“The Smoking Bun” by Lucinda Dupree

This story won honorable mention in our Summer 2011 fiction contest.


1

I was more curious than shocked when I heard the first guttural rumble under my feet. Dawn was breaking in auburn and purple waves, but from my position by the fountain in Five Points, the ridge that comprised 24th through 21st Streets blocked my view of the sun itself. I was setting up my easel to do some sketches as I do most mornings, ignoring the transients that were always asking me for change and cigarettes. People right away were saying earthquake.

Well, you have to understand a little bit about how the town is laid out, if you aren’t from here, which most people aren’t. I mean what Birmingham looks like just isn’t famous like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles… Anyway… Dig. The main thing is there is that downtown is just north of Red Mountain, and on the other side are the suburbs. At the peak, there’s that statue of Vulcan, the Greek god of ironworks. You see, Red Mountain is full of iron ore, which is why it’s red.

As I said, it was nigh early, and there weren’t many people other than me on the street. Just a couple of joggers with earbuds, a garbage truck, a couple of street people who were still sleeping in the church doorway with blankets pulled up all the way over their heads. After the initial tremors, those men came out of their cocoons in a hurry.

2

Now, I ain’t no bumpkin, and I didn’t believe any of the nonsense that preacher had been saying about the end times coming on the twenty first of May. But after what happened, I don’t know. I had to think about it. There was an old boy that had been standing around the fountain the last few days with signs saying to repent before it was too late, marching in circles.

And I distinctly remember seeing him a few afternoons before and thinking about Maggie, and about what I’d done to her. Sure enough if I didn’t start to feel sorry in a way that I never felt before that moment. A deeper, more aching kind of sorry, that felt like a cracked rib.

After… the event… I called Maggie, of course. I called her a dozen times if I called her once. She ain’t answered. Matter of fact, nobody’s heard from her a’tall. Not her sister. Not her mother. I have to tell you, I’m worried as a warthog. We all are.

3

Sure, I’ll talk to you. Yeah, I was one of the first people on the scene in Homewood. That’s where most of the damage was. Well, no, I wasn’t an official first responder. I’m not a fireman or an EMT or a policeman. I’m a volunteer. I have this asbestos suit that I made and a gas mask and a particularly powerful fire extinguisher. I live nearby, and I figured I could help somehow. I parked my car on the corner of Valley and Greensprings and just started making my way down the road.

The swath of death and destruction was straight out of Hades. Cars were crushed and covered in rubble. Buildings leveled. There were isolated fires all along Valley Avenue, and all those businesses along the ridge were just gone. A thick cloud of dust still hovered over the area and would stay that way for weeks after.

Through the Plexiglas goggles of the gas mask, it felt like something between real and television, like one of those virtual reality games, not that I’ve ever seen one of those, but it seemed like maybe that’s what it would be like. Virtual tour of Hell.

4

Maggie, you came. Thank you. Do you have the… excellent. Thank you so much. You don’t know what this means, or maybe you do. But how did you get it? No, don’t tell me. It’s better if I don’t know. I’ll have everything ready by Saturday.

Yes, we’ll do it first thing in the morning on Saturday. What? No, I can’t be sure it will work, but it’s our only hope of getting out of here before… you know. I have been building it for more than a decade, and I’m reasonably confident in my work. You haven’t told anybody anything, right? Anyone at all? I suppose it would be difficult to explain even if you did. Your people wouldn’t understand, obviously. How could they?

Believe me, I wouldn’t have believed it possible myself if you’d asked me six months ago. I didn’t think I could have these feelings. Not for a… I hate to even say the word. It sounds so… A human. An Earthling.

3

The gas mask had a little scratch up the side of the right eye goggle. It compromised my view to some extent, but I knew I’d manage. I was also dialed into the emergency radio channel, and I was trying to keep up with the activity, but it was altogether too chaotic. I couldn’t keep up. So I was just feeling my way through that, as I said, underworld of flames and debris.

