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Story by Zach VandeZande (Read author interview) September 19, 2016

Art by Cameron Cox

Two angels are fist-fighting in my backyard. I watch them through the window, sipping at a gin and grapefruit juice I just made. They, the angels, are naked and smooth and grappling and kidney-punching each other like they really mean harm. Feathers are pulled free. An arm is brutally locked up and bent wrong. They aren’t bleeding, but light is pouring out of them in places.

I don’t know what they’re doing there, or why they’re so ferocious—nearly feral—or why they chose my yard, or if I’m supposed to intervene. So: I watch. One of them rears back and headbutts the other and the other one goes down on the grass. I hear the smack from indoors. The headbutted one gets back up, flapping his wings like a startled chicken.

Dwayne comes out of his room, rumpled but alert. He sees the bottle on the counter.

“You’re not supposed to drink that when I’m here,” he says, too smart for six, my boy.

“You’re supposed to be asleep, so we’re both in trouble.” I glance from him to the window and back again. One angel grabs the other around the waist and lifts him off his feet, bringing him down hard on the earth.

“Come here,” I say, still watching the window. Dwayne walks over to me. I bend down and start messing with his hair. “Look at this. All kinds of wrong. You look like a goddamn dweeb.”

He squirms. He winces. He’s happy but a part of him isn’t, the part of him I never seem to get at in the right way.

“I want to show you something,” I say. I hoist him up and show him what’s going on in the yard.

“What are they fighting over?” he asks. I can tell he’s afraid, that little boy fear that comes on so easily when he just wakes up, when the world is still here and kept on spinning without his knowledge.

I think on a reason. “They’re fighting over us,” I say.


“Well, one of them is going to watch over you, and one will watch over me, and they both want to watch over you, so they’re fighting to see who gets to look after who.”

One of them has the other pinned and is ripping away at his flesh. Dwayne turns away and presses his face into my shoulder. He’s never set foot in a church, never read any of the stories. This is his first glimpse of the ugliness inherent in the whole enterprise.

The angel on top stops. The one below him is still, one wing ripped free, the neck turned wrong, light pouring from its mouth and the wounds at its side. The one above has a hand pressed into the face of the one below, and he pulls it away and falls back, shoulders heaving. Soon he will turn and look at us. Soon the next thing will happen, and there’s no stopping it.

The boy smells of sleep-sweat and fear, his nails dig into me.

“It’s love,” I say. “It’s just love.”

About the Author

Zach VandeZande is an Assistant Professor at Central Washington University. He is the author of the novel Apathy and Paying Rent and the forthcoming short story collection Lesser American Boys. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Gettysburg Review, Yemassee, Word Riot, Portland Review, Cutbank, Sundog Literature, Passages North, Beloit, Slice Magazine, Atlas Review, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. He likes you just fine.

About the Artist

Cameron Cox is a metalsmith/fashion accessory designer from rural Alaska. She attended university at Murray State of Kentucky, where she received her BFA. She combines innovative objects with traditional metalsmithing techniques, creating a world of curiosities. She currently lives in Texas working as a full-time mixed media artist and exhibit technician. You can view more works in process @camcocasati on Instagram.

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

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