Good Beginnings: Fair Shopping

Good beginnings.

It’s something so delicious and delicate.

And dangerous.

Zipper down. Spinach-infested smiles. Eye boogers. Toilet paper stuck to… well, just stuck.

First impression failures line my history well.

Then there are those winning first shots.

Wind causes hair to blow lavishly behind face. Sunlight making eyes radiant. Body odor: good.

Point being, good beginnings can happen as random as bad ones.

And when it comes to good beginnings with stories, I have bucketloads. Trunk-novel-loads, in fact. Many still stuck in the mucus of my hippocampus.

What to do with good story beginnings? Write long epic novels, of course.

The frustrating part about these good story beginnings is that they don’t always promise a good long ending.

That’s what happened to my short story ‘Fair Shopping.’

It was supposed to be epic in length. An odyssey that stands ageless and full of action and intrigue.

Yeah… that didn’t happen past chapter four. Damn story.

It wanted to write itself into the truncated form it is now, the stubborn thing.

No! I want espionage. End-of-the-world cataclysm. Perspective of our current throes into modern potential warfare.

But the damned story kicked me out and said this is what will happen instead. It defied pantsing. It defied outlines.

So, I let it do its thing and write itself out.

What was supposed to be a brick of a novel became a short dive into horror for a young couple on their way to a town fair.

So happy the folks at Spectral Press liked this good beginning that wanted it to go as short as it wanted to.

‘Fair Shopping’ will be part of the fifth anthology of Spectral Book of Horrors, a wonderful series to be part of in my opinion.

Coming soon in the fall.

Hooray for good beginnings!

 

JLT

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Bedtime

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: But your arms are soft and warm. They can’t stop monsters.

Mother: No. They can’t.

Child: So when are we safe?

Mother: Here and now. In my arms.

Child: You already said that. So, we’re never safe.

Mother: We’re together.

Child: Not all the time. Besides, that doesn’t mean we’re safe.

Mother: But I’m here now to protect you.

Child: Well how can you protect me when you’re not around?

Mother: I’ll stop the monsters now so you won’t ever have to worry about them ever again.

Child: But you’ll die if you do that.

Mother: I only want to keep you safe.

Child: I’ll be alone.

Mother: You’ll never be alone.

Child: You know, you really are starting to annoy me.

Mother: Why do you say that?

Child: Well, first of all, you come off as kind of weird every night with this ‘I’m-the-mom-everything-is-okay’ stuff that goes on and on, over and over. But it doesn’t really help me.

Mother: So you’re saying I annoy you.

Child: Yeah. Kind of. I mean if you stop to think about what you’re saying to me, it’s pretty meaningless. I’m telling you about the blood-sucking monsters that are outside my bedroom window, and you’re going on about this ‘here-and-now’ crap.

Mother: Child!

Child: And the stuff about being in your arms. Do you know how sweaty I get when you hug up on me? It makes my head itch, too.

Mother: Well then, if you find me annoying and don’t like my hugs, then you can deal with the monsters yourself.

Child: Mom? Oh come on, Babe. You don’t have to leave now. Mom?

Child: Mom?

Monster: Hey kid.

Child: Which one are you?

Monster: The choker.

Child: No. Not you. Aw, I hate it when you show up.

Monster: Hey, at least I’m not the bloodsucker. Besides, you haven’t been choked in a while. A good choking is just the thing for you.

Child: Yeah, but it hurts.

Monster: Not if I kill you. Then you won’t feel a thing.

Child: Dammit. Do you really have to choke me tonight?

Monster: I’m afraid so. Don’t struggle.

Child: MOM!

Monster: shhhh….

Child: MOM! The choking monster is in here! He’s going to choke me, Mom!

Monster: Just relax, kid.

Child: MO-gurgh–

Monster: That’s it. Turning blue. Turning blue. Baal loves you. Turning blue.

Child: gggrrruuuggghh

Monster: Turning blue. Turning-

Mother: That’s enough of that.

