Capillary Action

It was 2001. I sat on the edge of the velvety, teal couch in my aunt’s two-story home and stared at the frame of the casement windows. The windows opened in an upward angle which I’d never seen before. The clean glass and glossy eggshell trim made it look like something from the future. There was so much symmetry to admire, faultless lines equidistant from one another and the quadrilateral panels. Often when my cousin Jailynn wasn’t paying attention, I’d remove the latch that kept the window propped and place my forearm between the gap. Two inches below my wrist is where I preferred to cut the circulation—right in the center of the basilic vein. The pink splotches on my palm would get lighter and lighter until the skin tone became muted and cream-colored. Afterward, a cool sensation took over. Then came the pins and needles. My longest time was six minutes, that was usually when my fingers would begin to twitch and my heartbeat slowed. 

There was so much symmetry to admire, faultless lines equidistant from one another and the quadrilateral panels.

I did the same thing on the same spot on the same hand every chance I got. Somehow I expected the results to be different, but they remained the same. I thought that overtime I’d become immune to the constriction. However, the only thing that increased was my tolerance for the pain. 

I remember one rainy Saturday when my mom left me there to run errands. I watched as the rain slid down the high-tech panels. The closed panes muted the sound of the rain outside. Jailynn sat on the La-Z-Boy reading a Betty and Veronica comic. She held the book in her left hand; from my view her fingers were tight against the spine, wrinkling the yellow ponytail of Betty Cooper. Her right hand stood straight in the air, bent stiffly at a compressed acute angle. A series of grunts and giggles came from behind the book which blocked her face. I never understood why or how she paired her activities: popping back pimples while reading a comic, cutting her toenails while eating, and shaving her legs while talking on the corded phone. 

Jaxon sat on the teal carpet, playing his Game Boy. The seams of his mouth were open and chapped. He swiped his tongue across the pinkish-white pieces of dead flesh every so often to keep them moist. Jaime and I sat on the couch, eating Funyuns and watching Tarzan. Aunt Rose and Uncle Harper were locked in the master bedroom—no sounds erupted from their bungalow. Besides Jailynn’s back-scarring grumbles and amusement with the comic, no sounds came from us either. The TV filled the house with life and excitement. 

*     *     * 

I thought that overtime I’d become immune to the constriction. However, the only thing that increased was my tolerance for the pain. 

Tarzan scooped Jane up on his back, saving her from an attack by a pack of hyenas. The two swung into the depths of an African jungle. They dangled forwards and back and side to side, around and away from danger. The theme track plays: 

Put your faith in what you most believe in 

Two worlds, one family 

Trust your heart, let fate decide 

To guide these lives, we see

*     *      *

Aunt Rose screams. Jailynn lowers the comic book, Jaxon looks up from the Game Boy, and they both snicker. Jailynn turns the TV up. 

*     *      *

BENEATH THE SHELTER OF THE TREES 

ONLY LOVE CAN ENTER HERE 

A SIMPLE LIFE, THEY LIVE IN PEACE

*     *      *

With Phil Collins singing at top volume, we didn’t hear when Uncle Harper came out; we only saw him lighting his cigarette by the door. Mint and ash seeped into our young lungs, but none of us coughed. He undid the chain and turned the single cylinder counterclockwise. Then he put his Nike’s on. We acknowledged him as he prepared to leave, then went back to our divertissements. 

*     *     *

Jane: *hits Tarzan repeatedly on his shoulders* Put me down! Put me down! 

Tarzan: *gently puts Jane down on a seventy-foot Kapok tree*

Jane: No, pick me up, pick me up, pick me up!

*     *     *

Aunt Rose came out with both fists balled. She hit Uncle Harper on the upper part of his back, beneath the shoulders. Our heads bounced back towards the door. Uncle Harper turned and aimed a punch at Aunt Rose’s face. She ate the blow and fell onto the foyer table, cupping her mouth on the descent. The blood, scarlet and runny, seeped into the tan tablecloth and she cried. 

*     *     *

Tarzan: *hands Jane a bouquet of flowers* Jane, stay. Please.

Jane: I can’t.

*     *     *

Jailynn threw Betty and Veronica at Uncle Harper as he walked out the door. Then she rushed to Aunt Rose. Jaxon cried. Jaime, eyes wide, filled his mouth with Funyuns, and I opened the window to momentarily kill the life in my hand. 

*     *     *

One month later, I am back on their couch. The only things different this time: A Bug’s Life on TV, Jughead comic book, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Aunt Rose loses one of her front teeth, and I let the window sit on my hand until it turns a new color: blue. 

*     *      *

Shanique Carmichael was born and partially raised in Georgetown, Guyana, South America. She immigrated to the United States at the age of three. Shanique is currently an MFA candidate at American University, and poetry editor of the college’s literary magazine, FOLIO. Her poems have been featured in Poet LoreThe Poet’s Haven DigestBayou Magazine, and UC Irvine’s Pushcart prize-winning journal, Faultline.