crusting up with Maybelline and the rest. Even when scrubbed clean, the scars would cling to those thick off-white molecules. You must recall the constellations. Mary Jane, Anne Marie, Marika... when the scars stopped healing you connected the dots, tracing out constellations between the blotches in the shape of girls named Mary.

What else to report? The charge you always levied against my hair -- that its thick black curls were obscenely, explicitly pubic, thus making my mouth, well, the obvious thing -- has finally proved true. As I grey, the hairs turn thicker, even curlier, bunching around my still unwrinkled face in the familiar triangle. I look in the mirror and think of you stroking my hair, my hands, and oh, my Meredith. Do you still think of the dirty joke my hair became? Or are such details erased now, their kinks (forgive the sorry joke; it's yours, after all) long straightened?

Another new development: the eyelash tugging has traveled up. You'll recall the scene vividly. Staring into the mirror, thick fingers snug around lash after elusive lash, eyes glazed wide open. Tug tug, pull: stubborn, like pulling out a teenage boy's beard a hair at a time. Repeat until lashless. Red circles like eyeliner, circling and then replacing the fringe. Anxious for the first slender fresh ones to sprout only to begin the pulling again.

And Meredith, my sweet Meredith, you there in the door, watching without comment. Touching the sore pores at night. Outlining my small, hairless body with your fingertips. Well, it's traveled up at last, straight up to the hairline. Tugging out acres of eyebrows and stray facial hairs along the way.

Forgive me.

I am unlovely tonight.

Digestion begins on the tongue. Those unpronounceable enzymes breaking you down as your tongue wrestled mine, tasting that sharp mintiness left over from the Colgate with the French label you'd buy at the wholesale store. Combat la carie. Dentifrice au fluorure. Probably from Haiti, you would say, filling your mouth with white Francophone foam. Made in Queens, shipped to Haiti, lay on the shelf a year in Port-au-Prince, expensive and unsold in its red-and-white wrapper. And now back to Brooklyn at half the price. My mouth is well-traveled, you tell me as you rinse in my sink. You have a distinct aftertaste. Vive la France. Mint, and something else: metallic. Like the silver on an old dime. I won't embarrass you with tales of my tongue licking spare change late into the night trying to recover that minty metal taste.

Lest you think this is simply another of my rambling letters which you will read choice portions of to the latest wasted blonde propped up on your bed, let me assure you this is actually a business letter.

Item Two:

I want whatever it was you promised me.

Whatever glues the make-up on. Whatever keeps the mint fresh on your tongue. Your mouth, my hand. When you left it washed right off, leaving no sweet scent wafting in the corners of my apartment, no film on my skin. My Meredith. I remember you here, minty and napping, promising me that thick syrupy substanceless thing that binds. I thought you had infected me with it, that it was spreading your promises through -- what do they call it? parasitic transcription? not wiping your hands from the washroom? phantom limbs? influenza B? Your fingers interlaced in mine. Indistinguishable. Cheek to cheek, vein to gristle. One foreign cell absorbed by another, repeating its secret code under my fingernails. You the fur-clad Russian agent, I a steely-eyed Bond. My hands, your mouth. I thought you were replicating night and day in my cells, minty fresh discounted from Haiti, day and night you were the one.

Item Three:

And you were.

And so you left me here, contaminated. Chemicals pissing down my brain. Little grains of sour white and yellow god-knows-what dripping together so I don't know if it's the illness or the pill piss or your French mint mouth giving me such a godawful headache. I try to discern the kick of each, the moment the red sugar-coated one changes my sinuses or mood, that instant the plain rough white ones start to pep me up... or were they supposed to slow me down? I'm up and edgy, that's for sure. Playing with my room, flipping books open and shut, changing earrings and changing them back, touching all the surfaces as if checking for dust. I suddenly want to puke, then piss, then just hold still and feel the chemicals piss their way down my brain. It's my room for sure, my black jeans sprawled over a chair, my mess of lipstick and antique wrist watches on the dresser with my pills, but there's something missing here. Or extra.

Everything is numb. I lie naked, flesh greenish, sprawled on my stomach. The pill piss increases its stream, making my head throb. I notice that I can't touch my head, or rather I can "touch" my "head", but it is like one phantom limb touching another. It is as if my whole body has been severed, and I am just feeling its echo. I must pee, must pee, dins a voice in my absent head. I squeeze those intricate muscles like a fist around a sponge, waiting for the watery relief to stream out. But it's not me; it's you. Your body made into my flesh.

Oh Meredith. You have replaced me. But this is strictly business.

Item Four:

As I said, I want what you promised me. Make me your identical twin. Wed our DNA at conception. My hands, your hands.

Even though we were the same height, your caresses always emphasized my shortness. My own Rita Hayworth, cut short at the knees, you croon as you caress my hair. I try not to breathe. To fix us here beneath your thick palms. But you have evacuated. You with your teeth in such delicate ruins, lying half-buried in your gums. You promised everything in its place and a place for everything. My tongue so comfortable against your unfilled cavities. My tongue quiet, resting.

I walk by the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Cemetery off Seventh Avenue. Barely a dozen graves still stand, faces erased, boxed in by fences from the parking lot to the left and the expensive condos to the right. 1821-1857, reads the sign above the fenced-in remainders: a short window of time for the dead to accumulate. Only a dozen graves left over so many Spanish-Portuguese Jewish bones, I tell you, worried. Marika, Marilyn, Mary-Claire, I rename the smooth white stones. They moved them to the suburbs, you promise, fingertips pressing out the wrinkles in my forehead. Reinterred their aching Ladino bones in comfortable, frequently watered and trimmed plots just an exit off the Sunrise Highway. But I know better now.

I learned it slowly, from the Quebeçois toothpaste, one brush at a time. French and English would seem to be perfectly balanced, symmetrically splashed in red and white across the label: Regular/Populaire. Fights Plaque with brushing/ Combat la plaque lors du brossage. But the disfiguring asymmetries coalesce with regular usage. Questions? 1-800-268-6757, says the fine print, with no French translation.

Something escapes automatic translation. And has left me without you. Yet here I stand in your used hiking boots, brushing my yellowing teeth full of your cavities. You beat me at me own game, like the rhythmic impersonal slaps of a professional dominatrix. You win me away from you with each silver filling implanted where your tongue should be.

Piss and moan, you say as you read this. And I do. For I keep my promises with every trip to the lavatory, every brush with the Colgate. My hair curls thicker than ever, waiting for your dirty jokes. I want it back, Meredith. Your promise. My hands, your mouth. And I mean business.

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