Fiction · 11/08/2017

When We

When you and I turned into snails, I tore myself from my shell, and we squeezed into yours. We pressed against your spirals, and they stabbed my flesh, made me secrete unintentionally. But you laughed about it and scooched over for me.

When we puffed into nebulas, I had to squint my cat’s eye, compress every electron, to see you dancing all the way over there in Cassiopeia. A ripple of nitrogen, blue bubble inside squinting back.

When we were ceramic dinnerware, you were always stacked on top, me at the bottom. I waited six weeks and two days before we were reshuffled just right, before you clinked on top of me.

When we were nails the hammer bent me. They swept me into the dustpan. The hammer swung at you, and you jerked your galvanized point three-eighths of an inch to the left, aimed at that stubborn pine knot. You became bent and useless and dustpan bound.

When we were blood cells, we tumbled after each other to the cadence of that ancient drum.

When you were a tamarin, I was a capuchin, and that was a problem. You wore a gold mane, and my beard was stained yellow, my black cap graying. All I had going for me was a clam locked tight. You yanked it from my fingers, threw it at the rocks. I thought you’d ruined me, but you returned, naked mussel in hand. There was always less meat in those things than I envisioned, a slime slither that — when shared — left our stomachs groaning.

When we were both steel, they pounded you into a sword and molded me into breastplate. I never thought I’d see you again, until they thrust you into me. They crafted you better — perfect point to pierce a lung, but first you had to tear through me.

Do you remember that jar when we were cicadas? I mean, I was headed your way already when they jammed us into that jar. We buzzed so loud I thought the glass would shatter.

Not long after, you were you and I was me. Diner waitress, house painter. You smelled like syrup and fryer grease, and I reeked of paint thinner. We rescued an orange dog and bought a house and filed joint tax returns. And now we smell like us.

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Dustin M. Hoffman is the author of the story collection One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist, winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He spent ten years painting houses in Michigan before getting his MFA from Bowling Green State University and his PhD from Western Michigan University. His stories have recently appeared in Baltimore Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Washington Square Review, Witness, and The Threepenny Review. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. You can visit his site here: dustinmhoffman.com