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By Joshua Mercier

I am nothing special, old and yellow in my varnish as I am. There are tattoos on my skin, faded gray because there’s no such thing as a permanent marker, no matter how many times it’s been absently traced over with pen. Today’s layers of ink are contributed by a student who’s half paying attention to a budget meeting for a club she just joined to boost her resume, perched miraculously atop my arthritic skeleton. The pen itches, tingles as it runs over the old wounds in pinpricks of pain. It’s nothing like the pain of a fresh carving, but the sting is a solemn reminder of it. Her feet kick back and forth, and I tremble in time with the motions.

She checks her phone – it buzzes harshly against me through her back pocket, rattling me to my core – and smiles secretly down between her knees at me.

It’s a look I know well. Pale carvings in my skin of names and initials remind me why my bones have gotten so weak. Anyone would start to age all too quickly in my position.

The club disbands. I heave a sigh, which goes blissfully ignored by her. She is jittery in her gleefulness. I tremble more, uncertain as to whether I’ll survive this one. I stand firm when undisturbed, but I suddenly feel self conscious, minutes from collapsing outright.

He arrives.

He is tall. An athletic type, maybe, toned but not thickly built. He looks around nervously, clicking the lock shut on the door with a look halfway between a smile and a grimace.

She is not the heaviest weight I have held, although when he leans over, bracing his hands on either side of her, I groan regardless.

They kiss. He’s slow but rough when he adds his weight to me, pushing my joints to their limits, ignoring how I creak in response. His weight lands heavy on a weak corner of mine, where the leg to his left squeals in an unheard cry of pain. He simply laughs, throws his weight until I can bend no more, and I have no choice but to hold him where he stands. I find a moment’s repose when he moves his hands to let them crawl up under her shirt, though it’s a short-lived sigh of relief as I know, I have known, that this is a harbinger of worse treatment to come.

They seem not to care. She leans back onto me, granting him more room to explore. He partakes.

Soon her shirt is on the floor, and I should be grateful for the reprieve from its small weight, but his hips are braced against my leg and I bear more of him than I feel able. I protest, lean away from his weight as far as the screws hidden within my wooden joints can stand, but he does not relent. He chases me to the scant limits of my flexibility – though as loosely held together as my bones are, those limits are not so scant as they used to be.

She’s whispering something to him, but her back is pressed to me and I can’t make out the words on her lips. I wonder what scandal must be kept secret even from the furniture, what joke shared between lovers even I may not know. What secrets have these couples to hide from only me? He smiles, looking down at her. He is looking down at me, too, but his focus is too narrow to spot the carved-out scratches on the surface of my skin. He has no care for the tattoos I’ve earned over the years from bored students years before either of them had set foot on this campus. No, I am not special enough for that kind of attention.

She, more intimately close to me than he, does not observe me, but arches her back away from the gentle stick of my varnish to her skin. Beads of sweat form on her, only strengthening its weak grip. I do not grab at her intentionally – if I could let go altogether, I would – but my varnish reaches out to grip at her with every pull of her body up and away from me, clinging to her flesh as though terrified to lose its warmth so soon.

I, however, am not my varnish. I shudder, worrying I may not be able to stay screwed together as they screw together. The crack of my joints serves as a warning shot. They do not heed; in fact, their pace only picks up, all too desperate to complete their mission, to leave behind their private legacy only they and my ancient bones would know.

And all at once, she cries out, blunt fingernails clawing at me, seemingly unconcerned about the day-old polish that covered them. It has already begun to chip away, and pieces of it fall away and settle into the shallow crevasses she leaves behind. I give one last angered groan as they still, panting, sharing a gaze.

He laughs, and then she laughs. She sits up and kisses him. My screws sigh in relief when finally, blessedly, she stands. They lean up against me for a moment, and I rock back bitterly. She yelps as she almost falls over. He chuckles again, pulling her close, and I slowly shift back to attention.

There is a drawer on one side of me, where professors have stashed their pencils and coffee during lectures. Dark rings from the bottoms of mugs dapple the smooth wood that lines it. Carvings of initials, hearts, and doodles pepper the skin there, too.

She takes out a pocket knife and smirks. He laughs and shakes his head as she pulls open the drawer and shoves the knife into his hand.

I have no voice with which I might cry out in pain – my joints may creak and moan when I am jarred, but I remain silent when he carves out a signature into my flesh. The wood protests faintly against the knife with a rasp, but is powerless to stop his hand. I can offer no further objection of my own though the sting of the knife surges through my body with every second.

She adds her own name beneath his, connecting them with a hasty, unpracticed ampersand. She continues the scrawling with hand more skilled than his had been, and she finishes with a flourish, circling their handiwork with a smile.

JEFF & Lynn Banged on this Table

He kisses her again.

Time passes. I do not know how long. The clock is tucked away in a corner of the room, out of my sight. I sit, aching, recovering.

My drawer is yanked open, and two pairs of curious eyes pore over the etchings like archaeologists decoding an ancient language. Fingers run over my freshest scars, as if touch might reveal more meaning to the onlookers, and I wish with all my might I could wince, cower away from the pain of it. But I simply sit as they snicker above me.

One turns to a backpack and fishes through it. They emerge, triumphant, black marker in hand. The marker is at first an almost pleasant sensation, a gentle sting that dances on my skin. Soon enough, though, ill-planned script overlaps the carvings, and ink seeps into the still-too-fresh wound. My body burns. I endure.

How unfortunate for Lynn

What can I do but endure? I am nothing special, old and yellow in my varnish as I am.

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