One of the neon palm trees that used to light up the parking lot outside of El Sol was lodged in a car windshield. Up ahead, I could see the red and blue lights. I figured I’d be most useful around the periphery, not getting in the way. So I started walking up the hill toward what had been Sammy’s, which was, you know, a gentlemen’s club. Something had smashed right through the western wall of the building.

I couldn’t resist taking out my phone and snapping a photo when I saw the flaming hot, still smoking, bare ass of Vulcan right there next to the stage. The stripper pole was still standing.

2

I missed the stupid things about her like the crap TV shows she watched every night and her terrible snorting laugh. She had this burn scar that cascaded from the lower part of her right jaw down to her shoulder, where some scalding water splashed on her as a kid, but it never made her any less beautiful to me. She also had a scar on her pelvis from some surgery she had a few years ago. I remember long nights, caressing it with my head rested on the inside of her thigh while she watched Dancing with the Stars or some other crap.

I made a lot of mistakes. I wasn’t nice a lot of the time. And she always wanted me to have more ambition. I drove her away. Drove her right into the arms of that damned weirdo epidemiologist from the research lab where she works.

1

You see, I knew. I knew something was going on up there. I couldn’t tell you what it was though.

About ten or twelve years ago, they took Vulcan down for renovations. It was down for a while. I guess that’s when it happened. In the 1940s, they replaced Vulcan’s spear this torch, and he held it up toward the sky, you know, just like the Statue of Liberty, in this sort of Superman-like pose. The torch used to light up either red or green. The story is that the city lit it up as red when there’s been a fatal accident on the highway. I have no idea if that’s true. Anyway, during the renovations, they removed the torch and put the spear back, for some reason.

But I’d forgotten all about that because damned if I didn’t see that spear light up just like a torch. I saw it light up, there in the breaking morning, bright fucking red, but then it wasn’t just the spear head; it was the whole fucking thing. The whole fucking statue lit up bright red, like a hot coal, and then the fucking thing began to elevate–the statue, the tower it stood upon, all of it–just shot up into the sky like a goddamn rocket. It went up I don’t know how high into the air, and then it tipped over toward the suburbs south of the mountain and fell again toward the ground.

And then a beam of bright fiery golden light streamed up from the ground into the sky as far as I could see.


Lucinda Dupree is a dental assistant from Warrior, Alabama. This is her first published short story.

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“Mulciber” by Sean Hogan

This story won honorable mention in our Summer 2011 fiction contest.


The grey over-head blushed white from sunlight; normally, when it wasn’t so bright, you could see Mister Simmons’ balding reflection even from the back of the bus, but today you only saw the meticulous but telling tufts of combed hair. Rows of little heads—brown, blonde and black— swayed to the jostles of the road in rows of blackish grey seats. Ansel in the back, bending his head and timidly raising his hand up to his red hair to make sure the generous amount of gel his mother combed into it hadn’t come undone. With care, he touched the hardened autumn streaks as if briefly tapping the face of a drum. Good, it was still in place.

If Mother was here

STRANGERSSURROUNDING

And my hair was messy

SILLYMIRROR

She’d start fussing

DONTWHYDIDNTTHISTHAT

Kneeling then combing and combing

LIPSCURLEDEYESALLOVERDOLL

Purple plastic claws tearing at my scalp

“Hey, Antsy!” Bringing his head back up, Ansel wondered what he had done this time. Randy’s face, wide and rude, sat on his crossed arms atop the back of his seat, his lips curving into a lopsided smile. “Checking the carrot salad?” Randy’s smile peeled back into laughter, turning rows of little heads around looking at Ansel, laughing at him. Ansel tried to look them in the eyes, but they kept turning to the person next to them and laughing harder. Looking at Randy, who didn’t turn away, Ansel’s face was burning and his chest twisting in on itself. He wanted to say something mean, needed to say something to make Randy sorry for what he’d said. But his mind was blank; all he could think of was how much he hated Randy. “You’re stupid!”

