something long dead

she has been walking for what seems like eternity when she sees the light in the window it’s something warm and inviting and she’s something cold and lost so her bare feet carry her up the worn steps and to the cherry red door the man is something gruff and rough with worn calluses on his gnarled hands but the crow’s feet by his eyes tell her that he is something like the light in the window he lets her in and makes her hot cocoa something that scalds her tongue and burns behind her eyes he has a wall of books old and crumbling and musty with age stacked up to the dust grey ceiling and scattered across the pockmarked floor she picks up one from a chair and runs her fingers across its cracked face "i don’t read much, not anymore" he taps under his clouded right eye and squints at her blurry form "can i read to you?" "sure" he sits in the chair and closes tired eyes she sits, criss-cross applesauce, on the floor and reads out loud until her voice is hoarse and the man’s chest has stuttered and stopped then she touches his cold hand and turns off the warm lamp when she leaves she pauses by the mantlepiece where a dead wife and three children who never visit stare out from beneath pristine glass and she is still for only a heartbeat she finds the girl sitting on the sidewalk idly watching smoke drift from her own lips as cold stubs roll about her ragged Chucks she thinks the girl is something like stone flinty and unyielding and sharp when thrown all jagged edges and harsh eyes but the girl taps out a stick and lights it with a flourish something like a challenge in her smirk so they sit there and trade secondhand smoke sipping from the warm flask by her hip until the light of day becomes brighter than the street lamps the girl leaves with a "see ya" and heads for a house that was never a home where her father yells and throws glass bottles like something wild and beastly and her mother finally has had enough and kills him and her and herself she is standing outside to hear the gunshots and she lights the last cig that had been pressed into her grimy hand along with the plastic lighter she inhales the death and the burn and thinks of maybe buying flowers she is the only one who stops by the grave and she wants to stand there for an eternity just rotting and decaying until she’s gone but she just drops a new pack of sticks and the beat-up lighter and does not think about sharing death like best friends by the side of the road the little boy is playing by himself making sand castles and moats and stick knights she leaves wet footprints as she walks up the ocean tugging at her heels "do you want to play?" she nods because she is something cold and lonely they make the castle into a fortress as if they could hide away from the world inside and the boy puts each cracked shell solemnly along the walls as if it could shield them from the inevitable and they walk away when the tide rises to destroy their home and he is something like the sun bright and laughing and too good for her so when he waves his little hands goodbye she can’t help but smile back at the dimples and freckles and baby fat even when she wants to throw up the boy goes home and his mother does not care or notice but she takes him to the store when she wants to buy booze and forgets him in the car too busy flirting with a cashier to remember the baggage of a fling long gone this time she can’t bear to watch so she stands by the sea and thinks that maybe she should wash away too because she is lost and cold and forgotten too lonely to stay away from a taste of chocolate and smoke and salt and something long dead she turns and walks on

Maggie Zheng
Published in Issue 40