SmokeLong Quarterly

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The Interpretation of Light

Story by Murray Dunlap (Read author interview) June 15, 2008

Art by R.G. Brown lll

Jimbo brought a sheet of acid to Donna Pike’s birthday party. He put a tab on his fingertip and pressed it against his tongue. Jimbo was tall and skinny with wiry blonde hair and a nose like a hawk’s beak.

“Like this,” he said.

“You sure?”

“Don’t you want to feel alive?”

I touched my finger to my tongue. It tasted like glue, but we’d been drinking for hours and I couldn’t be sure.

“I’m ready,” I said.

“Chill. It takes time. I’m doubling up.”

Jimbo put another tab on his tongue. He rolled back his eyes and pretended to choke. I drank from my beer.

“Shit heel, you have to wait until it absorbs.”

“But it’s in me, right?”

“I don’t know. You don’t take it off your tongue until it absorbs.”

“Fuck me,” I said.

“I’m gonna triple up.”

Jimbo put a third hit of acid on his tongue. A family of squares. I’d never seen acid before. And I spit mine out while Jimbo was pretending to choke.

Donna walked in wearing a party hat and put a red bow into her cleavage.

“Can I be a gift on my own birthday?” she said.

Then she grabbed my hand.


I lost my virginity at the very moment a train severed Jimbo’s arms. Donna pushed me flat against her parent’s bed and straddled me with her skirt hiked up. No one said anything about birth control.

“I want this,” she said. “I’m sixteen now.”

“I’m fifteen,” I said.

She took off my clothes at the same time Jimbo took off his. He had run through the dark woods naked. He found a length of pipe and beat the dirt the way his father had beaten him. The way my father beat me. The way I might have beaten you, if I’d had the chance. Jimbo ran to the railroad tracks and lay down.

When the train arrived, Jimbo might not have understood. His rewired brain might have convinced him that the brightening light was the rising sun. Perhaps he thought he should lie down with his arms wide and bask in that light. The train never stopped.

So Jimbo bled to death while Donna fucked me in her parent’s bed. Jimbo bled to death while I stripped the sheets from the mattress. He bled to death while Donna cried.

Jimbo bled to death. That’s where the story always ends. Except this one time. This one time I want to say, at least you didn’t die like that. At least you didn’t lie screaming in your own blood, armless, inches from the noise and smoke of a barreling train. You were drawn from Donna’s body and given the luxury of peace. Perhaps you spread your arms wide, a virgin to brightening light.

Or maybe it wasn’t any different from the train. Donna wouldn’t tell me.

For all I know, it was exactly the same.

About the Author

Murray Dunlap’s work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Post Road, Night Train, Silent Voices, The Bark, and many others. His stories have been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as to Best New American Voices, and his first book, Bastard Blue, was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. The brilliant Pam Houston taught him the craft of writing. He would like to thank his trainers Garrett and Joe at Personal Edge Fitness, and the writers Richard Bausch, Michael Knight, and George Singleton for helping him get his body and brain back together, somehow without making him feel stupid.

About the Artist

R.G. Brown III is an Associate Professor of Art in Sculpture at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Brown has been the recipient of many grants, fellowships and awards, and has been invited to countless artist residencies. Most recent honors include a Fulbright Scholar Grant, African Regional Research Grant for research in Ghana, West Africa, a solo exhibition, “Opure / Works,” at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy, and a Wilson Center Research Fellowship from the Wilson Center for Humanities and Arts at The University of Georgia.

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

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