by Anna Farrier
He loved the way she’d slide her fingers through his rib cage and run her thumbs across his heart. “It’s okay,” she’d whisper. “I’ll always protect you.” But after three years, a cheap ring, and pages filled with promises, she’s still gone. Now he can feel the maggots wriggling in his chest where she used to touch, feel them gnawing at his flesh. He feels termites with her name seared into their backs chewing away at his bones. But he only “looks a little paler.” “Like he’s lost weight.” No one sees the rotten places she left inside of him.
by Lauren Dennis
I let you into my fibers. I wove your sadness with mine and let our blanket soothe the goosebumps of my failing marriage. I yelled at my children to love me when my husband wouldn’t. At night, I will the words of my bedtime book to open a space in my brain without you in it. I sleep to dream you out of my system. Over three dreaming nights, you seduce me once, then ignore me. Night three, I shiver cold awake next to my husband, knowing that you, too, are trying to dream yourself out of my system.
For the Kids
by TL Holmes
Our bodies cling to the graveyard we call a bed, fleshy ghouls unable to leave the land of the living because we won’t admit that we are dead. We sleep, backs facing, as if we can be elsewhere just by pretending. In the morning, he gets up to brush his teeth and drink his coffee, and I stay in bed and brace for the “goodbye” kiss—that superstitious ritual we partake in; that little lie between us. It doesn’t come. He walks out the door. Light falls through my ghastly hand, and I fade into the dawn.
The Elasticity of Shadows
by Matt Weatherbee
The shadows are taut here. Ask Jim. He woke on Monday, stretched. A second later he was flying through the clouds. He forgot to close the window, so the wind lifted the curtain, and shadows flickered throughout the room. His hand crossed the lamp’s shadow, and when it disappeared, oh boy, it flung him—like a spitball from a rubber band—around the world. He crash-landed into the room’s window behind his. Ask him. He’ll say something like: “Took an albatross to the face. Space Needle almost gutted me. Do it again? Perhaps. Ain’t touchin’ no lamps anytime soon, though.”
by Ashlie Allen
Remy wants to take a walk on the reservation but everything is contagious. He knows once he sees the dirty bottles scattered across the road he will pick them up to see if a drop is left. His father begs him to go collect them, but he stuffs his hair inside his ears and pretends everything is quiet. One day he’ll walk on the reservation and there will be no more bottles; there will only be drunken bodies to carry off the road.
by Alison McBain
Mama feeds her baby bitter milk from a mangled heart. Years drip by and the hungry boy cries, but Mama’s hands are empty. She slaps his face until it’s ragged as hers. When he’s fifteen, he gets a job at the corner store. He stacks food in towers so high, they’re unreachable. Mama swallows down his paycheck—he gnaws bone and gristle. When he becomes a man, he can do as she does—ignore, abuse, betray. Instead, he takes her hand in his. Mama shakes under the burden she’s carried so long alone, but he promises, “We’ll walk together now.”
What Roman Says
by Lori Cramer
Roman says that I shouldn’t refer to him as my boyfriend. Labels like that, he says, create unrealistic expectations. When I assure him that I don’t have any expectations, unrealistic or otherwise, he smirks and says that women always say that. I ask for a ballpark estimate of the number of women he’s surveyed. He smirks again. I’m not sure which annoys me more, his patronizing facial expressions or his authoritarian need to control the terminology with which I’m permitted to describe our relationship. “No problem,” I say. “From now on I’ll just call you my ex-boyfriend.”
by B.E. Seidl
It came of nowhere: A giant crow, its plumage like a black silken coat. It is hard to tell where it wanted to go, for certainly it cannot have planned to be stuck in the spokes of my brand-new bicycle. In horror I watch the bird flapping its wings until finally it breaks its neck. I would have only further distressed it by trying to help. It would have only pecked my hand and scratched me with its claws. Carefully, I disentangle the animal from my precious bike. It would have died anyway.
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Dick wants love. He is a penis. He doesn’t want physical bullshit, but recognition. He’s traveled constantly, gone into coffee shops, a McDonald’s, small-town motels. But he’s always ejected. He’s an abomination. He feels the weight of rejection. He wants to sit down behind lit windows, like the normal folks. He wants to pretend he belongs. He wants people to pretend, too. “What do you want from life?” he’d ask. He’d listen if he had a chance. Maybe he needs to measure his own life by their stories. Maybe he needs assurance. He trudges on, tired, struggling against ebbing hopes.
