The Key to the Good

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For years I thought in circles but finally taught myself to use ruled lines and keep the penmanship neat. For years I worked at understanding. The pay was lousy, hours long, perks a joke. If a full moon rose at dusk, I saw a tin-can lid, dented and pocked with rust. When others at the clinic said my history wasn’t me, I scoffed. Blood is easy, I told myself on the El rides home. It’s grease that won’t come off the hands. It burrows in the grooves of thumbnails, stains the cuticles black, digs into the lifeline and clots the heart. It makes children look like grown-ups, even more than the adults themselves. And narrows the path to righteousness till no one fits.

But grease is nothing beside perfume— peddler of concealment, making sweat a secret, sweat and the bleach of motel towels. You see, to remove her memory is not like tearing underclothes off a body, sheets and blankets off a bed. Our faces hover still, side by side, in a mirror webbed with cracks. And every other woman’s hair is that of a broom. Any wonder my boyhood has pressed its face to the windows of every house I’ve owned, hammered ghostly fists on doors, demanded entrance, demanded to be fed and held. Any wonder I’ve misplaced the key to the good.