“Plaster of Paris” by Ross McMeekin

She listened to the rhythm of the dishwasher jets hum in the kitchen down the hallway.  The cast crunched beneath the scissors, the cold metal of the blades chilling her skin.  His forearms strained as he attempted to cut all the way through.  Bits of the cast crumbled and scattered all over the comforter and the hardwood floor. She wished they were doing this in the bathroom, but didn’t want to interrupt him now that he was focused.  She thought of the smell under the cast; when she’d used the butt end of a pencil to scratch the itches it had come out smelling like sour urine.

“I bet you’ll be glad to have this off,” he said.

“Yup.”  Cool air flooded into the crack, blanching her skin.  Halfway done.  She had been dreaming about scratching her arm.

“Stinks,” he said.

“Whose fault is that?” she said, trying to be funny.  She meant that he was the one removing the cast, but realized he might think she meant the way he had fixed it, or the broken arm itself.  Her heart took off like a thoroughbred and she felt that familiar tightness in the muscles of her shoulder blades.

He stopped.  As if on cue, the dishwasher stopped as well.

“I meant with you cutting it open,” she said, and she knew they were on the edge, that it could go either way.  Sweat gathered on her upper lip.

He started with the scissors again.  Another section of the cast buckled.  He looked up at her and smiled.  “No need to get into that.”

“Indeed,” she said.

He made a few more incisions, until finally he clipped off the last edge and slid the cast from her arm.  “There.”

Her skin looked whiter.  The arm hairs were darker.  Or maybe it was the contrast, and no sun.  Some pink dots colored the top of her wrist.

“We’ll get some calamine lotion for that,” he said.

“I’d like to keep it,” she said, meaning the cast.  All of the kids in the third-grade class she taught had signed it with magic markers.

He wedged it under his arm and stood up, the mattress relaxing without his weight.  “It stinks,” he said.  He turned, left, and flipped off the light with her still inside.  The air turned on, making one of the drapes dance.

She scooted herself back onto the bed and pulled up her feet.  She laid down flat on her back. Her fingers still glided over the rash, traversing the valleys between the small bumps.  It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the dark.  In that minute, she had the sensation that at any moment the mattress and sheets would begin folding up around her like a shell.

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