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In November 2017

Story by S.L. Bailey (Read author interview) January 21, 2019

Art by Marie-Paule Bilger

We’d forgotten there was a war going on when Mom told us our cousin was killed in it. We were sitting on my bed, painting our toenails and skipping songs on Spotify. Mom knocked and stepped inside before we could answer. I thought she was going to yell at us about the smell—she’d always complained the ethyl acetate gave her migraines—but instead she said, Christian died today.

He was our age, born in the two years that separated us.

How? asked my sister. She looked up from her brush strokes and a droplet of purple lacquer fell from the tip of the brush and domed onto my sheets.

His fire squad hit an IED, Mom said.

Later, I learned it was the shrapnel that did it. A quarter-sized piece cut through his neck and he bled to death, alone in the desert.

My sister’s eyes turned back to the polish bottle and she dipped in the brush, swirling the tip into the viscous liquid. The color was called Plum Luck but it looked more like grape.

That’s awful, she said, globbing on another coat while Mom lingered at the door.

Our mom waited another moment, watching us with her arms crossed, and after she left we leaned back onto the pillows, pushing our feet over the edge of the bed, careful not to dent our fresh polish.


Notes from Guest Reader Shasta Grant

The way ‘In November 2017’ weaves the tragic with the ordinary is devastating and exquisite. It’s a marvel that this story says so much in so few words.

About the Author

S.L. Bailey is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the former managing editor of The Greensboro Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, storySouth, and The News Record. Originally from Cincinnati, she lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and chocolate lab.

About the Artist

Active on the art scene for many years, Marie-Paule Bilger has developed her multidirectional and protean works in the image of her personal journey, her travels, and her interests. Born in Mulhouse, France, she began her creative development with classical dance training but then studied visual art at the University of Strasbourg, becoming a painter and visual artist. In her work, she summons both personal and collective history and places them at the heart of a social and political debates in order to interrogate recent global changes. Her painting is in tune with the zeitgeist: the events and conflicts that took place beginning September 2001 have galvanized its trajectory. Her experiments with painting on transparent media (plastic, plexiglass, and glass) led her towards a use of video; she likes to relate visual “oxymorons” through this medium.

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

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