Why We Got Rid of the Shotgun
by Aaron Saliman
April second was a frowning day. Bill Wurthers on the other side of town finally died from that infected dog bite, so we took his bitch out behind his house and put a shell in the back of her head. She was a little thing, not more’n a pup, but it’s county law for a murderer to be put to death, and we follow the court of law in this town. But those eyes looking up at us, all glassy and soul-sucked-out; it made us turn around and start retching into the dirt.
by Kerry E.B. Black
Wesley’s fitapp screeched concern over his elevated heartrate. Muffling didn’t stop it, and though he tugged, its clasp held. He slammed his wrist against the stone until it silenced. Darkness embraced him as he scrambled deeper into the tunnel. A woman sang into his hiding place. “You’re being silly. Are you a man or a rabbit?” Her footfalls crunched dried leaves. He wriggled against stone, held his breath, and squeezed his eyes shut. The leathery feel of her kiss lingered, dry as a corpse, deadly as the viper she revealed within. He trembled. “I’m no rabbit, but you’re a snake.”
by Brenda Anderson
Upstream, we’ve got unicorns. Downstream, we’ve got problems. Our kids swim in the river, don’t they? The pride of the village, kicking, ducking, diving. But magic rubs off: all that splashing about upstream. By the time the water reaches us, it’s brim-full of magic. Our boys start rubbing their foreheads, like there’s something missing, and eye the girls, as if maybe they want to be tamed. So we make sure all the kids wear wetsuits. Trouble is, now we’ve got seals and otters in the mix, eyeing the kids. Would it work if we got the unicorns to wear wetsuits?
by Jenny Darmody
Sunshine in my face. Crystal clear water splashing across feet. A beautiful face staring back at me. The next day, afternoon tea in a beautiful hotel. Gorgeous lighting, delectable desserts. Bubbles. This is the life. Next, a birthday banner. Friends everywhere singing Happy Birthday. Presents and drinking games and laughter. The next morning, breakfast in bed, pancakes. They look delicious. Can almost smell them. Enough. Close the phone. No more Snapchat. I don’t know them; I shouldn’t look. I’ll just head out for a new carton of milk. I can never seem to finish one before it turns.
The man takes a seat that isn’t his. He reads a paper borrowed from the lady next to him. He’s pleased when she says she doesn’t mind him completing her crossword. Her crossword. He’s on the last clue when the train pauses. A short pause, announces the guard. The man borrows her mobile phone. No battery left, he tells his fellow passenger. He makes the call. They’re in the quiet carriage. She buys him coffee. I’ve no cash. Only a card, he says. Which he’d rather not use if it’s okay by her. Politeness, it seems, will get you everywhere.
Collects Only Dust
by Michael Buckingham Gray
He stands by the desk in the study. Drops his head and cannot find his glasses. Wanders into the kitchen. Follows the curve of the worktop. Passes coffee-stained cups and a stack of dirty dishes. Walks into the living room. Pulls the cushions off the couch. Leaves them littered. Plods down the hall. Pushes on the bathroom door. Picks up the toothpaste tube from beside the sink. Drops it. Drags himself to the bedroom. Runs his hand along the top of the dresser. Collects only dust. Sits down on the bed and wonders what his wife would have suggested.
by Sudha Balagopal
On my way home from school, I find a man’s hand on my skirt: a giant, hairy spider wearing a ring on one thick leg. Horrified, I watch the weighty arachnid crawl towards the hem. A woman standing and swaying next to me in the packed public bus, smiles and texts on her phone. The bearded man gazes outside the window, disconnected from his extremity. I pray for my stop. Heart bursting, I grab my backpack. When mother asks why I won’t eat dinner, I describe the spider. She asks, “Did you scream?” I chew and chew, but cannot swallow.
by Ashlie Allen
I don’t want to sit down. My stomach is roaring, but my mind is roaring louder. “Don’t go close to them. They think you’re weird.” Carrying my books, I flee to the bathroom. I think I am alone when I lock myself inside the stall, but I can hear someone crying beside me. I know it’d be nice to ask if this person was okay, but I feel too ashamed. The stall door creaks, and the person washes their hands. “Listen to your belly when it talks,” they say. “Sometimes it’s the only things that speaks.”
