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Flash Fiction


The Act
by Thaddeus Bower


It was Thursday night at the 13th Floor, a lounge on the top of the Belvedere Hotel known for its lavish view of Baltimore. Through the glass walls, I could see the landmark red neon Domino Sugar sign shimmering to the south, casting a warm hue over Federal Hill, and to the north, patches of yellow-orange lights blinked along the horizon. It was two days before Christmas.

There was an oval-shaped bar in the center of the place. Flashing chili pepper lights hung from miniature palm trees that were placed incidentally throughout. Women with cleavage bulging from low-cut dresses were spread out along barstools, flicking the ashes off their cigarettes. I sat at a table in the corner facing the distant harbor. A dwarf waitress wearing a sequined halter-top and tight black velveteen pants approached me and asked what I wanted to drink.

I ordered a whiskey sour and sparked a Camel. The place was beginning to fill, but it was still early. I was waiting for Hannah. She was in town from Seattle for a week or so to see her family for the holiday. It’d been since last December that we’d seen one another, months before my life had erupted into flames.

The dwarf brought my drink. I handed her a credit card. She gave me a disgusting wink, and I thanked her. She waddled off to another table, her muscular pear-shaped ass neatly flexing. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t drink too much, but Hannah had an insatiable tongue. Her father was an alcoholic. My phone vibrated against my leg. It was Hannah. She was running late. Dinner had taken longer than she thought it would. I butted my cigarette in the silver plated ashtray.

I hadn’t spoken to Hannah over the phone all that much in the past year, maybe once or twice. But we frequently emailed about inane shit. It was easier that way. I could go months without speaking to her or even a year without seeing her, it didn’t matter. Hannah was one of those friends.

The house band started playing a John Lee Hooker tune. No one seemed to notice. A few couples sat talking at glazed-wood tables near the empty dance floor. Rigid charcoal-colored leather couches lined the gleaming windowed walls that were draped with tentacles of globular white stringed lights. The dwarf approached again. We were face to face. I was sitting. She was standing.

“Will anyone be joining you tonight?” She asked, her voice coarse.

“Excuse me?”

“See those two beautiful women over there,” the dwarf said pointing her impish thumb over her shoulder towards the bar, “they’re wondering if you’d like some company.”

I followed her chubby finger across the room until my eyes ran smack into two cheaply lavished women—one blond one brunette—standing at the bar. The blond sipped from a martini glass with her foot bent around her ankle and the brunette stood with her elbows on the bar starring into an empty tumbler. It seemed they were more interested in their drinks than anything else.

“I don’t think so. I’m waiting for a friend.”

“You’re sure? Don’t be shy.”

“Just bring me another.”

The dwarf took my empty glass and walked away with a disapproving squint tightening her puffy eyes. I hadn’t known hookers to work there but it was obvious things had changed. If it weren’t for the view, I might have called Hannah and had her meet me somewhere else. The 13th Floor had been my suggestion, but it’d been awhile since I’d last had a drink there. I figured there was no harm in staying despite the fact I wanted to make a good impression.

Hannah had known me long before I fell off, but I knew she’d heard the rumors. I needed to clear the air with her. In one dreadful moronic act I’d almost ruined my whole universe. But Hannah had done wrong herself in the past—running off with some slithery fuck to South America not to be heard from for nearly a year—and made out okay in the end. It wasn’t the same situation, but I’d never turned my back on her and she knew that.

I lit another cigarette and scanned the room for the dwarf. She wasn’t to be seen. My thirst raged. I was about to head into the bathroom when the brunette the dwarf had pointed out a minute before approached the table carrying two drinks.

“Hi sweetie.” The brunette said slipping onto the chair opposite me, stinking of dime store perfume. “What’s your name?”

“I’m not paying for that.” I said pointing to the drink she held between her painted fingers.

“Honey, the drinks are taken care of.” She smiled. Her lips plump and slippery as canned peach halves. I had to curb my imagination.

