Eli’s former surname was a bulk of pumice pierced with double vowels. Long after its retirement, it remained beached in my memory; voicing it is like tossing stones across a pond where each cathartic skip lands with a clench. Once, at a crowded townie bar I took a shot as Eli elbowed through the crowd with the prodding delicacy of an aging dog, I introduced him parceled with his old last name. His addled expression stung like dry rain and sunk into a pool of wrinkles. I learned to adjust to his mom’s maiden name promoted from its perch on the seesawing hyphen, to hide the old one within my tongue’s maze of umami receptors and canker sores. But, this replacement: it was overly concise—all summer in a syllable. I am guilty of lavishing the other name in secret, its swift tang to the beat of a wrinkled gong. I am guilty of plucking the jagged thing, dredging a man from his second life with a linguistic sleight of hand. The geyser-like serrations grip my tongue, follow its swivel around my mouth, and fling from my lips—before breaching into the swollen patchwork of a gone bald man.
Andy Bodinger is a fiction writer and graduate student at Oklahoma State University. He is a former ESL teacher and a current associate editor at the Cimarron Review, and his work has been published in Lunch Ticket and The Stockholm Review of Literature, among other places.