c a l e b    s t r i g h t

Wire Chest


I remember my fifth birthday, standing on the edge, curling and uncurling my toes around the lip, watching my friends hold each others' heads underwater and spit into each others' eyes, and asking my mother why I couldn't get in.

She knelt in front of me and tugged on the wire from my chest to the car battery in my hands and said, "I told you you didn't want a pool party."

After everyone left she laid me down on the kitchen table, toweled me off, used the blow drier around the wire and switched Duralast for Duralast.

She said we did it on my birthday so we wouldn't forget.

Then this birthday she had me dress in my dress Wranglers but leave off the bolo tie, after the accident at Grandma's funeral.

She had me meet her in the living room and I found her there with another woman and a little girl.

She held my battery as I climbed into my chair and sagged down into its weave of yellow and brown vinyl strips. My knees were at my chin and she put the battery beside me.

She pointed to the girl like she was holding a platter and said, “this is Jennifer and you're going to marry her.”

“Not today,” the other woman said, with her hand out. “Of course.”

“No of course. When you're bigger. When you're adults.”

“Because of your handicaps,” the other woman said.

“She can't sew,” my mother whispered to me, then said aloud, “Because you're both different.”

“We've tried so hard. She just pricks herself all over. We try,” the woman said to us. “We give her incentives, such as, she's not allowed to wear anything she doesn't make. This is one of her creations.” She pointed toward her daughter.

The girl's hair was too long. It was tangled and she didn't look up. Her shoulders were exposed, the threads of her shirt, stretches of what looked like 30-year-old flower upholstery, just barely holding sleeve to blouse; the seams lined with red blotches like tiny polka dots.

“Why don't you two go to the backyard and kiss or something,” the woman suggested.

“He has such pronounced biceps,” she said as I walked past, my battery, as always, in my hands.

At the corner of the sandbox, a board was nailed to strengthen the junction, but it made a platform, too. That's where I stood, as always, because the battery felt lighter there. Like we were closer to the moon or closer to somewhere else.

“Do you have air conditioning?” the girl asked.


“Do you have GPS?”

I shook my head.

“Why do you need a battery?”

“My mom said,” I said, “that I was dead when I was born.”

“Are you dead right now?”

“I don't know.” I let my bottom lip pout out, because I had thought about it. Every day if I remembered. Had wondered if I was dead.

She stepped up beside me, balancing her red buckle shoes on the thin walls of the box. She put one hand on my forehead and another on hers.

“Your forehead is cooler than mine,” she said. I shrugged my shoulders. “Does your mom hug you?”


“Because of the battery?”

“Yeah. It hurts me. Yeah. Does your mother hug you?”

“No. It tears my sleeves.” She tugged on one, and its threads snapped and it sagged half-way down her arm.

“My mom,” I said, “says we're supposed to hug. She says that moms are supposed to hug and that families are supposed to hug, but cause of my handicap.”

“What's a handicap?”

“It's when it's harder for people to love you.”

“Do you think I have a handicap?” Her face was scrunched up and I scrunched my face up, because Mom had said she had a handicap, but I knew that wasn't what she wanted to hear. And I didn't want to hear I was dead.

I said, “No,” and I shook my head.

“Then hug me,” she said and held her arms out.

I cocked my head to shake it no, but said, “you'll have to hug me,” and I hoisted the battery to show.

“No,” she said, and she got her hands under and inside mine. And when she lifted, it took away the gravity of the heavy box and I felt like I was floating. Like if I moved my arms like birds do, I could move like I was in water.

Then, I got on my tippy-toes, and untied myself from her and re-threaded my arms inside hers, over the battery and around her body and held. She was a new kind of warmth. The warmth of skin on skin. And held till the coughing started. I held my fist to my mouth but it knocked me back. I shook my head and she handed the battery back.

“What did it feel like?” she asked.

I said, “It felt like you were pulling on my heart,” and she nodded over and over like it was a good thing.

She lunged at me then and threaded me like I did her. She felt like she was trying to tie herself behind me. And that's how she staid for minutes. When she pulled back out, her sleeves were falling like they'd dripped from her, their threads wisps like spider webs.

“We should get married now,” she said. She clapped and I shrugged my shoulders and nodded. “We could get married and run away.”

“No,” I yelled. “No.” I wrapped my arms around my battery, pulled it into me, and stepped back from her. The battery still warm from her.

“Why not?” She stepped forward.

“I'll die.”

“You won't die. And I could make shirts for you and your battery. Not good shirts, but shirts.”


“But my mother doesn't love me and your mother doesn't love you. We could love each other.”

“But my mom changes my battery. What if it dies? I'll die. I can't leave.”

“We could do it,” she said. She pulled my battery from me again and held it and there was room again to breathe. I inhaled till I was filled and she said, “We could live in the woods and eat berries and live in trees, and I could change your battery whenever you needed it. Even more if you wanted.”

“There's no batteries in the woods.”

“We could go to the city,” she said. “Cities are filled with cars and cars are filled with batteries. You're afraid to die, huh?”

I nodded.

“You could live in the city,” she said.

With my battery in her hands, I seemed to float with every little movement. As the battery swayed in her arms just a little, I swayed from shoulder to shoulder. And when she stepped down from the sandbox, I stepped down from the sandbox. And when she walked out the back of the yard, through the open door in the wooden fence, on the side walk up the road and to the city, I did too.



CALEB STRIGHT is managing editor of The Record-Argus in Greenville, Pa. His work has appeared in MFA/MFYOU, fourpaperletters and Rivets Lit Mag. Read more about his writing at http://cstright.wordpress.com/.

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