Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five



You stand in your bathroom in the late evening on a Wednesday staring down at the hair slowing your toothpaste-foamed water in sink. You think you should clean, rather than sleep as you’d planned, because the flakes of skin-colored makeup along the rim of the vanity shelf are thicker than is reasonable. You have caught a bad cold, and you’re achy, slightly feverish you suspect, though you do not have the energy to look for the thermometer. At least, you think, I can wipe this small section down, and you pull rough, cheap toilet paper from the roll and ball it up in your hand. But as you wait for the water to drain, the back of your calves touch the cold bathtub in such a jarring and familiar way that you feel the need to rest, and so you lean back, crouch down, until more cool porcelain hits the back of your bare thighs, and you try to balance on the narrow rim while still resting.

You place your hands in front of you on the sink and then pull them away to push your fingers into your cheeks, the cold transferring from ceramic to skin to other skin. You shut your eyes with your cheeks still cooling, your fingers warming, and in your exhaustion, you think about pressing your whole face against the tub, or the dirty sink, or the tan tile underneath you. You consider the way this would feel, and you remember feeling it before, not here but somewhere, and you run down a list of scenarios that might have landed you face down on a cold bathroom floor. The recall is crooked, uneven, and because you have a habit of over-considering everything until all edges are smooth, it feels like an inaccuracy.

To get to that bathroom, you have to remember first the way the green felt of a pool table rubbed your back in the space below a rising cotton t-shirt as you arched in a smoky basement thirteen years earlier. You have to remember the subtle push of his hips through baggy-jeans and the way your eyes opened and closed, eyelashes light against your cheek, quick, and the way laughter shifted into warm breath against your skin, as you thought Oh, this…this is what everyone’s talking about.

You have to remember the weight of his heavy arm on the rack of your shoulders, slight sweat on the back of your neck, and then, later, the feel of warm ground underneath your bare feet and elbows when you dug them into the grass, balancing so as not to seem too heavy on him. You have to remember the contrast between his thick coarse hair and soft body making way for you and the hard dirt as you teetered on top of him, but still in all of your high school clothes.

You have to remember the way you slowly began to treat him badly, your first subtle abuse, and how that felt—distinct from a sense of touch, the way you fiddled with sexual power because he found you prettier than you actually were. You have to remember the way you allowed your skin to be almost burned by a bonfire while he sat in the dark, seeing but not feeling you. You have to remember the way you came and went and the way the air around you both seemed to take on a different pressure.

You have to remember the way the plastic phone felt against your ear months later when a call came that a drunk friend had driven them both into a tree. And then, you have to remember the way the towel hanging from your neck might as well have been covered in needles as you walked back into the communal bathroom of your dorm, hair still dripping with hard water from the shower. The way the lights felt harsher to your eyes then. The way your feet slipped in your wet sandals. The way electricity surged in the hairdryer as you turned it on. Finally, you can remember the way your legs gave out suddenly, and the heat from the hair dryer whipped across your face, again like hot breath, as you tried to catch yourself but instead fell, the warm plastic in your hand splitting against the hundred-year old porcelain sink and your face hitting the soothing cold ceramic.

Jessica McCaughey studies creative nonfiction in George Mason University’s MFA program in Fairfax, Virginia, where she also teaches undergraduate English. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in flashquake and The Colorado Review.