by Mary Lynn Reed
I notice the silence, heavy and tasting metallic. Every week as he turns the sputtering engine off and steps into the gravel. We're parked under the same window, always the same spot. Sometimes the light's on, sometimes it's off. I don't go inside because Jason tells me I shouldn't and I know he's right because he loves me and that's why he does this at all.
I crack the window and hear a cardinal singing. I squint at the glow in the five am sky, my brain thick with worried no-sleep; I don't look at the door because I don't want to see Jason emerge from the too-silent frat house, where the party is over and no one is stirring, as he stumbles to guide Miranda half-conscious. So I listen for birds and wait with eyes closed, for Jason to open my door and pour the girl I'm in love with into my arms. She won't take the back seat, won't accept even an inch of space between us. Not in these moments, on these Fridays, after beers and tequila and whiskey shooters on top bunk beds with naked big brothers: how many?
I'll ignore the torn buttons, the stains on her jeans, the gunk knotting her wavy red hair, as I open my arms and accept her harsh bony frame into my lap as her breath hits my neck, and soon her lips follow. Because when she whispers my name and my palms find her waist and I cradle her gently, her heart will steady its beat and I'll know for that moment she is safe and protected; and when we're back in our dorm room and the day breaks full open, she'll kick off the blanket I've wrapped tightly around her, toss her hair over her shoulder, and say: "Baby, Elisa, Sweetheart, will you call the chauffeur? Tell Jason I want pancakes and bacon. God, what a party--were you there? It's crazy, I know, but I felt like I saw you. I could swear--"
Note: This story originally appeared in Night Train, in September, 2008.
I wrote this story in 2007, when some intense college memories were reactivated into my adult consciousness and seemed desperate to morph their way into my fiction, whether I liked it or not. The first draft did not include names for any of the characters, and while I thought the context of the story gave enough information to deduce the sex of the narrator, several early readers expressed confusion. This seemed to be a recurring "problem" with my first person short stories at the time, when my narrator was unnamed but in love with a woman, heterosexual assumption would often override strong contextual information that the narrator was female. While I'm generally a fan of fiction that aims to transcend gender specification and let the reader bring their own interpretation, I intended this story to be specifically gendered, so after realizing the issue some readers were having, I revised to include names for all three characters in the text. After some internal struggle over this, in the end, I think the clarity achieved by using the names was worth it. The first place I sent the revised version of the story was Night Train, where it was accepted and published in September, 2008.
Mary Lynn Reed's fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, Smokelong Quarterly, FRiGG, Pisgah Review, Word Riot, and Sakura Review, among other places. Her work has been awarded the Per Contra Prize in Short Fiction, the University of Maryland Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize, and selected as one of the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Stories (of 2008). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Illinois.
FF.Net Editor Commentary (Randall Brown)
No-sleep.Too-silent. Half-conscious. They are something of a "kenning," two words connected by a hyphen to create a new word, something more figurative, like calling clouds sky-curtains. At the end, these hyphens lengthen into dashes, cutting off & connecting Miranda to the narrator. Kennings! Em-dash interrupted dialogue! Flash-brilliance!