When the waitress asked Francisco if we wanted a table for two, I realized I’d been standing too close to the wrong man. Francisco smiled. “Three,” he corrected her before requesting a table far away from the restaurant’s titular toucan. It was caged near the hostess stand and squawking piteously. The bird watched us move past. I hated and admired how all-knowing it appeared.
We sat at a thick wooden table beneath gold framed mirrors and brightly-colored bunting. Ryan ordered a chicken nacho appetizer before the waiter had even set down the oversized menus. I scanned mine, feeling the familiar stress of being presented with too long a list of options.
“You’d probably like the shredded pork enchiladas,” Ryan said without looking up.
I worried people might think I was some demure housewife when they saw me in restaurants, deferring to Ryan’s judgment, but I was grateful when he ordered for me, or took away the phone when the cable company started rattling off their bundled packages. The fact was, he’d known me since I was sixteen and usually knew what I wanted.
Beneath the turquoise painted table Francisco let his hand rest on my leg. The table was comically small, disproportionate to the platter of nachos that soon arrived. I was afraid if Ryan reached for my hand, he might take Francisco’s by mistake. In films the blunder might win a few laughs, but in this case I couldn’t imagine what it would lead to. I tried to, sometimes, when Francisco let his hand linger too long on mine, or when he embraced me in the kitchen, with Ryan only a few yards away in the living room. But I couldn’t think of an ending that would please anyone, so I placed my hand on Ryan’s, pinning it to his leg, ensuring his fingers wouldn’t reach territory Francisco’s had already claimed. In this way we made a small chain, children crossing a dangerous road. Or was it more like a game of Red Rover? Red Rover, Red Rover send infidelity right over. Our affair was delicate, not lumbering. It bounced along our arms without hurting anyone.
My husband and his best friend were often mistaken for brothers, but Francisco was always somehow more than my husband. They were both a hair over six feet, they both had green eyes that changed to grey with their mood or shirt. They had what I considered a scholar’s build, not overly athletic, but lean, someone who walks to all their destinations and drinks black coffee while reading Chekhov or The Times. But Francisco’s complexion was a shade darker, his grin wider, his laugh more assured. He had the walk of a man who has never lost a chess game or a rugby match. I felt he might get me into trouble, but he’d be just the man to get me out of it too.
The toucan screamed from the hostess station.
“It seems cruel to keep it there all day,” I said.
“No crueler than eating his distant relatives on chips,” Ryan said, still in a mood from the waitress’s mistake.
“I don’t think they’re that closely related,” I said, taking a bit of chicken on a tortilla chip and swallowing the guilt Ryan had created. I’d have been a vegan if meat wasn’t so good.
“That’s why I said distant.”
Francisco pushed his chair back. I immediately missed the contact of his hand as he went to the front without a word.
“Where has he gone?”
“Probably to slay the bird, since it’s distressing you so much. He’ll do that, but I bet you he won’t offer to pay for one of the pitchers he’s ordered.”
“We did invite him along, there’s a certain implication that it’s our treat.”
“It’s your birthday—”
“So let’s not worry about it.”
Francisco returned with a mariachi band in his wake. They played “Las Mañanitas,” the song he had called to wake me with that morning. He must have tipped the band enough to keep them through the meal. By the time we were finishing the third pitcher of margaritas, he was singing softly along, encouraging me to practice my Spanish accent. We were each a less saturated version of the same culture. Francisco was born in Mexico, as was my father and Ryan’s grandmother. I love the language—the few words I have managed to keep—and I enjoyed listening to Francisco slip into conversation with anyone, ducking language barriers.
“How has your birthday been so far?” Francisco asked.
“Lunch with Ryan’s parents. Calls from my mom and sister.”
“Oh, it was. I got to hear all about his mother’s sex life.”
“You didn’t tell me that,” Ryan said, trying to flag down a waitress for more water.
“While the ‘men folk’ saw to the bill, she asked if I had seen a doctor, to be sure everything was working downstairs for me. She had her concerns because Ryan’s father apparently has a little trouble—”
“Please,” Ryan said.
“I’m thirty today. She’s worried I might wait too long before making little Ryans.”
“The world definitely needs more Ryans. Starving artists couldn’t survive without them.” Francisco lifted an empty glass which a waitress hurried to fill. “To the Ryans of the world. May they always be paid to stare at butterflies, and may they always pick up the tab.” On cue, a waiter dropped the bill near Ryan’s elbow.