“I don’t want my drink paid for. Where’s that shrimp?” I stood and looked for the dwarf. The brunette brushed her ankle against my leg. I ignored her and moved out of brushing range.

“What’s your deal?” The brunette said readjusting her implants. “Show a little respect.”

“Get away from me. I didn’t invite you over here.”

“Screw you, prick.” She walked away, drink in hand.

I watched her buttery thighs slide smoothly inside the crotch-high slip of her black satin dress. I wanted her away from me before Hannah arrived, but I couldn’t help admiring her succulent valleys. I started counting the seconds until I was bounced. I slurped my drink back. The brunette huddled at the bar with her cohort discussing the fruitless bid. In unison they turned their dyed faces and stared venomously at me. I needed my credit card. It was time to go, unfortunately, it was too late.

The brunette, backed by the blond, narrowed in on me. They were going to handle me on their own. Forget the bouncer. I nervously smiled as they closed in; meditating the pain I might soon feel from a pointed heel or filed nails. Yet it seemed ridiculous any of it was happening.

“I didn’t mean any harm, okay?” I said, as they stood a foot away from me.

“Don’t try and make good now.” The brunette loudly said. “It’s too late for that.”

“That’s right,” the blond belted in, “we’re gonna fuck you up.”

I looked directly at the brunette who stood with one hand on her hip. “I did you a favor. I could have played along, but I would’ve been wasting your time and mine. I wasn’t interested. I thought you’d want to move onto someone else who was. Time is money, right?”

“You’d didn’t have to be so rude.” The brunette said.

“If you had stayed out of my business we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” I think she liked getting rejected. “Let’s drop it.”

“I’m gonna drop you.” The clever blond piped-in again, waving her fist at me.

I started sweating, worried it actually might get ugly, yet all the same, I had a budding erection as I found the entire confrontation surprisingly erotic. I was more certain than not they’d back down. It was too early in the night for either one of them to kill a chance for profit. They couldn’t afford to break a sweat without getting paid for it.

“Cord, is that you?” I recognized Hannah’s voice. She approached the table, standing next to the other women.

“Yes.” I was relieved.

“Excuse me.” Hannah coolly marched past the brunette and blond. Our eyes met and a huge smile swept across her face. I stood and we hugged tight. “You look wonderful. What’s going on?”

“You don’t want to know.” I said into Hannah’s ear as we let go. “Let’s get out of here.”

Having overheard what I said, the blond aggressively chimed in. “You’re not going anywhere until you apologize.”

“For what?” I was annoyed. “Not wanting to fuck your friend?”

Hannah ruffled her face, eyes widened.

“Oh no, you’re not going anywhere.” The blond pushed her hand into my chest.

Hannah jumped in. “I don’t know what you all are arguing about, but let’s everybody calm down.” She looked at me.

The band livened the pace, belting out a rendition of Mustang Sally. It was an old-fashioned standoff. I was humiliated Hannah had to be involved. My face was hot. I’d wanted to get out of there before she arrived, catch her on the street and move on somewhere else. No explanation needed. But I was caught red-handed sparring with a duo of disgruntled harlots.

“Drinks?” The dwarf sneered. The top of her head was waist level to the brunette.

I reached into my wallet. “Here’s twenty bucks. Keep the change, just bring me my credit card.”

The blond stood running her hand through her stringy hair. “That skinny bitch ain’t gonna do shit but get in my way.” She glared at Hannah and rolled her shoulders.

“That’s it ladies.” Hannah said. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but he’s with me.”

Hannah tucked her arm under my elbow and barreled forward. The brunette caught me in the back of the neck with a hard smack. We kept moving. As we charged for the elevator the dwarf turned from the bar gnawing a plastic cocktail straw with my credit card in her hand. I snatched it from her pudgy fingers and we were off. The elevator dinged and we were on our way down before all the commotion trailing us could catch up.