It Was Just so Hot
by Anthony ILacqua
The entire situation had deteriorated further still. The days were hotter, drier. Fires, the really wild ones, burned the distance all to hell. Preachers were on every corner bumming cigarettes and predicting the end. Somewhere off of Colfax Avenue, Detroit Street, I think, I saw a clump of long hair in the dry gutter. I looked for the scalp or the blood and was grateful to find none. I felt like there was change in the air, but for the life of me, I just could not tell what it smelled like. It was just so hot.
by Lily Frusciante
I watched with camera-like precision. My grandfather sat hunched in his wheelchair, his breath dampening the screen before him. It was a stunning shot: one generation watching another, wondering how he got a rock star for a grandson. Yet it was an odd shot as well. My grandfather, in his early stages of dementia, had forgotten to wear pants that day. And so, as the highs and lows of my brother’s electric guitar flowed around us, he sat half naked, with no blanket and no shame. The tears sliding down his hollowed cheeks fell to the bare, thin legs below.
by Tyler Lacoma
He sees her.
She sat in a chair they didn’t own.
She took his hand.
He couldn’t feel his hand.
Splintering trees in snow. All sides.
Hands. Rub them.
Velvet white. Burning his eyelids.
Heavy as stone.
The Lover Crowned
by Reece Taylor
He strips from his garden the peonies and weaves a crown, then hurries towards the hills where his lover waits. In his heart he knows there is no greater gift than this. He passes their old schoolhouse along the way, and the field of pomegranate trees where they kissed and aged. He recalls that sweet, everlasting feeling. By evening, he arrives to find his lover wrapped in vines—such a wild thing now—and he steps forward with the crown, arms outstretched, and rests it over the pale blossom sprouting from a crack in the stone slab.
The Young Woman and the Moon
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
She’s always trying to get to the moon, to live there. To start a new life, undisturbed. Every night she walks, treading the same old paths, away from home, from her father’s mustache bristling like a porcupine, from the scent of abandonment and perfume. She walks through the quad of the old university, down the train tracks, and the moon reaches out. “Come to me,” it whispers soothingly. She keeps trying. No success. One night the moon disappears, leaving her in the darkness. All she can do is turn around, walking in the other direction towards what, she cannot say.
Man on the Bus Eating Fruit
by Alastair D Paylor
He ate the banana roughly. Chomping down so that son of a bitch disappeared in huge chunks. He watched them, watching him. They were uneasy, and their chatter had died away. They were relieved to press the bell and get off the bus when their stop came, but as they alighted and the bus slowly started to pull away they couldn’t help looking up. He was still watching them. His forehead pressed against the window pane, biting into an apple.
by JL Courtney
I can’t. I can’t go to yoga. It’s evil. Not weight lifting evil—all strain and bellow. It isn’t nefarious like Zumba—drums, up-tempo music, all the thrusting. Yoga isn’t the wet, drippy evil of a sauna. Towel-clad women chatting up smoothie recipes while sweat drips into their cleavage. In and out, fifteen minutes, leaving dual half-moon ass prints to dry on the cedar boards. No, yoga is glowing-skinned, water-guzzling, twenty-something evil. Insidious as a chiropractor. Crack! One session’s all it takes to show where the tension hides.
A Tight Fit
by Abby Burns
I am a master of false equivalency. For instance, I tell my boyfriend, if I can push a baby from my vagina, surely you can shove a car up your ass. The baby is born cesarean, but it’s too late. There’s a hood ornament wedged near his prostate and he needs surgery to save him from pleasure. Here’s the problem with men who take you literally: you both end up drugged and sliced open. Now I change both dirty diapers and colostomy bags.
by Archie Leung
If Jay decided to fly up, I would forsake my village and elope with Uffe. If Jay decided to fly down, I would become the general’s concubine. I closed my eyes, listening to the river, where rapids splashed onto the rocks every second. Jay was chirping between my palms. Jay didn’t know anything. He could only see the wide sky above him, or the pond below where a school of fish swam. So I opened my hands —- and cupped Jay again in my hands.
by Jareb Collins
Galarian leaned upon the gnarled oak, moaning as he drained his bladder. A twig snapped in the semi-darkness. Fumbling his sword from its scabbard, Galarian lurched at the noise. He tripped on a root, plunging the errant blade halfway to the hilt in the neck of a very old – and very dead – dragon. Upon which, apparently, he had just pissed. There was a gasp behind him, and Galarian whipped his head around. “You, boy – how long have you been there?” The child’s eyes shone. “Lord Knight, you have saved us!” Galarian belched. “Yep.”
