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The Thing With Feathers
Short Story by Chris Duncan

“Hope is the thing with feathers” — Emily Dickinson

A) Total Body Massage, 20 minutes: $55.00
B) Total Body Massage, 35 minutes: $70.00
C) Total Body Massage with Release, 45 minutes: $100.00

Marla knew I was a “C” man. I’d been seeing her for a couple of years, mostly on lunch breaks from my insurance practice, but after my daughter Lilly died I’d increased my visits. I regarded Marla as a friend. I needed her. While she was working me over, kneading my back, giving me these little karate chops, we’d talk about baseball, our spouses, Lilly’s death, how I was doing, anything, really. Movies. Politics. Books. Art. She was my therapy. She’d play New Age music, the sounds of a rushing waterfall intermingled with humpback whale squeals and pan flutes, shit like that. I liked it. She had big boobs and smelled like baked bread just out of the oven. She was very motherly. Did I mention her tits were gigantic? She helped me not think about what I’d lost. For an hour, I didn’t think about much of anything.

“Okay,” she’d say. “Turn over, baby-cakes.”

So I’d turn over on my back and she’d squirt a little warm lube in her hands and man oh man could she give a handjob. We’d be talking about whatever—the war in Iraq, a new show on TV, how I wanted to blow my brains out a good percentage of the time—and, all the while, she’d be stroking, slipping, sliding, and it wouldn’t take long though she never rushed me. We’d still be shooting the shit while I was coming, and afterwards she’d wipe me clean and dry me with a warm, wet terry-cloth towel. While Marla stroked me, I saw all the colors you see when you press the palms of your hands into your eyes. Afterwards, I’d get dressed and leave. Usually, Marla would joke with me as I headed out the door. “Come again,” she’d say, winking. She’d give me a big hug. We’d both laugh. She’d tell me to take care of myself. She was a buddy. Well, actually, the thing is, I grew to love her. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was in love with wherever it was I went in my head when I was getting massages and handjobs. She was so nice to me. When I visited Marla I didn’t think about Lilly riding that goddamned motorcycle with that goddamned idiot boyfriend of hers. He lived—fractured pelvis, fucked up spleen, right arm almost ripped off—but he lived—the little prick. I couldn’t help but feel three-quarters dead most of the time. Marla’s handjobs did more for me than the empty words of my Methodist minister: Everything happens for a reason. Don’t give me that shit.

~

The dumb squirrel juked and jived in the middle of the road, unsure which direction to go (I could relate). Right or left would have been a good choice. Kathump. I hit him straight on, no deviation, didn’t tap the brake, nothing. My wife, Belle, and twenty-year-old social and environmental activist, vegan, lesbian daughter, Lilly’s twin, otherwise known as Phoebe, lit into me.

Belle: “Oh my God!”

Phoebe: “Fuck!”

Belle: “You didn’t even swerve. Jesus, Frank!”

Phoebe: “You killed her!”

No shit. And why is the squirrel automatically a her?

Belle: “Stop the car. It’s still twitching.”

“I’m not stopping the car.” I took a glance in my side-view mirror. “Forget it. That’s the wind blowing the tail.”

“Maniacal, man,” Phoebe said, shaking her newly shaved head. “That was not cool. Dad, you’re a creep.”

Since her sister had died, Phoebe had gone all to hell. Lilly had been the over-achiever, straight A’s in school, high school salutatorian, pre-med at Virginia Tech. Phoebe was, let’s face it, the fuckup. She barely got into Virginia Intermont College, and they take anybody with a pulse. Don’t get me wrong, I love Phoebe. She’s my baby, just like Lilly was my baby.

“Jesus, Frank,” Belle said. “She was a beautiful fox squirrel.”

“I zoned out. I was thinking. I’m sorry,” I said, “and it was a grey squirrel. Fox squirrels have red tails.”

“That’s what happens when you think, Frank,” Belle said. “Destruction.”

“Destruction? That’s too good, Mom. Right on!” Phoebe said. She leaned across the front seat of my Honda Civic and gave Belle a high-five. They both laughed.

My upper front teeth settled on my bottom lip. Fuck her. I glared at my wife. She was screwing my brother, Butch. For her it was pay back. Everything with her was always an algebraic formula. Tit for tat. We were both trying to hurt the other as much as we could, any way we could.

