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Story by Veronica Montes (Read author interview) December 19, 2016

Art by Karen Prosen

Undeterred by the presence of her mother on the opposite side of the room, Ruby is nearly sitting in the boy’s lap. Together they flip slowly through an issue of Vogue and pretend, for the sake of decorum, that they are admiring the severe beauty of the models. What they’re really doing is pointing out words. He points to “wet,” she points to “hard.” He finds the word “stroke,” and she runs her finger across “shaft.”  The heat generated between their sixteen-year-old bodies threatens to set the house ablaze.

The boy adjusts the way he’s sitting; his breath turns ragged in Ruby’s ear. She is repulsed and delighted, just barely grasping at the truth of what’s happening. It goes on and on like this, until soon even the most benign words—words like “blush” or “juice,” “melt” or “under”—come alive, pulsing and leaping off the page they’re printed on. Ruby’s mother looks up from the computer, eyebrows raised, mouth quirked to one side.

“Oh!” the boy says. He jumps from the couch and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I think I left my phone in my car.”

“Did you?” says Ruby’s mother, already sure that he did not. She knew from the moment he stepped across the threshold that it would come to this. He has the profile of an Aztec god; he is sloe-eyed and broad through the shoulders. Ruby’s mother remembers boys like this: the phone calls at midnight, the musk of them.

“I’ll help you find it!” Ruby offers.

They stumble out the front door, puppy chasing puppy, and that is the last time that Ruby’s mother sees her because Ruby never comes back, not really. The girl who returns to the house is another creature altogether, blind and groping and fettered to an enormous, feral love.

About the Author

Veronica Montes is the author of the chapbook The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting (Black Lawrence Press, 2020) and Benedicta Takes Wing & Other Stories (Philippine American Literary House, 2018). Her work has been published in Wigleaf, CHEAP POP, Lost Balloon, Fractured Lit, and elsewhere.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

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

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