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Returning to Hallways

Flash Fiction Contest runner-up

Matt Chinworth

Like fashioning insects into blankets that turn to dust while sleeping, I forgot the child between us for the yawn and chant of endless distraction. My scant allegiance transported them both away. Said she was going to L.A. How bad can I be that she ran there?

I reacted by sitting still. Doing nothing. Staring at our couch, our wall, a blank space where she took the Klimt away: two lovers draped in the convoluted radiance of a blanket, his hands cradling her face up to his lips, her face serenely solaced. I pretended my stillness was a decision. Something like resilience and confidence instead of gutless immaturity. I tried to stay still. But that couldn’t last.

Then I started drinking again and took up online Keno. The rolling drunken music, all round O’s and spastic dings, masked the whispers. Still, I imagined Laura broken down in New Mexico, off the side of the dark highway, those dilapidated houses her only chance, bare light bulbs and barking dogs. And it wasn’t that I wanted her to need me. I wanted her to suffer and for our daughter to see it. This is the truth.

Draining beers, I moved to cleaning our fridge, dragging endless paper towels into crevices until black turned to brown turned to beige turned to white while my mind drove past our battlefields. Putting my hands anywhere you didn’t stop me (which wasn’t much) in Ramone Park after graduation, smoking cigarettes in my Toyota after your Aunt Lou’s funeral, the time you said that you were sorry, that you were really so drunk. That time. Not like That Time ever went away for me.

As I moved to the oven, wiping off grease, scraping up black scabs and burnt moth carcasses I’d never noticed, my mind dropped down from a window and twisted an ankle in our old high school, limping the midnight halls: our early vibrancy still alive in the clang of lockers I dragged my knuckles over. That time you came over for Fourth of July (Sweet Sixteen is what I called you that year) and drunk Uncle Pete saying, “You can’t pick your own escape, kids,” which always seemed so shitty to say to those not yet in need of redemption.

If you were here I would fail you again. I would take for granted kindnesses, I would say “uh huh” and “that’s nice” until you realized the things that got you on the plane and got you home, back in our bed, under me, were wishes, prayers, hopes—the things I spin out of nothing.

For more from the inaugural TTV and Nimrod International Journal Flash Fiction Contest, click here.

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