“Fu—” I began, but I stopped myself, squeezed the steering wheel instead. The three of us were going to meet Dondra for Sunday dinner at The Italian Oven. I had to keep it together. I was trying my damnedest. Phoebe had just come out of the closet to us over the weekend. She told us she had a lover, a female lover, a thirty-year-old, divorced art history graduate student named Dondra. Phoebe loved saying lov-errr. She said we were going to have to accept it. She said, laughing, that she and Dondra had matching hood rings. I had to think about that one before I clued in.

“I’m not about playing your shame game,” Phoebe had said to me, reaching across the dining room table and poking me in the nose with an index finger. I stared at my bald daughter munching on her grilled tofu and I wondered, What alien life form has abducted my little girl? Who was this impersonator? Where was my Brownie Scout?

“Mom’s known for a long time—since high school,” Phoebe said. “She said to go for it, be myself, and I am going for it. I’m not going to live a lie. I love who I am, and I love Dondra.”

I glared at Belle. She shrugged her shoulders. “We don’t own her, Frank—or her sexuality.”

For two years Phoebe had been commuting to Virginia Intermont, less than a half hour away and known more for its dyke-filled equestrian program than academics, and her grades were pathetic, mostly C minuses and D’s. Maybe she was acting out because of Lilly’s death. Plus, I know she was justifiably ticked at me for my massage habit. Of course it was Belle who told her. I didn’t think Phoebe knew about Belle’s indiscretions, and I wasn’t going to tell, no way. Still, it didn’t seem fair that she knew about me but not her mother. In retrospect, Phoebe probably knew about my and Belle’s respective shenanigans and didn’t care. She was too lost in her own suffering to care. The bottom line: Phoebe was acting like a goddamned brat. Really, I didn’t care who she wanted to screw, who she loved, what she wanted to do career-wise. Well, I cared. What father doesn’t care? But more than anything, I wanted her to not hate me. I wanted to have something with her, even if it wasn’t the something that either of us wanted.

“I think you wanted to kill her, Pops. She probably had little squirrel babies,” Phoebe said. “Pol Pot. It’s the fucking killing fields, man.”

“You’re right. You’ve got me pegged, sweetie,” I said. “I’m out to commit squirrel-cide.”

I laughed at my own joke.

“You could have swerved, Frank,” Belle said.

Dead Can Dance, Phoebe’s favorite band, blared from the CD player. Once upon a time, she and Lilly and I listened to The Beach Boys. Van Morrison. They painted their fingernails pink. I seriously doubted that anything pink remained in Phoebe’s wardrobe, and I couldn’t help but notice that she wasn’t shaving under her arms. Lilly was always so feminine, always into dresses and makeup. How the hell she fell for a motorcycle driving moron jock I couldn’t fathom. I slammed a hand down on the steering wheel. The car lurched right and into the gravel emergency lane. I pulled us back onto the asphalt.

“I’m still the father!” I said. I glared at Phoebe in the rearview mirror, and I remembered something like happiness, the four of us driving to Myrtle Beach, twelve-year-old Phoebe coloring abstract masterpieces on typing paper, Lilly playing with her Barbie dolls, Belle giving me a sly smile, stroking my inner thigh, resting her head on my shoulder, playing with the radio, humming. Belle hummed a lot in those days, a million years ago. She hummed while she cleaned house, ironed clothes. She hummed when she came. When was the last time she came? Butch, my happy-go-lucky brother, probably had a good idea.

“And?” Phoebe said, shrugging. “You’re ‘still the father.’ And? And?”

“God, Frank,” Belle said. “Cue drama.”

One more mile, survive lunch, then I could escape.

~

The Italian Oven had a parking lot of crushed clamshell mixed with tiny, multicolored, round pebbles. Dondra sat on a bench in front of the restaurant next to a fountain of concrete, pissing, and cherubs. She was halfway decent looking, big boobs and pale complexion. Nose ring. That wasn’t surprising. Like Phoebe she was into sterling silver jewelry, had rings on every digit, including her toes. At least she didn’t wear high-top Reeboks and sport a mullet: my mental conception of the typical lesbo. I half smiled and gave her a head-nod. I was trying damned hard to be Mr. Progressive. I nervously twisted my Masonic ring.

“Hey,” I said and saluted her.

Dondra smiled at me. “Pheeb’s dad. Hi. I’m starving. Howdy,” she said to Belle and leaned in to peck Phoebe on the cheek.