Monster: OW!

Child: Uu…uh. Mom… Mommy.

Mother: Honestly, you have way too many fathers that love to torment you.

Child: Mommy?

Monster: Did you really have to kick me in the nuts, Hon? I mean, geez, I have a job to do.

Mother: Et daemonium exisse.

Monster: Oh, you rotten strumpet. I hate you, you bi–

Child: It’s gone?

Mother: He’s gone.

Child: Mommy?

Mother: What?

Child: When are we safe?

Mother: Shut up and go to sleep.

 

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

 

 

 

A Signature

Anna was the youngest in her family.  She was now on the verge of cutting the paternal noose from the thing on the hospital bed that silenced most of her childhood into the fray of background noise.  In the room filled with mechanical instruments that gave the illusion of sustaining life, her brother stood as a meaningless pet like a stuffed furry thing forever stuck in a pose of hungry anticipation, a shadow to Anna’s right that froze in child-like fear.  She should have relished the power she now had, extinguishing the existing nepotism that brandished her elder sibling, bringing to light in the sterile air her calm voice that would comfort and command.  Such a voice was always there, but always underneath the sparkling praise her father reserved wayward toward her brother; it was her voice that always rang true even in disregard.  During her teenage years, there had been no other to have helped amplify the voice above her shyness (her mother had died two years before Anna first saw the crimson drops of her own womanhood begin).

“Miss Showalter,” the doctor said. “It’s a difficult situation, I know.”  He, too, had been a statue all this time, offering explanations that filled the air with sound.  His babbling lifted upward in the room, creating waves of sleep-inducing sentences that floated away and reverberated back to her in wet echoes.

“In a case like this, there’s still time to reach out to other members of your immediate family to-”

“It’s not a case,” Anna said.

The board-stiff doctor stiffened further.

“I didn’t mean your father is just a case Miss Showalter.”

“It’s okay.  You can stop.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  Is that an answer?”

“I mean it’s okay.  You don’t have to say anything else to me about it.”

The doctor gave a stammering smile, but Anna saw his eyes were tired and distant, a face trained to separate from the toxic fatigue within.  How many times has he made this speech? Anna wondered.

“Miss Showalter, I do have to make it clear you understand this form before I give this to you and your brother to review.  In fact, I’ll need to bring in other personnel to witness your signatures should you both wish to sign.”

“You mean this guy?”  Anna pointed at her brother.  She watched Frank Showalter flinch as she did this. He put his head down, standing there and staring at the ground.  Anna thought of that shaky war footage of a Vietcong prisoner getting executed.  It was one of those clips that her father ran often in supposed seclusion inside his private room, oblivious to the child that hid in the same room searching for entry into his mysterious world. She remembered the cowering, adolescent face of that VC prisoner pulled downward with eyes that never fully closed, waiting for the bullet to come.

Her brother surprised her, however, by fully closing his eyes, shutting himself from the rest of them in the room.

“Frank,” Anna said.

“Frank!”

His eyes clamped tighter, creating a spider web of angry wrinkles that would probably take permanent residence on his face a decade later when he would turn forty.

“No,” he whimpered.

“No what Frank?” Anna said.

“I can’t.”

The doctor took a step closer to Anna’s brother.  She thought the doctor was going to reach out and place a hand on Frank’s shoulder.  Instead, he simply faced him and said, “Mr. Showalter. As I’ve said to your sister over there, there is plenty of time to make a decision.”

“I got to go,” Frank said. He broke wind; it was a loud, sonorous, moaning sound.  Frank opened his eyes wide and bolted out of the room, holding the seat of his jeans with both hands as he ran pell-mell and bowled into a group of nurses nearby.

The doctor goggled at the splaying scrub-blue bodies that scattered on the white tile.  He then turned to look at Anna.

“Is your brother…” The doctor grimaced and looked up, pretending to search for the proper word.

“He’s an idiot,” Anna replied.

