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Sick Stew, or Unknown Relations by Sarah Jean Alexander

I dry my hands on the sink towel. It took me twenty-one minutes to wash two bowls, two spoons, one cup, a mug and the large Tupperware with greasy remnants of fish and potato stew. My fingers are pruned almost to the point of pain. It probably had only taken me three minutes to wash the dishes and I probably stood there with my hands catching the steamy, running water for the next eighteen. That is probably what happened. That’s what happened.
     I look out of the window above the sink and see her standing on the patio in the backyard. Grass is starting to grow between the cement tiles. Grass doesn’t even grow in her yard. Nothing grows where it should, when it should. She is standing on her patio when she should be inside washing the dishes instead. I cooked, she should clean, or something like that. Isn’t that a deal we made once? It’s an unspoken rule at the very least. Equality. Balance in the relationship. Total egalitarianism in this progressive and modern state of humankind. She thinks she doesn’t have to wash dishes because she’s prettier than I am? Just kidding though, I didn’t cook tonight. I heated up week-old stew in the microwave. She made the stew.
     She is staring into the woods behind the house. Small, panicked birds hop on the branches of every tree and equally tense squirrels parkour over the uprooted bottoms (nothing grows where it should, when it should) as they run from unknown, invisible monsters. Why can’t squirrels walk? They only ever jerk from Point A to Point B in the most crooked, paroxysmal lines. Is it that their hearts will stop beating if they start walking? Do they have to continually run to keep up their heart rates or they’ll die, like humming birds, or the guy from Crank? I might have made up that bit about hummingbirds. Also I just remembered I once saw a squirrel walk towards an old lady holding a peanut.
     Thing I like: Con Air
     Thing she hates: Nic Cage movies
     “Are you going to come inside soon?”
     “When I get five mosquito bites.”
     “How many do you have now?”
     “When are you going to come in?”
     “When I get three more mosquito bites.”
     She stares at the trees during our short conversation and I look at her legs. Her calves are more defined than mine are. I am flat footed. She gets more height with each step than I do. We both have awful upper body strength.
     Things we hate together: wintertime, people who go to the gym
     She slaps her thigh half-heartedly, still watching the birds and squirrels, and I can tell that she has gotten bite number three. A few minutes pass and she rubs her stomach. I can’t tell if this is bite number four or if she has a stomachache from the stew. I would care more if I were the one who made the stew, but I wasn’t, so there was nothing she could blame me for if she felt sick. She likes to blame me for things, sometimes. I will rub her stomach later if she asks me to. I assume she has gotten another mosquito bite and stop thinking about her belly. I realize I am still drying my hands and now they are pruned and also raw from the cheap hand towel. I stop and walk over to the sliding door that leads outside to the patio, but I don’t walk though it. I watch her through the glass.
     She stands about fifteen feet away from me. Point A to Point B. I would have to open the door (or break it and walk on top of the shards of glass), step over a rusted lawn chair, climb on top of a waterlogged picnic table, and leapfrog the miniature charcoal grill to reach her in the shortest distance possible. I would reach her and hug her from behind and put my chin on her shoulder. Our hair would drape together in front of her chest, brown and red strands like the color of leaves on the trees we would stare at together. The leaves would fall every time a bird hopped from one branch to another. I would get my first mosquito bite.
     Instead I tap on the glass pane and say I am leaving and she nods.
     Things we both feel indifferent about: breast implants, Radiohead, sleeping alone
     Halfway down the block I realize I left my sweater inside her house. I turn around and begin to walk back. A squirrel runs 90% of the way across the street in front of me and then changes its mind. It scurries back to its starting point. Squirrels, man.
     She’s sitting on the floor in her living room when I walk back inside.
     “Get all your bug bites out of the way for the night?”
     “Yeah, I ended up waiting for seven.”
     “That’s unlucky.”
     “I know.”
     I sit down next to her and put my left ankle over her right. We both have small ankles.
     “You forgot your sweater.”
     Thing she loves: telling me what I’ve forgotten
     “I know. That’s why I walked back.”
     “You could have gotten it tomorrow. It’s not cold out.”
     “I know, but I didn’t want to get any bites on my walk home.”
     With my fingers I touch the spot where our legs are crossed. Her leg is cool and mine is hot. Our skin is smooth, a little damp and different shades of brownish pink. Our hair falls together like it did when I imagined myself walking out onto the patio from Point A to Point B. Brown and red, brown and pink. Chocolate covered strawberries, or the insides of rabbit ears. Brown rabbits. Brown leaves. Our legs are touching but our hands aren’t. No one speaks for five minutes. I don’t think she even remembers that I left, that I came back. Nothing grows where it should, when it should.
     “So, I’m gonna head out, okay?”
     She nods.
     “I’ll see you tomorrow. You’re the best.”
     “Oh. Yeah.”
     “I’ll bring over lunch.”
     She nods. “Okay. Yeah. That stew you made isn’t settling well in me.”
     “I didn’t make the stew.”
     “The fish stew? You made it. You brought it over. Here, take your Tupperware home.”
     She gets up and hands me the still greasy Tupperware as I stare at her trying to figure out which one of us forgot the details of who made lunch, but I know it’s her. Her eyes watch mine as they watch her. We look at each other. Her eyes are empty. Nothing grows. She’s prettier than I am, and knows it. I wonder if I should rub her stomach. I walk home instead and make another pot of stew for two: carrots, celery, kidney beans, barley. Rabbit food, brown bunny rabbits with soft, pink ears and wet pink noses.

Sarah Jean Alexander has a degree in Journalism from Towson University and spends her time writing from her apartment in Baltimore. Her pieces are scattered throughout the internet. You can find more from her at sjwritten.wordpress.com.