“Yes,” I said, “it’s nice to be married to a contributing member of society. I feel a little less guilty about being an unemployed lump.”
“Nonsense. You’re a muse to us all.”
“I told you my department is hiring a secretary,” Ryan said.
“I’ll find something,” I said, unable to picture myself answering phones and sitting behind a desk all day. As it was, no one took the idea of my ever having a career seriously. My photography was mediocre, my poetry maudlin. I enjoyed designing dresses but lacked the skill to execute them. Ryan’s salary at the college was enough to support us.
“How’s the painting?” Ryan asked Francisco, and like that he was our father, asking how our grades in the school of adult life were. Perhaps it was the camaraderie that pushed Francisco and I together.
“I’m doing portraits now,” Francisco said. “It’s difficult. These families hand me photos of everyone grinning, teeth showing. If I paint a bunch of teeth-filled heads it’s gruesome. They have no interest in capturing the soul, or emotion. They just want me to shave twenty pounds off.”
We often bought Francisco’s abstract work. It was the least embarrassing way to give him money. But now I wanted a portrait, wanted to see what Francisco saw when he looked at me, what version of me he sometimes claimed to love. Would it be like the sound of your own voice on a recording? Would I look at it and doubt it was me?
Ryan slipped away to the bathroom, leaving the little black book our bill had come in open. Neither of us acknowledged it. We were brats, really.
I held Francisco’s hand a little tighter while we waited for Ryan’s return. He lifted my fingers to his mouth, his breath warm. The gesture made me think of a horse, nuzzling your palm for sugar. I suddenly remembered the musicians, who had faded into the general atmosphere of the place and now became vibrant as witnesses. I enjoyed wondering what they thought, if they could tell who I was with or if I was with either. I couldn’t always tell myself.
“You’re getting careless,” I said, but I couldn’t say about what. We’d never actually slept together, or even kissed. We lived on the brush of hands and stolen embraces. Francisco shrugged and released my hand as Ryan returned and paid.
In the parking lot Francisco asked what we had by way of cake.
“We have cookies and frosting,” I said.
“Even worse. Ryan, I know our diva isn’t worth her salt in the kitchen, so I am assuming you don’t have what I need.”
“Don’t I?” Ryan asked, looking like the angry toucan who knew too much.
“To the store!” Francisco said.
Ryan suggested we wait in the car while Francisco ran in, his passive way of making Francisco pay for his own purchases. I slipped Francisco a few twenties from my purse and watched as he tripped on his way to the doors, caught himself and made a dramatic bow toward us.
“Is he already drunk?” Ryan asked.
“You shouldn’t have bought him all those drinks.”
I didn’t really mind. Francisco could verge on being dull when sober. Not dull, but as with all his moods, his depression was palpable and contagious. I should have cared more about his mental health, the way Ryan spoke in concerned tones about Francisco poisoning his liver or kidneys, but I ignored the symptoms of problems you read about in pamphlets. Francisco could occasionally be depressed followed by manic highs, he drank and smoked too much, but everything was heightened when he entered a room, smoking was sexy and drinking necessary.
Waiting, I could feel the buildup of electricity beneath my skin, a high that made me one with everything, both stars and the broken glass in the pavement. I felt a love for Francisco and Ryan, and I leaned across the console, desperate to express it. I kissed my husband, letting the tip of my tongue flit between his lips, and taste his mouth, the familiarity and comfort of it. It steadied me instead of igniting me. Where Francisco was the spark of a match, Ryan was the warmth of a hearth, constant, strong, made of bricks and mortar. But don’t you need the match to start the fire in the hearth? Ryan pulled me as close as he could in a car, and slid his hand beneath my skirt.
“He’ll be back any minute,” I said, a statement more than a warning. In fact, Francisco was already outside. We were both pretending not to see him standing near a homeless man.
“He’s so generous with your money,” Ryan said, biting my neck a little hard.
“Ow.” I made a petulant face, a joke, but he saw the mark he’d left and looked concerned. He kissed it gently.
I pulled down the mirror in the driver’s seat visor, running my finger along my lips to fix the purple smudges. I had liked the color this morning, but now I looked like a child who’d eaten a Popsicle. I let my hand stay on Ryan’s leg, near his growing erection. Purposefully, he knew, but he feigned distraction.
Francisco got into the back seat with a bag containing the smallest sacks of flour and sugar I’d ever seen and a six-pack of eggs. A second bag was filled with a variety of wine bottles, each in their own little brown sack, their foiled or corked eyes peeking out.