“But is he… incapacitated in anyway. Does he have any condition that would affect his judgment concerning your father’s–”

“No,” Anna said.  “He masturbated a lot in the bathroom we had to share when we were kids.  He farts all the time like that, especially when he’s nervous.  He’s probably out there right now with the beginning of a load in his pants.  He eats like a dog lapping food out of garbage cans and is probably still a virgin from the looks of his GapKids sense of style.  He’s a freaking idiot.”

Anna turned to look at the heap of old flesh that was her father, a flaked-skin man bone-thin with a mind empty of the need to survive.

“My brother’s an idiot and still earned the love of that man.”

Anna grabbed the clipboard cradled within the crook of the doctor’s left arm.  She yanked it so fast from him that it made a slapping sound from the doctor’s sleeve.

“One moment, Miss Showalter.  There is a group of people I’ll be bringing back with me to help you through this process.  You should look over the form but please do not sign anything until I return.”

Anna smiled.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked.

“There’s one attached to the clipboard.  Miss Showalter, you do understand the importance of the decision you are about to make, don’t you?”

“Go get your people,” Anna said, still smiling.

The doctor retreated with a sigh.

“I’ll be back shortly, then.”

Anna watched him leave the room.  The scramble of nurses outside were now gone and Frank was nowhere to be seen. She looked at the clipboard, studying the verbiage allowing for non-voluntary euthanasia. She imagined the countless others who had to read such a form, perhaps scanning the lines on the pages with an uncomprehending gait, stunned by tumultuous sadness as they tried to scrawl a semblance of their signature on the large open area boxed at bottom of the page.

Her father was brain-dead; he could not survive without a breathing tube. Those statements were enough for the daughter of Edward Showalter to put his last day to an end.

Anna removed the Ember Medical pen snapped within clipboard holder and twirled it in her hand.

She knew it would be easy to sign.  No last minute jitters.  No unnecessary legal consultations to further clarify the pros and cons.  No media-clad circus to cheer or jeer at her.

She went closer to her father’s bedside and looked over his face.

He looked sad, the outside of his gray brows drooping down.

She reached for his right hand, which was a mottled claw that nestled near the edge of the bed.

She was surprised at how warm his hands were.  Blood was still swirling defiantly inside of him.

His soul is gone, Anna thought, and then held his hand tighter.

She fought off the urge to look around to see if anyone could see her alone with her father.  Such a picture is completely normal in a hospital room, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about.

Anna put his frail hand on her face and unlocked her emotions.

Her heart fluttered with sadness and fresh tears came.

She leaned closer to him and hugged him.

It was their first hug.

“So this is how it goes, Dad?”  Anna said.  “This is how you finally show me you love me?”

The hand.  Her father’s hand moved.  Anna felt his grip tighten.

She shook in a combination of sobbing and giggling.

“Do you really love me, Dad?” she asked.

She felt another twitch in her hand.  She squeezed back.  He hears me, Anna marveled.

“Do you love me?”  There was no squeeze this time. Anna leaned in and embraced the husk of her father’s emaciated chest.

She gave him a soft kiss on his cheek and squeezed his hand once again.

When the doctor arrived back with both a nurse and a bereavement counselor, Anna sat up and gave them all a smile.  Her face was blotched wet with tears.

This is how it goes, Dad, Anna thought.

“I’m ready to sign.”

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

Fair Shopping

 

It starts when Nora and I see the black-and-white flyer on one of Ember’s Grocery tack boards by aisle 7.

24th ANNUAL EMBER COMMERCE STREET FAIR

SATURDAY JUNE 28

FOOD CRAFT MUSIC FUN!

We turn on aisle 8 and I stiffen, rubbing the back of my neck.

“Why do you keep doing that?” Nora says. My wife looks at me, her eyes luminous and accusing.

“Do what?” I reply.

“This.” Nora stoops forward in the cold air of the grocery store and rubs the back of her neck briskly with her left hand, her arm bracelets jangling. “Always when we get to the baby aisle.”