Randy, still grinning, simply turned back into his seat. Ansel felt small and stupid. At least Elenie up in the front hadn’t heard and laughed at him. He didn’t want to see the other children or be here with them anymore, so he looked out of the window at the cars passing by him on the highway. They weren’t cars, not anymore: they were space shuttles.

Shuttles flying across the darkest stretch of pavement

SPREADINGESCAPING

Their huge fiery engines setting them Free

SEEKINGSEPERATING

Free of everything blending together

BOILEDBLANDMIXING

Where Wonder never hides

STRAIGHTYELLOWWHITELINES

Wonder vivid and full with nothing around to dim it

PERFECTSHARPCLEARNESS

Only the black stretch of freedom

They were coming closer to a big lump of trees trying to get closer to the skies. Ansel’s father told him it was called Red Mountain once when he had to bring Ansel along for business at the University. The highway had cleft the mountain in two, and to the right, standing above the trees, was a length of grey, slightly smudged by the blue sky. That must be the Vulcan they’re going to see. Ansel’s shuttle passed the dark grey and rustic scars of Red Mountain, running alongside the highway.


After the bus was parked, they were standing at the ticket booth waiting for Mister Simmons’ to pay for everyone. Up the cement pathway a sandy-stone tower reared up the statue of Vulcan. Everyone was making fun of the statue’s uncovered butt. It was strange, but Ansel didn’t care.

Anvil, Left, and left side, burning white

His arrow, right, and right side pale blue and darkest blue

He doesn’t care what they think

His legs, his butt, his back and arms are naked and unprotected

And he is unafraid

While Ansel was staring at the statue, he suddenly became aware of how hot it was. His face felt thick with sweat. Elenie and her friend Melissa were sitting off to the side of the walkway, in the grass. The back of Elenie’s blonde hair was white from sunlight and her eyes were in the sky. She was laughing at something Melissa said. He wished he’d heard it and knew what she thought was so funny. They both looked at him. His heart went into action, racing away before his mind could start. He smiled, they started giggling. Some of the others around him were laughing too; Randy now was also laughing, something was wrong. Between breathes Randy managed to say “look at Antsy’s hair!” Running over to the ticket booth and looking at his reflection, Ansel saw his hair had come undone and had puffed out like an orange fur ball. In the reflection Ansel saw the children laughing behind him. His cheeks burned again, with his eyes joining them. His shame held him in place. “That’s enough.” Ansel looked and saw Mister Simmons alternating his glare between Randy and the others. After they quieted, Simmons said “That’s better. Now follow me, we’re going to head to the top of the statue.” As Ansel fell in with the others he saw Elenie looking at him, smiling and looking away. She was probably thinking about how stupid he looked. He wasn’t sure if that smile was beautiful or ugly.


A handful of students crammed in with Mister Simmons into the elevator that leaned against Vulcan’s tower. The rest of the class had to take the stairs. Ansel, getting in first to make sure he was closest to the window, wanted to see the Birmingham area as they rode up into the sky. Seeing the ground flying away from him sent a trill through him. He was riding up the iron cocoon of scaffolding wrapping around a shuttle. The elevator stopped and opened up. Ansel ran out onto the observer’s platform and looking down saw the slits in the platform that made it seem see-through. Ansel’s heart leapt up at the sight, but soon settled. No one else had fallen through it yet, so why should he worry?