“You know I’ve tried writing a story about a homeless man several times now? I can’t seem to get it right, has too much already been said about them, or not enough?” Francisco said, speaking too fast. His father was homeless. He had whispered his fears of ending up the same way many times to me. “Let’s have a drink. There was a discount if you bought six,” Francisco said, noticing that Ryan was still looking at the bags. Francisco fumbled in his pockets for an absent corkscrew while reciting items that could be used to open a bottle, items that would not be in a car. Ryan stayed quiet while Francisco and I reached around and under seats for whatever we could find. Francisco let out a muffled sound of triumph and rose from behind Ryan’s seat with a pen. He pushed it down on the cork until it fell—along with the pen—into the bottle with a satisfying plop. Ryan frowned at the small stains forming on the upholstery.
“A drink, your highness?” Francisco held the bottle toward me, and I climbed over the seat, legs tangled in skirt fabric, falling into Francisco. I leaned against him, allowing an extra second of contact before sitting up and accepting the bottle. Francisco made sure Ryan was watching the road before stroking a loose strand of my hair.
“Chauffeur!” I called to Ryan. “Let’s have some music.”
Francisco and I stumbled up the walkway through the home’s entry, Ryan’s greenhouse-turned-atrium. Ryan lagged behind, checking to be sure none of his butterflies had escaped. I was in love with Nabokov in high school, reading even his reports on Lepidoptera. This was what drove me to the Lepidoptera Society Ryan had founded. I liked to think our marriage was arranged by Nabokov himself.
We left Ryan to tend to his pets. I put the three white wines in the fridge and opened a second red. Francisco took a glass gratefully, sitting on the counter beside me, his pinky resting against mine.
“There was a homeless man outside the store just now,” Francisco said, swirling the wine up the sides of his glass. “He asked for a cigarette. I suddenly thought I might quit, so I gave him the pack. He danced like something out of one of those old musicals, literally clapping his heels. I thought, ‘I’ll never be as happy as a bum with a whole pack of cigarettes,’ but I had the idea of living longer, painting a masterpiece, maybe writing something half decent, no, not half decent, something wondrous, so I stepped out, ready to start life anew, I was even going to quit you, my lovely, toxic, married habit, but some motorcyclist almost hit me. I guess he was parking along the store front, I mean really he was in the wrong, but he yelled, ‘do you wanna die’? and suddenly I thought, well a life without cigarettes, without a few vices, that’s hardly living.”
I sipped my wine throughout this monologue, hoping Ryan wouldn’t come back too soon and interrupt. I wished there wasn’t some unsaid rule about kissing. It felt like the only fitting reply. Francisco clutched my hand, desperately, and the screen door in the other room slid shut. He set down his glass, gathered bowls and utensils I didn’t know I had, and began whisking eggs with sugar.
“Did you catch all your little children?” I asked Ryan as he came in. He held his hand out, letting me examine the fine dust of butterfly scales that coated the trenches of his finger print.
Ryan rinsed his hands. “I think we need to move that purple succulent. It’s propagating into the plants around it.”
The rest of our house did not receive the same attention as the atrium. Francisco’s paintings were hidden in the back mudroom-turned-study. Our bedroom walls were left purposely blank, making the antique iron bed frame the only focal point with its ornate knobs and gaudy faux fur throws. There was a couch in the narrow living room, a book shelf with more knick knacks than books, and a desk. Ryan’s rare butterfly specimens, deemed too special for his office on campus, were framed in black shadow boxes and decorated the white plank wall of the living room.
Ryan stood beside me, tracing my shoulder blades with his finger, still damp. Francisco had put one of my aprons on over his jeans and t-shirt, and was mixing with a fervor that left him covered in flour. It was charming and ridiculous.
“What kind of man knows cake recipes by heart?” I asked, as he began to mix the dry and wet ingredients.
“The kind who seldom goes to bed alone,” Ryan replied.
I sometimes managed to forget Francisco’s other lovers. His long fingers gripped the spoon tighter. I wondered if I made him forget them too. I sought for some meaning in his every movement, something to explain what we were. The cake was for me. The wine, for me.
When Ryan first told me of his friend, I had postponed meeting him. I sensed that strange male loyalty that challenged my own place in Ryan’s life. They had grown up together. Francisco was even in a few of Ryan’s family photos, the handyman’s son who stayed to play. When we finally met, it was almost by accident. Ryan had planned to spend an evening at my house while my mother was out of town. Instead he cancelled in favor of going across the border to Mexico with Francisco.