“I’m just walking, Nora,” I say, knowing where this is heading.

I see her let several weeks of pent up frustration go as she slap both hands to the sides of her white summer dress. She studies my face and then says, “Stop pretending, Alan. It’s not just the damn grocery store anymore. It’s everything. You go all stiff and start rubbing your neck like that. It drives me crazy!”

“What are you talking about?” I say and see a grocery stock boy walk by us, eyeing us briefly to catch our little soap-opera. I stare back at his preadolescent face and he looks away, walking past the rows of stacked Huggies.

I take a patient breath. “Do you really want to do this here?”

“Why not?” she says. “Why do you think I cut through here all the time?”

I close my eyes, letting out a long tired sigh. I then look at her and try to smile a degree below patronizing.

“Nora, all I want to do is pay for our stuff and get out of here. We’re going to the street fair. Right?”

She stares at me for a moment and then says in a gritted hiss, “Just take me home.” She drops the grocery basket full of comestibles we planned on smuggling into the town fair and storms off, tucking her purse hard to her side. I watch her leave, her thin dress flowing wildly behind her.

The miscarriage was three months ago and ended Nora’s chance of ever carrying again. After her surgery, my attempts to support seemed hollow and pretentious to her, angering instead of comforting. So I left her to herself and waited for the normality of our three years together to resume. I’m still waiting.

I run after Nora, catching her near the exit. People stare when I turn her around and hug her tight. She goes rigid and then shudders. I raise her head to look at me, seeing tears fall on her pleading eyes and knowing what we both want. We want the pain to go away.

Nora smiles slightly and skirts her eyes to see our audience. She then looks at me and crunches her brows together as if in pain.

“What is it?” I say. She goes slack, dropping her purse. Her eyes become chalky stones in their sockets. I hold her tighter in my panic when I see her mouth droop open to an impossible length, her howls of pain cut short when the lower half of her face suddenly falls off and splatters to the ground. I hear my own screaming when I see the rest of her fold inward, her skin becoming diaphanous, revealing the dark meat inside. Her bones crackle and her coppery smell ripens the air. She becomes slippery in my grasp, like a giant gleaming internal organ. She squirts out of my arms and drops to the ground in a splash and I stare in horror at the bloody dress and the clump of flesh on the tile floor, a ruined mass looking nothing like Nora or anything remotely human.

I move my head up slowly, my wide eyes searching through a haze of blood-pounding shock.

Someone has to come to me.

Touch me.

Move me.

No one does. I walk slowly in a mindless stupor. When I bump into an ice bin near the wall, I come to and see the other bodies. Bloody messes spot the grocery store like droppings from some large animal. I see the crimson-drenched garments on the floor in loose piles and I reconstruct the image of their former wearers: an overweight man in jeans, a young girl in a Hello Kitty shirt, a cashier lady in a beige Ember’s Grocery work shirt. All of them reduced to what looks like slabs of mangled butcher meat.

A car crashes through the face of the store. Brilliant shards of glass scatter. The sound of it brings me above the numbing cotton of disbelief and I start to run. The car, a pearl-like Cadillac, plows into rows of check-out counters, catapulting candy bars and magazine stands toward me. I watch the car teeter to stillness and can see through the gloom of the passenger window the writhing things that splatter dark-red into the windshield.  Outside air rushes through the gaping hole in the wall the car left in its path. Several dead birds line the sidewalk leading to the parking lot.

I run around the car and head back toward the exit where Nora is. There are sounds of collision and destruction outside; a chorus of car alarms screech endlessly in the distance. I look through the automatic sliding doors, pulled instinctively to exit this place. I pause to look back down at Nora’s ruined remains. I kneel down, feeling the loss of her strike cold and hard inside my chest.

