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Story by Ben Stein (Read author interview) December 15, 2007

The halfboy’s halfness isn’t obvious. He has what skin, what skeletation and musculature is necessary for movement. It is a subtler shortcoming; in the blood, the organs. Every part works properly, but the smallness of, for instance, a lung, limits its efficiency. Everywhere he goes, he pants. Were he to gasp or swallow fast, he’s been told, his ungrown pouches might burst.

When the halfboy meets the threequarterboy, they are both panting, sitting on sidewalks. The halfboy has a gash in his arm from some tumble. The gash is long and deep and barely moistened with what scant redness can surface through halved channels. The threequarterboy crosses the street, runs his small finger inside the fingersized opening. He rubs until he can fit his hand under the halfboy’s skin, until he can slide himself in like a sleeve.

There is a beercan crushed flat in the road. The threequarterboy runs it edgewise down his thigh, opens an eyelet wide enough for the halfboy’s naked foot, his length of hairless leg. The threequarterboy drives a treebranch into himself, clean through his gut and all that open middlespace, and out beside the spine. The halfboy fits his head inside and through and out again. He looks down and sees the backs of knees.

They wear each other. They plug in other parts when openings present themselves. Where they overlap, skins dissolve, veins meld, nerve spindles wrap together. They live out their lives like this, leaking and lurching, ruffle-haired, splay-shadowed.

About the Author

Ben Stein teaches English in New England. He recently received his MFA from West Virginia University. His work has appeared in Harpur Palate, Cranky, and River Teeth and is forthcoming from 5_Trope, Caketrain, and Gargoyle.

This story appeared in Issue Nineteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Nineteen

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