The other classmates were starting to come up the stairway and hesitantly walking out onto the platform. He heard laughter again from the children and became angry; he was getting tired of them. But they were laughing at him. He turned back to the elevator and Mister Simmons’ was holding the elevator door while Randy stood with his back again the glass window. He was glad Randy was now being mocked. Then Ansel looked at Randy’s face. It was twisting and riving as his eyes grew red and puffy while the others laughed at him. Ansel felt sorry… for Randy and himself, and he was tired of feeling like that. He walked into the elevator and said “come on!”  Randy shook his head. Ansel stood next to him and said “close your eyes.” Randy gave him a mean look, then softened and closed his eyes. Ansel put a hand on Randy’s shoulders, which were large for a 13-year-old’s, and started walking him out of the elevator. When they got out Ansel put one of Randy’s hands on the railing. “Don’t open your eyes yet.” Randy firmly nodded. Ansel walked him around until the whole city was in view. “Alright, open your eyes. Go on, open them!” Meekly Randy opened up the tiniest view with his eyes and then they flew up. “Wow,” he said letting go of the railing. He looked down, stumbled and put his hands back on the railing. He turned and gave Ansel a weak smile and a shrug.

Ansel looked out on the city himself, seeing the greens and browns and greys wrapped in a thin blanket of blue, underneath the toes of Vulcan. A whip of wind blew through Ansel’s hair and it felt so good. The sight of Birmingham from here gave his heart wings and up-lifting air to make it soar higher than any bird or ship ever could.

Have I lived in Wonderful place so long?

NOTKNOWING

Looking for Wonder when Wonder was here

ROCKUNDER

Looking on bearded face above, arrow pointed high

STRETCHINGOUTREACHING

 Pointing back where he and his mountain-ship came

BRINGINGSTREAMINGRENEW

Out from black weave of Wonder in the sky

WEAVINGDREAMINGWEB

Landing, leaving the stars, to weave new Wonders


They were boarding the bus to leave. Heading for the back of the bus, Ansel sees Elenie in one of the front seats alone. Looking at her made him aware of his frizzy red hair again. He wanted to sit next to her, but he didn’t know what he would do after that, and she might not like him sitting next to her just like that. She looked up at him and smiled and he sat down next to her.

“Your hair is messed up,” she said, still smiling.

“Could you help?” Ansel said.

She reached up and smoothed some of his hair out.

“There, that’s a little better. You have nice hair.”

“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure what to say as he smiled and looked into her blue eyes.

“I wanted to tell you… you have beautiful blue eyes, like the sky.”

She smiled again, “Thank you.”

As the bus drove off Ansel and Elenie both looked out the window at Vulcan, standing on top of his tower, pointing forward.


Sean Hogan is a twenty-one-year old living in Leeds, Alabama. He works as an editor, photographer, and graphics designer for Herald News Media Services, which he helped found with his father and brother. His hobbies include writing, reading, painting, filming, editing, and playing saxophone.

“Consider the Gap” by George Sawaya

STR is proud to present this story as the winner of our 2011 summer fiction contest.


I knew by the way she threw noodles against the backsplash – she was having an affair.

When I found it, I had been pushing deeper than anyone into the cave.  It was as far as anyone would go.  I’d been working as a geological consultant for a small mining operation.  The goal, they explained, was to find any remaining ore in the old mining shafts beneath the Vulcan statue on Red Mountain.

That day, a Thursday, I’d gone about thirty minutes further than the rest of the team.  With my helmet-mounted torch light carving cones through the darkness, I came upon a small antechamber which was dressed from top down in flutes of sharp rock like the organ pipes in a cathedral.  I was looking up, spinning in place and taking the whole thing in when I caught my foot on something and fell.  My helmet light was impaled on a rock benches jutting facet but I was fine, save for a throbbing neck and a pretty skinned-up set of knees.

I sat there in the darkness for a while.  Most days I had an extra key chain flash light fastened to a belt loop, but the day before I’d loaned it to another team member and had forgotten to get it back.  So I sat; nothing but the drip-drip of little drops and my own steady breath for sound.

After a while I began to feel kind of eroded.  Without any light I couldn’t see my body.  I knew it was there, my arms and legs, my head and torso, the stiff wire pulsed in my neck and the damp, stagnant air stung at my knees.  But I didn’t feel there.  It was like I had become a rock, part of the cave, my breathing the earth’s own gentle respiration. The dull pain settled in like eons of pressure.

