“Sam, get out of the shower and join me for a cigarette!”
Sam cut off the water and leaned out to get a better listen.
“What did you say?”
“I said get out here and smoke with me.”
She cut the water back on.
“Hang on a minute.”
Sam barely heard him.
“Give me a minute!”
She’s started bleeding from a cut achieved earlier on the side of the bathroom door. Some of the blood was diluted by the water; the rest was licked up by Sam. She finished her shower, dried off, and wrapped her hair up in the towel.
“Art, I’m out of the shower. Where are you now?”
As the bathroom door closed, Art turned the corner with a lit cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
“I told you not to smoke in the house!”
He blew smoke in her face. “Don’t fuckin’ yell at me. Come outside. I’ve been waiting forever.”
Sam watched the shadow his feet and legs made against the light from the oval-glass door. Art’s boots thudding out of rhythm against the hardwood floor made her annoyed. She went to her room and put on some yoga pants and one of Art’s night shirts.
“Can you grab two glasses and some of the vodka.” Art shouted from the crack in the front door.
She abandoned the glasses and snatched the half bottle from the freezer.
The door slamming behind Sam startled Art. He turned around and gave a dopey smile as he received the liquor bottle.
“Where are the two glasses?”
“We’ll share.” Sam replied.
Art took the first sip. Sam took the second swig. Back and forth until the bottle was done and Art threw the bottle against the swing-driveway.
“Why the fuck would you do that for?” She shoved him. He didn’t move, but chuckled and tried to push her back. But missed, and spent several minutes trying to regain his comfort zone.
“It’s a celebration.”
“You’re just a lightweight. Everyday’s a celebration when you can’t hold a half a bottle.
“Shut-up. I’m as serious as a woodpecker.”
“A woodpecker? Really? I had no idea they were serious.”
“They are. Listen, today is a celebration because today is the five-anniversary of me being a man.”
“What are you talking about? You’re twenty-nine. Of course you’re a man.”
“Age is just a number, sweetie. I meant in the other way.”
Sam stared at him, puzzled. He glanced at his crotch.
“Haven’t you always been a man?”
Art pulled out another cigarette and lit it while trying to say, “No.”
“What do you mean, no?”
“I mean I was once a woman. You know this.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. When the fuck did this happen?”
“Of course you know.”
“I’m as serious as a woodpecker, when did this happen? I had no knowledge of this whatsoever!”
Art laughed till he fell over. Sam joined him, tickling his sides as he went down.
“What do you mean ‘a woman’?” The two of them giggled. The sound echoed against the trees across the street in front of their home. Few cars drove down this road.
“Babe. I don’t want to smoke. I’m going cold turkey.” Sam said.
“That is the most depressing news I’ve heard all day.”
“You just woke up when I was in the shower. Your day just started.”
“My day started three hours ago weeding out the backyard garden.”
“Yeah, but I sent all of last night painting.”
“Yeah? Is that why there was a pile of ash in the backyard this morning?”
“Wasn’t it beautiful?”
“Oh it was. You’re a regular artsy fartsy kind of guy.”
Art leaned forward, and Sam sat up and stared at the sky.
“Good day for good weather, eh?”
Art didn’t answer. Sam peeked over his shoulder to find him assembling cigarette butts into ‘SAM + ART” with a heart around it.
“Aww. That’s cute.”
“See now I can’t stop smoking.”
Sam punched him in the shoulder blade.
“That is not a good enough reason to keep smoking.”
“But I have to make art.”
“That is the lamest joke you have said in two years.”
Sam stood up and went back in the house.
“Can you bring some more drinks out here. My buzz is wearing off.”
Sam plundered through the trunk at the foot of the bed. She threw out clothes till she got to the bottom and found a gas mask; one her granddad used back in the day.
“I’ll grab that and some glasses this time.”
Art didn’t hear her.
Sam put on a hoodie and zipped up so most of her skin was hidden. Then she fetched the last bottle of tequila and carefully walked to the door. Art was doodling with the ashes of a few cigarette butts. Sam stepped quietly on the balls of her feet. With her head tilted to the left she looked at him and said, “Hello Artie.”
“No one calls me—” He said, before jumping off the steps. Art landed hip-first on the edge of the driveway, yelling with pain, he looked back up at Sam and screamed louder.
“What the fuck! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”
Sam put the tequila on the porch and rushed over to Art. He refused to look her in the eye.
“Am I bleeding?”
“No, that’s just ketchup.”
“What? How would I even?”
“Remember you put them in these pants after dinner last night?”
“I don’t remember that. Can you please take that mask off. It’s creeping me out.”
“Oh sorry,” Sam pulled the mask off, “let me help you up.”
“Okay, okay, just let me do most’d the work.”
“Would it be weird to say I can imagine pushing you down right now and stepping on your throat?”
Art sat back down and looked at Sam.
“What is your fucking problem?”
“I don’t have one. It was just an intrusive thought. Everybody has ‘em.”
“Yeah, but this is a hella time to mention it.”
Art stood up and limped into the living room. When he sat down his hip popped. He winced in pain and let out a loud sigh.
“Sam, never fucking scare me like that again.”
Sam laughed, and handed him a glass of tequila.
“You haven’t been that scared since the time you saw a spider in the dead of winter in your truck.”
“The fucker didn’t belong there. But this takes the cake.”
“Are you going to keep smoking?”
There was a pause. “Hell yeah I am. As long as I want.”
Sam walked into the bedroom and closed the door.
Art got up against shocks of pain shooting up his spine. He limped over to the refrigerator and grabbed the ketchup bottle, then limped to the bedroom and knocked on the door.
“Sammie, can I come in?”
“I’ve put you in a Volkswagon van and triggered a detonation.”
“I know you’re crazy, babe, but please open the door.”
The door swung open. Sam lunged at Art’s face, wearing the gas mask. Art moved his head away from her, and contained the punch reflex.
“Ohh I swear, girl. I was about to knock the shit out of you.”
“You wouldn’t hit me.” She laughed. Art glared at her.
“I just shot you five times in the chest.” Art said.
Sam fake-sighed. “Well, I guess everyone has it.”
“Not unless you ask nicely.” Sam gave a pompous grin and turned her back to Art.
“I don’t know what you’re deal is today.” She continued.
Art walked out of the room, grabbed the tequila bottle off the kitchen counter, and went outside. First he was going to sit on the steps, but the grass smelled different, so he went to investigate. He plopped down, grunted in pain, and looked up at the sky. The mix of clover and centipede piled up in this part of the yard, inside of the cement semicircle smelled awfully similar to how his grandmother on his stepdad’s side used to keep her grass. Especially around Easter.
“Art, did you fall on your ass?”
“No, not this time. I’m fine.”
“Don’t hog all the drink. Share!”
Art lobbed the bottle underhand at her, but she fumbled it and it shattered on the driveway.
“What the hell? You could’ve just handed it over.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t.”
Sam laid down with Art, resting her head on his upper chest and they stared at the clouds, admired the warm breezes that swung low, and listened to strange sounds in the distance.
“Did you know,” Sam whispered, “that someone in your family is more likely to abuse or murder you than a stranger?”
“Did you just imagine killing me again?
“Yep. Deer-processing plant and I would discard the remains in a wood-chipper.”