500 Words


“Can you see it?” he said, and he twisted to catch the light.

He’s taller than I am and I have to squint, keep the light raking over his skin, and strain against the glare. The room’s hot, and I rip the sweat out of my eyes with the heel of my hand, then narrow my eyes again.

He’s shaking, his breath shallow. “Can you? Can you see it?”

I exhale harder than I want and drop my head, and rub the back of my neck. The bones cry in relief.

“No,” I snap, harder than I meant it, “’cause there ain’t nothin’ there.”

“There is,” he says, and he pulls out my compact again, flashing the mirror around, head jerking side to side, eyes shooting everywhere, his face tight and set.

I drop down hard on the old chair and the vinyl wheezes and sucks onto my sweaty thighs. I drag the cigarettes and lighter across the table and toss my foot up on its chipped edge. I dig a smoke out of the box and stuff it in my lips, toss the box back on the table, and strike the lighter. I hit the smoke hard. When I blow it out I aim at that damned strand of hair dangling over my sticky forehead. I wipe my forehead with my wrist but they’re both wet.

“It ain’t there,” I say again. “There’s nothing there. It’s just your imagination.”

“I didn’t ‘magine nothin’,” he says, but he’s ducking and turning side to side, still staring in that tiny mirror. “I seen it. It’s here. I gotta find it.”

I snort a laugh, and fan myself with a dirty kitchen towel. The fan is spinning in the ceiling but all it’s doing is stirring hot, humid air.

“I gotta get outta here,” I say, and stand up. “It’s too damned hot in here.”

“Gotta find it…” he’s still muttering, and I just shake my head and snort again.

I bang through the rickety screen door and the night air is dank, cooler but still wet with humidity. I sweat and sweat but can’t cool off, and my body can’t deal with it anymore. I lean against the porch post and listen to the night bugs sing and cry in the blacker black of the night woods.

The cherry on my cig roars when I drag and light up a little bit of the night. I hear him inside, talking soft to himself. I hit the cigarette again, and I catch something in the spark light, just over my eyes.

I flinch hard and smash my boob against the post when I use my free hand to swat at it.

“What the…?”

I cross my eyes up at my hair and drag my short nails through the dishwater blond strands just over my brow, pulling them tight. I jab the cigarette in my mouth and scrape my hair with both hands. Goosebumps pop all over me, even in the dark heat.

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