I pick up Nora and cradle her slick form into my chest, holding her like a baby. Like our baby, the child that defied us its life and struck Nora barren before it died. I whisper the song. Hush little baby…

The car alarms continue their crying outside, blocking out my toneless singing. Nora begins to stick to me, the glistening coat of blood of her gluing against my forearms and neck.

The pain is slow, a kindling heat deep in my stomach. I cough the foaming blood up from my mouth, letting it spew onto Nora.

My eyes go dark, dissolving into mucus-like tears down my cheeks. The unseen takes me. Consumes me.

One trickling afterimage.

A parting thought.

Aisle 8.

 

©Jack Lee Taylor 2016

aisle8

The Centurion

Thanks to folks at The Drabble for posting this!

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By Jack Lee Taylor

You lie under the hot sun: A baby drying to dust.
(Because of your eyes. The shape of your mouth.)
The monster is big. He picks you up by your leg, holding you upside down. His armor rattles. A sword slaps against his thigh.
He picks up another child, much bigger than you.
You look about the desert: A sea of deformities abandoned.
Far across the horizon, life abounds.
He falls to his knees, dropping you and your kindred.
“It’s never enough,” he says wearily.
He unsheathes his sword and raises it over you.
“It shall be quick,” he says.

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Bev

“What are you going to do, old man?”

“With this? Shoot you of course.”

“You don’t have the balls.”

“Oh yes. Yes I do.”

“You don’t.  You just stand there.  You trying to look hard. Tough.”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t have it in you, do you? You never shot no one before.”

“You killed her.”

“I killed lots of people. Your woman ain’t no different.”

“She was -”

“She was a bitch in my way.”

” – going to the Quik Mart.”

“What, old man?”

“She was probably going in for an Icee.  Cherry was her favorite. God, she was –“

“She was ugly and blind to be hanging out with your dumbass.”

“- everything to me.”

“So what about this right here?  You break in my crib with your piece out. You going to pull that trigger or what? Go ahead old man.”

“Everything.”

“Why you talking? Go ahead and pop me now. Or else I pop you later.”

“How can you be this way?”

“What, fool?”

“I said how did you — what made you like this?”

“What made me like what? You know what? I’m sitting down. Tired of looking at your tired-ass.”

“You look like you should still be in high school.”

“You look like shit. Old shit.”

“You’re never going to feel sorry.”

“Sorry? For what? Sorry?  Please.  Not for you. Not for anyone.”

“Not even when you destroyed her face.”

“….”

“Not even when you looked right at her and shot her in the face. You’re not sorry about that are you?”

“I needed her car.”

“Running from the police.”

“Hey, it’s not like I banged the bitch first, pops. She shouldn’t have been there.”

“But she was.  And you got away from the cops.  You and your two friends.”

“Yeah okay. So she was there. Thank you Miss Bitch.  Thank you.”

“It’s time to teach you a lesson.”

“You trying to scare me?”

“Yes. I want you scared.”

“Nothing scares me.  See that’s the difference.  You kind of people scared all the time. Running around doing nothing but your boring shit.  Running away from the truth.  Wishing everything is okay. But us real people, the ones that feel the hurt, see the pain — we out here. We don’t know scared. We make our own truths. So I ain’t scared of nothing. Not scared of you.  Least of all scared of no bullet.”

“Then why don’t you run? Or why don’t you come at me?”

“Put the Glock down.  Find out.”

“Have you ever been shot before?”

“What is with you old man? You want to talk? Is that what you want to do all day?  Or do you want to put down that gun and settle your beef with me like a man.”

“You’re not yet a man.  I wish you were.  It would make this easier.  More meaningful.”

“Fuck you.”

“The others.  Your friends.  They told me where to find you.”

“That’s bullshit right there.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“So? You think that’s supposed to mean something? You talking like you know my boys? You don’t know about me or them. They family, old fuck. You ain’t shit.”

“They’re dead now anyway.”

“Don’t fuck with me old man.”

