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SmokeLong Quarterly

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In Darkest Sky

Story by Jennifer Wortman (Read author interview) June 17, 2019

Art by Graham Stewart

I was in South America again, I didn’t know which country−last week or year it had been Europe, or Bangkok−and I was packing my bag, an actual paper bag, because I’d probably lost my suitcase and he’d probably refused to buy me another, not because he’d run out of money, which never happened, but because he’d run out of patience, which often happened, like when I said “Buenos Dias!” to passersby, because I liked the song of the words in my mouth and the pleasant surprise of people who weren’t us, “Buenos Dias! Buenos Dias!” and he said, “That’s not how real Spanish speakers talk,” and I said, “What do you know about real Spanish speakers?” and then, because he was born in Buenos Aires or Madrid or Michigan, he slapped me and called me a Jewish cunt, which reminded me I was Jewish, or maybe I remembered I was Jewish and called him a Jewish cunt, although one thing was clear, I was the Jewish cunt, a Jewish cunt now packing a paper bag and running for it like my ancestors had run for it, though my ancestors did not travel in their boyfriend’s jet or snort coke or pop oxy, etc., but their bags must have been better than mine, because every time I turned from my bag what I’d already packed disappeared, as if the bag had a false bottom, like our lives had a false bottom, just when we thought we were sunk we kept sinking, so I decided to leave without my bag, but then he waltzed into our hotel room, looking at me like I was stars in darkest sky, just like I used to look at him, so we were both on the ground and in the sky, we were placeless and timeless, and the worst part of forgetting so much is what you remember fills you, it drowns you, and I wanted to go back to the timeless placeless place but I couldn’t, so I laughed knowingly, which was something we now sometimes did, or something I thought we now sometimes did, laugh knowingly at an inside joke that didn’t exist so we could pretend we shared more than drugs, but he didn’t return my laugh, he just kept looking at me like I was stars, but fake stars on a ceiling, and he waved toward the doorway and said, “Guess who I found!” and in shuffled an old woman who could have been my dead grandmother and he said, “You’re always talking about how much you miss her,” and I said, “I am?” and he said something about putting money in the right hands and I said, “And they say the Jews control everything,” and he said, “You’re Jewish?” and the woman inched over with her cane and said, “Buenos Dias!” just how I’d said it to passersby, and she smiled my grandmother’s crinkly smile but I couldn’t tell if she was my grandmother or an impersonator, it had been so long since I’d seen my grandmother, but she wore the same filmy flowered kerchief my grandmother used to knot around her head and she looked at me like my grandmother had always looked at me, like I was stars in darkest sky, even when she disapproved of me, which was often, but she wouldn’t say it, like that time I introduced her to my Jewish boyfriend because I’d had a Jewish boyfriend for once instead of a boyfriend named Christof or Christ, except this Jewish boyfriend had scraggly long hair and holes in his pants, and she smiled her crinkly smile and offered us kid-carton milks and later told my dad my boyfriend was dirty, which I knew meant I was dirty, I stank of pork loin and Easter sweets, and my dirty Jewish boyfriend just added to the stench, all this was long ago, three or thirty years or five millennia, but I always knew she loved me because of the stargazing looks, she loved me anyway, the biggest curse and greatest gift, and now my boyfriend, to pretend he loved me anyway, had brought her here, so I could pretend I loved him anyway, and this dead grandmother or dead grandmother impersonator hobbled forward, her starlight raining over me, and she said, “Shall I teach you to tie a perfect bow?” and I said, “Teach me, please.”

About the Author

Jennifer Wortman is the author of the story collection This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. Her work appears or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Electric Literature, Brevity, The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction America, and elsewhere, and has been cited as distinguished in Best American Short Stories. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and MacDowell, she lives with her family in Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and serves as associate fiction editor for Colorado Review.

About the Artist

Graham Stewart lives in rural Ontario where he reads books, watches movies. records abstract music, and takes photographs.

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