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We raised our arms above the grass while she explained about the deer tick – the thing that stuffs its head into you, drinks you up, gives you Lyme disease. I didn’t want to hear it. She said that if you pull off a tick its head comes away from its body and rots in you, which made me think of the prawns I’d undressed the night before and their frilly faces in the dustbin of the guesthouse. The kind of food we’d never cook at home, at least not from scratch – the kind of “fresh food” that’s supposed to make everything else seem fresh. That old trick.
When we set up our picnic the first thing she said, just as I took a deep sniff of our supermarket pate, was that I’d need to check between her buttocks as soon as we got back. In case there was a tick. I told her she could spread herself there and then if she wanted but she was busy running a comb through her hair, checking the teeth. She found a video on her phone of a farmer running a brush through a calf’s tail so that you could see the whole brush alive with ticks, clambering all over it so you could barely see the brush-hairs. Writhing among the bristles. “For God’s sake,” I said.
Back at the guesthouse she peeled off her clothes, stuffed them into a white plastic bag. A smell like bisque wafted from the bin. I hadn’t seen her naked since the thing with Marcus, and even though that’d all been part of the arrangement I still didn’t want to touch where his fingers had been. On her, in her – it made my skin crawl. The sight of her pale body in the en suite mirror, running her fingers under her arms, up her inner thigh. It made me queasy – seeing what he must have seen, in their hotel room or his car or wherever it was. Perhaps it was in a guesthouse like this one, this same one even. On the bed, in the shower, on her, in her. She should have told me some other time.
I forced myself to go through when she called. I could still taste the pate when I bent down behind her. Just a flicker in me expected to find one of them hiding between her buttocks. Feeding, waiting, stubborn to detach. You’re supposed to twist and pull, if you find one, so that the head doesn’t come off. Twist, pull, discard, forget.
She asked and I said, “Nothing there.” Though I hadn’t looked.
Afterwards she stepped into the shower and blasted herself all over with the showerhead. Just in case. When it was my turn, I pulled the jacket off my back like a prawn’s shell, examined my naked body in the mirror, my hairs like bristles. Combed through the folds, the crevices. And then let the scalding water run over me while she made a phone call.