Phoebe mumbled something I couldn’t understand. They both laughed, some kind of inside joke, I guessed. Dondra was ten years older than Phoebe, and man oh man, is there a big difference between twenty and thirty.

“No wine sauce, Frank,” Belle said to me, loud enough for Dondra and Phoebe to hear. “Remember the last time? You had the runs all night.”

Dondra and Phoebe looked at each other and smirked.

“What’s the wait?” I asked.

“Probably ten more minutes,” Dondra said. “I already put our name in.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

“Where are you going?” Phoebe asked.

“He’s going to the bathroom. He’s like an old lady,” Belle said. Belle and Phoebe laughed. Dondra looked at me.

I glared at Belle. Stupid bitch. She clinched her right fist and gave me a go-to-hell look. I walked into The Italian Oven feeling like it was an oven, and I was going to be cooked alive, and that that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The whole place smelled like garlic.

Inside the restroom, I locked the door and ran the faucet and splashed my face with cold water. Now I could think. I pulled my cell phone out of my jacket pocket and hit the speed dial. “Come on,” I said. “Come on.”

“Hello?”

“It’s me,” I said. Thank God she was home.

“Shouldn’t you be meeting Phoebe’s girlfriend?”

“I’m in the bathroom. I can’t stand it.”

“I didn’t think you cared."

“It’s not about the girlfriend. It’s everything. I can’t breathe. Christ, Marla. Christ.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

“I’m not looking for—I know. I know. Fucking Jesus. I’m just… I do love you. I love you. I know that much.”

I stared at the phone. The water was still running. I closed my eyes, imagined myself on a creek bank, fishing, fly-fishing. I’d never fly-fished, but surely it would be a relaxing activity.

“Frank?”

“I’m here.”

“Go eat. The fam’s waiting.”

“I don’t want to eat. I don’t know what to do. I hate Italian food.”

“I can’t tell you what to do, Frank.”

“Goddamnit, Marla—I’m sorry, I’m sorry, jeez. I’m in a foul mood, okay? I don’t know what to do. I’m coming over. Tonight. I’m coming over. Is that okay? Huh? Please, Marla.”

“What are you going to tell Belle?”

“Fuck her, Marla. Fuck her. Fuck her, fuck her, fuck her to hell!”

“Calm down, Frank. Calm down. You’re going to stroke out.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Come over. That’s fine. Come over. You can come over, sure. I’ll, uh, I’ll clear my book.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem, Frank. You need to chill out.”

“I’m starting to feel a little better. You do that to me. Just hearing your voice.” I exhaled. A little bead of sweat dripped from my nose onto my right shoe.

“You’re a good man, Frank. You need to believe that. Trust it.”

I stuck the phone back in my jacket pocket and stepped over to the urinal to pee.

“Frank?” Belle said through the door. “What are you doing? We’re already eating Caesar salad.”

“I’m coming.”

“Hurry up. You and your bladder.” Belle’s voice trailed away, along with her squeaking sandals. I hated those squeaking sandals.

Dondra and Phoebe were yucking it up, their mouths full of salad. Dondra looked at me with a closed-mouth smile. Carpet muncher or not, I liked her. I gave both girls two thumbs up, and then looked at Belle, chewing with her mouth open.

“We were afraid you died in there,” Belle said. She was drinking white wine. My wife has these thick eyebrows. They were unfeminine to me, mannish. Dondra and Phoebe smirked. I was a joke. No matter that I made a six figure salary, that I had a master’s degree in English. No matter that I was a lot more than an overweight insurance salesman, a weekend golfer battling high blood pressure, an enlarged prostate, yellowing teeth, back hair, ear hair, foot hair, hair everywhere but on my goddamned head. No matter that I routinely kicked ass on Jeopardy! No matter that I was an all-district second baseman in high school, honorable mention all-region. No matter that I could play the piano. No matter that I wasn’t a clown, that’s how they—Belle and Phoeb—saw me. I was their comic relief. From what? From Lilly’s closed-casket death? Belle truly hated me, couldn’t believe that I would dare to cheat on her. When she found out about Marla by eavesdropping on a phone call, she sobbed, her tears running down her face underneath those eyebrows. She said, “I can’t stand imagining you inside another woman, pumping away. I want to puke. I can smell her on you. I can’t stand it! You’re murdering me.”

