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Story by Nancy Zafris (Read author interview) March 16, 2007

She asked if he needed anything at all, and he said no to that too. So she crawled in the back seat and fell asleep. Her dreams were long and empty, a dry confusing desert that kept her search for nothing, refusing to stop. They were interrupted by a crash. She pried herself up from the car floor whose tunnel of leg room had been narrowed by the impact. A camper attachment from a passing car had jackknifed into the driver’s side. Mary Elizabeth was unhurt, but an ambulance was needed for her husband. David, are you all right? she whispered close to his face and he pushed her away. A crushing guilt chilled her panic. Only when she thought her husband was dying did she realize the angry thoughts she was having about him. Not much later, when her husband was all right and his scalp stitched up and an orthopedic collar fitted around his neck, she sniffled into a tissue with relief: she had done everything correctly, asked her husband if he wanted her to drive, asked if he wanted whole raw almonds fed to him one by one, asked if he wanted her to pass him the bottled water, asked if he wanted anything at all. He would be casting about for someone to blame, and she was the only person he knew in Santa Fe. He would be searching hard for that no one he could blame – his anger always went outward, never inward – and that no one would be her. But with a certain manic thrill she realized she had done everything right. She had covered all her bases. Her talking hadn’t distracted him; she wasn’t snoring because she had been awake enough to remember that dream of nothing. She could answer every retort. She was innocent.

In their rental Mary Elizabeth’s husband checked the map, drove to Canyon Road, parked, and whipped off the neck collar before stepping out. He began marching through art galleries. At an exhibition that met with his approval, he inquired about the inventory and Mary Elizabeth watched as he flipped through dozens of photographs, dealing quick confident poker hands on the gallery owner’s desk. When he finished, he picked up a perfectly dealt hand of stud poker – one photo down, four up (possible flush, or at least the colors matched) – and handed it, by virtue of his stiff neck, imperiously to the owner. She sneaked a guilty look at Mary Elizabeth before hastening to find the paintings. It was as simple as that, and their stay in Santa Fe had drawn to a close. If she’d wanted, Mary Elizabeth could have waited in the car.

About the Author

Nancy Zafris is the fiction editor of The Kenyon Review. She is the author of two novels, The Metal Shredders (a New York Times Notable book of the year) and more recently, Lucky Strike, a Book Sense notable. Her collection of short stories, The People I Know, won the Flannery O’Connor award for short fiction as well as the Ohioana Library Association award. She is a two-time recpient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

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

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