portion of the artwork for Tiff Holland's story

Tiff Holland

Thirty-six. There are 36 bruises from your toes to your hips. Some are round, swollen. They are yellow-green, blue-black, purple. There are no bruises on your arms or chest. There are no bruises on your belly, although there are shadows of bruises, discolorations, faded to a shade less vibrant than yellow but not quite flesh tone. They are from the needles, or the pinch, the flesh gathered between forefinger and thumb to make a place for the needles.

You have moved to a tropical climate. You wear shorts every day. You have lived here before and know you will not wear long pants, not for years, not unless you move higher into the mountains where the clouds dab at you like balls of cotton administering antiseptic. One day, in the mountains there will be a tropical depression. You will wake up and find the clouds have slipped inside the louver windows. You will dig in a box for a pair of jeans. They will feel like metal going on, like a new knotty bruise. If you don’t have to go out, you will close the windows, put an extra sheet on the bed because you don’t own a blanket. You don’t need a blanket. In a few hours, the record low, a high in the places you have lived most of the rest of your life, will be over, the blanket folded, the jeans puddled at the end of the bed. You will smooth out your legs with your hands, brush away the feeling of containment.

Now, you have been moving furniture. You sold almost everything before you came. You felt so free, all the things gone. You bought lawn chairs and ate dinner on boxes piled between them. You had a bruise at your ankle from the rolling luggage, one on the outside of your left knee where the screen door caught you bringing in groceries, but that was all, just those two, and then the cut and the scab that formed on top of the bruise on your ankle, right at your Achilles tendon, when the screen door caught you escaping into the yard, in the dark, with the dog.

Your husband notices. He doesn’t notice haircuts or kind deeds, but he notices the bruises.

“How the hell did those happen?” he asks, as if you did it on purpose. “Jesus, turn on some lights when you’re walking around at night.”

He assumes these couldn’t occur during daylight, that you are safe on his watch, but you have stopped roaming in the night. If you wake up you lie there under the fan, listen to commercial flights coming in for a landing, their sound like thunder, and the sprinklers, which, at first, you never saw popping in and out of their whack-a-mole holes, off and on, on and off. For the first few weeks you thought it rained every night, and then one night, flashlight in hand, bending down with an inside-out bag to clean up after the dog, you saw the metal head emerge, barely had time to blink before the water pressure hit your skin.

The sprinklers don’t leave a bruise. The bruises are mostly caused by furniture. The ornate Craigslist desk with an undersized opening you refuse to modify because the desk is art, handmade, signed. The face of the center drawer is two solid inches thick, the drawer four inches deep, too deep for you to sit anywhere except away, which you try, except when you forget.

“Damn, Mom,” your 12-year-old says when she looks at you after your husband has said what he did. “You gotta stop moving furniture!”

She has been with you since the first day, with the lawn chairs and box tables, the vicious screen door. Your husband just got here, just got here in time to deflate the soft but uncomfortable air mattress, then carry in one end of the real mattress and boxspring, allen-wrench the bedframe while you held it steady. The shin bruises correspond to the frame of the bed once it’s set up in your room, the one place you do navigate in the darkness, finger-tracing the mattress to find a path to the bathroom, wall-walking your way back to bed.

You have accumulated all these things all over again, a bed with a frame, a desk to sit at and write or type, a dresser for clothes, a case for books. They are handsome things, but you had not planned to replace what your husband called “our good stuff” back home, but you have. There is good stuff in each room, each with its usefulness, its style, its interruption in your free movement. You found them online—Craigslist and the neighborhood trade-and-sell. There is a lot of movement in your largely military neighborhood, orders coming in, going out. You knew this is how you would find used furniture, places to keep the few small things you mailed to yourself in boxes.

You borrow a truck to pick up what looked like a bookcase in the ad but is, instead, a sturdy oak entertainment center, perfect for the television you never planned but bought as replacement for the 42-inch you gave to your best friend before leaving Texas. You barter for a truck to pick up an antique secretary which is only four streets over and a quick job, the truck returned in time for its owner to head to town to work. You rent a standard van to drive up into the mountains. How you missed them! For the barrister bookcase, which you and your husband and a retired college administrator carry out in five sections: three entirely enclosed cases, a base, and a top.

The administrator, who is leaving for three years to be a vice president at a college in New Jersey, doesn’t want you to strain yourself. He raises his eyebrows when your husband tells him you’re a power lifter, tells about the 2,700 square feet you’d filled up together in Texas. When the house went on the market the realtor sent a stager who insisted the upstairs sofa be moved down and the downstairs sofa up, and your husband, older, skinny-legged, lost steam on the landing, pronounced the weight, the turn, impossible. You told him, Just put it on my back, put it on my back, and you carried it, the upstairs down or downstairs up, you don’t remember, carried it like a turtle, explaining nothing is impossible. Nothing.

Your husband traces the edges of the small opening of the big claw-footed desk, discusses the type of saw needed. You shake your head. Later, putting stacks of folded clothes into drawers in the dresser (a step up from than the four suitcases on the floor of the closet you’d used before), you notice the frame of the bed has been pushed to the wall, out of the way.

They watch you, spotted mama, Leopard wife. The sofa your husband has delivered from a store is all-over soft, even the armrests puffy, and you are comfortable sitting beside him and the all-fluff dog who follows you always but never trips you up.

“Take a load off,” your husband says reaching over you, and pushes a button, demonstrates the rise of the footrest so blood won’t settle in your ankles.

He asks, every so often, if you need anything. He can get it while he’s up. The dog lifts his head to watch your husband as he moves into the kitchen, wavering between the refrigerator and the water cooler, trying to anticipate your desires, knowing full well that your bruises are not necessarily cause-and-effect, that your skin spontaneously blooms, that you can very well begin to bleed from your nose, your eyes, your pores, without provocation, that you could bleed to death, quickly, before you even notice it’s begun.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 46 | Fall 2015