I told Belle that my relationship with Marla was not sexual in that it didn’t include intercourse, but she didn’t believe me, and really, how ludicrous was it for me to say that handjobs were acceptable, not really a betrayal? I wouldn’t have believed me either, not after she heard me telling Marla, “I love you. I do. Belle’s just an obligation.”

I felt Belle’s anger twenty-four-seven. We saw a counselor, but it didn’t work. We found out that yeah, boy, we hated each other. We were drowning in our Lilly’s grave, our necks barely poking out of the soil. Our fingernails gripped Lilly’s headstone as if it were the lone handhold in an otherwise sheer cliff.

“Why did I get a house salad?” I said. Everybody else was eating Caesars.

“Caesar salad dressing doesn’t agree with you. Nothing agrees with you,” Belle said. “You and your stomach.”

“Some things agree with me,” I said, my eyes locking on Belle’s green eyes—huge, beautiful, almond shaped. Belle’s eyes were beautiful—I’ll give her that—even if everything around those eyes was repulsive to me.

~

After dinner, we reconvened at our house. Dondra, Phoebe, and Belle were drinking wine coolers and playing UNO around the kitchen table.

“Come here,” I said to Phoebe.

She took a drink of wine cooler. “What do you want?”

“Come here.”

She sighed but smiled and slouched over to me. Her features were sharp like her mother’s. She was bald but beautiful. She reminded me of a gazelle. Lilly was rounder with blunt edges, and her eyes were brown, like mine. I held out my arms to Phoebe. We hugged. She patted my back. Dondra smiled at us. Belle studied her UNO cards.

“I like her,” I whispered into Phoebe’s ear. She smelled like saltwater and honeysuckle and cigarettes.

Phoebe sighed and skulked back to her seat next to her lover. She pursed her lips. Her giant green eyes—her mother’s eyes but a different kind of ocean, clearer, deeper—weren’t angry. She had moved into manageable, livable sadness. I saw her place a hand on Dondra’s hand underneath the table. Their sterling-silver-ringed fingers interlocked, made almost inaudible pings.

“I’ll see you guys later,” I said.

“It’s nine o’clock,” Belle said without looking at me. “It’s nine o’clock and you’re leaving. Going to see your whore, Frank? Huh? Is that where you’re going?”

“Mom, c’mon—not now,” Phoebe said. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

Dondra’s eyes opened wide. She flicked the ashes of her cigarette into an ashtray.

“I’m going to the office,” I answered. “Butch and I have to plan our appointments for next week.”

“You go, Frank. Go see your slut. Go see your home-wrecking whore.” Belle’s tone of voice etched the air like acid rain.

“I’m going to see Butch,” I said. “Stop it, Belle!”

Dondra bit a fingernail. I said, “Dondra, I’m sorry.”

“I’ve got parents. I know the deal,” Dondra said. She tried to smile.

“You son of a bitch,” Belle said. She never looked at me.

In my car, I cranked up the Rachmaninoff and tried like hell to think good, happy thoughts. I knew I should have stuck around, but I was on the runaway train. What are you going to do when you can’t get out of your own way? I counted the yellow line dashes in the middle of the road. One, two, the owl goes who. Three, four, close the door. Five, six, just for kicks. Seven, eight, try not to hate. Nine, ten, do it again. I counted and counted and changed the stupid rhymes with every go around. One, two, ugly Uncle Lou. Three, four, what a fucking bore.

I whipped into a Chevron, filled up, bought Nabs and a Coke. Crumbs down my belly. Fizzy burps. Driving real slow. I thought of my brother and partner, Butch, eternally single. Last week he cut out of work early, around three o’clock, said he had time for nine holes. I waved, sure, what did I care? But my suspicion prompted me to put the office phone on call-forwarding and head to my house and, yes, by God, Butch’s ostentatious black Escalade with his AFLAC license plate sat parked in my driveway. My lawn sprinklers flung billions of droplets of water into a clear day, creating thousands of rainbows. My neighbor, big-butt Vernon, was riding his John Deer lawn mower. I threw up an arm, and so did Vernon. I saw him glance at the Escalade, back at me, back at the Escalade. I gave him two thumbs up and smiled. The sun was shining.

I wondered just how long Butch, my brother, had been fucking my wife.

