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Toti O’Brien

September 2, 2015




He is the one at the wheel. From the passenger seat I’m supposed to press the gas. Or alternatively the brakes. He asked me to and I complied. I don’t know why he can’t do it by himself but I don’t feel like discussing. Not now. I can tell he’s half drunk. And I’ve heard he made time since I last saw him. I trust him nevertheless – maybe for I don’t have a choice.

I have trouble with handling (so to speak) the pedals. I don’t know if it’s a matter of strength or angle… position I mean. But to get an appropriate response (that is obviously paramount) I have to put all my weight in my pushing. Still I don’t gather sufficient momentum. Timing is delayed… We didn’t crash yet but our progress is bumpy to say the least. Crash we will.

My partner shows a mild discontent. Embarrassed I wish he could use his own feet, conveniently set in the proper place, to get the truck going or stopping. I’m about to suggest it when an afterthought makes me keep my mouth shut. Better this inconvenient (and illegal) teamwork than to wholly surrender my part. Having him in total control. After all my strain is the modest price for my share of power.  I won’t give it up yet.


Suddenly I think of his wives: such an idle thought. I’ve seen them all through the years: each time I came visiting. Always noticing what they had in common, the obvious similarities. Almond eyes, olive skin, curly dark hair: as if they belonged to a same lineage. That caused a reassuring feeling. The aesthetic continuity seemed to mend the fracture, the repeated failure – if so defining divorce were justified. That I don’t know.

Now – briskly – I see the girls in terms of bare bodies. Yes: devoid not uniquely of facial features but of the head itself. I see them decapitated. Nothing gory in the picture, no severed necks. But the upper extremity is temporarily eluded. Evaded. Their limbs, hands, feet, torsos, abdomens – with relatives widths, lengths, curves, angles, weights, consistencies – come alive with shocking precision. As if my brain had registered all data with great accuracy yet complete unawareness. I had no clue until it all poignantly drew itself in front of my inner eye – and I was shocked.

Well: they couldn’t have been more different from one another. Did he notice? I guess. How did he manage? The task appears grotesquely complicated. On the verge of the impossible. Superhuman at least.

I know it is not true. Anyone can perfectly deal (intimately I mean) with a variety of human shapes. Also weights, textures, proportions. The adjustment is instantaneous and effortless. It can be repeated for countless times. Anybody can handle as many bodies as opportunity allows. Why should I be surprised? Why now? I realize our driving has sickened me. I am dizzy, that’s all. The world spins around me: uncreated, undone.


Luckily we stop at a gas station, both needing a break. We are walking into the bar when I notice his weird collection of rings. They are three but huge, entirely hiding two of his fingers. I wonder how he can even bend them, braced as they look. Maybe he can’t.

One piece is clearly made out of all his wedding bands fused together. Quite irregularly: they are different in thickness and shade, some darkened by oxidation, some with a reddish hue (maybe a lower alloy). Such metameric device gives out a reptile feeling.

He sees me watch. He smiles for himself. “There’s no end,” he mutters. Then again: “there’s no end, no beginning: just one love”. Something about his tone bothers me. What, I can’t pinpoint: a sort of evangelical halo. Vague, non-descript.

Two more rings – identical, one next to the other – complete the display. Two skinny gold leaves wrap his middle finger like a bandaging. In the center of each a gem is cast. Shining diamond-like yet clearly worthless. Is it just opalescent? No: shining and disproportionately small. The stones capture me like the eyes of a snake. I can’t stop staring at them.

He notices. He smiles again, now overtly for me. He explains what that double blazon signifies in a tone yet more declamatory. I nod but I do not listen.

I must call a cab. With some chance I’ll be back in town before dark. I know he won’t ask questions. I know he won’t care.




Toti O’Brien’s work has appeared in The Altadena Review, Poetic Diversity, Edgar Allan Poet, Litro NY among other journals. She has published two children books, two collections of short stories and one of essays in Italian. She has contributed for a decade to Italian magazines such as Mezzocielo, Salpare, L’Ostile and Inguine.




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