SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Christopher Battle June 15, 2006

Raoul noticed a black spot on his white tile counter top. It was a tiny spot, perfectly round, perhaps half a millimeter in diameter. He’d never seen it before, nor could he decide what had caused it or when it had appeared there. It could have always been there, or it could have been recent. Maybe it had appeared on Tuesday. Raoul tried to get rid of it with soap and water. This didn’t work so he tried Pinesol, then 30% bleach with a scouring pad. He stopped after his scouring started dimming the gleaming plastic shine inherent to the tile; the black spot was still there, un-faded, just as matte and black and perfectly round as ever. He ran his fingers over it, to feel if it had any depth to it – maybe it was a divot in the tile that had gotten ink or dirt worked in before the tile had been glazed. No, the spot was flat and smooth. Raoul didn’t like touching it – he felt dirty when his fingers brushed over the spot. He stared at it for a while, then shrugged his shoulders and went to the grocery store.

When he returned from the supermarket he purposely put his grocery sack on top of the tile with the spot, and tried to pretend to himself that this is where he’d always intended to put the sack anyway. He pulled bread, butter, cheese, leeks, and wine out of the bag and put them away. When he’d emptied the sack he picked it up and turned quickly, so as not to glance at the tile underneath it.

Raoul made leek soup that night. He put the cutting board over the spot as he de-leafed and cleaned the leeks. Their acrid taste was like grapes and fire, but without the sugar. He didn’t clean the cutting board and went to bed soon after dinner.

In his dreams that night there was something always at the edges, like a tremor in the periphery of his dream vision. When he woke up his eyes were crusted with sleep and he felt un-rested. He was in a terrible mood all day; he felt deeply unsettled and violently restless.

Raoul still had hopes of meeting the right woman and settling into the buzzing current of family life that swept the years past in a flood. He wasn’t given to contemplation, except on days when it rained heavily. On these days he would do nothing but sit by the window, wondering who he used to be and how he’d come to be here. On these days he would also remember there was death in the world—he’d drink schnapps and go to bed early.

Raoul continued to have trouble sleeping and became listless. At work he saw a young boy scrape his knee while playing soccer. The vision of crying blue eyes and raw pink flesh, a young boy on his knees, floated back recurrently into Raoul’s thoughts. He took a few days off. He stayed in bed mostly, ordering food in rather than cooking. He didn’t go to the kitchen, didn’t look at the black spot, but he couldn’t help thinking about it. It seemed to be there, in his thoughts, embedded somewhere in a child’s knee. It seemed to exist in the dark specks on his clothing and on the ceiling. There were black spots everywhere. There was one inside of him, opening up like a curse or a rose or a prehistoric eye.

About the Author

Christopher Battle is from Texas but is currently working on a Masters at the Universitaet van Amsterdam. He’s had stories published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Storyglossia, edificeWRECKED, Thieves Jargon, and Outsider Ink.

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

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