“Derrick Morgan and Trevor Wayne, the other two that were with you when you robbed the Quik-Mart that day. It’s funny, I expected you to live in a cockroach-infested hole, but your house is actually very nice.  Clean. Nice area too. — NO YOU DON’T!”

“FUCK!”

“See? I’m a pretty good shot. I’ve had lots of time to practice.  I’d put a hand over that left ear to stop the bleeding. You won’t be able to hear out that ear anymore. Now get up.  You can’t run away.”

“My ear motherfucker!”

“Pain?  I know. I know pain. I shot myself in the head after Bev’s funeral, but I didn’t die. Still get headaches. Get up I said.  You try for the door again then I shoot off your balls next.”

“Don’t shoot me man.”

“Heh. I already did.”

“I just needed the car man. That’s all. She wouldn’t get out.  But I just needed the car. I had to.”

“Beverly.”

“Huh?”

“That was her name. Beverly Rose Harper.”

“Shit man, come on. I just needed the car.”

“Grandmother. Kindergarten teacher.  Wife.”

“It was a long time ago man.”

“It was eleven months ago. I spent six of those months recuperating, learning to talk and walk and pee and poop again. Best of all, learning to shoot again.  Here.  Tell me how this one feels.”

“No!”

“Sounds like it didn’t hurt bad enough. Not enough for you?  How’s this one feel then?”

“NO!  Please.  No more. No more…”

“Do your legs hurt now?”

“Please! PLEASE!”

“Your pictures on the wall.  That one over there. The perfect white family.  A Republican’s wet dream shot. Maybe your parents even helped you with that Mercedes out front. I’m sure Mommy, Daddy, and your little sister wouldn’t appreciate knowing you killed a helpless woman.  Stole her car.  A dusty Buick not even worth the tailpipe on that Merc you have outside.”

Please don’t.  No more.”

“Ronald and Mary Austen.  And little Phyllis.  Oh come on, don’t look at me like that.  I had months to brood over you Andrew. Or Double-A as you’re called.  That’s a stupid name, by the way.  You couldn’t come up with something better?”

“Don’t.  Don’t hurt them.”

“So you DO have morals.  I expected you to beg for your own life, but not for your actual family.”

“I wasn’t the one that pulled the trigger.”

“No need for all that. Derrick the Dinky. T-Ballz.  They already did the finger-pointing game. It doesn’t matter. You just happened to be last on my list.”

“I swear it man. I swear it wasn’t me that shot her.”

“So I asked you earlier but you never answered. I’m just curious. Your gang. Your swagger.  How did you get this way?”

“….”

“I didn’t hear?  I just want to understand about the pain. The suffering of real people.”

“….”

“See that’s just it.  You aren’t real. No more real than the image you conjured up for yourself.  You marvel over the dangerous animal of street-life.  Isn’t that it?  You romanticize it.”

“My legs, man.  It hurts.”

“It’s not the same thing Andrew.  This isn’t South Central. This isn’t even LA. Your life is a lie. I’ll show you what real is.”

“Please… man. Please.”

“Don’t move your head or my gun will go off.”

“I can’t breathe.  Can’t breathe.”

“That’s why they call it a choke hold.”

“Stop. Please, please, please, please… please… ple….”

