Marla comes in the back door with a canister of lye flakes.
"At the store, they have one-hundred-percent-recyc led toilet paper," Marla says. "The worst job in the whole world must be recycling toilet paper."
I take the canister of lye and put it on the table. I don't say anything.
"Can I stay over, tonight?" Marla says.
I don't answer. I count in my head: five syllables, seven, five.
A tiger can smile
A snake will say it loves you
Lies make us evil
Marla says, "What are you cooking?"
I am Joe's Boiling Point.
I say, go, just go, just get out. Okay? Don't you have a big enough chunk of my life, yet?
Marla grabs my sleeve and holds me in one place for the second it takes to kiss my cheek. "Please call me," she says. "Please. We need to talk."
I say, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
The moment Marla is out the door, Tyler appears back in the room. Fast as a magic trick. My parents did this magic act for five years.
I boil and skim while Tyler makes room in the fridge. Steam layers the air and water drips from the kitchen ceiling. The forty-watt bulb hidden in the back of the fridge, something bright I can't see behind the empty ketchup bottles and jars of pickle brine or mayonnaise, some tiny light from inside the fridge edges Tyler's profile bright.
Boil and skim. Boil and skim. Put the skimmed tallow into milk cartons with the tops opened all the way.
With a chair pulled up to the open fridge, Tyler watches the tallow cool. In the heat of the kitchen, clouds of cold fog waterfall out from the bottom of the fridge and pool around Tyler's feet.
As I fill the milk cartons with tallow, Tyler puts them in the fridge.
I go to kneel beside Tyler in front of the fridge, and Tyler takes my hands and shows them to me. The life line. The love line. The mounds of Venus and Mars. The cold fog pooling around us, the dim bright light on our faces.
"I need you to do me another favor," Tyler says.
This is about Marla isn't it?
"Don't ever talk to her about me. Don't talk about me behind my back. Do you promise?" Tyler says.
Tyler says, "If you ever mention me to her, you'll never see me again."
Tyler says, "Now remember, that was three times that you promised."
A layer of something thick and clear is collecting on top of the tallow in the fridge.
The tallow, I say, it's separating.
"Don't worry," Tyler says. "The clear layer is glycerin. You can mix the glycerin back in when you make soap. Or, you can skim the glycerin off."
Tyler licks his lips, and turns my hands palm-down on his thigh, on the gummy flannel lap of his bathrobe.
"You can mix the glycerin with nitric acid to make nitroglycerin," Tyler says.
I breathe with my mouth open and say, nitroglycerin.
Tyler licks his lips wet and shining and kisses the back of my hand.
"You can mix the nitroglycerin with sodium nitrate and sawdust to make dynamite," Tyler says.
The kiss shines wet on the back of my white hand.
Dynamite, I say, and sit back on my heels.
Tyler pries the lid off the can of lye. "You can blow up bridges," Tyler says.
"You can mix the nitroglycerin with more nitric acid and paraffin and make gelatin explosives,"
"You could blow up a building, easy," Tyler says.
Tyler tilts the can of lye an inch above the shining wet kiss on the back of my hand.
"This is a chemical burn," Tyler says, "and it will hurt worse than you've ever been burned. Worse than a hundred cigarettes."
The kiss shines on the back of my hand.
"You'll have a scar," Tyler says.
"With enough soap," Tyler says, "you could blow up the whole world. Now remember your promise."
And Tyler pours the lye.