Standing at the window with one palm shielding his eyes, he sucked on a Marlboro, plumed out smoke and the word again: bitch.
…..On a chair with no arms, she had difficulty finding something to do with her own. Finally, she settled on grabbing her knees. “Since when you take this Hemingway thing to heart?” She gestured sharply at the walls.
…..Barren white, shorn of picture or fixture, the walls reflected back whatever mood swelled within him, like a solar oven.
…..“Well,” she prodded. “Deaf now too?”
…..“After you left.” The cigarette arced to the floor and a single spark flared out to vanish in the air. Sandals had leathered callous on his feet, so he used his big toe to grind the butt in the ridge between two planks. “A lesson hard learned. I’m going back to the way it was.” He squinted his eyes at the light planing through the window. “Before the demands became absurd.”
…..She raised her heels and snapped them back with a click that echoed off the walls. “That’s good. Where’s my stuff?”
…..“Gave most of it to Goodwill. Some I burned in the parking lot out back.” His fingertips squeaked on the hot window glass. “There was some purification to do, you know.”
…..Her hands left her knees, found a spot in mid-air to support nothing. “You’re a maniac, Michael. A total loon.”
…..He pushed his palms against the glass till they burned. “Got to stop hiding between your thighs.” And leaned forward toward the glare, forehead ovaling against the lightstricken window. “There’s no shade from the sun unless you’re dead center in it.”
…..“You can’t just take my stuff. There’s a law or something.”
…..“It’s over, Liz. I’m not going to hide anymore.”
…..She made a gesture of disbelief. “What did I do to ever deserve this?”
…..“I’ve asked myself the same,” he said. He peeled his hands off the glass and pressed his palms, warm, against his cheeks. Heat flooded through the growth of a three day old beard. “There’s a bitterness in your soul, a maliciousness in your heart. It’s the reason I can’t stay. Let me rid you of it.” He pointed one wavering finger at her heart. Under that fine breast, he imagined a rotten, black lump shrunk dry as a fist. “It would make you a better person. Feel better about yourself so you can treat others better. There’s your big failure.”
…..“Nothing wrong with me other than you got my stuff.” She closed her eyes with an agonized slowness. “I didn’t think you could do something like this. You’re usually so damn passive.” When she opened her eyes, her face shaped into a look of surprise, as if she expected things to be back to normal. A sigh leaked from her like poured sand.
…..“I’ve changed.” He straightened his spine. “You can tempt me no longer.”
…..Her eyes widened at him. “Oh yeah, Michael. I’m such a temptress. Yes. Yes. Yes.” She hung her purse on the back of the chair and tugged off her shoes, the absolute beauty of her long white feet betrayed by red welts from the straps. “You really need some help. Counseling or something. I mean, at first it was kinda cute, you know, but it wears thin, Michael. Too far. Too much.” When she popped her toes, hair fanned an s-curve across her cheek. A familiar surge and the room shouted a yearning back at him, so he saddled up to the window, spread his fingers over the ghosted print he’d left in the dust.
…..“Now,” she said. “Really, where’s my stuff?”
…..“I burned your underwear.” One long muscle cabled along his jaw. “I sold the TV and the radio, all the CDs.” The rest I just gave away or burned or sold. He patted his pocket where a lump of money sat like a tumor. “It’s for my mission.”
…..Another cigarette hissed from the pack. His thumb rasped the wheel and flame deviled his face as he turned away from the light outside. Cheeks hollowed. Paper and tobacco crackled as he inhaled the fire. “I have nothing to say to you.” Smoke tendriled out his nostrils as if a fire smoldered within.
…..“Are you going to give me my stuff or not?”
…..“Not,” he said. “Nothing to give. Get thee away.” He waved the cigarette in a dismissive motion. “You don’t understand the demands that I’m under. I was just trying to hide.”
…..“I’ll call the cops.” She looked for the phone but it wasn’t there. The jack on the wall empty, painted over, a pale shape of a once possible connection. “You can’t do this.” Red bloomed in her skin where she thumbed her temples. “You’re giving me a migraine.”
…..“What’s his name?”
…..Her thumbs stopped moving. “What do you mean?”
…..“I mean, what’s his name? Who you left me for.” Smoke coiled from the burning ember of the cigarette.
…..She held up her hand, palm facing him. “Stop it this instant.”
…..“Is it Billy? Rupert?” He considered jabbing the hot point of the cigarette into her palm.
…..“Sally, since you want to know so damned much.”
…..His chin trembled in the square of gold light the window laid across his face.
…..He turned the hot point of the cigarette and ground it into his forearm.
…..“You’re a loon!” The chair barked across the floor as she rose to leave.
…..He watched her thin shape through the light in the window. There might have been a hopeful tightness to her motion, but it was only that she’d forgotten her shoes and labored barefoot over the pavement. A cool five bucks for those pumps at the pawn shop. Perhaps she shook with a gasping cry in the car, her forehead leaned into her tight knuckles on the wheel, but then pale smoke feathered from the exhaust and the car moved on through the apartment building’s blocky shade and disappeared around the corner.
…..The cigarette fell end over end to the floor. With his thumb he brushed the ash from his forearm and held up as if in defiance his unmarred flesh to the window as the unrelenting light glared in the pane.
Brad Green’s work has appeared in several journals, including Storyglossia, The Blue Earth Review, and elimae. Currently, he’s editing his first novel, you can also read his blog.