Without speaking we hurried two blocks north on Charles in the direction of Penn Station. The black metal railings that lead up the marble stoops of the economically built formstone rowhouses we passed were wrapped with twists of tiny multicolored lights. Hannah was brimming with excitement. I was relieved to get out of there in one piece.

“Thank you.”

“What was that all about?” Hannah asked as we slowed to a walk.

“Forget about it.”

“Like hell, you were about to get your ass kicked.”

We both laughed.

“Apparently the place has turned into a hooker joint.”

“I’d gathered that.”

“The brunette in the black dress tried to come on to me and I told her I didn’t want to have anything to do with her.”

“That’s all you said?”

“Sure, I have no idea what got under her skin.”

“Cordner Taylor,” Hannah said, in a pitch sweeter than I’d heard those two words said in a long time, “still causing trouble. Let’s get a drink.”

Hannah kissed me on the cheek. It felt great. She was great. I wanted to weep. We continued north on Charles. The sky was blank. I buttoned my jacket to the neck. A few cars sped by us. Cream-colored candle-shaped lights burned in the windows of a beautiful turreted ivory Victorian. Wailing testimonies to Jesus sang out from an A.M.E. church on the corner. The late December air ate at my face, but I felt more warmth walking next to Hannah than I'd felt for as long as I could remember. She let me be.

We buzzed the door to get in. Club Charles was a few blocks short of North Avenue where dope was openly pushed and shots rang unnoticed. But the Club itself was filled with annoying turtleneck-type graduate students from Hopkins and regular pucker-faced flies. The walls were painted with swooping red and gold strokes. According to Nick, the owner, it used to be an old Indian bar, but I found that hard to swallow since there are no Indians in Baltimore. We have black, white, yellow, but no red.

Hannah ordered our drinks while I found a place for us to sit. She looked fine, no more tomboy shit. She’d grown her hair out, let it fall on her neck, and wore clothes that held tight against her curves. My crush on Hannah was fierier than ever before.

I had to stop myself from staring though, thinking, wondering what it’d be like. I was trying to start fresh like my shrink Dr. Wallace had been urging me to do for months: “Mend the relationships that matter to you,” he said. Hannah was my first real attempt at setting things straight. I didn’t fully understand how it worked, but I was really in no position to question. Coming clean, making reparations for my actions, wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

“Cheers,” Hannah said raising her glass to mine.

“Salud.” We clanked our glasses and relaxed into a pockmarked divan.

“This is nice. I don’t get to do this very often.”

“Go out?” Hannah took a cigarette from my pack of Camels. “I don’t buy that.”

“No, I go out, but not with anybody I enjoy being around all that much, people from the paper. I feel like a walking cocoon most of the time. I’m developing a split personality, a true second self. It’s fucking ridiculous.”

I struck a match and held it out for Hannah. She titled her head towards it, a burst of smoke streamed from her nostrils.

“What about Knox? Don’t you guys ever hang-out?” Hannah asked.

“He’s busy as hell. We’ll see each other now and then.” I lit a cigarette for myself. “Plus he started dating this girl, Ally, so he’s around even less.”

“You got to be kidding me, I can’t imagine him with anyone.”

Knox was my oldest friend. He didn’t get along that well with most people, but with those he did, he was a prince. He’d never been able to keep a girlfriend. He bored quickly. He was notoriously uninvolved.

“Yeah, it’s pretty hilarious, but he’s happier than I’ve ever seen him.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but you know what I’m saying.”

I moved in with Knox the day after I attacked my mom. He insisted that I takeover his small spare bedroom. I’ve been living there ever since. It’s worked out well. I keep the place clean and the fridge full and Knox doesn’t ask for any rent money, which as far as I was concerned, was a perfect domestic situation.

“Maybe you could establish a regular night when you two play pool or darts.” Hannah rubbed her half-smoked cigarette out in the ashtray. “It sounds a bit nerdy I know, but it might be really good for both of you.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, it’s just the idea of setting up a weekly date with Knox seems silly, we’d be like some middle aged suburban couple trying to rekindle the flame.”

