303 days before his suicide, Judge Haloran realizes he ought to have consulted an expert
It starts with a Christmas party.
It starts with Zooey Deschanel, with your sons on a plane from Scottsdale for Christmas vacation, their hands folded in a flight attendant’s grasp when they meet you at Baggage Claim 4, with your youngest, Oscar, flying chipped plastic wings through the crisp of the air like a fighter jet. No, he tells you, like a duck.
It starts with a mirror, with the mash of crushed velvet and crinoline while he gawps, open mouth and appraising, at his face. He regards a half-dozen pairs of false eyelashes on the bathroom counter like rare insects, fingers the plastic that shields them from the blunt and dirt of his nails, and tells you he wants to look like Zooey Deschanel. The lashes give no indication as to where she falls on the spectrum between Pert and Plump Ingénue™ and Eyeluring Vamp™, so you tell him you trust him to choose. He is careful, holds his lip in the gap where his first adult tooth slices through gum.
You’ve never done this before, but that’s probably fine, and while you squeeze a line of adhesive across the lashes’ black belly, you can’t help but think of the way your mother’s eyeglass repair kit never felt right in your hand, the screws too small, their threads insubstantial as salmon bone. See, you tell him, see? It’ll be so simple. I’ll practice on me so yours will be perfect, just a quick line here and press and fuck, something is wrong, too much glue, maybe, and you look at your reflection over his shoulder, to You’re doing a great job! on pink Post-It and your gruesome, watery wink. It starts with a wink, with the year the boys caught pinkeye from some kid on the bus so bad their eyes glued shut, with the way Oscar wouldn’t wait for the reprieve of warm rag, just tugged his crusty lashes until his lids parted through tears. But it doesn’t matter where it started, because this is where it’s going to end, you prying your lid open while you bark out a laugh and try to tell him it’s fine, while the weight in your gut turns to stone and you add applying false lashes to a list of things you’ll never teach your sons, after swimming breast stroke and tipping hotel staff, after looking grocery store clerks in the eye and avoiding the phase where they’ll eat anything for a dollar, after how to skip every other monkey bar, after avoiding detection to stay up late and watch Nick at Nite reruns. After how to cheat at Scrabble. After falling safely in and out of love.
His breath is hot and his fingers are sticky from a mystery in the pockets of his party dress when he takes your lid between his thumb and forefinger and tells you to pull. Your left eye creaks open and his silhouette swims and bends like the glass bottom of a boat. He shrugs and says now do me but be careful with the glue, his bare feet thump-thumping against your thighs, his back faithful and steady as stone.
Jacqueline Boucher lives and writes in Northern Michigan. Her work was a finalist for the 2016 Write Bloody manuscript contest, and has appeared in BOOTH, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, and other magazines. She can be found on Twitter @jacqueboucher.
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Image (modified): Kou Art