Is it Real?
by Remington Hiles
We had two tents. Dad and I in one; Mom and my sister in the other. The next day we spent all day fishing, sitting by the campfire, and eating marshmallows. That afternoon we went hiking. Then all of a sudden, we saw a bear. My sister said “That’s not a bear, that’s Bigfoot!” Dad pulled out his pistol and shot. We heard a loud grunt as it hit the ground; it shook us all. We walked up to it slowly; but something didn’t seem real. We pulled the fur off. It’s our neighbor, Fat Pat; who now lays dead.
by Siobhan Pratt
He walks up to the bar, wearing blue coveralls caked in something like motor oil that smells of blood, looking weary. He orders a Jack and Bud and downs both quick. I lean over and ask him if he’s a mechanic and he says yeah but not for cars. Says he works on time and space. Then before I can get another word out of him he’s taking a wrench to something only he can see. He walks up to the bar, wearing clean blue overalls, smiling wide.
by Lee DeAmali
Unforecast blizzard transformed my dodgy school route into a snowdrift maze of untouched possibilities. Chapped by stinging winds, I reluctantly accepted shelter from a kindly man, certain of ulterior motives. A women set down warm cocoa and soup, urged that I phone home where family would certainly be worried. I knew of no such place, dialed the number staring back from rotary’s center, whispered ‘It’s dead.’ Draped in blankets and asked only to make myself comfortable, I took in every detail of these surroundings and its inhabitants, determined to forge replication in dreams until it became my sweet reality.
Dreams in Helsinki
by Kirby Wright
5 pm, when the chef at the Memphis Grill breads his chicken-fried steak. Human machines march for rails, rehearsing To Do Lists to the smells of meat, grease, and ozone gusts from trains. Tethered dreams release like helium balloons from the souls of workers. Look! See those reds, blues, and greens scaling concrete verticals? A yellow hovers over Helsinki Cathedral. A few drift above the clouds, where winged demons pop the wishes of the dying.
The Black Cat
by Patricia Milan
The black cat came limping home, her front paw bloody and loose. She wouldn’t stay indoors, was never happy like that. She mewled when I touched her, so I let her be to curl up by the heater. Breathing faster than normal, she tried to rest. I had no money for a vet. She recovered that time, but the limp never fully went away. A year later she came home dragging her bottom half, died slowly in my arms shortly after, but she purred as she went.
The Swimming Pool
by Kaleb Estes
The plastic tricycle my mom got me when I was three, a couple of lawn chairs, two dead birds, hundreds of cigarette butts, a pair of glasses, several beer cans, and one of my sister’s shoes—that’s what’s sitting at the bottom of our swimming pool. We hadn’t cleaned it in eleven years, not since my sister drowned. But just before the paramedics came again, Mom decided to clean a few things out. When the paramedics waded into the waist-high murk, there was just the plastic tricycle, the lawn chairs, one of my sister’s shoes, and my mother.
by Greg Melo
I looked at the picture frame on the kitchen table. Your amber eyes were full of life back then. Your smile, radiant as I had my arms wrapped around you. I pushed the frame off the edge of the table and watched as glass shards littered the wooden floor. Then I swept the memories away.
The Taxi Becomes a Bath
by John Potts
I caught a taxi one morning and before long the back seat was half-filled with water. This was agreeable since I had no clothes on and needed a bath anyway. The water was warm and soapy, and the driver was happy for me to use his taxi as a bath on the way to work. I looked across the back seat and was surprised to see another passenger. It was a middle-aged woman with grey hair, wearing a white linen dress. The water covered her dress but she didn’t seem to mind: she was reading a book.
White Picket Fence
by Paul Beckman
Monday, Madison wore her cheerleader’s uniform to breakfast. Mom and Dad clapped–brother Charlie teased her about her big thighs and ate two more chocolate chip pancakes, Madison scrambled her egg whites. They ran to catch the school bus as Mom and Dad stood in the doorway smiling, arms around each other. Mom cleaned up then after lunch popped two Oxycontin pills and watched “girl on girl” porn on her laptop while Dad was driving to meet his sister-in-law at a motel and Madison was in the school bathroom, fingers down her throat, and Charlie was busy bullying a freshman.
