🏆 Nominated for Best Short Fictions
I knew him in the way you know someone from a bar where you’re a regular. But he’s not a regular; appears here and there. It’s winter, Saturday, not yet dark. Outside the train car bar, we make out in my gray Toyota, stick shift between us. Our warm skin slips against cold metal seat buckles. Surprising. We need unobstructed room. Take a long drive in his truck to where he lives, trees on both sides.
Two-lane, no traffic. Florida country road. We are the only travelers. His body angular. I could kill you if I wanted to, he says. No one would know. Half-smile. Like he’s just realized he has a secret power, that he could make my blood streak. I laugh halfway. Because I can see he wants me to be afraid. I won’t show it. Look at the passing trees. A tug in my gut. I’d assumed he was like me, a person who wouldn’t kill another. I assumed he was attracted to me, motivated by desire. There is a film to him, almost ashy. Unfamiliar, as if he works as a mechanic, rarely washes. Oil, grit. Carbon. In his eyes too. Mimeographed.
A mobile home in a field.
It is not romantic, not a crush, nor a possible boyfriend. Not even the pretense of flirting or saying pretty. Pretty doesn’t matter. I want to be loved like someone in a Joni Mitchell song. I want to float away on a river. Be desired. But this is something else. More like I am a vacuum cleaner, or something more obsolete – a push mower. Something to use, then see how it breaks. Or worse, a creature flickering toward light. Cut open. Jewels spilling on orange shag.
Room nearly empty except for the mattress, as if we are on stage. A play. The flying roaches, like big, squishy dates with wings, lay low. His hair is dark. He is behind me. We’re naked when a door opens. An older woman appears. Distracted. But he moves away from me. Her entrance stops everything.
I don’t remember leaving the trailer. Or the drive back. Maybe I’m still there.
Kelle Groom is the author of I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), a Barnes & Noble Discover selection and New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, and four poetry collections, most recently Spill. An NEA Fellow in Prose and 2020 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow in Nonfiction, Groom’s work appears in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, and Poetry. She is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada University, Lake Tahoe, and education director at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.