Crocodile Wife by Kathryn McMahon

Crocodile Wife

My wife has crocodile teeth and newspaper smudges under her wrist. She doesn’t like to gamble, but she always pulls my hair back when I lean over the toilet after too many drinks. She slips little gifts into my purse: a cupronickel Hungarian forint, crumbs of dried violet, a tiny broken Christmas light. She holds her knees when she’s nervous. When she sings, she throws back her head and those teeth glint carrion-yellow and my heart pulses with a beautiful dread.

My wife has a lover with hands of silver birch and a neck of pine. I like to watch them through the French doors of my wife’s home office as their eyes make secret handshakes at each other. I almost caught them together once but said nothing because I, too, have a lover.

My lover has legs as thick as torsos and she’s stronger than all the men I know. My lover has shoulders made of glass and I can see how everything works inside her. The neat teeth of her cogs are erogenous zones for the eyes and when I’m with her she lets me get away with not making any decisions.

My wife doesn’t understand that I am made of feather down and every time she tries to undress me, the gooseflesh hurts. I am afraid of what those crocodile teeth will do to my tender self. I’ve had enough teeth in my arm. Why am I always the chewed up one?

I admire my wife’s lover. Tenacity is an addiction. I want to carve those hands into my own hands. Sometimes when we make love I don’t think of my wife at all but of myself as her pliable, wooden lover. Whenever I pull out a splinter, I keep it in a tiny box jammed between the frame and the mattress on my side of the bed.

My wife has taken up smoking cigars when I am away at my night job. When I return at dawn, the windows are open and the curtains stink of lies and there are extra towels in the wash. I even find the broken plastic teeth of her comb in the drain. I think she has another lover who neither the wooden lover nor I know about.

I don’t exactly mind. I like the aftertaste of anger held at bay. Crocodile teeth, after all, are only bone and bone can shatter, as too can pine and glass.

Feathers, however, do not.


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Kathryn McMahon is a queer American writer living in Vietnam with her wife and dog. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Split LipCrack the SpineMaudlin HouseMenacing HedgeCHEAP POPdecomP, and Necessary Fiction, among others. She tweets @katoscope.


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Art by Sander van der Wel