Over in the Basement, Not an Inch Between
Jan Carson

Tough is as she does. Do not call me on the telephone. Tonight I am staying in and with great determination thinking about other things. I am thinking about famines and divorces, dead dogs and children; larger sorrows than those stirred on your apartment floor. Do not call me on the telephone. Do not send the carrier pigeons you once promised. Do not stand on my porch under the grape vines and stare. Tonight I am staying in. I am making wanted posters for our lost dinosaur and listening to Nebraska. It seems like a circle; the perfect way to sink. I am pinning my posters with Scotch tape on every telegraph pole this side of Hawthorne. I am pinning them close to the pavement, stooping to accommodate his two inch legs. I am hoping that dinosaurs can read.
I phone you under a streetlamp. I am calling about the dinosaur. I am afraid he is already extinct. "Hey," you say. You sound tired. You sound like cigarettes. I wonder how I will ever dislove the sound of you which is moderate and wise and faintly un-American. Lately you have become an adult on the telephone. You sound like my father in early photographs; the square ones with rounded corners. You dream about him too and tell me basement conversations and all the guitars he will never own. I am jealous of your dreams which should belong to me. I wonder if you will ever meet my father in the waking hours and note the four small inches you have over him. You are a full grown man with ties and a motor car. I am a small girl kicking stones. Our telephones stretch like soup cans across the city. There are decades, years and months looped around the string. It is beyond a joke.
"Do not worry about the dinosaur," you say, "He's young. He's hungry. Someday he'll return with Egyptian sand between his toes." You smile and your kindness creeps down my collar and ruins everything. You will not even blame me for your loss. I thank you for everything including justice, grace, kindness and impeccable manners. I feel like our parents kissing patiently with dry mouths. I wish you would hit me full in the face with hammers and scream. There is a bad situation climbing into us and you are happy. Somewhere in Portland our dinosaur sleeps standing up, terrified of tiny plastic evils both imagined and real. Somewhere in Portland our dinosaur dreams of your dashboard and from time to time, my teeth chewing on his green plastic tail.
Over in the basement not an inch between I do not have the arms to hate you. I leave ugly marks where I once held you to the light. You take a sugar spoon and dig us each a trench so we are dead soldiers sleeping ear to elbow, elbow to heel. Finally, finally after six months of pacing the floors and raging we are sleeping under the skylights, a mess of limbs and loss, ragged words and nails. You are a soldier and I am a soldier and the dinosaur watching from your pocket smiles. I suspect we are beyond redemption. We are offering each other airports now. We are unpicking stitches, removing teeth, unbinding the guitar strings which kept our heads together.
Your house is suddenly cavernous with the absence of dinosaurs. I am upside down on your carpet avoiding the red wine stains. You stand over me brushing your teeth. We are contemplating the ice age from every angle. "Do something sweeping and expensive." I think, "These smaller toothy things, (showers and dishes, laundry and gas,) will be the death of me." I say nothing. I am sitting on the edge of your sofa with one shoe unlaced. I am cold and blonde in the Christmas sun, considering our loss through my hair.
I take your arm and examine the red place on your left wrist, exactly the size and shape of a kidney bean. It is not getting better. Perhaps you are dying. "Look," you say, grabbing my left wrist to expose a perfectly formed red kidney bean. It cannot be a coincidence. God would not be so cruel a second time. "If it doesn't fade before bed everything will be all right." I agree. You agree. I am thinking about our dinosaur, pickled and lonely in some European museum. You poke my kidney bean hard with your finger and hope. It is already fading.
Tough is as she does. We are still standing, stooping now to accommodate his two inch legs, and though you will not believe this, our feet are burrowing deep into those eternal rocks beneath. By the weekend I may well be a tree.
Four nights later I dream that our dinosaur is back in town. I am holding him in the palm of my hand high above my head. (From a distance I could be mistaken for the Statue of Liberty.) I am in the corridor of an American High School. "Look," I shout, turning to catch your eye, "The dinosaur is back with Egyptian sand between his toes." You smile. I smile. The dinosaur smiles right through his green plastic paint. We are the luckiest kids on the West Coast; you and I. The next morning I wake to find the dinosaur is still gone. I am not a tree or a telegraph pole. I am a small girl kicking stones. I take my finger and prod the place on my left wrist where the kidney bean should be. I stab myself until the bruises start but the kidney bean is long gone. I am sadder than sin for my pure white wrist.