The magazine she’s holding is three months old. It shakes lightly. It makes him think of a wounded bird struggling to fight its way out of her white, delicate fingers. He reaches over and places a clammy hand on her exposed thigh. The bruises look like faded tattoos. She recoils almost imperceptibly, more a tensing of her muscles than a move to pull away.
It hurts him worse than a smack in the face.
He pulls the offending hand back to his lap slowly, refusing to fully acknowledge her reaction. Ignore what you don’t like and it’ll go away. Maybe. He knows things tend to stay and fester.
He looks away from the silent bruises. Maybe it’s the callouses, he thinks. He keeps forgetting to use the damn lotion after showering. She exhales loudly. If anger could be seen, she’d resemble a dragon. Maybe it’s the smell of cigarettes, which he knows is wrapped around his body like an invisible cloak. Nah, it’s probably just the mountain of screamed nonsense that stands between them like a monstrous iceberg.
A few words take shape in his brain. They’re funny. Reconciliatory. Her eyes are on the magazine, but they don’t move from back and forth. She’s just pretending to read so he’ll go away. It won’t happen. The words will save him. He shapes them into a witty remark and opens his mouth. The words aren’t there. They were lost in the dark, dangerous chasm they have to cross to get to his mouth. He coughs even though he didn’t feel like coughing. He craves more booze, but booze always makes things worse.
His eyes travel from her face to the largest bruise on her right thigh and from there to the glass on the table in front of him. The chunks of ice have almost disappeared. He imagines them like small fish diluting in acid. Tiny drops of moisture run against each other down the sides of the glass. Winners and losers face the same fate: joining their predecessors in a small puddle on the table. He forgot to use a damn coaster again. She said nothing about it. Her silence is unbearably eloquent.
Underneath the window, the AC unit makes its usual racket as it struggles against the blistering heat accumulated inside the minuscule apartment. It’s a losing battle.
A flickering red neon sign from somewhere down below intermittently bathes a chunk of the living room with its light. He thinks of blood. She sighs. The old magazine shakes a bit. He reaches down, grabs the glass, and sucks on a piece of ice. It gives him nothing, so he crushes it.
He digs a pack of cigarettes from the front pocket of his shirt and lights it. The word acrid comes to mind. It’s alone in there. The smart comments that once occupied that space are now a bowel movement waiting to happen in intestine of whatever beast lurks in the dark abyss. She forces a cough as fake as his and punctuates it with a grimace. Thankfully, it’s not aimed at him. His eyes wander back to her legs. She used to have great legs. She knew it, too. Short skirts and shorts that were more like wide belts were her favorite thing to wear. Now she wears whatever smells the least.
He searches around his insides for a sliver of desire. Man, that thing used to burn like hell under his skin. Now there’s nothing. The exercise is fruitless. There’s only an inclination to touch her, a perfunctory thing that reminds him of every time he’s set foot inside a church.
She coughs again and looks at him. Her eyes are dark barrels. They speak volumes as they journey from his eyes to the tip of the cigarette. He stands up and walks to the window. No need to crack it open: she only wants more space between them. A lot of space. Maybe infinite space.
Once he swore he’d always make her happy, always give her what she asked for. Now’s the time. He looks around. The car keys shine a dull red under the light that comes through the window. He thinks of driving until he runs out of gas. Less than a hundred miles is not nearly far enough. Thinking about the car makes him look at her again. Maybe the five kilos stuffed in a ratty duffel bag in his trunk have something to do with her foul mood. The Devil’s dandruff. That’s what she calls the stuff. At least she did back when she had a sense of humor. The pills killed that part of her long ago.
Something jumps inside him. Could the memory awaken his love for her? Was it only sleeping there like a wounded beast? Nah, it’s probably the blow.
She gets up and disappears into the bedroom. She comes out with the comforter from their bed thrown over her shoulders.
“You cold?” he asks.
The short reply stings. He knows why. She’s not cold. They both know it. She wants to cover her legs. His gaze is not welcomed there anymore.
He grabs the keys. Bad things are waiting for him outside. Bad people with bad intentions. He doesn’t care. Space is now a need they share. The apartment is too small for the two of them and the lie she just told.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. His fiction has appeared in Verbicide, Flash Fiction Offensive, and Cease, His first novel,