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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Low Pink Star

Story by Kate Gehan (Read author interview) July 12, 2021

Photograph by Francesca Saraco

Cherry is my ex husband’s favorite artificial flavor and I use it on patients I don’t like the look of the ones with dyed eyebrows and scalloped fingernails clawing into thighs who dig their heeled booties into the vinyl footrest as if I was here for revenge instead of scraping and buffing and sloughing and polishing and smearing and sucking. The ones who don’t pump paralytics into their foreheads to soften lines of concern can handle death and while I pull their cheeks away from the gums I share that my son and his throwback mullet came home mumbling and sobbing Friday during the snowstorm with news about boys sneering wild bald tires along country roads at dusk just some regular old Indiana small town no-seatbelt whiteout fun. One witness two dead.

I told my son go to your girlfriend mourn with your teammates you need each other swap memories trade promises share a beer what other way is there and he did and I turned off all the lights in the house at midnight and watched snow shift around the bottom of the light post across the street and wanted my ex husband’s arms around me so we could remember that couple in high school who slid off the icy overpass together and in that remembering for just a few hours we could keep from unraveling that something I’d always hoped would stay tied.

Patients apologize through slack lips for the small-town tragedy and it helps to see their eyes turn cherry red it’s what I need. What delicate intimacy to know the jaw structures bite patterns bone health skull shape of a person what a thing it is to anticipate an exact picture of decay. I am a grave robber performing time travel. Every time I close my eyes to the siren whir of the cleaning equipment pointed snowflakes gently collapse onto the boys’ still warm skin lit by deadening light.

On the way home after we had folded our hands one over the other along the knotted string of rituals and graveside words a surprise rock skipped up thwacked up skied an aqua line across the edge of my windshield. Son my sun the low pink star of mine teased the space between vision and night with a joke about the priest’s cassock and we laughed at the way some highway exit and entrance lanes are designed so poorly one car slows to depart while another speeds to begin and we took pity on their scrambled momentum until it was our turn and what a thrill—my son a demon curve pedal master—to find the space between to nestle into time until we fit an acorn snug beneath its cap a dog curled nose to tail.

About the Author

Kate Gehan’s debut short story collection, The Girl and The Fox Pirate, was published by Mojave River Press in 2018. Her writing has appeared in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency, Split Lip Magazine, People Holding, and Cheap Pop, among others. She is nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel.

About the Artist

Find more photography by Francesca Saraco Here.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Two
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A SmokeLong Summer

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