“I hope he’s a good fuck, because he’s the only one you’ll be getting,” I told him, annoyed that he found an evening in a city we could see in all its squalor from his windows in El Paso more appealing than our still clumsy but intense sex. I also wished I’d thought of it.
“Come with us,” he said.
We waited for Francisco in a bar in Juarez filled with dancers in black thongs and leather jackets, shiny as hornets. The music felt in time with my pulse, holding and pumping my heart. I heard Francisco say Ryan’s name. He didn’t have to yell, there was something powerful in the low register of his voice that rose above the music and bodies between us. Despite having issued the invitation, he acted as though seeing us was a happy coincidence. He placed a hand on Ryan’s shoulder and then met my eyes, almost in challenge. I couldn’t hear what Ryan was saying because I was watching how closely Francisco listened. He bought Ryan a beer, which Ryan tried to decline saying he would be driving me home.
“Let your girl drive you back,” Francisco said and then disappeared into a throng of dancers, their movements mechanical beneath the flashing lights.
“He seems like a macho ass. Exactly what I’d expect this side of the border.”
“Don’t be racist,” Ryan shouted over the music.
“He’s sexist. Let’s go.”
I was already outside on the bar’s patio when I realized Ryan hadn’t followed. A hand touched my shoulder, warming it down to the bone. “Que bonita,” a voice said, not menacing, but dangerous in the sincerity of its tone. If Ryan wasn’t going to stay by me, I decided to punish him by enjoying myself. I touched the back of the hand, smooth, the fingers almost feminine. Francisco laughed when I turned to face him.
“You’re not very discouraging are you?” A cigarette drooped from the corner of his mouth. He pulled a pack from his shirt pocket and held it toward me. I refused.
“You don’t smoke?”
A boy standing nearby took the cigarette from Francisco’s lips and moved it to his own. Francisco pulled the boy over by his belt loop.
“This is,” he paused and made a face of mock embarrassment toward me. “This is…”
“Tony,” the boy said.
“Antonio!” Francisco said, as though his pause had merely been for effect. “Tony, my new friend Jenny.” He smiled at me, releasing Tony, whose name is the only one I remember from Francisco’s string of one night stands and brief relationships.
“Do you dance?” Francisco asked me.
“Not to this.”
He shook his head, took a long drag on the cigarette before handing it back to Tony and extending a hand toward me.
He led me back to the dance floor, releasing me to move freely. By watching his movements I found a rhythm to follow. I leaned forward, shifting my leg when he shifted his, moving my shoulder forward when his leaned back, as if he were pulling it. I found myself touching my own collarbone, moving my hand between my breasts and to my thigh while he watched. My hand felt as though it was in fact his, and I knew from his discreet smile and careful glances at Ryan that he felt the same way.
After returning to our side of the border, Ryan and I stripped in my mother’s room, enjoying the taboo space. Ryan was more assertive than usual, guiding my hips. I let my mind return to the bar and wonder what someone who could lead you without touching could do if allowed.
“Is your friend gay?” I asked.
Ryan paused in his movements, annoyed at my distraction.
“He was with a man.”
“He likes to say he doesn’t discriminate against race or gender.” I opened my mouth to question this and Ryan covered it with his, leaving my questions unspoken.
We were on our third—was it fourth?—bottle of wine. We’d moved to the living room where Ryan placed an old metal fan on the window sill and pushed a ceramic saucer toward Francisco, a subtle nod of permission to smoke inside.
Francisco plucked out any large pieces of tobacco stem and placed them in the saucer. He always left our home like some criminal desperate to leave without a trace, as if it was a museum of domestic life he could visit, but it would be careless to leave a mark. His boundaries were strange, but they did exist.
“Roll me one,” I said, kneeling at his feet. The room smelled of tobacco, cake and wine, a hint of sweat from three bodies in a confined space on a summer night.
“I don’t want Ryan to hate me,” Francisco said. He rolled the paper and sealed it with a tiny darting lick. I imagined his tongue would taste like the cigarette and rested my hand on his leg.
“It will burn your throat and you’ll complain in the morning,” Ryan said.
“It is her birthday.”
Ryan shrugged, and I took the cigarette from Francisco’s fingers, enjoying the brief contact. I inhaled my passing jealousy over Francisco’s other lovers, and exhaled slowly imagining the disappearing plumes of smoke as the women and men that frequented his bed. It was a foolish thing to fight over. Only once had I challenged him over it. I’d been upset visiting my family out of town and tried texting Francisco who didn’t reply. I’d called and it went to voicemail, rejected, after two rings.
