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"Whale"
by Peter Koronakos

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Clifford Henderson

The Thick of It

Blood spreads across the new Berber carpet, the one Walter finally agreed to pay for after all those years of your begging. Ironic, you think, as you watch the pool of blood expand with each heart pump—the tasteful taupe giving way to gaudy crimson—that you finally got the carpet only to destroy it. You wonder if the blood will go so far as to reach the couch leg. Then think, Who cares? It’s a stupid thought. Especially when there is so much else to think about.

Like the blood’s gelatinous texture, the saturation of its color, its sharp, metallic smell. So different from the wimpy thread of watery, pinkish-red produced from a paper cut or nicked knuckle. Even the time Walter almost cut off his finger was nothing like this. No. Blood of this volume has a will of its own, seems conscious, as if making the choice to evacuate while it still can.

You do love your husband, not that anyone would believe it under these circumstances. You wouldn’t believe it yourself. Not walking in on this scene. But Walter is a good man—temper and all. He just never takes responsibility for his part in your fights, always taking the easier path of blaming you. And you’ve let him, never pointing out that his perceived failures could be avoided, that his bid for city council could have been won if he’d just listened to his constituents, that his relationship with his daughter could be a source of joy if he would just learn to love her for who she is, that the housekeeper wouldn’t keep “skulking off to the laundry room” if he would just quit barking orders at her! Yes, you’ve held your tongue so many, many times. Until today. When you refused to back down.

Mags, your grey tabby, distracts you. She is cautiously approaching the pool of blood. She stands at the very edge so as not to soil her milk-white paws then bends down to sniff, backing up as the blood oozes toward her. She ventures a single lick. Poor thing must have been scared by the gunshot, you think, must have hidden out under the bed or behind the fridge with the dust bunnies during the scuffle. You watch curiously to see if your kitten will take a second lick and are rewarded to see her tiny pink tongue begin to lap up the thick, burgundy puddle. In the end we are all feral, you think, all creatures poised between life and death, fighting to survive; savages all, even if we choose to mask the truth in expensive clothes and cars, in appointments and crossword puzzles.

A loud knocking sends Mags scampering off. Who is it? you wonder. You’re starting to feel woozy, disoriented.

“Open up!” a man’s voice yells. “Or I’m going to kick in the door!”
You try to identify the voice, but can’t. Could it be the police? So quickly?
Whoever it is has moved onto Plan B and is kicking in the door. Flimsy door. How many times have you asked Walter to change it out? Told him it was made to be an interior door? But it doesn’t matter now. The door will be ruined after this.

A final bang, and the door slams open into the bookshelf. Something crashes to the floor. Your antique Chinese mudmen figurines? You’d killed the bonsai—not enough water or too much, you were never sure—but couldn’t get rid of those little bearded guys on their never-ending fishing trip. They were so serious about life, about catching those fish. You liked to picture their tiny wives and tiny children, their tiny towns dotted with tiny pagodas…
“Oh, Jesus!” a man says. “Oh, Jesus Walter! What the fuck did you do?”
You recognize the voice as your neighbor’s. He’s a plumber or electrician or something. You watch his black boots skirt the edge of the blood, stop briefly, then charge through the sticky mess to get to you. You’re sad to see the pool disturbed, sad to see it sticking to the souls of his boots. That’s mine, you want to say. Mine.

You feel his breath against your neck, feel him lay his head against your chest, the knees of his dungarees soaking up more of your blood.
Then you hear something that you realize was there all along. The muffled sobs of Walter crying, his voice, childlike, repeating, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God….”

 

Baffled by reality, Clifford Henderson has fashioned a life where she can spend most of her time in make believe. Author of three award-winning novels, The Middle of Somewhere, Spanking New, and Maye’s Request, her fourth, Rest Home Runaways is due out in 2014. When not writing, Clifford and her partner of twenty years run the Fun Institute, a school of improv and solo performance where they teach the art of collective pretending. 

Contact Clifford at http://www.cliffordhenderson.net

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Runner-Up
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