Jen Michalski

The Turn of Things
 It is the third time she has thought of him, her cousin, once a year ago and now twice this week. When she closes her eyes he finds her, in his backyard tent, in the basement behind the dryer, crouching under the lint hose, in his bedroom, dark after school. She presses her palm against the line of fur that maps his navel to his crotch, smiles with her teeth and hopes they are not stained with wine.

When they were twelve he stole plastic cups of beer, half-smoked cigarettes from his father’s basement bar on Christmas Eve, and they hid in the stairwell outside. Under the dog’s old quilt they listened to the voices inside the butter-light windows, Aunt Louie’s laugh rising over the murmur, an unidentified man cough. A glass broke in the dining room. Not a very expensive one, he reported to her later.

She friends her cousin on Facebook. She sends him a private message, inviting him to an art show of a friend, a friend he may have met when he visited her in college. His hair was greasy then and she didn’t like the way he ate at brunch, looking at no one, picking up the hash browns with his fingers. She explains the artist friend is sort of famous now. She hopes he still likes art, that he still has the Chagall book she gave him back then for graduation.

He comments on her Wall that he and his girlfriend are going to Turkey next week. Some other time soon for dinner? You haven’t changed, LOL. She is disappointed that he has become the type that brags in public spaces.

When they were twelve in the stairwell they didn’t kiss. It was not something she had considered then, and even as she thinks about him now, gripping her shoulders from behind, penetrating her, in tents, behind dryers, underneath his old sailboat comforter, she realizes that they should have run into the snow. If they did not think about it, the cold, they could get very far away. When they stopped, the dog’s blanket wet, smelly around them, the cold piercing their noses and throats, they would see the windows of his house, small tic-tac squares of light. Keep moving, she would say. She would take his hand and pat it alive, stick it in her mouth, warm like that, until they stumbled upon the house again. Like a compass, she’d explain, spinning.

Jen Michalski's first collection, Close Encounters, is available from So New (2007) and her second is forthcoming from Dzanc (2013). She is the editor of City Sages: Baltimore (CityLit Press 2010) and editor of the literary e-zine jmww (http://jmww.150m.com/).

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