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            “Why you here?” Paloma said.

            “Early release.”

            The derecho winds brought rolling clouds that looked like waves breaking over reefs. The trees swayed, the grass bent, as if caught in a current. The sky, the surface of a vast sea, the earth, the ocean bed. Reality reversed, below now above, above, now below.

            A first few drops of rain rivered through the wrinkles on Ron’s face.

            “Come in,” Paloma said.

            The kitchen screen door swayed in the wind until he snapped it shut, then locked it.

            She took a pack of cigarettes from the kitchen table and began to shake one out for him. He took the pack from her hand and tapped out his own cigarette. The woman began to spark a lighter but the man took it from her and lit his own cigarette. He threw both the cigarette pack and lighter on the table. He poured himself in a chair.



            The woman who owned the house took a Styrofoam container from the fridge.

            “Cold. Fried chicken. I can heat it up.”

            “Anything to drink?”

            She nodded towards an open bottle of vodka on the kitchen table. An empty purple plastic tumbler sat, like an obedient dog, next to the fifth.

            “Besides vodka?” the man said.

            With the fridge door open, she pulled a beer from the plastic rings of a full six pack. She tossed him the beer, and then she sat at the table with him.

            “You don’t drink beer,” she said.

            "Neither do you.”

            He tapped the beer then pulled the tab. His mouth moved as he drank, almost as if chewing. When finished, he crushed the can with one hand and pulled the other hand across his face as if smearing lipstick across snarling lips.

            “Where the kids?” His cheeks pulled in when he took a drag on the cigarette.

            “At mom’s.”

            “She still in Cahokia?”

            “You should-a called.”

            “Instead-a what?”

            “Just showin’ up.”

            “You knew I was gonna' just show up.”

            “Still, you should-a called.”

            “I asked if your momma still lived in Cahokia?”

            “She does.”

            He opened the Styrofoam container, picked up a drumstick, examined it.

            “Where’s this from?”

            “Place down the street.”

            “You don’t like fried chicken. Or beer.”

            He bared his teeth and bit into half of the chicken thigh. He kept his lips open as he ripped the meat from the bone.

            “How’s the kids?”

            “They’re fine.”

             "Just fine?”


            “They miss their daddy?”

            “I guess so.”

            “You guess so.”

            “They do.”

            He rapped the crushed beer can on the table. She tossed him a another.

            “Anyone gonna mind if I drink all his beer?”

            “It’s mine. Drink it all, if you want.”

            “Get two glasses and sit down.”

            She leaned against the edge of the kitchen counter.

            He twisted open a biscuit.

            “Would be better hot.”

            “Let me put it in the microwave.”

            “I said get two glasses and sit down.”

            She offered her hand like a saucer for him to place the unleavened bread. He peeled back the thin lid of grape jelly packet and squeezed it onto the bottom of the biscuit. The jelly stained his lips.

She took a yellow plastic tumbler from the cabinets and sat at the table. She placed one tumbler in front of him and the other in the middle of the table.

            “I already got a glass.”

            He poured both tumblers a quarter full of vodka.

            “To happy homecomings.”

            He lifted the cup heavenward, then drank half. The woman began to rub her right ear lobe between her thumb and index finger. He nodded to the tumbler in the middle of the table.

            “I’m not thirsty.”

            “Drink up.”

            “I’m tired.”

            “Drink up. Make it all easier tonight.”

            “You should-a called.”

            “You had fried chicken and beer. What more do I need?”

            She propped her head on her hand and looked at the floor.

            “I told you I’d be comin’ back.”

            She slid the tumbler of vodka across the table so that it set directly in front of her. She ran her finger around the rim a few times, then lifted the cup to her lips and drank, all of it, in one gasp. The tumbler rolled across the table and onto the floor. She folded her arms and lay her head on the table, her face towards the backdoor.

            Outside, the wind drove hard across the Bottom. The smell of the river carried for miles in. It was a musty smell. Animal. Ancient. Chthonic, from springs in the deep wells of the upper plains.

            “I ain’t that sort-a man.”

            “I know.”

            “I ain’t a man to give up my space.”

            “I know.”

            He tapped the second beer can on the table.

            “I’m tired of bein’ a woman.”

            He took a paper napkin from the plastic holder in the middle of the table and blew his nose and dropped the napkin on the table, then stood and walked across the kitchen. With the fridge door open, he whistled.

            “Your tastes sure have changed. Or the kids did.”

            She began to hum.

            “There is food in here I know, for a fact, not you, not any of them, gonna' eat.”

            He took the last four beers in the pack with him to the table and opened one. The uneven rhythm of rain drops began to tattoo against the house. So irregular. One. Then another. Maybe a third. Then one-one-one-one-one. And the rain began, hard, heavy, oppressive.

            “Hear that?” He opened another can of beer. “It’s gonna be a rough night, that I can promise you.”

            The entire house exhaled with the sudden cooling. The air in the kitchen liquified. Her eyes tried to focus but all she could see were colors and shapes, like when you open your eyes underwater.

            He began to pick apart a breast.

            A car door slammed. She began to cry.

RICHARD STIMAC has published numerous  poems and flash fiction in publications such as Burningword, Clackamas, Salmon Creek Journal, Wraparound South, Paperbark, Proud to Be (SEMO Press), and many others.

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