Fine, I texted. You’re probably with some slutty boy from a bar, but I could really talk to you right now.
With your husband actually.
I could hear his tone drip through the line. The judgment justifiably thrown back at me, and I’d tamped down the jealousy ever since. After all, he had the others and I had Ryan. Dear Ryan, who worried about my sore throat.
I wished I could go back in time, that the thirty years I’d lived were now mine to parcel out among whomever I wanted. Ten with the almost fatherly love of Ryan, ten spent on adventures with Francisco (fleeing the cartel? Painting in Italy? Committing suicide together by throwing ourselves down the Devil’s Throat Falls in Argentina?), and ten alone. Those alone years would be fearful, but wondrous. I had never truly been alone, but in my dreams I sometimes saw a room, pure white. White curtains and sheets. There was no one else in this room. Without the others who knew what I could do? I’d be the Jenny who knew what she wanted, who knew what she might be good at—I imagined her standing in that room, but I didn’t know how to get to her. I loved the idea of letting myself freefall through the water and sky and birds Francisco had described after his trip to South America, but the fact was (I heard Ryan’s voice in my mind) there were rocks at the bottom.
“You’ve left us,” Francisco said.
“She does that.” Ryan finished his glass and poured a little more. He held the bottle out to me.
“Sorry, I was just thinking how fun a trip would be. The three of us.”
“And where would we go?” Francisco asked.
“Back to Mexico,” I said.
Francisco nodded. I loved that he knew Mexico was a moment, not necessarily a place.
“That isn’t impossible,” Francisco said.
“It isn’t safe either,” Ryan said.
I stood and went to the radio. The first station was playing trumpet-heavy mariachi music. I tried to remember the Ballet Folklorico my aunts performed when I was young. I loved the bright dresses, the crown-like hair pieces they wore to balance candles on their heads, the danger of the flame.
“You need to move your arms more,” Francisco said. “Hold on.” He jumped to my side. “Imagine you’re holding up several pounds of skirt.”
We danced around each other, stomping loudly on the wooden floor. I was rising through the joy too quickly, losing air and afraid of the crash that was sure to follow.
“I need to come down,” I whispered.
Francisco nodded and messed with the stations, finding something slower, sadder. He put a hand on my back, sliding down to my waist, slowing my movements.
Ryan shifted in his chair. The cake’s buttery smell filled the rooms, pausing the dance. Francisco checked the oven and called out triumphantly for us to see. We followed him and praised the deep gold cake.
“Congratulations,” Ryan said. “This is the first time you haven’t presented us with a burnt offering.”
“I treat you like gods and you complain. And it isn’t my fault you two distract me. Milk or wine? Need I ask?”
The glasses were filled again, and we passed plates of warm cake, like an unholy sacrament, eating in silence.
“May I have my presents?” I asked.
Ryan handed me two small boxes. Francisco bowed with a flourish and lowered before me the large bag I had been eyeing all evening. Their tributes presented, both sat back.
I opened the smaller box first, and held up the small ivory cigarette holder.
“You hate my smoking! Why encourage a bad habit?”
“If you’re going to do it, at least your fingers won’t smell.”
“Because a habit disguised is forgivable?” Francisco asked. I tried to give him a warning look. The night was feeling off. He was reckless, perhaps because of drink? But we had all been drunk before. I opened the second box, a Tiffany blue square containing a silver choker with a heart charm. I shifted to Ryan’s feet and pulled my hair away from my neck, allowing him to fasten it. I stood and turned.
“What do you think?”
“Suits you,” Ryan said.
“Looks a bit like a collar,” Francisco said.
“Stop being so snide.” I tried to laugh but the concern crept in. He wasn’t playing by the rules. Ryan stroked the hair behind my ear. I turned my attention to the large paper bag, submerged my hand and jumped at the feel of fur.
“I think Zelda Fitzgerald had one just like it, and if she didn’t, she should have,” Francisco said as I pulled the full length seal skin coat from the sack. “It’s unusual, tragic and glamorous. Very Jenny. Does it fit alright?” Francisco set his glass down and stood up, lending me unnecessary help in putting the coat on.
The fur was soft, inviting. It exuded both wildness and an instant feeling of safety. I wondered for a moment if I loved it because it was from him, or if I liked him so much because he had chosen something perfect.