No One Believes Anymore
by Naomi Parker
“What does she want with teeth, anyway?” they wonder. She skips down the dark hallways at night, feet lightened by visions of children digging under pillows for a prize. Through the cracked door, casting slight night-light shadows over discarded toys, she creeps. Under the cover of slow breaths, clasping her coin purse so it doesn’t clink, she gently lifts the pillow. All she sees is a puckered sheet, again. One hundred thousand reminders every night that no one knows or cares. Still, she is a good fairy, so she has taken to hiding the loose change under sofa cushions.
by Mark Burnash
“It tickles!” little Elliot squealed as the sunflowers nuzzled him with their disc florets. They had been laughing, singing, and dancing all day long. When the sun reached its zenith, some sunflowers formed a canopy with their ray florets to provide him shade while others told him fantastic fables and fairy tales. When evening finally fell, Elliot, delighted yet exhausted from the day’s festivities, collapsed onto a soft bed woven with green leaves. When dawn broke the next morning, try as they might, the scavengers couldn’t find a single scrap of meat left on Elliot’s bones.
by Franziska Hofhansel
The one thing you do remember was the flick of her wrist. She made a gesture and the way her wrist bent, carefully, a no nonsense upward motion conveying nonchalance, grabbed your gaze and held it there. You turned to ask her something, or maybe just stare, because you’d never seen someone so mired in life and when she took a breath you thought of elderly couples picking apples and when the brakes slammed and her neck snapped up, hard, you thought of that wrist flick.
Bill Died and Left Me a Pig
by D. D. Renforth
Bill died and left me a pig I swear is Bill.
My wife Ellen smirks, “Really? Bill is Hardy the pig?”
When she approaches, Hardy shakes his bottom, smiles, his tongue hangs then stiffens.
Hardy always winks at me with strange eyes, too red for a pig, then turns and farts. In private I scold it, even whip it for mocking me.
“You need help,” Ellen says and makes an appointment.
The doctors ignore me.
The priest holds my hand and prays.
Only the fish in the waiting room agrees.
“You’re right,” it says, “Hardy loves your wife.”
The War on Drugs
by J. Bradley
I look at the officer as she writes down her version of what happened. I calculate when she might not be paying attention to try and make myself more comfortable against the wheel well. The officer stops writing when she hears the chaff of fabric and metal against the tire. She looks at me, moves her hand halfway to the Taser holstered on her belt. An itch spreads across my cheek. I want to grate the dandruff out of my beard in front of her using only my shoulder. No need to wait for the dogs, I want to say.
In Boxing Class
by Anne Wilding
Seeing me fill up, Richard calls time, takes me outside before I cry. “It’s okay… It takes time… Some people can’t hit.” He doesn’t ask why I stood rabbit-in-headlights while my classmates screeched, “Go on! He’s training to take it! Hit him!” And my sparring partner stood there impassive, waiting for the first blow. Outside, Richard holds me, lets my snot soak his shirt, says, “It’s all right… You are good enough.” And doesn’t ask why. It was the arms I was supposed to go for, at the top. Where it hurts like hell but bruises don’t show.
Before Father Lost his Mind
by D. D. Renforth
Before father lost his mind, we talked of his estate, and he said, “Come every month on the days when it rains, recite King Lear, and it’s yours.” Now we stand beside his lawyer outside his open window on rainy days and repeatedly recite King Lear from start to finish while our father with dementia listens but does not recognize us. When we reach Act I, Scene 4, he puts his head out the window and screams Lear’s line with us, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” and then returns to silence.
by Ana Prundaru
Like every Friday, you’re at the pub and you place your bet. You swell bright from liquor. Little to lose, that day you win a yellow boat in which you pack everything you own and take to new sights. You learn to tighten the grip on the oar handles in storming waters and become familiar inside blistered skin. The sea stretches its unclosed wings, inexhaustible territories waiting blue and haunted. Your breaths are as much collectible seashells as are your destinations. You think you must look like a rust flake to whoever watches you claim a draining soul search.
by Susan McCreery
She balled the toilet tissue and stuffed it in the plughole. That should stop the rats. Outside the bathroom window an earnest conversation was taking place. … marbles, she heard. Huh, they think I’ve lost ’em. … in a home. She smacked her palm on the high frosted window. Don’t think I can’t hear you! And I can smell your cigarettes. Rats, rats, the lot of you. Nibbling away at me. Go home to your families. No one’s pitching me out. She glanced in the mirror. Wild hair. Nightie unbuttoned. Who was that?