I got to thinking about rocks and about Susan.  Everything had changed since her office’s Christmas party some five months prior.  We didn’t see each other much, granted, but lately she’d been as distant as the moon.  We got into the habit of a regular Thursday night spaghetti dinner.  Between her demanding law firm and my frequent contracts we’d become roommates more than anything else, passing each other on the way in or out.  Thursdays, we resolved, would be the evening set aside for us and for spaghetti.

I couldn’t remember when I noticed it first.  I think I was at the kitchen table. She must’ve been at the stove.  When the time came to test the noodles she’d pluck one from the pot, spin it between pinched fingers like a marionette’s string, and with a sneer in her lips and thin, impassive eyes turn to the ceramic backsplash and fling it away.  It was her disinterest I noted most of all.  Whether the noodle stuck or not, she seemed indifferent. Neither disappointed when it fell limp behind the sink, nor accomplished when it stuck and slid without a sound between the tiles to the grout.

After that I began to tally the eligible men from her Christmas party. There was one guy, what was his name? Ben or Jim? He had a cleft chin, broad shoulders and small, scholarly glasses. He reminded me of Clark Kent, but with more machismo and bravado; one of those University of Alabama football types who missed the cut to go pro before turning to a law career. And then there was her boss. What was it about him that felt off? He was a svelte 50-year-old, couture in shape, fit and square faced with platinum white hair and one of those winning smiles I’d always heard of but never really seen.  It was something in the way he stood next to her.  Yes, in the months since, it came to me there in the clarity of the greasy black antechamber.  I remembered the three of us standing in a triangle by the copy machine.  To share space and conversation everyone should have faced the center but he, no.  He stood cocked to the side aiming his past prime though still hungry dick straight at her sex and grinning, all the while that big winning bleached teeth smile casting his eyes occasionally at me as if to say something.  He was candidate number one after all.  Clark Kent fell to second.

I pressed a button on my watch.  The face glowed, and for a moment I considered using it to worm my way back through the cave to the rest of the team.  But the light was too dim, the path too slippery with a dozen eager surfaces ready to bludgeon or rip my head open if I fell.  The rest of the team would come soon. When it was time to leave for the day they’d press on and find me. It was 4:15.  Only about an hour longer.

I closed my eyes to a no deeper dark and entertained myself the way I normally did: by considering people as minerals and rocks.  They made more sense that way. I thought about Susan, with her polished black hair and dark olive skin.  I’d known her to be obsidian – sharp, exotic, volcanic in origin, weapon to some and jewelry to others.  She was opaque but only slightly so; a dark glass.  It would be 4 years of marriage in a couple of months.

Ben or Jim (Clark Kent in any case) despite his resemblance to the man of steel struck me more as iron.  He had a solid jaw, industrial shoulders, held himself strong and proud like a furnace.  And Susan’s boss, white-haired, jagged boned with that winning smile, but empty somehow, somehow less substantive – like pumice rock. The porous bastard.

I opened my eyes to find the cavern swollen with a gray light. There was a smooth oblong crack in the cave wall. At first I thought it was the team. I could easily have been turned around in the dark. So I waited for voices or for someone to call my name. After what seemed like half an hour I had heard nothing, so I stood and went in a few careful steps down the path the light struck against the cave floor. As I approached, the crack opened further, wider, just enough to squeeze through. I squeezed through.

I don’t know how long I was in there, but when I came out I saw dim lights approaching from the direction of the cave mouth. The gap closed.  The team found me in the dark, and I followed them out.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell anyone about it. I couldn’t. Every time I went to say something, it was as if I’d swallowed a lump of ore. I’d gag for a second, stammer, then speak of something else. After thanking the team for finding me, I loaded up my Subaru station wagon and went home.

Susan was in the kitchen lording over a steaming pot of noodles. I went without a word, washed up and changed clothes. I bandaged my knees, laid flat on my bedroom floor for a while to straighten my neck out, then went back to the kitchen and took my seat at the table.