“It was only a suggestion, mister man.”

The Club was overflowing. Drunk faces as red as the lights draped from the ceiling were crowded shoulder to shoulder pounding bottles of Beck’s and Bass from bent elbows. A six-foot plastic tree decorated with beer coasters and tinsel was positioned between the two floors of the bar. The jukebox looped through a grungy alternative Christmas mix I’d never heard before. Dinosaur Jr. played a romping version of Jingle Bells. If I tried hard enough, I could nearly trick myself into thinking I was twenty again, sitting at the Club with Hannah, not a goddamn care in the world.

“I’ve never told you why I moved in with Knox,” my gut twisted with anxiety.

“Okay, tell me why.”

For over three months I hadn’t mentioned to Hannah what had happened and knowing all my defensive tendencies Hannah hadn’t asked me a thing. She’d let me come to her when I was ready. But I suspect she asked around, probably even checked in with Knox to see how I really was doing.

“I tried to rob my mom.” There it was, I said it.

Hannah painfully swallowed her sea breeze. “What?” She winced. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I tried to steal my grandmother’s antique wedding ring.”

“Christ, Cordner. I don’t get it. What was going through your head?”

“I wish I knew. It was a bad idea gone terribly wrong.” I hesitated for a second, breathed, and then continued. "She wasn’t supposed to get hurt.”

“Is she okay? How hideous. I thought you’d gotten into a really bad argument or something and moved out. I had no idea you’d lost your fucking mind.”

“I agree, it’s totally unconscionable.” I reached for the pack of Camels on the table. Hannah placed her hand over mine and clamped her sharp nails into me. I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. “I fucked up bad.”

“What for? Did you need money?” Hannah let go of my hand and reached for the cigarettes herself. “Your poor mother.” The blood had drained from her face.

“I know.”

It was worse each time I told someone new. It didn’t get any easier as Dr. Wallace had said it would—only worse. I swear the bastard was lying to me. The more time that passed, and the longer I had to think and kick up my heels, the more the utter shame engulfed me and the less motivated I became to do anything at all.

“I’ve realized over the past few weeks there’s really no way to make this better. I don’t give a shit what Dr. Wallace says. A son can’t be forgiven for striking his own mother.” I exhaled a waft of smoke towards the drowsy ceiling fan. “She raised my sister and me all by herself, and what do I do, how do I pay her back . . . I try and rob her, but couldn’t even do that right. It sounds like a pathetic eleven o’clock news piece about some redneck trailer trash.”

Hannah sucked hard on her cigarette. “You’re not giving me any details here. What happened?”

“I thought I’d get the ring for Smith.” It still stung to say her name, like a splinter had been smashed into my lip.

“Oh, god, Cord, not another one of your schemes. I don’t understand why you do this shit. If I remember correctly, the last time you had one of these schizophrenic ideas you ended up on a Greyhound to Georgia with a lap full of chickens.”

“Yeah, I know. Anyhow Smith was over at the house one day and came across this box of antique jewelry. She really liked the ring. I knew I could never ask my mom for it, so instead, I decided I’d steal it.”

“This isn’t making anymore sense.”

“It happened. I don’t know. Once the idea came to me I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started planning it out.”

“You fool.”

“It was a Friday. I told my mom I was going away for the weekend, but really, I was going to be at Smith’s. I wanted to surprise her with the ring over breakfast the next morning.”

“There wasn’t anything flashing through your head in big red letters warning you not to do it? Why not just take the ring and play dumb if she ever asked you about it?”

“I guess that would’ve been too simple.”

“You must have had mud in your brain.”

“Maybe. That would explain a lot.” My voice started quivering. A blistering discomfort clogged my throat. “Later that night I told Smith I was going to hangout with a friend. Instead I took a cab a block away from my mom’s. It started off as joke almost . . . or at least a half-joke. By the time it was over, it wasn’t. I got caught up in the whole thing.” I straightened my sloping giraffe like posture.

“Go on.” Hannah said.

