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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Pepper Sauce

Story by Shea Stripling (Read author interview) September 19, 2022

© Nikki Long

I ask my new husband if we should bring a plastic fork. He says, “I can’t ask her that” gesturing to the Trinidadian woman wrapping our roti. My new husband is Trinidadian too, and before we were “we” he taught me to eat roti: unfurl the wrap and tear off fat edges to scoop beef and potatoes with raw, yellow fingers; forks being to roti what condoms are to our bed: superfluous. This is our honeymoon, after all.

I’m nervous, worrying my ring: my new husband has never met my old best friend. She couldn’t come to our Saturday wedding in Florida, so this is happening on a Tuesday in Brooklyn. My old best friend said she couldn’t get away; I’m choosing to believe that doesn’t mean she still has the summer I didn’t move to Brooklyn because I thought I was in love stuck between her molars.

A decade ago, my old best friend and I lived within walking distance of the same Waffle House. We would arrive sweaty, sliding slick thighs across vinyl to discuss the people we kissed and their potential to make or break our hearts. We value each other’s opinion above any other metric for compatibility.

We are both too loud, too eager, too much. We love romantic gestures, but we rarely fall in love with people that do them. I break a yoke with a silver tine and say we should buy our own fucking skywriting. My old best friend says “exactly.” By the close of summer, stacks of cocktail napkins accumulate at our elbows: inside jokes, names of future dogs, songs we want to lose our virginity to. We dream of a future that doesn’t involve three-legged races.

In the actual future, the Styrofoam clamshell is burning my lap on the orange subway seat. My new husband and I emerge hand-in-hand from the sweaty depths and spot my old best friend waving her scarf at us. She smiles widely, and I hope she will like him without knowing what it means if she doesn’t.

No one has a blanket, so we sit on the scrubby grass and pop open the clamshell, little droplets of sweat beading at the top. My new husband unfurls the roti and pours on a small dab of the pepper sauce we brought from home. He warns my old best friend that it’s hot, and she tells him she can take it, shaking out a large dab that makes our eyes go wide.

My old best friend watches my new husband and me dig in, fingers first before tearing off a small piece of roti, gingerly dipping into the curry. The conversation is halting, and I get nervous watching my old best friend start to sweat and cough. Her face is turning red, her eyes filling with involuntary tears. My new husband, the most considerate person I know, runs to the nearest bodega.

In his absence, I offer my old best friend some wadded up napkins from my purse. As tears run down her face, I imagine an apology comes spilling out of mine. I’m sorry I wasn’t as brave as the people we sketched on napkins. I’m sorry I wanted love so badly I didn’t realize it was right across the booth from me. I’m sorry I never thought I would be married but then being married to my new husband isn’t like being married but like having an inside joke on the outside, something you want to share with anyone in arm’s reach.

Instead, I lean close to her like we’re back in the Waffle House days and ask something only she can answer: what does she think of my new husband? She hesitates, and before she can answer, my new husband arrives with the drinks and a pack of moist toilettes. My old best friend chugs a beer and wipes her hands. The yellow stain is stubborn. My new husband tells her hydrogen peroxide works best, but my old best friends smiles down at her fingers and tells him she likes it.

About the Author

Shea Stripling is a Florida-based writer and screenwriter who likes her fiction the way she likes her dancing: messy. She has a collection of poetry about Bill Murray out from Hypertrophic Press entitled No One Will Ever Believe You and is currently working on a collection of short fiction.

This story appeared in A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.