The Locket by Kathryn Scanlan

Under a noon sun across a black cloth lay a glitter of metal, hard to look at. I drew one up—a locket, domed and gold—by its chain and wedged my nail in its seam and split it open like a piece of fruit. Inside was a man from the neck up. He wore a white collar and a black coat and a head full of rich hair. I worked over his face slowly. It was stiff as stone and cold under the glass but I could see how it might move, the bloom of it. He looked slant of me, and it seemed he might have been looking at a woman: one who waited in the doorway for the thing to be done, the photographer ducking now beneath his dark cloak, his bulb bursting pale and hot.

The man cut his face out and pasted it into the hollow place. He snugged the glass and shut the thing and fixed the latch upon the woman’s neck, lifting her hair not to snare it, careful, slow, maybe lowering his mouth to where the chain now lay, a light and cold and creeping prick, the only golden thing she owned. It shone like a small sun before dulling into something more earthbound. When it slid across her skin she thought of the man inside, and sometimes she moved just to feel it there. I walked home with it tangling in my pocket, slipping my hand in now and again to feel how it heated up, and by the time I arrived the locket was warm as flesh.

I was working as a mail clerk at a warehouse that cut small discs of tin. All day long the pieces rained ringing down the chutes and the air tasted sour and sharp like blood when you opened your mouth. The man who ran operations had skin that flushed red while he worked and fine gold hairs down his arms that caught the silver shavings falling like sparks from the machines. I would stand at my station sorting and he would walk past so swiftly he stirred my clothing, my skirt’s hem a sweep of fingers, my shirt a hand lightly traveling, my hair lifting and sighing into place again, the letters lying limp while I listened for his step. It seemed I could hear the smallest sound from a great distance. When I drove home in the evenings I drove reckless and fast, often taking the long way through the withering fields, finding pleasure in the yield of the gas pedal, the life in me pulsing harder the closer it came to its end.

 

 

Kathryn Scanlan’s work has appeared in NOON, Fence, Gigantic, Tin House, and The Iowa Review, and a chapbook of stories is forthcoming this fall from Caketrain Press.