“I went in through the mud room where I’d left a ski mask. I pulled it over my head, only my eyes and mouth were visible. It was sick, I got a rush from it. Then I slipped up the backstairs to her room.”

“At that point you still thought it was a bright idea . . . creeping around the house with a mask covering your face?”

“It was strange. I was so disconnected from the reality of what was happening it didn’t seem like I was doing anything wrong.”

Hannah wiggled herself into a more comfortable position. “So, once you got upstairs . . .?”

“When I opened the door to her room it creaked loudly, like I’d fucking split the thing in half. She stirred. But like a jackass I proceeded to make my way to the jewelry box on the dresser. I thought I was being quiet. Apparently not. As I stood there, my back turned to the bed with my mini Maglite in hand searching for the ring my mother let out a scream of death. I almost shit myself. It was the most terrifying sound I’d heard since the cops came to the door when I was kid to inform her my father had been killed.”

“What’d you do?”

“For a split second I thought I could stop the situation cold. Rip off the mask and makeup some lame excuse. By the time I’d turned around though, she was coming after me swinging one of my old lacrosse sticks through the air. I had no clue she hid it under her bed. She nailed me in my ribs. In a flash of rage I clocked her in the nose. Then again. I felt the cartilage crack. She grabbed her face and dropped to her knees.”

Hannah scoffed. Spit accidentally flew from her mouth onto my face. She hurried to wipe her saliva off my cheek, but I deserved it. I caught her wrist and placed her arm lightly on the table.

“Sorry.” She said, watching me wipe my cheek with the back of my hand. “Please tell me you’re making this up.”

“I wish.” I took a final drag from my cigarette and crushed the butt under my boot. “I ran down the stairs. I was numb. The wedding ring got kicked under the bed somewhere. As I bolted out the door Becky appeared from the garage. She saw me. I’d already taken off the mask.”

“So then what?” Hannah asked.

“Nothing. Everything. Becky saw it was me and went upstairs to find our mother bawling on the bedroom floor. I went running down the street. You can put the rest together.”

“You went too far this time. Some of that other shit, making up stories about who you are and so on is one thing, but this . . . un-fucking-believable. You’ve out done yourself.”

“It wasn’t supposed to happen like it did.”

“I guess, but what’d you expected?”

I rubbed my face, pushed my fingers against my sinuses. Hannah balled her napkin and flung it at me. The Smashing Pumpkins reverberated from the crackling speakers.

“What are you going to do on Saturday?”

Saturday was Christmas. I loved Hannah for her artful discretion. “I don’t know. I haven’t been officially invited or uninvited for brunch. I know Becky got back into town yesterday, and my uncle and his wife are coming over from the Eastern Shore. I don’t know if I’ve got it in me to face all of them at the same time. That might be too much.”

“Or it just might be the perfect opportunity to show how sorry you really are. They’re still your family. Are you speaking to your sister?”

“Over the phone, but it’s like talking to a freezer.”

“You’re her older brother, she’ll eventually have to forgive you.”

“I hope so . . . some fucking role model I’ve been.”

“You’re not still with Smith are you? I know you’re smarter than that.”

“No. I don’t know. I’ve broken it off more or less, but you know how bad I am with this. We’ve run into each other a few times.”

“This shouldn’t be news to you. Wake up, and get rid of Smith!” Hannah grabbed my half drank whiskey sour and drained it to the rocks. “If you want your family, your friends, to forgive you, you better not as much as look at a picture of her again.” Hannah’s face mocked my potential imbecility. She was right.

“It isn’t really about her though. It was my own idea. She really had nothing to with it.”

“That doesn’t matter. I promise you, whatever blame your mother can transfer from you is going towards Smith. She’ll become the root of your evil deed as time passes. You’ve gone too far this time, but not that far. Your mother will need somewhere or someone to place this on besides you as she lets you back into her life.”

“Browsing the self-help section lately? You sound like my shrink.”

“Listen smart-ass, nix the broad. No more contact.”

