The man I’m about to leave photographs feet. As he lowers his camera to the row of shoes, it’s only a matter of time until he loses his balance. When I hear laughter, I think it’s happened. I know what to do─ I have been righting people all my life. The babysitter who arranged us kids on the stairs, ordering us to tumble down the steps, coached us to just do a forward roll, and my oldest brother did. I hauled him up the way I’m hauling my photographer. I’ve witnessed his humiliation. How will I ever get away now?
Warped windows twist like our arthritic hips, but we decide it’s better to just let them be. Even embedded in dirt, this house has good bones; it makes it hard to think of leaving. I’d rather imagine French doors thrown open on guests dancing under the skylights, shimmering in fancy dress. They could pluck at the piano, and never notice when the sound went flat, not the way we did. Time will peel the paint from the walls. We’d never have chosen that color if we’d known it would fade, or that we’d have to live with it this long.
At the party, he offers her a cup of hot chocolate dusted with orange zest. Chocolate is his standard apology; it’s always worked before. This time, she’s not interested in letting him save face with an apology accepted. She rebuffs him. He pushes his luck and leans in for a kiss. Her body says access denied. He laughs and she turns away, only to see those who have placed their bets on whether she’ll come around, full circle, licking chocolate from her lips and starting over with the man at the same point at which she had finished with him.
firebug@ the giggling id
Smoke. Yes, I smell it. It smells good. It blows around me like hair. It wafts through like memory. Remember the last time you caught me trying to burn it all down? You slung me over your shoulder, fuming everything is unmade by smoke, as we wound the haze of grays around our bodies until we looked like bandaged thumbs. Once we found the exit, the shape of the ladder confused me. According to the fire escape in my mind, rungs go both ways. I told you this, but you demanded, Pick a direction. Not just up/down, but either/or. Neither/nor.
She slips into her sister’s old place at the bar, takes off her sunglasses, quickly puts them on again. It’s a night full of snowmelt, and the reflections from the street that usually mesmerize, wound her. The light inside is even crueler. There is no privacy in her physical being, no place to hide her grief. She’s lived for days with her hair on fire, her body underwater. Breaking through the surface, gasping for air, she feels the full force of sorrow hurtling toward her. I’m so sorry. I can’t believe it. We just saw her, she hears someone say.
Cheryl Snell's books include poetry collections, novels, and short fiction. Her work has most recently appeared in The Dribble Drabble Review, New World Writing, Fifty Word Stories and elsewhere. Her latest volume is Intricate Things in their fringed Peripheries, a collection of flash.