I’ll make this quick (let the tales speak for themselves): Keep on sending in those brilliant and brief stories (the shorter the better; get those six-word stories in) to email@example.com. Loving live brevity. The next installment of Short Shorts will appear January 13. — Lyle Rosdahl
There are no words I know of in the English language you can use to convince someone who loves you that you’re OK.
She sits up with me at night, and when I shuffle out of the sheets and into the living room, she follows barely a step behind. I can feel her breath on my neck, I think.
She reaches for my hand as we sit down, but I snake it past her onto the remote and click on the television. The vaguely blue glow is usually a comfort. Tonight, it only makes me aware that her eyes are actively seeking mine, and I know that if I do not soon meet them, she will speak.
I look over at her.
Around us, the house creaks like an arthritic hag. The dog is in the next room, fretfully whining, dreaming of fights, or food, or his missing testicles. The television had been left on C-SPAN earlier in the evening, and a lawyer is on discussing the tenuous legality of the Guantanamo Bay prisons. In the corner of my vision, I see a cockroach skittering across our ceiling. Nothing.
Finally, she breaks my gaze, wraps around my arm, squeezes it. Sweet gesture.
I have just settled on an old show I’ve been unable to find on DVD, “Family Matters,” when she suddenly speaks.
“You need to talk to me about this thing. I won’t let you kill yourself over it.” Her voice cracks, trails off, and I know her misstep has bought me silence. After a few minutes, she gets up and walks back into the bedroom.
All along, she’s expecting some great breakthrough with me. She thinks that I’m a victim. She says I like to play the martyr. All I want to fucking do is watch TV.
here are only two times I can read Karen’s old love letters. Drunk or in the dark. Drunk doesn’t happen too often considering she was raised Southern Baptist. Luckily, I am not cast as a character in these letters. They are from her previous liaisons.
All of them follow the same sort of form. Start off awkward, grammar shot to hell and a few conjured words to try and show the extent of their affections. Then there’s a rhythm that spawns from specific memories. Anniversaries, gifts, the first kiss. It reads like a waterfall, compressing time into vertical sheets. The next paragraph is one big metaphor to “the first time.”
I asked her once how sex fit into her religious beliefs. Turns out she’s selective about which
tenets to keep.
Regardless of God, the letters end with a feint at the uncertainty of the future. Though they never know how things will turn out (marriage, kids), they are always thrilled to face what’s ahead with Karen at their side. Signed with love. Eternal love.
But I can only read these at night, the bright moonlight coloring everything black and white. The dead oak tree, the words on the page, and Karen waiting for me in bed. Her body is clearly defined under the sheets. There is no question where she begins and ends. There is only sex between us and we are both satisfied in the end. We sleep together with nothing but air in the room.
The next morning, over a cup of coffee, Karen looks different. She’s tired, despite the fact that we both slept through our alarms. We still agree to go to the estate sale even though all the good stuff will be gone. She’s always liked relics, marveling at old mechanics and finding worth in faded aesthetics.
Most of what is left when we arrive is large, clunky furniture. The house is still for sale, too.
On a kitchen counter is a box of tarnished utensils. They are real silver, and Karen is inspecting their condition. She hands me a fork and picks up another. There are dents in the prongs. How could dentures dig such deep divots? I picture an elderly couple sitting at a scarred table, missing the food on their forks and chewing on the silverware. I look over to find Karen’s mouth open. She is testing her teeth against the impression already left in the metal.
For a moment I can’t see her. I’m standing in a dead person’s house holding a dented fork and Karen is gone. My only thought is which of my letters she will decide to keep. Which ones are worth something to her. •
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