“Point taken.” I liked it when Hannah got pissed-off and bossy. It was remarkably sexy. “It’s crazy, but I never realized what I had until all this shit went down. It sounds like a fucking cliché, it is a fucking cliché, but it’s true.” I lit another Camel and looked into my empty glass.

My mom had been doing me a favor letting me live with her. It made her happy to have me home. I’d just moved back to Baltimore to take a job with The Sun. I was on my way, the next Mencken. It was a legitimate start. I was excited, she was proud.

“I’m glad you told me.”

“Me too.”

I went into the graffiti coated bathroom, locked the door to the only stall, and stuffed my face into my hands. I remained that way until the wave of nausea eased. But I wasn’t really getting any better. I could feel it coming on; I was unraveling at the seams. Before long I was going to be a pile of intestines strewn across the sticky floor. My eyes and my thoughts were losing focus.

I watched Hannah while I waited for two more cocktails at the bar. She was putting her thick mahogany hair into a ponytail. I wanted to rip her clothes off. It was as if every word that came out of my mouth, words of reconciliation and resolve for my disdainful actions, only propelled me closer and closer to that very self I was trying to excommunicate. The deeper I got at the truth, the less clarity I had. In a few minutes I’d no longer care at all.

I returned to the table with our drinks.

“Can you get me a shot?” Hannah asked. “Make it two.”

Hannah wasn’t taking what I’d told her so well. It was burning at her like it was me. She knew my mother, she knew my sister, and she knew how much pain I really was in. I’d never thought the day would come when I wished I had a father around, someone to kick me square in the teeth. That day had now passed. All my privilege—three-story Homewood upbringing and prep school cultivation—hadn’t been enough to suffocate my stupidity.

By the time I’d weaved my way through the hoard of eager beer guzzlers back to the table, Hannah was lighting a cigarette off the end of another. I set the two shots down. She swilled the first one down in a quick fluid motion, her arm acting as a lever between her mouth and the shot glass. I sat down to my whiskey sour waiting to see how long she’d take before the next.

“When was the last time you saw your mom?” Hannah asked. The color had returned to her face.

“It’s been about a month. We’ve spoken more recently than that though.”

“You should really go see her.”

Hannah looked at me, her eyes pinched tight like she’d just stepped out of a matinee on a sunny afternoon, and then ripped a belch.

“It’s nice to see some things never change.” I said, delighted to hear her signature howl. “So you don’t hate me?” I asked partly joking, but mostly not.

“No, of course not, and neither does your mother.”

To that, Hannah tossed back the second shot of Jack.

We were railed when we left, stumbling affably up and down Charles Street looking for her car. The huge hands of the Bromo Seltzer Tower clock were a remote shadow. A soapy snow cascaded from the street lamps and rooftops. Hannah’s eyelashes were wet and sleek from the flakes.

Hannah gingerly drove along Falls Road, careful to avoid slamming into any parked cars, as I gave her directions to Knox’s apartment. If she’d asked me to marry her right then I would have. I knew it was the wrong thing to be thinking, but it seemed like the next logical step to the night.

Gliding along, a memory hit me like I’d stuffed a pair of scissors in an outlet. “Oh, oh, turn here, turn here.” I said waving my arm at the approaching street. “Don’t you remember, I took you here once in high school.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Hannah said. “Just stick a cigarette in my mouth and I’ll be happy.”

I did as she pleased, lit a Camel, and slid it between her Blistex-coated lips. I swore I’d taken her there before, but at that point, I wasn’t too convinced about anything.

As soon as we turned, there it was: Miracle on 34th Street. A rainbow of lights blanketed the block before us. It was blissful, better than I’d remembered. Hannah jammed her foot on the brake—either out of splendor or disgust—and we glided to a stop inches from a car full of on lookers. An entire block of formstone rowhouses smeared from roof to basement with glowing reindeer, angels, and candy canes. Radiant nativity scenes, stars, and wreaths bedecked the porches. Flashing Season Greetings and Merry Christmas signs. It was garish, kitschy, gaudy, and tacky. I loved it.

