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At Sea

Story by Ashley Hutson (Read author interview) August 8, 2016

Art by Katelin Kinney

My first love was my last love because I married it. Three months after my grandfather died, I met the kid who became my husband, and eventually we became adults. Somewhere in there we had four kids.

Grandpa was in the Navy a long time ago and had traveled a few places. He’d take me hunting and get to talking about all the unseen world. He always told me to get out of town before I got caught up. I forgot his advice until my wedding day, and then it was too late.

It had been too late for a while, though. Five months before standing in front of the altar I was standing in front of the toilet, a pregnancy test turning blue in my hands. Where I live, that decides everything.

**

When my children pour dirty dishwater down the kitchen sink too fast, the bathtub pukes it up. I have to stand there every night and make them pour it down slow.

Be nice to the drains, I say. They carry everything nasty away from us, all the way out to the sea.

**

A lady neighbor moved in to the apartment upstairs. Through my blinds, I watched her unload the moving van by herself. She muscled a big leopard-print chair into the building like it weighed nothing.

She looked about the same age as me but seemed younger. I assume everyone is younger.

I envied that chair.

**

My husband drives a tractor-trailer and is away most of the year. When he gets home he brings the kids chocolates from faraway gas stations we’ve never heard of.

Once he brought our youngest a Cadbury egg out of season, all the way from a station called ARCO in California. I couldn’t bear to let the kid unwrap it. It sat on a high shelf for months, a blue-green-red foiled jewel.

**

I learned the neighbor’s name. Aubra-Lee. She asked me to lunch one Saturday, but I was too shy. Also, I had the kids.

Sometimes I watch her hang clothes out the window to dry. She uses colorful clothespins.

At night I dream about opening her closet. I imagine she has a hundred outfits, all soft and washed in Tide, the most expensive detergent.

**

So how’s it going?

My husband is on the phone. I can hear the sounds of a rest stop in the background. He sleeps in his cab and when he comes home his clothes reek of diesel.

He likes to kiss me hard, like a toothless person gnawing an apple. When we first got together we had no points of reference. Whatever ways of loving we found were ways we kept.

Oh, it’s going, I say.

**

My kids were running in the front hallway the other morning when Aubra-Lee came out of her apartment and down the stairs. Gold bangles clinked on her brown wrists and she smelled like the garden of Eden. Who is that, my oldest asked. But her name got caught up in my mouth.

She was moving closer.

“Hey there,” she said to me, only to me.

I felt like I had the flu—chills and fever all at once. Aubra-Lee had a way of smiling at me as if I was a real person.

I said, “Hiiiiii.” My greeting seemed to stretch on forever. I turned red, but she just smiled again.

My youngest boy did not notice any of this. He clutched at my leg. When is Daddy coming home, he said out of nowhere.

Aubra-Lee walked past us and out the front door.

I looked down at my kid. A picture of the ocean, which I’ve never seen for real, came to me.

**

When my grandfather took me hunting, he’d let me carry the gun and everything. He would not tell my mother. This was back when I was a child.

Sometimes all we’d catch was a squirrel. He let me watch as he dressed it, the sinewy thing that it was. He’d chop off the squirrel’s nuts and say, “Fun’s over.” I’d giggle like it was funny. But the squirrel, you know, was already dead.

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Notes from Guest Reader

I was hooked from the opening line. The sentences are short but packed with meaning and emotion. Every word seems placed there for a reason, and it stayed with me long after reading.

About the Author

Ashley Hutson‘s work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Fiction International, The Forge, Jellyfish Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and The Conium Review. She lives in rural Maryland.

About the Artist

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Three
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