For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.
She has grown so fat that she spills out of her bedroom slippers. The swollen, cracked skin on the bottom of her feet scratches against the hardwood floors as she treads down the hall. When she reaches the kitchen with its smooth ceramic tile floor the shuffling stops. There is a long pause as unsettling quiet permeates the house. Then there is the soft click of the freezer being opened and the rustling sounds of her hands shoving aside bags of frozen vegetables.
I listen for the bending of the plastic and breaking of the ice as she twists a tray in her hands. There is a pause as she lifts a frozen cube from the tray to her waiting lips, then the cracking of the ice between her teeth.
I lie in bed and allow the memory to come. It is old and has been revisited too often to be trusted. It is of a dark-haired girl with warm, fresh skin exploding with the scent of apple blossoms.
The year is 2000. She's just arrived from a small town south of the border that I've already forgotten the name of. She's sitting at the table in the kitchen of my parents' home in Southern California. Not sitting, perched, as if at the slightest provocation she might startle and take flight. We are young, and drunk on the irresistible cocktail of contradiction and passion. The skin on her thighs shows through the translucent sea-foam fabric of her nightgown. In one instant she's laughing at my reckless attempts at wit. In the next, she's shouting violently about war, oil, the gross excess of my country. Every gesture she makes is a revelation. I feel like crying.
Then, standing and walking over to the counter, she takes a mango from a bowl of fruit that has been languishing there for days. She runs her fingers over the orange-tinged skin, so ripe that beads of moisture rise below her fingernails as it gives in places. She turns to me, and lifting the fruit up to her mouth conceals her lips from my view.
"Have you ever been in love?" she asks. Her voice is April before the rains fall.
"Yes." I hardly hesitate.
"How many times?"
"Once and a half," I reply.
She laughs, turning the fruit over and over in one hand trying to determine which side is heads and which is tails.
"One and a half? That doesn't make any sense," she says.
"It does," I insist. "It does."
And I swallow the rest because love is a yellow bird. And the hardest thing of all is keeping your hand over its mouth, keeping it quiet without killing it.
She returns to bed now with ice-cold fingertips. Even her breath against the back of my neck is frost. The hard, tight skin of her pregnant belly pushes against my back. I instinctively drown the shudder that shakes me beneath the guise of readjusting my pillow. Years have passed. The girl with the mango-covered lips warm and erupting beneath mine is unrecognizable.
And I have harvested these amorphous expectations for unnamed seasons, watered them with repetition while they buried ghostly roots inside my brain, left them to calcify, to turn to bone. In the name of hope, I've made my mind into a graveyard. Now I sift through dirt, leaf, and bone in search of what was that once moved between us. I am a robber of graves kneeling in a disingenuous stance of prayer. We are the same, but we are different. She is the left and I am the leaving.