The Ways We Were: Fiction by Michael J. Shymanski

“View From Home”


It’s my birthday when he brings the piñata and the police pull up his driveway. Candy falls. Sweet rumor litters backyards. Hushed tones hop fences. Speculation bikes on wide asphalt. For Sale waves from the porch, punctuating stage center in our living room window. We wave back. The still dialogue inundates cul-de-sacs. Quietude springs forth like weeds in concrete. It creeps under house shingles like filth and nailbeds. It roars us to fracture, schisms our surface that was a placid we. Amidst the cacophony, you and I go unnoticed. You and I in collusion. You who row your fingers through my hair.


You who preen my feathers. You who tell me to take off my clothes. Indians are supposed to be naked, you say. I listen, cowgirl, to the sheriff’s badge. You shed denim. Nascent breasts jut against my fluttering rib cage. Your clumsy flesh is colder than the creek behind our houses, your heart louder than the babbling conference of rocks. You take me by hipbone, the eddy of a languid current thawing into spring.


Summer, you give me a concussion because at work you fumbled a deal and at school I was fresh; the wound in my cheek left open and pouring liquid pennies around a tongue that carves Fuck into the air; a wispy word from a television or my sister that wiggled down your ear canal; the corridors, haphazard as we blur past moss-colored walls and white trim and framed moments because sometimes we forget the ways we were; my hands grab your wrists, yours grab my throat that lobs a Please to your red face split by a forehead vein; a Y, cool blue dying blood; a why are we doing this, thick red boiling blood; yours bequeathed to me; a body floats like a dream that embraces the garage floor slumping like sleep and when I wake; you tell me that I don’t have to go to school. Your red lips fissure to a smile that coos, Sweetie. You speak in melodies over words that soothe rather than heal. You wear an awful lot of makeup. You kiss my forehead; I rub the crimson away; your lips are cold and your breath is warm.


Inhale and hold it, you say. Our smoke fills the living room. No one gets high otherwise, you say. I cough the bowl out of the pipe onto his carpet. Don’t worry, you say. You pick up the green and bury the ash. I look at you, sixteen and perfect. This is why we practice.  Pretty and popular. High school perfect. Try again, you say. Light one side. Dean’s List. Varsity. Socialite. Hushed vomiting while our parents sleep. Inhale and hold it. I am thirteen today. Next year I will be in high school and you will be a senior. Do it again, you say. You are sculpting me cool. Twice and then pass it, you say. There are rules. You take it. You do it better. Perfect. The mark of ash lies indelible on his carpet.


The walls are white. The trim is white. The grout between tiles is white. A white ceiling hovers above the basement floor where he did the filming or kidnapping or butchering. For Sale pirouettes stage center. The spotlight of a reading lamp galvanizes your powdered cheeks. You cook dinner, four knuckles taut around a panhandle. You walk the driveway, breasts fuller. You text your suitors and expel a stream of smoke that melts upward into the whiteness.

A picket fence gate clicks shut.

Blinds file down in silence.

Streetlights ignite in sallow hues, an imperfect hum from one in the mass.

Winter air begins to bite, and reveals our fleeting breathing like brushstrokes.

Michael J. Shymanski was born in San Francisco and studied writing at the University of San Francisco. He currently lives in Madrid where he is an editor of bilingual literary magazine fron//tera.


Curated by FORTH Fiction Editors.

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