Out on the porch, the three broke open their palms and compared lifelines. It was dark and there was no moon; the lines on their skin converged into the matte gray of ancient cardboard. Sarah held up the knife. It was Swiss and held four blades, a toothpick, and a small pair of scissors. She’d gotten it as a birthday gift from her brother Paul, who sucked Stella from the bottle as he slurred his way through the opening line of Carmina Burana, over and over, to Bridgit.
“O fortuna,” he sang into Bridgit’s hair. “O fortuna.”
The hair was a fourth person on the porch, its size shading into a Siamese twin. Bridgit took his beer and drained the last inch. “Is that it?”
“Of the beer or the song?”
Snicking open the largest blade required fingernails that Sarah didn’t have. She passed it off to Paul who handed it to Bridgit, who leaned back on her haunches and let the light shining from inside the house guide her eyes.
“No, the one beside it.”
Back in Sarah’s hand, the knife was warmed over from touching their skin. She was buzzed from the beer and from the smoke, which still wreathed them and clouded puffs from the nub of joint that lay abandoned between their feet.
“How’s this work?” Paul pulled at a curl of cloudy hair and let it bounce before pulling at another. Bridgit slapped his hand.
“Just slice a line. Press hard, the blades are dull.” Sarah shouted this over the squealing sound of an oncoming train; the house was set less than fifty feet from the tracks.
“Dull,” Sarah repeated, hand cupped around her mouth. “Very dull.”
Loud music leaked through the door. It opened an inch and then slammed closed again, letting out the heavy scent of garlic from leftover chicken wings. This was their party, what Paul coined their Grief Gathering. Their mother had been dead over a month, but it felt like longer.
Sarah dug the knife into the divot of her lifeline and pulled toward her heart with medium speed. There was pressure and then nothing. When she looked again, the line had blossomed dark in the pit of her cupped palm. She passed the knife to Paul, who handed it to Bridgit, who sliced a thin stroke along her own palm and then performed the operation on Paul, who didn’t watch, but looked back inside through the window.
“Put out your hand. Its ritual.”
Shadows danced through the window as the music dialed down into bass notes. It was after midnight and everyone had slipped into a slow grind. Sarah’s palm leaked steadily. She couldn’t see it, but she felt each drop hanging off her middle finger before falling to the porch. She reached for Paul, who reached for Bridgit. Their three injured hands slid together and mixed liquid, as if sharing residual lotion.
It felt like nothing. It felt like her feet were sinking through the floor.
Someone opened the door again. People stumbled outside, leaning over the railing to smoke their cigarettes. A man Sarah didn’t know asked to borrow a lighter and Paul pulled his hand away to dig through his jean pocket.
Sarah didn’t say we’re connected now, forever or you can never leave me or let’s stay caught in this moment or even I’ll be right back because she didn’t know if she would be. Her palm radiated heat from where she’d cut it, but mostly from where the blood had mingled. Each of her fingers owned a separate pulse.
Creeping through the front door, she slid along the wall where Bridgit had projected an image of a bee pollinating a bright purple flower. Her palm left a trail that marked her path, staining the white paint. She avoided the bodies crunched together on the makeshift dance floor and took the dwindling roll of paper towels next to the tray of wings, still filled with grease and halved cloves of garlic.
Now out through the back door, into the backyard. The smell was like Christmas. There was a fire pit going and dark smoke waved in one direction and then another. The wind couldn’t decide where to take it, but someone had piled cardboard on the top of the stack and the ashes landed in people’s hair and on their clothes. A dog ran around the group, circling and performing figure eights between their legs. Sparks flew from the addition of a fresh log.
A girl yelled: “Shit, my new shirt! Shit!”
Her mother had loved silk scarves and cauliflower and romance novels. Her mother had taught her the Fruits of the Spirit and how to clean rust from carpet fibers and which Beatles album you could play backward to hear Satan’s voice.
The White Album, Sarah. Her mother smoked everyday, almost as much as Paul. Listen; can you hear him say I AM THE DEVIL?
Trains fled past every twenty minutes. How the Earth shook! Sarah took a beer from one friend and then another from a stranger. They tasted the same, though one came in a can and the other from a sweaty brown bottle. She wrapped her slick hand in paper towels until she’d successfully mummified herself; bandaged until the heartbeat in her fingers quieted to timid thumps.
Walking back alongside the wooden fence, she came to a place where she could slip through a gap. She leaned back against the mildewed wood and watched moths fly up from the wet grass. The stink of dog shit was on her shoe. She put the empty can of beer on the track and waited for the next train to pass.
Kristen Arnett is a fiction and essay writer who has held fellowships at Tin House, Kenyon Review, and Lambda Literary Foundation. She was an honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers as well as a finalist for the 2014 William Richey short fiction contest at Yemassee Journal. Her work has either appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, Superstition Review, Blunderbuss Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Hawaii Pacific Review, Timber Journal, The Rumpus, The Toast, and Burrow Press Review. She is currently finishing up her first short fiction collection. You can find her on twitter here: @Kristen_Arnett