Fiction from Mary Lynn Reed

Liquor bottles lined up, silhouetted against an orange background.

Photo: Sérgio Alves Santo

True Things

Thirty minutes standing at the bar, me complaining of my loneliness. She takes a long drag of beer, and asks, “Have you reconsidered dating?”

“I have no time or energy for that nonsense again,” I say.

She nods, sets the beer down. “You can call me. More than monthly, you know.” Her eyes dart above my head, searching for sports scores on the big screen TV.

“You’re a lousy listener,” I say. “How many women can you ignore at one time?”

She laughs. That short, muscular laugh that matches her body.

On the walk to the subway, we step over a soaker hose, dragged across the sidewalk.

“Grass has been dead all summer,” she says. “It finally rains and now they’re watering the sidewalk.”

I think I’m dodging the worst of it, but after we pass, my jeans are soaked through.

We hug goodbye, and she says, “I’m serious. Call me. I’ll listen.”

“Sure,” I say.

We both know I won’t. We’ve been walking away from each other for thirty years. I feel the dampness on the back of my calves all the way home.

—§—

I see the drunk kid before John does. We’re standing outside the Mexican place with the colorful chairs and the Mariachi music playing at full volume. The kid is singing some song about love, but the words aren’t connecting. John and I keep talking, as the kid circles around us.

“You’ll be fine,” John says. “We’re survivors. Isn’t that what you always tell me?”

How young is this kid? Twenty? John and I were doing shots of tequila at grad school parties before this kid was even alive.

“Hey!” the kid yells. “Whatz yer prob-lhem?”

We edge away from him, away from the glimmering restaurant lights, toward the parking lot and our two cars.

The kid dives left and right, falling into our path. His t-shirt is ripped and loose and his jeans ride low. There’s a thick rope snaking through his belt loops. Frayed at the ends, it looks like it should be anchoring a boat to a dock, not a kid to his jeans.

“You deaf?” the kid yells in our direction.

John reaches for my hand. All these years we’ve been friends, I’ve never held John’s hand. His skin is dry and our fingers are big and awkward, trying to entwine.

We walk, and the kid starts after us. He trips on the curb and falls. The air is crisp and cool, and I’m obsessed with knowing how old he is. Eighteen? Twenty-two? Why does it matter? I want to ask the kid when he was born.

John is walking so fast, he almost pulls me off my feet.

We get into John’s car, as if we’re heading somewhere together, as if there’s a large dog with a full bladder waiting for us in a house on a cul-de-sac, with empty bedrooms upstairs, because the kids are gone now, off to college, drinking tequila shots in some campus bar, like their parents once did, though we prefer to imagine them at the library, studying math with friends.

John starts the car and turns the heat on, as I watch the kid with the jagged rope belt stumble away, disappearing around the corner.

—§—

Hemingway said to write one true sentence every day. Just one true thing.

Most adultery stories are written from the wronged spouse’s point-of-view, as if that’s where the conflict lies. Will she kill the cheating husband, divorce him, or forgive him? I don’t care.

Show me the cheating heart, sneaking toward the scene of the crime, again and again. Show me The Other celebrating Christmas alone.

The surviving spouse of the long, embattled marriage earns a trophy. Gold-plated, engraved. For her devotion and persistence. She is the Queen of Literature.

I walk from room to room in a large, empty house, at three a.m. on a hot Tuesday in July.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. The stillness. The solitude.

One true sentence. It’s supposed to lead somewhere. It’s supposed to tell you what comes next.
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Mary Lynn Reed‘s fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and many other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She lives in western New York with her wife, and together they co-edit the online literary journal MoonPark Review.

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