“I’ve never seen this before. It’s amazing. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” Hannah said flinging open the car door.

It sounded like the sauce talking, but that wasn’t a problem for me. I walked up behind Hannah and placed my skinny arms around her shoulders. We lingered with amazement. Stretching across the rooftop of the corner rowhouse was a plastic life-sized Santa riding in a plastic life-sized sled pulled by plastic life-sized reindeer that all glowed in rhythm to Grandma Got Run Over By A Rain Deer.

“I used to dream about this place as a kid. Every Christmas Eve for years my mother brought Becky and me here. I used to think this is where the jolly old fool himself lived. I was quite a wishful little bastard.” I let my arms fall to Hannah’s honest hips. I felt a sliver of exposed belly where her jacket wasn’t zipped. She relaxed her ass into me. “I loved coming here. Becky and I would play in the front lawns making up all kinds of stupid shit while my mom sat on the hood of her old blue Mercedes watching us and laughing.”

Hannah leaned her back into my chest. I could see she had her eyes closed. I kissed her neck.

She spoke softly. “When was the last time you all came here?”

“It’s been awhile . . . years.” I said, sliding my arms around her waist until my fingers locked together. Hannah pushed her body tighter against mine. We stayed like that until our legs grew weary and brittle.

* * *

I felt like an alien when I awakened the next morning. It was Christmas Eve. There was no connection between my swollen body, the four surrounding walls, and me. I swiped the gunk from eyes. It tasted like a small rodent had crawled into my mouth in the middle of the night, burrowed underneath my tongue, and died. I was lying naked face down on my bed with no sheets. Someone really very quickly needed to remove the spike that’d been driven into the back of my skull.

I ran a searing bath and went to check on Hannah.

She hadn’t budged an inch from where she’d fallen asleep on the couch. When she’d dropped me off at Knox’s, I insisted that she stay the night, having realized at some point while we careened across streets of ice how plastered we both were. We’d kissed for a few minutes in the kitchen, but that was it. History, or understanding, or sheer drunken impotence had stopped us from going any further. I’d laid a blanket over Hannah and sat on the floor drinking cranberry juice reading her a chapter from Twain until I heard her snore.

Steam leaked from the cracks of the bathroom door. The water blistered my feet, my thighs, my ass, my stomach, and my neck as I lowered myself into the claw-foot tub. I was afraid the water might begin to bubble as the venom oozed from my body.

Hannah eventually awakened and we made coffee and French toast. Knox came home in a good mood. He showed us the two thousand-dollar watch he’d just bought Ally for Christmas. And Hannah told us about her job in Seattle. Knox rolled a joint and smoked it with Hannah. I drank more coffee. The sun started to go down. Hannah hugged me and Knox goodbye and went to meet her family. Knox left a few minutes later to give Ally her watch; he couldn’t wait any longer.

I picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hello.” It was Becky. “Hello.”

“Hey Becky, it’s me.”


“Yeah.” I was shivering. “What’s up?”

“Nothing, we’re cooking.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not now Cord.” I imagined Becky pointing at the phone, making some sort of face indicating it was me. “Why don’t you call back in a little while, we’re right in the middle of this.”

“Do you remember going to 34th Street?” Becky was silent. She’d stopped whisking the eggs for the quiche, or whatever it was she was doing. “Hey, are you there?”

“I’ll call you later when I can talk.”

“Do you want to go tonight? Ask mom if she’s wants to go.”

“Cord, we’ve got plans. We’re having a dinner party here tonight.”

“Just ask her please, for me? I know you’ve never forgotten how much we all loved going there.”

“We’ll see.”

The conversation paused there. I set the portable phone down on the kitchen table and lit a cigarette.




About the Author

Thaddeus B. Bower is earning his MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. His stories have appeared in numerous journals and he is currently at work on a collection of short stories. He lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at thaddeusbower@hotmail.com.