After a few minutes of silence Susan cleared her throat and spoke. “Back to the mines tomorrow?” she asked, head still down at the pot.  Her words slapped against me like noodles.

“Yea,” I said.  “Back to the mines.  The contractor thinks there’s still iron ore down there.  But the shafts are mostly flooded.  What are you doing tomorrow?  Maybe we could spend the day together.  I tried to tell them it was mostly flooded down there.  Be near impossible to mine anything anyway.”

Susan sighed, one of those brief, annoyed, poignant sighs she’d made a habit of lately.  “Why keep looking then?”  She tossed the wooden spoon between the stove eyes.

“If there is ore after all, it can be sold – processed here then shipped overseas.  A drop in the pot to Dubai or somewhere.  You working tomorrow?”

She picked up the spoon again, plunged it in the pot to take a noodle out.  Half-way up the noodle slid from the spoon handle.  “No,” she said.  “Work this weekend.  Taking tomorrow off.”

“Oh.”  I took the newspaper from the table and spread it across my lap, but I couldn’t read.  All I could do was consider the gap: the gray light, the smooth, reasoned corridors stretching in all directions and how each floor had a gravity to it, straight up or down at random but always as if walking in any other hallway.  A neon lit labyrinth of indeterminate materials.

That sticky sense of erosion still clung to me.  There, in the full fluorescent kitchen light with my limbs charted out like a road map across my seat, the sensation persisted.  I felt like a puppet with phantom limbs, a spider web in a dark hallway, an ovular mass of rock deep in the earth slowly, surely losing.

It was a familiar sensation.  It felt a lot like college.  My fourth and final year had been an exercise in solitude.  My only acquaintance, a fellow geology major, had graduated the semester prior and made good on his promise to get the hell out of Alabama.  I don’t know where he ended up.

All I had was a small apartment with a busted television, a noisy window unit and the flat heat of a resilient summer.  I was nearly done, I had to remind myself often, but my last semester I learned of a mix-up with my academic advisor.  Unsurprisingly, she had miscalculated my fulfillment of elective credits (of which I was one short, she informed).  A week later I started and art history class.  I had not particular interest in art history, but I was told by the same advisor that it would be easy and good for me to get away from dirt and rocks for a while.  She had battleship hips, chipmunk cheeks and for a woman who didn’t know what the hell she was talking about she always spoke with such enviable confidence.

That was when I met Susan.  We sat next to one another in the front row.  I never spoke to her, but she always spoke to me, or tried to anyway.  I would just nod or grunt in response.  She was far too attractive.  She started saying hello to me on campus.  When we passed each other she would always stop to talk.  If she were on the other side of the street she would cross and chase me down.  From there we began to eat lunch together at the campus cafeteria.  Without much else to discuss she would go over the lectures from class, expounding at length and with passion on M.C. Escher, Magritte, Dali.

The whole thing was organic; we tapered ever down like a stalactite, naturally carried in one direction.  Lunches led to dinner, dinner to drinks, drinks to fooling around and finally sex.  She was my first.

After graduation she applied to every art museum in a five-hundred mile radius.  Wherever she went I’d made up my mind to follow.  After countless rejection letters, however, she applied and was accepted to law school.  We moved back to Birmingham, married, and close to four years later I sat and she stood in the kitchen of our two bedroom bungalow.

“You’ll find ore.”  She turned the heat down and shuffled the tomato sauce and beef in the other pot.

I slid the newspaper back up to the table, stood and went over behind her.  She stared dutifully ahead, like she didn’t even notice.  I parted her hair like a bead curtain, brushed it over her shoulders and planted one small kiss at the base of her neck and then another further up her nape and then another, each straddled side to side like footprints in volcanic sand.  “Have I ever told you you’re obsidian?” I asked.

She sighed.

When the noodles were done, or near enough, we sat together at the kitchen table and ate in silence.