I walked back behind my house and stepped into the basement. The washer was on a spin cycle, shaking like crazy. Sweat ran down the small of my back, but the dank, cool basement air soothed me. I tiptoed across the room to the stairway, up into the door’s glowing rectangular light, across the kitchen. I saw no one. Then I heard the bathroom floor squeak, the gentle bending of a joist. I floated forward, a yellow-toothed, overweight, perspiring dust mote. I lay down and crawled. I felt a tremendous need to pee. In the crack between the door and frame I saw my brother standing in front of the toilet, pants around his ankles, and Belle standing in front of him, naked, hands on knees, her lone breast swinging like a pendulum. Repulsive sucking sounds issued from their fucking as Butch pushed into her and pulled out, pushed in, pulled out. Their eyes were closed. I focused on Belle’s moon-shaped scar, glowing bright pink from armpit to center of chest. I moaned. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing was turning me on. My wife moaned with me. Butch grimaced. His hairy fat gut. Belle’s fields of freckles and moles. Human ugliness. Butch biting his bottom lip: stupid woodchuck. Slapping my wife’s ass. Belle opened her eyes. Her eyes panned, but I wasn’t sure if she could see me. I knew she could see me. She closed her eyes. If only I had a gun, I could have positioned cross-hairs on her skull, blown her fucking brains all over Butch’s fat-lipped face. Just how long had Butch been boning my wife? Maybe this was the first time. I almost laughed out loud. Right. Belle squeezed her lone nipple, spread her legs a little farther apart, leaned down. I knew her knees had to be hurting. She had bad knees.

Butch opened his mouth wide open, tilted his head to the ceiling. “Oh shit,” he said. “Shit shit shit.”

Five seconds of stillness, nothing, dead time, slid out of the room as Butch came inside Belle, my wife.

“Yeah, man,” Butch said. “Shit shit shit.”

When Belle stood up, her knees popped. She hadn’t come. Why did I feel happy that she hadn’t come? I readied myself to scurry away from the jungle heat. Butch’s dick was slick and wilting, dangling to the right, head purple. Big mess of black pubic hair. He could sell the hell out of insurance, always cracking jokes. Everybody liked Butch. I was the moody brother, the brother who took care of the details.

“Wow, Belle,” he said. “Shit.”

My wife sat on the toilet, peed. She smiled, wiped herself, wiped herself again, and dropped the toilet paper into the toilet.

“I needed that,” Butch said. “All unclogged now!”

Belle giggled. They’d always been buddies, Butch and Belle. Down the stairs, out the basement door, across the lawn. Big-butt Vernon was still mowing. He rubbernecked as if I was a car accident, glanced over at my house, expecting who knows what. I drove back to the office, and a little after five, I drove home to find Belle pressing a spatula into frying, spitting hamburgers when I walked into the kitchen. She waved at me with her greasy spatula, but didn’t smile.

~

Kingsport Therapeutic Massage is a single-wide trailer sitting on cinderblocks, and out front, a glowing marquee. I pulled into the dirt driveway, parked, and stretched my arms wide. Wind chimes made pretty music from the trailer’s front porch. The Milky Way was a beautiful rash across the sky’s back. The trailer’s front door opened and Marla stuck her head into night.

“Baby!” she said. She flicked her cigarette into the yard and the orange ember tumbled end over end. I might as well have been witnessing the world’s greatest goddamned fireworks display.

“Hey, Marla,” I said. I wasn’t anywhere but right there. She hugged me. I touched down like a parachutist in my home field. “Hey, Marla,” I repeated. “How you doing?”

She kissed my head and pushed me into the guts of the trailer, a despair-ridden, ramshackle Shangri-La.

~

As always, Marla let me use her personal shower before we began. It was pink with sponged splotches of orange on the walls. I felt like I was bathing inside a goldfish’s mouth. I was half-asleep, hot water cascading over my head when I head Marla scream.

“Marla?” I said. “Marla!”

No answer.

I stepped out of the shower into cold air, wrapped a towel around my waist. I heard a vehicle’s door slam shut, engine turn and catch, wheels turn, spin, spit dirt. I ran down the trailer’s narrow hallway and found Marla lying next to the door.

“Marla!”

I turned her over. She moaned. The right side of her face was covered in blood, the floor around her head a pond of red.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Fut no I’m not ‘aight!” Marla said, sitting up. Someone had sliced clean through her left cheek to the corner of her mouth. I could see her bottom row of teeth through the blood.

“My exth-huthband! Son’abith!”

I pressed the towel to the side of Marla’s face. “Hold that!”

