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When A Man You Met Online Suggests You Visit a Lake

Story by Amanda Gaines (Read author interview) November 1, 2021

Photograph by Justin Wilkens

That night I follow, palms outstretched, searching for stray branches, briers, a hand to hold, trying to think of bright things:

the smooth, green ridges of horsetail reeds growing in thick patches along the trail, the sound they make when separated like bone popping out of place,

bright things, seen things: my date’s dog cutting through choppy water, shivering at the edge of a man-made lake, waiting for his master while the sun spreads its magic, sherbet sunset,

but the horsetail disappears when the sun drops and the dog is yards ahead and the mountains back home in West Virginia that I’ve dreamed of daily since moving to Oklahoma a month ago are halfway across the country, the man I loved who left me a month ago halfway across the country, and I’m now following a man I barely know through southwestern backwoods in search of his car, my feet swallowed by unseen holes, the sky black as tar, bushes rustling, the sound like plastic bags being balled and shoved in the back of a closet, walnut trees bending, twisting into one another: dark sisters on either ends of a sheet,

and God knows that I hate hiking, hate the cloud of gnats that cling to me like a shadow, hate the fact that the man I’m following has taken my phone and will not give it back, hate that I’m dragging on an electronic cigarette frantically for brief flashes of light just to see my own two hands, hate that the man I’m following keeps shouting back at my muted form

there are wild hogs out here, coyotes, you wouldn’t even hear them before they had their jaws around your neck,

hate that this is where I’ve found myself, stumbling down a stretch of pale earth, softened by hundreds of men’s traversing feet, hate that I’ve put myself in this situation, cold sweating in a denim flannel, all in the hopes of getting laid, in the hopes of finding something, not like love, but feeling,

and this is what I’ll tell myself days later, a box of wine half-empty on the counter, hair matted and gummy, weeping at a horror movie where a girl cuts out her own eye and turns it toward herself because nobody sees her, because maybe, in this way, she will finally be seen, at least by herself,

this is worth it, I’ll tell myself, drunk-texting the man who took me into the woods, the man who laughed at my voice cracking in fear,

come over, I’ll tell him, see me, I’ll tell him, pulling his hands onto my hips,

am I ever really here, I’ll ask, clutching his limp hand to my throat, if someone isn’t there to notice?

and when he says I don’t want to hurt you, I’ll tell him, I do, and when he presses his arm against my collarbone it will hurt and when he pushes himself into me it will hurt and when I wake up the next morning, I’ll find and thumb a bruise he gave me that runs along my clavicle like a cut leash, a dry laugh escaping my throat, that small thrill of knowing I am the only one to hear it, and I’ll think of that walk in the woods, of purple aster blooming wild in Oklahoma country, of dusk ripping color from the living, of a dog with wet paws snarling at a possum curled on its side, neither of us able to tell if she’s alive.

About the Author

Amanda Gaines is a Ph.D. candidate in CNF in OSU’s creative writing program. She was the nonfiction editor of Into the Void from 2012 to 2021. Her poetry and nonfiction are published or awaiting publication in Typehouse, Pithead Chapel, The Citron Review, Yemassee, Redivider, New Orleans Review, Southeast Review, The Southern Review, Juked, Sweet, Rattle, New South, JMWW, and Ninth Letter.

About the Artist

Justin Wilkens is a photographer from Mississippi.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Three
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021!

This competition is no longer accepting entries. The long- and shortlists have been published on the blog. The four winners of the competition will be featured in Issue 74 of SmokeLong Quarterly coming out near the end of December.