“I feel like a selkie,” I said.
Francisco stood behind me, wrapping both the coat and his arms around me. I let him and he squeezed tighter.
Ryan held his empty glass of wine over the side of the couch, parallel to the floor. A single drop formed, a drop of party blood, and fell, a stain on the white wood, which, thirsty, drank in the red.
“That’s probably enough for the night,” Ryan said, switching off the radio.
“I have another gift,” Francisco said. He went out to his car.
Ryan carried the dishes to the sink, and I followed, handing him a plate. The bowl of icing sat forgotten.
“I think he’s depressed,” I said, feeling guilt and regret at divulging a suspicion I might have been alone in knowing, and also hoping Ryan could somehow fix this. Save Francisco before he ruined everything.
Ryan turned away. “That’s exactly the sort of thinking Francisco hates. He doesn’t need another woman trying to save him. He was just complaining the other day about the lost art of the one night stand.”
“I think he’s suicidal, but don’t tell him I told you.”
“He doesn’t know?”
“He needs us,” I said.
“You could fuck him, but then he’ll know we know.”
“Don’t joke.” But I had never heard him joke this way.
Ryan took another slice of cake. “Just don’t cast me as the bumbling husband, okay?”
Francisco reentered holding a canvas painting behind his back.
“I was on the fence about saving it till Christmas,” he said, holding it out to me.
I glanced back at Ryan, who ate his cake without looking up. As I held my arms out for the painting, I strove to find an emotion to settle on and hold, to ground me.
It was a painting of an actor. I’d loved the man for his role in Lolita, but Francisco had painted him in his costume from a different film. Using only blues he’d painted the man with slicked hair and a monocle. I tried to remember the movie. I believe it was about a man accused of killing his wife. The monocle eye stared out startled and fish-like.
“It’s a departure from my usual work.”
“It’s wonderful. Help me find a good spot for it.”
We left Ryan drinking in the kitchen to take down a butterfly shadowbox. I balanced one leg on the couch while placing the painting on its nail.
“I hope you don’t mind this strange man in your house,” Francisco said when Ryan rejoined us. “I know you don’t like to share my work in your living room—I pretend it’s because you’re selfish and not because you don’t like it, but I thought he could hang out in here.”
“He looks like Mr. Peanut, if Mr. Peanut was a pedophile.”
“Don’t be an ass,” I said. “I love it.”
“I don’t want that to be the first thing I see when I get home.”
“It’s our wall. I think I get to have some say in what goes on it.”
“Yes, but Francisco doesn’t. Take the damn thing down.”
I put a hand on Francisco’s arm, wanting to save his feelings and the frail screens that had hid us all from one another. “He’s been drinking.”
“Not nearly enough,” Ryan said.
“No, it’s alright. I might have overstepped. Let’s blame the wine.” Francisco absently peeled at the dried paint on his fingernails. “It’s probably about time for me to head off.”
“I’ll walk him out,” I said.
Francisco walked beside me, letting his knuckles brush against mine with each swing of our hands.
“Lovely night,” I said, barely recognizing my voice. It sounded like I was speaking with someone I knew well but had run out of things to say to.
“I wish I could bring you back with me,” Francisco said. “But then…”
We reached his car.
“Kiss me goodnight?” I said.
“Is that allowed?”
He kissed my mouth. He didn’t taste any different than me. The same wine. The same cigarette. The thrill was over, and I kissed hungrily, trying to get it back.
Ryan was already brushing his teeth when I returned, spitting foam. He pushed a bottle of mouthwash toward me and I rinsed away the smoke in my throat, but already I could feel the irritation growing into my lungs. I’d be coughing in the morning.
In bed I slept with my head on Ryan’s chest, my arm draped over him. I’d discovered some odd bug in the pocket of the coat and cast it off on the far side of the room where it couldn’t infect my other clothes. I felt like the last woman on the Titanic, no more lifeboats and I was clinging to some driftwood for life and being overtaken by the iceberg that had struck us. I let one foot slip off the bed and pretended I was toeing the icy waters. Somewhere I’d heard of a silent film actress who almost lost her hand that way. She was so set on finishing the scene that she ignored the water slowly freezing her flesh, carrying on an act while the director and her costar watched.
Avra Elliott’s work has appeared in The Ilanot Review and Tinderbox, and is forthcoming from Noctua Review. Elliott received her MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College, and she currently lives in New Mexico where she works as a writer and toymaker.