SmokeLong Quarterly

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Now You See Me

Story by Tiffany Quay Tyson (Read author interview) August 27, 2018

Art by Juliana Kozoski

White clouds crawl across the gray sky. We drink light beer from aluminum cans. Where do you get beer at fourteen? You always get what you want. The tinny aftertaste is like sucking on a penny. My head feels like a balloon. We toss a yellow tennis ball across the open field behind the hospital. We laugh when Buddy comes running to us with the ball clenched in his slobber-foamed jaws. We toss the soggy ball until our arms ache, until Buddy gives up on fetching and looks at us like we are nuts if we think he is running after that ball one more time. We laugh so hard I pee a little and when I tell you this you reach out and touch me between my legs like it is no big thing.


Your father dies. Now we have no fathers between us. We stay hungover and angry for days. You don’t want to be alone and none of your cool friends will sit with you and drink cheap beer and pet the dog while you rage and curse. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair. Of course it isn’t fair. Nothing is fair. How do you not know this already? The church smells of warm candle wax. At your mother’s house we eat pimento cheese on white bread and sneak bourbon into our tea. We see your mother kissing your father’s best friend and we go into the backyard to get away from it all. I chew a mouthful of sandwich and smile at you with orange goo between my teeth. I want to make you laugh. You walk away, leaving me alone on the old swing set. I’m sorry, I say. I’m sorry. Later I say goodbye to your mother. She says, what are you doing here? I’m always here. How can she not see that?


I’m here when the pickup truck speeds around the corner and hits Buddy. We hear the tires squeal and we hear Buddy yelp and roll across the pavement with a heavy thump. His neck is twisted around all wrong. You scream at me like it’s my fault, but I know you are only mad at everyone. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. I try to hold you and pat your back like people do in the movies, but you pull away. Go home, you tell me. I am home.


At graduation we wear shorts and tank tops under our black gowns. It is ninety-five degrees at one o’clock in the afternoon and the metal chairs burn our legs through the flimsy fabric. You are three rows ahead of me thanks to the stupid alphabet and I watch you shift from side to side. I shift too, lifting my legs one at a time to peel my skin from the scorching metal. When you pick up your diploma, the vice principal reads a list of your awards and scholarships and it goes on for minutes. When I pick up my diploma, the vice principal mispronounces my name.


When you come home from college, we drive out to the reservoir and drink beer from dark bottles. We eat boiled shrimp from that little shack by the boat dock and I ask about your girlfriends. You put your hand between my legs like it is no big thing. At sunset we go to a bar and drink rum cokes and dance to some local band. My head is thick and I trip over my feet. At some point I wake up and we are in your car and you are inside me. Later, I throw up in my lap. You hand me a dirty towel. Let’s keep this between us, you say. I don’t know what you mean, except I do.


My period doesn’t come and doesn’t come and I’m not stupid. I imagine you striding across a tree-lined campus, books cradled in your arms. I imagine you smoking outside the library. Do you think of me? Do you imagine me folding clothes at the mall? Do you picture me walking alone through the dark parking garage at night? No. I don’t think you do. Maybe I don’t exist unless you are looking straight at me. I don’t want to bother you, but by the time I can save up enough money it will be too late. I leave a message with the exact amount. I’m sorry, I say. I’m so sorry. You send me a check. No comment. No phone call. I drive to the clinic on my day off and hand over my blood and urine. A nurse comes in and tells me I’m not pregnant. She talks to me about birth control and STDs and being careful. She says I should see my regular doctor about the missed periods. I don’t have a regular doctor, but I don’t tell her that. I don’t say that I’m usually a careful person, but how could I be careful when I didn’t know it was happening? I should have known better. I know better now.


The pine trees shed their brown needles. It is Thanksgiving and I know you can’t stand to leave your mother alone on holidays. You’re a good son. I show up before sunrise and shimmy over the fence into your backyard. I wonder if your mother has already made all the side dishes—the cornbread dressing and squash casserole and cranberry jelly. I wonder if she will bake a pecan pie. The swing creaks and my old tennis shoes dig parallel trenches in the dirt. The back door opens and you stand on the porch smoking a cigarette. You don’t see me at first and maybe I don’t exist, but the swing creaks again and you step into the yard. Now you see me. What are you doing here, you ask. I am always here, I say. Where else would I be?


Notes from Guest Reader Amanda Miska

This story grabbed me in the first paragraph and did not let go. In such a short space, we see a long passage of time, rich detail, and characters moving about a world that feels real, a nearly impossible feat for flash, and yet. Here it is.

About the Author

Tiffany Quay Tyson is the author of two novels, The Past is Never and Three Rivers. She was born and raised in Mississippi and much of her fiction is set in the south. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

About the Artist

Find Juliana Kozoski‘s photography at Unsplash.

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

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