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Story by Paul A. Toth (Read author interview) December 15, 2004

Curves, curls, the road’s curves, her curls. Onward, to the soft coils of home heating. Faster, every mile, each mile, one mile after the next, closer, closer. The cuckoo clock, digital, no curves, like the mythical line between here and there, the path actually made of curves and curls, hills and dales, reminding, all of it, everything. And then, just like that, over. There she sat, unfurled, uncurled, angular, hair straight as guitar strings which strummed out-of-tune blues with a bandage-ripping sting. Some scissoring queen had wrecked harmony.

“You like it, don’t you?”

Demand number one.

“I liked it better before.”

“It’s easier this way. I don’t have time for curls.”

A long trip. San Diego, another conference, per diem blown on restaurants, taxicabs and Lilliputian fifths of booze. The speakers had motivated themselves out of the regular Joe world. The slide presentations shot 2D arrows and bullets across the screen. Now her hair was a nest of arrows.

“I liked it better before.”

“You said that. Can’t you lie?”

Those letters to friends on her computer, complaints about the relationship, the jealousy, overattention, goneness, thereness. “Use a password, so I don’t get tempted to read them.” But she wanted the letters discovered. It was obvious. In her hair.

“Aren’t you happy to see me?”

Hug her, hug her.

The hair sharp against the neck, razors of a hundred unstable barbers. What stopped schizo barbers harboring violent urges? One never heard of it happening.

“I should go to bed.”

Together, finally, but not really, peas in a shoddy pod, with space between. To spoon or not to spoon, that was the question in the hamlet. No, no spooning. Face the white wall, the bedroom a hotel room, except someone else in bed. Someone else.

“Hold me.”

Demand number two. Pull the lever. Affection time. Do as commanded. Hold her, hold her.

Tomorrow, haul her like Kim Novak to the Vertigo hair salon: “Fix it.”

“You want me to look like her.”

“Not her; you.”

Or kill him. “Bend your head forward. Further, further. Okay, hold still.”

No, no, no: The stylist had painted an all-too-accurate portrait, stripped her naked of curl. What had she said at the airport? “Don’t hurry home like you do. We can stand some time apart.” Lover’s frock, and she had been defrocked. Write that down. Give it to the attorney. For closing arguments.

“Don’t hold so tight.”

Demand number three. Eva Peron. Evidence accumulating. Calling all private eyes: Commence trailing; peeking; snapshooting.

No sheep tonight. An idea. Jot it down, just in case. For tomorrow, Saturday morning.

“Turn off that light.”

Demand number four.

Blink, night over, like the drive, seemingly endless but then, before one knows it, time to park the dark and turn off the moonlight. She still snored, blowing bubble dreams, little Miss Perfect and her pool of drool.

Hurry, before she awakes. A five-block walk. Small talk, talk small, look in the mirror, yes, fine, thank you, how much? Back home.

Still snoring. A pink-belt judo kick to the bed. Blink. Her turn.

“What’s the matter? I look different? I suppose you see an underlying anger you hadn’t realized until now was present in me all along? Well, which is which and who’s to say?”

“What are you talking about? I like it. In fact, I love it. Come here.”

Straight hair on the shoulders, blades for the future. A helmetless soldier, gonzo. Make love or, to be precise, hate. Not gentle. Like tornadoes.

About the Author

Paul A. Toth lives in Michigan. His novel Fizz is available from Bleak House Books. Fishnet, his second novel, will be published in spring 2005. Toth’s short fiction has appeared or will soon appear in Night Train, Iowa Review Web, Antigonish Review, Barcelona Review, Mississippi Review Online and many others. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best American Mystery Stories. He received honorable mention in the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror 17th Annual Collection, ed. Ellen Datlow. See www.netpt.tv for more information.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seven

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