I had no word for it.  Actually, there was one word, but I couldn’t use it.  That place deep in Red Mountain, the gap, a place of such tenuous reality that to label it in such a fantastical way could destroy it all together.  A craft, perhaps, but I wasn’t sure it was a vehicle.

After dinner the previous night, we’d gone to bed.  Eyes closed, I counted the potential suitors from her Christmas party yet again:  the iron furnace, the pumice rock, and – as I meandered towards sleep – I recalled another.  There had been a young, pasty face staring at us always from the crowd’s edge.  Someone not normally noticed, I figured at the time.  Someone as easily overlooked as the furniture – pale and meek like the gypsum in the drywall:  a little gypsum boy.  He couldn’t have been a day over 21, a young temp most likely seven years Susan’s junior.  I began to put a face to the gypsum boy, to reconstruct it, but it slipped away and I with it into sleep.

The morning obliterated all progress on the gypsum boy.  Susan was still in bed after I had showered and had breakfast so I decided to let her sleep.

I piloted the Subaru station wagon onto the Red Mountain expressway.  Through the haze and green, just over the hills in the distance, I caught the top of Vulcan’s head and the flat gleam of morning light against it.  The largest cast iron statue in the world, if I recalled correctly.  Though now it was little more than a taunting mascot of a bygone era in which men pulled wealth and industry from the earth.

When I got to the mines I noticed the team standing in a circle around the foreman.  I parked the car and took my place at the back of the crowd.  The foreman was making apologies, telling us how hard we’d worked.  “Insufficient evidence to continue operations,” he said.

The contract had ended two months ahead of schedule.  My dejected team members kicked the dirt, shuffled back to their cars and left.  The foreman followed suit and drove off, and I was left alone at the cave mouth.

For a time I stood there, glancing as far as I could into the dark of the cave, then up at the sun through the trees, then down at my boots.  I had made a mistake in any case.  If she had a lover I who drove her there, spending my days in the black chambers of the earth, digging where I couldn’t even make a phone call, couldn’t even check in to say I loved her.  Flowers were in order.  But what did I know about flowers?  I remembered the little scrap of iron ore I’d found at the start of the contract, the only piece left in the whole mountain.  It was a flake no bigger than a thumbnail, but I figured it would make an appropriate gift as it was the culmination of a three-hundred thousand dollar, 4 month operation.  It was in my glove box still, wrapped in a little rag and stowed away.

I went back to my car, found the ore flake, tucked it into my vest pocket and drove home.

The house was quiet still.  I’d only been gone and hour or so.  I took off my vest and boots, un-tucked my shirt and grabbed the ore flake.  I’d slip into bed like I never left, fit myself against her like a puzzle piece and when she woke I’d give her the ore and declare it all geology, the cumulative mineral wealth of Red Mountain.  I went down the hallway, pressed open the bedroom door and went in.  Susan was squirming under the covers.  I whispered her name to see if she was awake, then went in a little further.  “Susan,” I said.  She shot out against the headboard.  She was naked.  Her mouth open and closed, her lips shaped as if she were about to say my name but nothing came out.  Another body, another pair of restless legs, a slender torso and head came out from underneath the covers.  There, white as the sheets, as easily overlooked as the drywall, was the gypsum boy in all his pasty uniformity.  Even there, with the dim light through the curtains, he looked featureless, like a blur.  I could just make out an unapologetic look plastered like wallpaper across his face.  His pink nipples were his only color.

I stretched out my hand, met eyes again with Susan.  She still gasped for air.  I held the ore flake in my palm, looked at it then at Susan.  “All geology,” I said.  I turned my hand over and dumped the ore onto the carpet.

I made the trek back through the cave to the antechamber.  I didn’t even need a flashlight.  My legs knew the way.  The gap opened.  I went in.


George Sawaya received his BA in English from The University of Alabama and is currently seeking a graduate degree in English with a focus on creative writing at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.