My entry this week in the Luminous Creatures Press Summer of Super Short Stories contest. The photo below was the prompt and the max word count was 500. This was my first time competing there and to receive a first runner-up placement is pretty damn special. I’d like to thank the judge, Beth Deitchman, for her flattering critique of my story found below.
Strong writing and clarity of imagery mark “Unbound” by Wisp of Smoke, a story about the end of love and regret held at bay. The narrator’s almost jaunty tone belies the reality of his feelings, which are revealed in a last line that punches the reader right in the gut.
Travis watched her gather the ceramic elephants that sat emotionless on the oak mantel. She delicately wrapped them in tissue paper and placed them in a cardboard box marked fragile. Amir, a name they borrowed from the Kite Runner, was by her side as always, panting and twitching like a fiend chasing the dragon. His wet eyes seemed to be longing for something: Reconciliation? A bowel movement? A bowl of meat? Travis could never decipher the stories hidden in body language or eyes or a smile that was all sharp angles.
Jennifer had gained a bit of weight over the years, Travis thought as she continued to pack memories and artifacts with the speed and efficiency of an assembly line worker, her pink nylon sweats nothing more than a blur of function. He didn’t mind the crows feet, the heft in the middle, the dusting of grey around her temples. She was still pretty in a broken way, as if his condescending snark throughout the marriage had excised her youthful glow
For the first time in months, he looked at her with carnal urges. Maybe it was because she was leaving, maybe it was because her new lover had access to something that used to belong to him. He thought about tossing her some charm for old times sake but Travis chose to remain silent and sip on his beloved sweet tea as she and Amir worked in tandem at uprooting all the good things.
“Do you want to keep this?” she asked, holding a brushed-metal picture frame.
He glanced at the snapshot indifferently. Their sojourn in New Orleans: crawfish, jazz, draft beer, jungle humidity, and a ferocious argument the entire way home.
“Take it all, babe. Take everything.”
She rolled her eyes, sighed and proceeded with the evacuation.
“Hey, maybe you could place my heart in a cardboard box and write FRAGILE in gigantic red letters across the front. Just a thought.”
“Not today, Travis. I don’t need your drama or your mouth. I’ll be gone soon enough, you’ll finally be free of me.”
When all her belongings were stuffed into the Jeep Cherokee, she smacked her leg and Amir walked towards her, giving Travis a throaty yelp as he passed by. A goodbye? Contrition? A middle finger from a furry paw?
He went to the blinds and peeked at them as they drove away. No heads swiveling, no doubts lingering. Travis stood there for twenty minutes, unsure of what happens next. He told himself that he wouldn’t miss them. He told himself that they weren’t happy anyway, things had been unraveling for years.
He thought about that picture from New Orleans. A night of drunken lovemaking that made him feel energized and vibrant. Reborn. He regretted not keeping that one memory. Too late now, he thought.
He plopped down on the couch, flipped on the television, swallowed a gulp of tea and stared at the looted, beige walls. He tried desperately not to ache for them.