about the author

Christine Fadden had a dragon tattoo long before that girl did. She holds a degree from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Her fiction can be found in Storyglossia, Titular Journal, Staccato Fiction, Knee-Jerk Magazine, and elsewhere. Her blog is mostly a shrine to Don Draper and rock stars: christinefadden.com/blog.

Bookmark and Share


font size

A Rough Guide

Christine Fadden

Jõse and I stole things from cafes and restaurants. He took ashtrays and saucers; I took seasonal decorations, for example, glittery blue pigs off Christmas trees or saints’ candles on certain days. When he stared right into me across the table, I knew he was working something ceramic into his pants. I carried a velvet bag, so I could take the most fragile items. Jõse’s Madeira home came from family cork tree money in Monsaraz. His bedroom was lined in cork. We lit our collection of candles and he would whisper into my ear, “I’m sorry, my English is rustic” and then push me into a wall like a thumbtack.

The Greek-Russian and I constantly ate. I picked up a slab of what I thought was cheese—but was butter—and swallowed it whole. I gagged and said, “Eh, Gehd.” He laughed. My favorite dessert of all time was served at the restaurant next door to his apartment, where somebody killed the baby birds in the stairwell—for chirping. The nest lay on the ground and the rubbery-gray bodies splayed limp and goose-bumped under damp peach-colored feather sprouts. I wondered who would take such a hard hand to such a soft thing, as the Greek-Russian raised his glass in celebration of one revolution or another and I put my mouth around the moist chocolate cake with the dark chocolate icing laid over it like a glove, with the hunk of sweet butter right in the center.

The former New Zealand All Blacks player flinched and it shamed him. My fingertips were conductors, like the electric wire he had grasped instead of a branch. The shock had sent him, he said, up above the tree line before dropping him on fire like a meteor to the grass. At nine years old, he fell in love with the burn unit nurse who soaked him through a series of skin grafts. She told him that the day he arrived, she’d been the one assigned to pick the dandelion wishes out of his wounds. I traced those pink places, discovered continents in relief wrapped around him. But the morning he ignored our safety word and left me tied to a chair for six hours is the evening I could find no more tenderness. As he balked in the threshold blocking out the dusk, I bowed my head towards that spread of shoulders and pressed my hand against that lower belly, assuring nerves from his coccyx to his axis would cross wires, make it hard for him to slide the key into the ignition and make his way home. Afterwards, soaking all but my raw wrists and ankles in a bath, I watched bubbles move over my body like shifting islands of whipped egg whites. I thought of the tender blow it takes to send a bubble away whole, to turn a seed into a wish.

On subequatorial nights, there is no simpler pleasure than being blindfolded and fed crème fraiche from the tip of your lover’s nose. The morning we left Barbados, I vomited fried plantains and white foam over the bow of our boat for an hour. I hadn’t thought I might be pregnant until I surfaced from a long deep dive a few days later and found a bloody mass, like a jellyfish, in the crotch of my wetsuit. Jonas and I slid it overboard with our salty rough hands and avoided land. Squalls chased us for forty-seven hours. The mercury-purple sky cracked down our mast and a shattered-looking Jonas shouted, “Let’s try again!” I shouted back, just as the air turned to glass, “We weren’t trying!” My words hit the dead space, hung on the lines, churned through the pulleys as Jonas hoisted the mainsail for no reason. When silence broke, we sailed harder. A whole gale blew in, Jonas screamed us through 50 knots, and the blue waterproof map spread out beneath my hands took on a pink glare. My palms pressed down fathoms. “We have to find harbor,” I said. For half a year, we anchored and unmoored. We circled the Windward and the Leeward Islands twice, despite a wicked spell of the doldrums. On deck under a full moon, our mojitos went down our throats illuminated. Jonas’s teeth were sometimes the only lead I had to his body, like gardenia petals against the volcano.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...