Fiction · Short Story

Bad Business

Habit had me walking home along the trolley rails late at night when no one else was on the road. A girl with a bag hanging on her hip was coming down the hill next to my building. She saw me stepping off the rails and onto the sidewalk. She passed my door as I pulled keys from my pocket. One for the main door and one for my own. She needed to charge her phone, she said, slowly passing the stoop.

I looked at her under the lamplight of my room. Her elbows were red, knees violet and blue. “I bruise easily,” she said under her breath, Eden’s woven punishment lying in a heap around her feet. I didn’t yet know it was one of those things girls like her say to nip all further questions in the bud. I so often put memory on trial, but for her the prosecution rests. Okay, she bruises easily.

She rode me like a hobo rides a train—eyes drifting dustily out the open boxcar door, hair lifting in short pulls, an Icarian kite wanting wind.

I didn’t know she would choose to lay with me the night nor how long it’d been since the choice was hers. To lay with another, soaking in what remained of the innocence she’d extracted from me.

Darkness cloaked the street below when I woke to her holding a small hardcover—a collection of verse—in her lap, legs bent on the edge of the mattress. As she voiced the lines to life, twisting the tassel sewn to the upper spine, a transitory sensation commanded taut pulses shoot down the meridian of mine. I begged her to take it along. I begged her to find what she’d left of me on the ink of its pages. When she lowered the book of poems into the frayed canvas of her satchel, I did not yet know it was bad form to offer words printed on paper other than green and too young to know it was bad business for her to accept them.

At dawn, waiting for the streetcar on the corner, she produced the volume from her bag. My figure watched from the window as she opened the book she’d pulled from my shelf.

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