ENGAGEMENT

 

I am marrying a woman who cuts people open and leaves suturing to an apprentice. Her students compete to finish her work—who can recite her research publications to date, who can imitate her voice over the hospital intercom. They carry a set of needles and spools of flesh-colored thread in their medical aprons: gradations of yellow for the jaundiced, red for the scalded, white for the bloodless. A squad of seamsters at her disposal. I'm told at parties that they admire the surgeon I am to wed and that I am a lucky man.

 I dream of my new life during our engagement: So she has a farm. Dozens of animals are left in my charge, a menagerie that morphs from day to day. One morning I find the horse pen slithering with lizards and elephants licking at the pigs' trough. I don't know the rules for caring after each one, the particulars of their diets. I can't keep up, and I've been instructed not to call her workplace for non-emergencies, and the animals are dying. They cry at the sound of traffic helicopters and cower at the histrionics of the gulls. The wails match untended car alarms.

 The barn door is a curtain made from canvas dyed red. I knock, the skin on my knuckles shreds, the door gives. Bales of dead corn approach the rafters like a city on the rise. The mice that nipped at my feet the day before are now goats shrieking for milk. I turn to run out. The door is now made of silk scarves pinned together. The sun comes through the gaps where the edges sag, dozens of hot misshapen eyes. She's waiting for me now. She laughs as I tear my way out and extends an insured hand. My arms are tangled in fabric. She escorts me back toward the house. I glance back. The door is a sheet of rushing water.


Susanna Kwan has an MFA from Vanderbilt University and is currently a fellow at the San Francisco Writers' Grotto.