Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

JOHN Christopher NELSON


            These days begin the same. The sun arrives early. You start drinking early. The sprinklers run all weekend. Children with pudgy limbs and distended stomachs swarm, tracing chaotic paths around their lawns.

            The Sabbath is sliced by wind chimes and punctuated by birds. Far away, a fire engine cries and fades. On this street and those that neighbor it, everyone is home. There aren't pastel-hued palettes on this cul-de-sac, no community barbecues. You've watched your neighbors’ children shift from larva to pupa, and know none of their names. There was a time when you felt what might have been envy, but as you listen to the multitude, you remember you’re better off.

            He's been refilling ice-cube trays. Every two and a half hours, you hear the creak of the freezer and the snapping bones of ice wrung. The bathwater is as cold as it’s going to get in this weather. The heat is unholy. The room is confettied with empties.

            He performs faceless tasks in other parts of the house. Do men apply themselves only to activities that issue noise, or do the projects that require a man's touch create noise?

            You remember junior year on the football field. You had no reason to be on the team but were attempting to fit in. Brett Anderson tackled Tim Weeks at the perfect angle and speed. Everyone on the field heard the dry snap of Tim's femur. You thought, "That sound could only come from a boy," and at that moment, with all eyes on Tim, you knew private revelation.

            You've spent the morning in and out of the ice bath, your neck uncomfortable on the rim of white plastic that isn't porcelain. Like the faux-wood entryway that's actually linoleum.

            The ends of your hair, roots greased with sweat, float in the water, reaching from your shoulders toward where your knees breach the surface, islands among the skiffs of soap-scum. You need to shave your beard, but won't. Should sounds better. You should shave. But you won't.

            When you're out of the bath, you don't dry yourself. The breeze hits the water on your skin and you shiver. Soon enough, you're redecorated in sweat. The sun attempts to peek at you—nude, facedown—but sees only worn, brown carpet. Moving in, you'd referred to it as something prettier than brown. Now it's just brown.

            You drift, hardly awake. His phantom footsteps creep around the house. Your heartbeat tries to match his rhythm against the dampness of the pillow. Then, he is closer, distinguishable against the heat. When he touches you, it feels like sweat traversing your ribs. You're awake again.

            So much time has passed between now and when the two of you were learning to navigate each other. The first few months, you greedily rushed through each night to his stale breath. In the morning, the first taste you wanted was his saliva, the memory of last night's drinks.

            His breath challenges the warm air and the bed shifts with his weight. You count thumbtack holes and draw imaginary lines between them. No hidden images present themselves. You shift your legs. Your neck tenses and you bury your face in the pillow that smells like last week. You envy the children outside, their stress-free existence, you remember that you ought to get some laundry done, you wonder if there are more beers in the fridge, hope there are, and about the fire engine earlier—

            The scream of something metal—a gate or swing set—interrupts the choir of sprinkler larvae. Minutes pass. He leaves. You roll onto your feet and float to the bathroom.

            The tub feels freezing and it takes a moment to adjust before submerging your legs. As he drifts out of you, you think you might suggest that he change the water completely. But neither of you have spoken all day, and you enjoy this.


John Christopher Nelson is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing, where he served a variety of roles—including editor-in-chief—on the Stonecoast Review. He currently reads poetry and fiction for the review. He earned his BA in American Literature from UCLA, where he was executive editor of Westwind. His work has appeared in Chiron Review, Able Muse, Indicia, Stone House: A Literary Anthology, Stonecoast Review, and Paper Tape Magazine. His writing was included in It's All Been Done Before But Not By Me, an installation through the Hammer Museum and he presented on Graphic Narrative at the PCA/ACA Conference.