was ashen, skin dead like an elephant with darting stings for eyes. He was long fingernails, cropped beard, and
slicked hair like 1955. His black suits
dark brown in the sunlight. His ties,
always chipper, colored lollipops that dangled unpinched at the collar. They echoed the leaves' splashy tints.
Standing on a corner, Smiley burned a cigarette at his hip. She arrived.
Walked by him, back-pregnant with books and a click-clock pace. Smiley grinned, canines overlong, and
Stick-stepping through the
flat-light afternoon he tailed her through campus. The school was
architecture, all scholarship and Western pillars. The lawns were
with fall and littered groups of males still played the summer scene.
girl with books and Smiley behind her, glue-footed through the frisbee
and shirtless catches, dallying. Smiley could not dally.
His pepper hair stood out. He
slipped into shadows, Rose lingering. Smiley
grunted, flicked a new fag to life, floated it past his lips, and
dropped it to
his side to burn. He watched the space between Rose and the discs,
and winks. He dropped the cigarette. Then a tick tattled in her mind
She geared to hair-bouncing pace,
her shadow (the canine grin and tie) scuttling behind.
Smiley thought of her eyes and sneered past
hands waving leaflets meant to save the world.
Quickening step to keep his girl, that red coat all mission once
the throwing torsos, he blended in with shadows less completely. Her
dorm was before her and he would see her in.
Watch carefully as her guardian, her shade that clung to heels
falling hairs. She smiled past a student who opened the door and then
past the front altogether. Smiley reached for a cigarette but stopped,
his fingers twitch still. Rose hadn't
gone in. He glanced ahead and saw the stabled cars, Rose’s hand
reaching for her keys. Weekend, he remembered, and prepared himself.
afternoons, bending pipes to fit and flow.
He was long-hours muscled, tall, and beer-full at the waist. Hardhat sitting compulsively straight, he
breathed through his mouth and avoided sewer wafts.
Manhole gaping, he waited as his partner
clinked up the ladder beneath the street. Residence areas were nicer,
ghost that only haunted larger streets.
Swamp-sniffled, he sneezed into his sleeve then yawned. A yellow
yard all trees so thick it seemed a forest, sat in the shaded dark.
Gary saw a
tree that angled odd. He turned as his
partner dropped a wrench, cursed, and began back down the ladder. The
straightened on closer inspection.
A car, too worn to be indigenous,
pulled past Gary and on to the yellow house's drive.
Gary sat on his bumper as legs stepped from
the car and brought better bits along.
Gary nodded his approval and Rose, straight from campus, winked
coquette's thanks. A dark spot, a shadow
from the tree, slinked through the house's window.
Gathering her books, the petals she
wore for school, Rose sauntered up the porch and through the door.
dentures were the smells she nosed for – thin smoke instead. She
nothing was burning and gave up the stench for a mystery. She fell onto
couch and waited for her grandma, who should be home. Hours passed and
slept, turning now away from the sunlight, now back toward its warmth.
“Rose,” a voice whispered, but she
dreamed it was the wind.
“Rose,” and she woke.
A shadow sat at her foot, rocking.
Her grandmother’s chair. She leaned closer, shadows covering its
head, but the
chair was empty, had been nudged in her sleep. No person. No voice.
she realized, and the daydreams that lingered as drunken memories.
her nostrils, thin smoke again. Her grandmother didn’t indulge,
not for many
She turned. A silhouette at the end of the parlor, a small glow at its
moved and she screamed. She screamed and another figure burst into the
house, strong and thick. She screamed again as the man, the hero puffed
his own daring, made to chase away the startled glow, the thin smoke
two men barging, watching, weren’t better than one man. She
reached for her
purse, an arsenal, a trove of defenses her father gave her before the
before his death. She felt the grip of the gun and plugged the smoking
silhouette, who fell back on the coffee table. Her other intruder
surprised, and she shot him too. His fall was harder, louder.
moved. Both bled.
answer, of course. She had checked on entering. The cry was only
J. A. Cuthbertson lives and writes in