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Justine Teu

Pink Eye

In the morning, my husband makes black bricks for breakfast. There’s no new bread to toast, because we were already down to the loaf’s end pieces, and neither of us had time to get to the supermarket the night before. I gnaw at my piece anyway, distracted by the news on a muted television: there’s been a murder according to one segment, an attempted murder in another, and a category five hurricane, along the coast of the Florida panhandle. 1,600 people have gone dead or missing. Carnage makes a montage in the form of crying toddlers and widows and widowers, while desperate wave to helicopters from the rooftops of flooded ranch homes.

My husband hands me the mail I'd forgotten to check yesterday. Among the items, countless bills: electric, gas, phone, college loan, medical. A charity pleads, by paper, for us to contribute by the end of the fiscal quarter. I forget the cause. I ask my husband. He’s forgotten, too. Without addressing any of them, I push them to the side, in lieu of a small package of contact lenses, which I'd forgotten I'd ordered. I'd bought them on a whim, off a targeted ad on Instagram that made them look too beautiful to be true.

In the packaging, two planets made of hydrogel sit in solution the color of raspberry lemonade. My husband’s skeptical. He says there’s no way they'll work as well as the glasses. To spite him, I want to confess: I have been having an emotional affair with a younger man from work. He looks just like you, I want to say, but kinder in the eyes, more alive, more willing to see. I want to brag that he does not burn toast in the office toaster. That with him, I don't need glasses. I go to him with my naked eye. In fact, I want to say that the glasses no longer work at all, and that I am seeing death tolls on the television again.

Instead, I slip one contact in, and then the other.

On my plate, lies a piece of golden toast, just the way I like it. Ruby jam glistens in an open jar. On the muted television, a news report tells me that yet another animal has been taken off the endangered list, and that global carbon emissions have been cut by an unprecedented fifty percent. The mail on the table consists of various greeting cards: birthday, anniversary, graduation. They all mean what they say. A letter, from the charity, thanks me for my continued monthly patronage.

“Well, how do I look?” I ask, placing my glasses on the table.

My husband smiles, ten years younger. The color has returned to his face. I want to call the way he looks at me kind, so much that I can’t stop smiling. I don’t force myself to. I ache in this happiness, and force the golden toast past the upward turn of my mouth.

The burnt bread still tastes like burnt bread, and the news, unmuted by my husband’s hand, plays the beat of helicopter wings and wars and gunshot echoes. Neither one of us, stuck in our old habits, will find time to go to the supermarket for a fresh loaf of bread. The bills, perpetually unpaid, will soon go to a chain of debt collectors.

I swallow the end pieces. I pretend the beat of helicopter wings is the backdrop to a new radio hit. I blink, and the red sun rises red all around us. Like a seed, I will grow this poppy sky, and then this poppy room, and love all that remains.

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