He once got hit by a playground and it was all over for him with pockets. He couldn’t eat breakfast for all the empty spaces. Holes distracted him. It was “as a child.” But he wandered like a blank, sputtered, lost it.
The mind is a soft substance, a kind of pudding. Two million people have it, and it’s caused by things we think are fun. By entertainment. Everyone has been touched by it in some way. Soft touch.
When we married and I sat with him in a park or office, he would want to call me at home. “I want to call Cathy.” And I would say, “But I am Cathy. I’m here. I’m your wife.” And he’d say, swingset, “I know you are, but I want to call the other Cathy.” And so later at home there’d be a recording of his voice on the machine: “I just wondered what you were doing right now.” A machine. A recording.
Was the other Cathy living in our house like a sock, like a closet, a shadow, a snake? Was I another Cathy? She became a palatable oatmeal on my tongue, on his. Me. The other Cathy. The other wife. The one he’d call when I was right by him.
“Is the other Cathy like me?” I asked him. “Oh, no,” he said. “You’re a lot easier to talk to.” And I felt a little bad for Cathy then. The other me. But I had been the one feeding him out of my enormous pockets. My big white blouse. The other Cathy was just the hole in his morning meal, a fruit you open.
People get impacted by a game or a junglegym or some other form of violence and when they wander away I see them. I guess they could be more angry, suddenly very sweet, or afraid of bridges. In love with a thing they never knew before. A slight shift in soup chemistry is all it takes. And with the damage, two million alternate brothers and lovers turn, straight-mouthed, towards the dishes in the kitchen sink, waiting for the call.
"Soft Touch" originally appeared in Arielle Greenberg's first collection, Given (Wave Books, 2002), which you can learn more about on her website here.