I ran to the bathroom and threw on my clothes. I picked Marla up, rushed out the door. I had to get her to the emergency room. Marla moaned and cried but really, seemed more irritated and angry than shocked and scared. The parts of her face not streaked with blood were ghostly pale, somehow not real. I felt exhilarated, the adrenaline doing something sweet for me. My speedometer showed eighty-five, then ninety, ninety-five.

“Psycho,” I said. “When we get you to the hospital, I’m calling the cops.”

Tears flowed down Marla’s face and mixed with her snot.

“I didn’t know you were married,” I said. “I just figured, you know, that you weren’t.”

“Thut up,” Marla said. “Pleath thut up!”

I cleared my throat, turned on the radio. Some old fucker was going fifty in the fast lane. I leaned on the horn, passed him.

At the hospital, Marla exited the car holding a now dripping red towel to her face. She waved me on as if I were an annoying hovering gnat.

“Go,” she said. “I don’t need you.”

“But you need somebody,” I said, my voice high and excited. I couldn’t believe she was denying me. I was helping her for goddamned sake! Hell, I’d saved her life, maybe.

“I’ve got people,” Marla said, wincing with pain. “I’ll call my mother. Juth go.”

“But what about me?” I said. “What about—”

Marla leaned close to me. She smelled of melting copper.

“I want to be here for you,” I said. “Let me help you. I’m here.”

“You’re a hundred bucks a pop, Frank, and that’s all you are,” Marla said, straining to enunciate her words. The corners of her eyes crinkled, and I think if her sliced face had allowed it, she’d have smiled, maybe laughed. She wadded up the bloody towel and pressed it hard into my face, over my mouth and nose. I was too surprised to be repulsed. I knew I’d never see her again. I wouldn’t call the cops. I’d drive home. I’d toss out the window the bloody towel, a beautiful tetherless aimless kite.

~

Dondra’s car was still parked in the driveway. Obviously, she was spending the night. My daughter the beaver trader. Christ. The TV displayed snowy white noise. Phoebe lay asleep on the couch. The bathroom toilet flushed, and I knew it had to be Dondra. The door opened and I saw her, yawning, wearing old, tattered sweatpants that had been Lilly’s.

“Dondra, it’s me, Frank—Phoebe’s dad,” I said.

Dondra jumped but didn’t scream. “Pheeb’s dad,” she said, her voice low. “Thanks for the heart-attack.”

The dried blood pulled my face tight. “I’m sorry. I tried to be quiet. I was hoping everyone would be asleep.”

“What wrong with your face? Did you hurt yourself?” Dondra walked into the kitchen and held a paper towel under the kitchen faucet. The gal didn’t waste words or motions. She acted authentically. Good for her.

“I’m fine. It’s not my blood. This bird flew into my windshield, and I slammed on the brakes because it was wedged between the hood and the wipers, and I pulled into the emergency lane, and I tried to help it, you know, but it raised hell and tried to fly away and blood went everywhere, a sort of avian attack, I guess you’d say.”

Dondra wiped my face. The wet paper towel felt so good on my face. Thank God for this woman. I closed my eyes. I was so dead-dog-tired, drunk without drink. My throat swelled. I swallowed hard. Dondra sat down on the floor next to me. Jesus, did she smell good, fields of poppies, shit like that. I think she was wearing Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers. No, she was wearing Lilly’s sweatpants. Lilly wore Sunflowers. This Dondra, what a rack. No wonder Phoebe loved her. I leaned in, inched towards Dondra’s neck. My lips touched down on her throat. I’d been for the longest time standing on a strand of thread dividing me from Lilly. If Dondra had rejected me, as she had every right to do, I think I would have slipped left or right into Lilly’s death. But Dondra let me stay upright, wobbly, but alive. Maybe she was scared or shocked. The room was silent until the furnace kicked on, and then I pulled away. I knew that neither one of us would ever mention the night, my need, my slobbering all over her. Dondra became my seine. She caught me.

I climbed the stairs, no longer trying to be quiet. I opened our bedroom door, unbuckled my belt, unzipped, stepped out of my pants. I pulled off my socks and underwear and crawled underneath the covers. In the nothing black bedroom, Belle, wide awake, turned to me.



§ § §


Chris Duncan lives in Abingdon, Virginia with his wife Stephanie and daughter Hannah. He received an MFA in fiction from Queens University of Charlotte and teaches high school English. His work appears in Lichen Literary Journal, The Best of Carve Magazine 2003, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.


Reprinted from Ink Pot #7, available now

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