(“Rats” will be published in Susan’s upcoming book Loopholes set for release in December 2016.)
by Alexis Nau
His car smells like Sweet Pea perfume. He picks me up at 7:50 to take me to school because he’s a gentleman. He kisses me good morning and smirks at me. My mind implodes. I give him my confident smile, the one from fourth grade. Surely he smelled it within those guilty minutes between his house and mine. The scent of Rebecca Vaus’ signature fragrance; the smell that used to follow him in a cloud, linger on his sheets. Surely he breathed it in, bathed in it. He smirks again, knowing I know, and knowing I’ll never say anything.
Life Cycle of the Swimmer Gloria Sherman
by Lynn Mundell
A feral girl, she dog paddles to her mother, gulping the dirty water. Abandoning her JV parka like a chrysalis, she dives, long limbs skimming the surface, a white butterfly. For years, she favors the breaststroke, a sensible method for going the distance, abandoned once in midlife, a year of reckless backstroke, three injured, her included. Settling down again: swim, flip-turn, breathe — 25, 30 laps left, God willing. In her last summer, she crawls down the lane, swimmers behind her like cars trailing an RV. If she can, she won’t return to the earth but rather die in the water.
The Journeyman’s Dance in Red
by Sam Anderson
The last glove to his face jars him. Blood in his eyes, the sting of being a boxer ten years past his prime and no longer hoping to grasp the dancing lights glittering in the belt at the edge of his memory. Copper in his nose and sharp tingles shout over the sanguine roar of the arena. The world tilts; the mattress leaps at his face. His manager winks from their corner, and the Journeyman knows his blood money for this fall will be in his locker after the fight.
A Fragile Hand
by E.M. Slocum
A fragile hand picks up a fork. It weighs heavy. A slender arm reaches across a table—to a plate—on which all evil lies. It’s waiting to be brought to lips—to a mouth—that will ignore the bite. Her mind second-guesses, then she remembers; “You have to, otherwise you’ll die.” The windowless mirror lies and screams. Eyes cry, voices whisper, backs turn away, but she smiles. One more, one more. No more. Her thoughts reverberate, focus on the necessary, and forget the obvious; a tender soul, against the mind, trapped inside a frame, that will never be hers.
by Steve Connacher
Four stunning women finished studying themselves in the mirror, then gathered around me. A wispy blonde leaned over to reveal a secret. I was interested, so she silently moved behind me, pressing my hand firmly against my heart. Immediately I began to wretch and convulse. Somehow I keenly felt everything wrong in the world. She released me and I beseeched her for more. Instead, she silently rose above me, placing her hands on my throat. I was powerless. I blinked then saw her floating just above me, her white gown fluttering. I blinked again and found myself alone, shivering.
PhysEd September 16, 2016
by Susan McCrae
Between classmates’ chants when I reach the next pylon, “130-131-132,” Mrs. Banerjee hollers, “STOP, Julian”. No worrying teacher, pouring sweat or raspy breath stifles my determination to beat 140, Paul’s record. I ignore nasty stomach signals near 136 and upchuck. Vomit sprays this world. I splash right on through and cover head to toe. Dad will be so pissed when they call. In shock and awe, Banerjee hands me a towel, “Julian, it wasn’t a contest.” My slime-covered head jerks up, “You’re new here, Ma’am,” eyes meet. “Next year, you might want to bring a bucket.”
by Sharon Gelflick
Our relationship quickly combusted into one of those situations where there’s just enough psychological tension to fuel intense lust that almost feels like love. Every night, we slammed our bodies together, reaching for something I didn’t understand but I was crazy for it and he appreciated crazy, at least in bed. Sometimes, afterwards, he would whisper into my sweaty neck, “You’re amazing, baby,” before rolling away to sleep at the edge of the mattress while I smiled in the dark, trying to interpret his positive feedback as a sign of devotion. I wouldn’t, couldn’t leave him until he forced me.