SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Amy Stuber (Read author interview) September 6, 2021

Art by Alexander Andrews

She had a sheet over everything, and she took it off.

She had a sheet over everything, and she took it off.

No one liked it.

Literally no one liked it.

The people who were letters in her phone stopped calling. That’s a lie. They never called. They stopped sending her strings of letters that asked things like, “How are you?” “You doing okay?” “Let me know if you need anything.”

Once she responded to the final question with “Tomato soup,” and the reply to that was a yellow face laughing and crying at the same time, to which she said, “No really.” And the person was dot dot dot and then nothing.

It was uninteresting, in a time when there were so many bigger problems, to go crazy. There were so many of them, anyway, trawling the libraries with poufs of belongings. People in her phone said, “don’t say crazy, it’s ableist,” and she said back, “It’s my thing, I’ll call it what I want.”

But, also, it suggested she had been in one location (sane) and was now in another location (crazy), which wasn’t the case at all. When what it really meant was she might be entirely herself, which wasn’t the good thing one might think, she might be entirely herself walking back from Kwik Shop with a pack of cigarettes she might or might not open, walking walking navy sky nighttime sidewalk cracks tripping her up people inside of living room windows having fucking game nights like she wasn’t supposed to feel bad about that while she was out on the sidewalk alone and her pouf of stuff hidden on the hill by the store that sold nothing but books about the law to people her same age who looked serious upon entry. And then she, herself, walking, might see an opossum and pick it up by its actual tail and get caught up in her brain on whether it was tale or tail and stand there on the cracked sidewalk dangling an actual opossum while she is out loud saying t-a-l-e tale t-a-i-l tail, which is it? until some sad-looking woman in a robe maybe her own mom maybe with her own brother is screaming to her own dad call 911 or put Audrey in the car Sam get a fucking towel and the animal is somewhere else but her arm now that she sees it is patterned with red and where was she anyway. Oh, she was walking by her own house that wasn’t hers anymore because growing up meant moving out like it or not and she liked it and then not.

The Before Audrey, science fairs and black holes and a room painted black and dotted with glow paint in an actual solar system she taped off and measured so someone, an actual astronomer, might come in and give it an actual astronomer’s nod of approval.

Though sometimes it helped her to think of it as a place. A location, a journey, a destination, a dentist’s office poster promising something other than: here, now, a voicemail to leave to make someone wonder: I’ve gone crazy! I’ll be back! Or maybe I won’t! A dramatic flourish upon exiting a room.

By the river, her phone doesn’t light up or rattle. Her arm is wrapped in gauze and she unwraps it. It’s pretty the way the pink spreads out from the red. Gradient. The phone is plastic but heavy enough to sink in water, not float in the way of milk jugs or lids of things. Her feet are in the water because water is swimming pools. Water is a creek by campsite. Water is child bath. Water is remember. Her mom, sad woman robe, talked about the brain like it was a winged thing floating above the body. No, like it was an unseeable thing, capable of invisible antics capable of great things capable of flying and sinking both. But she knew it she Audrey knew it to be tied in with ropes to the mother fucking body. Would water take it out? How are you? How are you?

No, not the river. The river is too easy. Baptism wherein every single untidy thing is erased. Fucking Ophelia. Virginia Woolf. The wallpaper woman walking into water, and why don’t we see the current and churn and flail. Women die in dainty ways: drop to the ground with a gunshot, like a sheet, like a piece of discarded silk. They don’t gasp and shit and rasp and flounder.

People in the camps by the river said things like Go Easy when she walked away with her pouf. She would not be back. She would not be back. The river is not that: easy. Audrey is not that: easy. Though she did float. She could let it the body float in the way of a leaf or a plastic cap or a piece of wood. She had a sheet over everything. People aren’t born with this in mind. People don’t age with this in mind. Childhoods don’t want to spin in this direction. Don’t tell me about God. He doesn’t make sense.

About the Author

Amy Stuber’s work has appeared most recently in Missouri Review, Flash Fiction America, and CRAFT. She’s Flash Fiction Editor at Split Lip Magazine.

About the Artist

Find more of Alexander Andrews’ photography HERE.

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

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