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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Bare

Story by Benjamin Woodard (Read author interview) September 16, 2019

Art by Maureen Mcdonagh

When I find my neighbor Ignacio, he’s naked in my backyard. There are no clothes on the ground, so I figure he left his house this way. Last week, he set fire to a pile of leaves on his front lawn. Before that, he jammed stereo speakers in his windows and played the Bee Gees’ “Marley Purt Drive” on repeat for three straight days. I won’t even try to explain the tailpipe banana incidents, but I will say that everyone in the neighborhood walks on eggshells when he’s around. They say to give him time to process his loss, like he’s the only person to ever experience sadness. I don’t agree. Sure, there’s sadness, but I’m beginning to think Ignacio is now trying to see how far he can push our patience. I slide open the door, bring him my bathrobe, and toss it over his shoulders. You’ve got to get over this, I say to him, only he shrugs off the bathrobe and runs in figure eights, his pecker and belly bouncing in unison with each stride. He smiles. We’re going to call the police eventually, I say. Either that or the hospital, I say. Ignacio doesn’t stop running. Maybe you need to talk with someone? I ask. He doesn’t acknowledge me at all. It’s like my words are silent, or like I’m not part of the same dimension, and the more I call out to him, the more I’m reminded of being a kid, trying to get my older brother’s attention after finding him sneaking out my bedroom window, my allowance in his pocket. I wanted to tell him I loved him, not that he heard me. I could have been on fire back then, like the leaves on Ignacio’s lawn, and Billy wouldn’t have cared. The whole world could’ve been bursting when I was a kid and Billy wouldn’t have bothered to say boo. He was so gone words didn’t matter anymore. Do you need everyone to burn? I ask, possibly to Ignacio. Would that be enough to make you come back? My neighbor circles me one more time. Bye, he says, and then he hangs right and jets to the next yard, leaving me alone with my thoughts, my bathrobe on the grass like a husk, a slight breeze adding a chill to the air.

About the Author

Benjamin Woodard is editor-in-chief at Atlas and Alice. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and teaches English. In addition to the anthology Best Microfiction 2019, his fiction has appeared in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Atticus Review, and other journals. Find him on Twitter at @woodardwriter.

About the Artist

Maureen Mcdonagh is a self-taught painter; living in the UK, she works mainly on canvas and paper, working exclusively with gouache and water color these days. She mainly allows the creative process to happen without any deliberation, not focusing on the outcome or end product just the physical experience and movement of painting. Change is important in her work so she shifts when she sees a particular style or technique taking hold, the art of painting does not then become premeditated, as a consequence, it seems to have a silent, powerful quality of its own.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Five
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