This Tilted Planet

This short story of about 3,000 words was in the top 5% out of over a thousand entries and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest. This is a 750 word excerpt.


 

It was as much our own fault as the wine, but we still blamed the wine.

She wore a jean jacket, just like she always did when she was a kid. At twenty-four, she wore it as a retro fashion statement, the sleeves half-folded and her grown-woman chest forming against the pockets.

Wine has been an Easter tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. I didn’t need to sneak off with it after dinner, but even in my mid-twenties, I was still self-conscious about drinking around my parents. So I snuck down to the basement. She followed.

How she found her way into my lap at that moment, I cannot remember. Her large, seeking eyes, dark and brown, glinted as they met mine, and deep grooves formed angles around her mouth as she smiled, a broad, wicked grin spreading wide enough to reveal dangerous pointed incisors.

“I have a joke,” she said. “Want to hear a joke?”

“Sure.”

A portion of her bottom lip disappeared behind her top teeth and her eyes turned up and to one side as she dug the details of the joke from the recesses of her mind. Her eyebrows, dark slashes, contrasted with the shocks of blond, cut short into curving bangs that dipped just below the forehead that was lightly creased in thought.

“Why does the Easter Bunny hide Easter eggs?” She started strong but trailed off, looking distant, squinting.

Her body arched slightly, a movement which had the effect of reminding me that my hands were spread across her back, those same hands in turn reporting to my mind that there was a soft, flexing female form behind the stiff, rough denim. My right hand involuntarily slipped beneath the jacket, which rode up short around her midsection, and found a safe pocket of warmth between her soft cotton t-shirt and the rigid outerwear.

“I don’t know,” I said after a moment of silence during which I replayed the question in my head, not to listen to the words, but to only hear the voice. “Why?”

She sucked in air, drawing a deep breath, as if she needed full lung capacity to unleash the intensity of the punchline, and then all the air went out of her in a sigh. “Fuck, I forgot the joke.”

There was laughter then, from both of us, a shared jubilation, chests bouncing, teeth showing, jaws stretching, eyes squinting, bodies quaking with drunken amusement. We fed off each other, as we always had; once one of us started it was hard to stop. The laughter of children immersed in make-believe worlds. The laughter that comes out of two like-souls enjoying the company, where the services of wordplay are not needed.

When the storm settled, we were somehow closer together, though she was already on my lap, so how could she have gotten closer? And yet there we were, pieces that were at first clumsily laid upon each other had shifted into interlocking positions.

I remember her smell at that moment. Not perfume, just her, the distant scent of flowers from her deodorant, or perhaps detergent on her clothes. The faint must of the denim that was pressed against my chest. All of it washed away, replaced by the waft of sweet alcohol, wine, when her nose and mouth drew close to mine and we shared breath. Her lips painted a shade of red just a touch on the dark side, her teeth small and even and white.

I’m always surprised when a woman kisses me, still to this day, and part of my brain breaks off from the enjoyment to run through all the scenarios of how I might be imagining this: dreaming? Hallucinating? Dying? Already dead? I can never replay the scenario precisely. Did I initiate it? I can’t subscribe to some absurd notion of an external force, like gravity drawing us together, can I? Did I love her then, or did it come later?

She tasted like berries.

When she pulled back, she licked her lips. “I wondered when that was going to happen.”

“I always thought you and I should get together.” To this day I don’t know if I was telling the truth.

“Really?” she said, not in disbelief but with a wide, pleased smile. She planted one hand flat against my chest. “I always thought that too.”

“Since,” I said, as if continuing my previous statement. “Well, since forever I think.”

“You’re gonna get in trouble,” she sang as her head danced, a childhood taunt we’d exchanged many, many times before.

END EXCERPT


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