“Aw.  Actually, I have to say.  You look like a little boy taking a nap.  You even snore like one.  I don’t know if I should wait till you wake up or shoot you now. I wonder if sleeping people even feel gunshots.  Let’s see…  Nope. Still asleep.  Your shins are going to hurt really bad though when you wake up. Your legs look a mess.  Must be hell on whatever you’re dreaming right now.  I remember thinking I was stabbed once while I was dreaming.  Woke up with the worst stomach ache I ever had.  I think I’ll just take a seat over there.  Do you mind?  Nice neighborhood like this, someone’s bound to call the police by now. You still in there, Andrew? I think so. Somewhere deep inside your head there’s a part that still listening to me. How about this?  I’ll tell you all about my Bev.  The day we first met.  The good stuff.  Hey maybe if I get done gabbin’ before the cops get here, I’ll give you a chance.  Let you heal.  Grow a few years and come back at me.  I want it to take time. I want it to go as long as it possibly can.  You staying alive.  You know what I’m hoping? I hope you get that monogamous inkling and try to marry some rich whore your daddy would approve of after he helps reform you back into society.  I show up on your wedding day.  Watch you limp about if your legs do heal right.  I show up.  Cause discordance.  I leave.  You then have kids later on. I show up on their birthdays.  Scare the bastards.  I leave.  Eventually, I’ll have to stop the madness the older I get.  Put an end to everything and everyone.  You, your whore, your kids.  But it sounds like a lot of fun coming your way.  Okay, so how do I start?  Oh yeah. Let me tell you about my Bev. Of all places, I met the love of my life in Bowling Green at a post office. I was looking for a pen because I forgot to write down the zip code to my uncle Ned’s place on the package I was sending out.  I was supposed to ship him this ugly candle-thingy my mom went through the trouble of buying at Woolworth’s. This was – what — about thirty years ago.  Anyway there she was… God she was so beautiful and it’s like she didn’t even need me to say anything but had her hand out with this Bic knowing that’s exactly what I needed.  Smiling so warm and sweet.  So I took the pen and said my name was Ned. Only it wasn’t Ned because my name is Robert. It was my uncle, the guy I was shipping that God-awful box to. That was his name.

I was such an idiot back then.

Most young people are.”

 

THE END

 

 

 

JLT

©2008

Sidewalk Magic

He tried to explain the pain of disenchantment to her.

She had her hands cupped over her ears.

Honestly.

The billowing stench of sewage smoke coming from the metal grates protruding unevenly on the sidewalk. The ear-chafing cacophony of traffic honking into her ears. This was not the perfect place to talk.

He was breaking up with her. She knew this. The sex the night before was staged, unlike the other times that left her in a near vertiginous state of euphoria.

“Love is supposed to be magic,” he said. “And we both know there ain’t no such thing as magic.”

Stop that. Biting her lower lip only reminded her how overly plump it was, captured in uneven smiles in pictures.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” she said. Her sandals vibrated. She looked past him to see the scrawny construction worker twenty yards away wrestling with the paint-chipped jackhammer upon crumbled asphalt. Her legs hummed, and she waited curiously for the sensation to rise up to her thighs. Perhaps even higher. What a lovely distraction.

“You don’t understand,” he yelled over the thrum of the jackhammer. Over the prattle of the city. “There’s no such thing as magic. There’s no such thing as us. You. Me. This.” He thumped his chest. “There’s nothing in here but meat, blood and bones. Just like there.” He pointed at the spot below her where her legs joined.

A warm raindrop pelted the raw crown of her scalp. She smiled because it was the only thing that made sense right now.

She said, “I get it.”

He shook his head. “No. You really don’t. You –“

A woman’s hand upraised has many powers. Magical powers. He stood there silent, staring at her smirking face.

She took a deep breath, breathing in the atoms of those long dead, perhaps seeping from the white steam fuming through the metal grates. She looked down at his feet and saw that he stood dead center upon one of the grates. How long of a drop before he’d lay crumpled and broken after a fall? She stomped the metal grate and felt it jar hard against her heels, unyielding. She laughed.

“I know what magic is,” she said. “It’s the only thing making me not want to kill you right now. See that policeman over there?” She pointed through the space to his right.

He turned to see the man garbed in dark blue at the intersection behind him. She stepped in closer and breathed into her ex-lover’s ear.

“I’m going to sleep with him tonight,” she whispered. “I’ve never fired a gun before, but I’m sure I could learn. And I’m sure he could teach me. How’s that for magic?”

She walked past him and headed toward the policeman. The rain pattered between them, the drops warm and sulfuric.

She turned and gave her ex the finger as the magic ritual of breaking up demanded. He licked his lips and then ran toward her. Past her.

Toward the policeman.

 

JLT