Warmth

She gave a knowing smile as I studied her. “You’re . . . not what I expected,” I finally admitted.

“People seldom are.” I wasn’t sure that applied in her case, but wasn’t brave enough to say so. “And what was it that surprised you?”

I knew how ridiculous it would sound, but I had no other way to say it. “Your warmth.”

Her laugh was somehow both mirthful and merciless. “Perhaps you don’t know who you’re talking to after all.”

I shrugged. “Christmas lights, coming inside from the cold, the way snow sparkles; all of that is you.”

She grew melancholy, though her smile remained. “I have little to offer that anyone would want,” she said. “But in the cold and the quiet and the long dark, the smallest scrap of color is a treasure, a fountain of life. I may offer my children only the hope of light, but perhaps that is more valuable than light in abundance.”

“Your . . . children?”

She nodded. “All those who have received my gifts are my children, whether loss and loneliness, fear and freezing, or darkness and despair.”

“Isn’t that just . . . everyone?”

Winter’s eyes were sad, dark, and lonely. Still, she smiled. “Yes,” she answered, “everyone.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Hope

“Are they fresh?” I asked. A colorful flame danced in each vial, but many flickered fitfully in a way that made me nervous

The man at the cart clutched his heart with a practiced gesture that illustrated how wounded he was. What do you take me for? You think I would set up here on the corner to sell delusions or mania, something like that?”

He had named my exact fear, disarming me. Of course Hope could be incredible, exultation tinged with the risk of despair. But everyone has heard stories about what happens to a person with a bad Hope. I fidgeted, not wanting to linger here playing games. So I said, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“They’re good, the vendor insisted. “I picked them up from the Dream Docks this morning.”

It was as good a source as you could ask for if it was true. That was where I had sold my last dreams all those years ago. “Fine,” I grunted.

“So you’ll buy?”

I almost walked away then. Maybe I should have. But it had been so long since I had any Hope. Colors danced within the glass, dangerous and inviting.

I picked up a vial.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Music

They moved with bright steps through the night, bouncing to the rhythm of songs that still flared in their ears.

“I told you!” Lena cheered

“I had no idea,” Gwen laughed. 

“I told you!”

In the parking lot around them, there were people singing and people fighting, people pulling and people kissing. The music had gone quiet, the light show had ended, but the air was still electric. They barely noticed, too caught up in their own euphoria. 

“That was amazing,” Gwen said,  curls bouncing as she shook her head. 

Lena’s face was suddenly illuminated by the glare of her phone. A few swipes and taps and music started to play, the same song they had just heard live. “She really is brilliant. And people don’t talk enough about her lyrics.”

They walked close together, bodies colliding between energetic strides. “I’m sorry no one else could come,” Gwen remarked.

“They’re missing out,” Lena agreed.  

“I’m kind of glad though. Tonight has been so…”

“I know, right? Just incredible. I love her.”

And Gwen said it. “I love you.”

“Oh,” Lena stammered. Clarity cut through their electric daze. “Oh,” she said again,  more softly. The music swelled. Lena began to smile. 


Story by Gregory M. Fox

Wish

The streak of light had passed in an instant, but Jude kept staring into the sky as though expecting it to reappear. “I’ve never seen a real shooting star before,” he said.

“So what’d you wish for?” Collin asked.

“Isn’t it bad luck to tell?”

“Whatever,” Collin shrugged. “I’ll tell you mine.”

Jude rolled his eyes. “Let me guess, a new Jeep?”

“How did you—”

“Because you mention that you want one basically every day.”

“I guess,” Collin grunted.

“Also,” Jude said, giving his friend a conciliatory pat on the back, “you have no imagination.”

“Excuse me?”

“This is a wish we’re talking about. It should be something big. Something you can’t achieve on your own.”

“Well a new Jeep’s pretty big,” Collin retorted.

Jude shook his head. “Something life changing.”

Collin’s face went serious. “A new leg?” he asked.

Jude blinked in surprise, looked down at the prosthesis supporting his weight. He opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head. “No,” he said softly, looking up with a pained smile. “I wouldn’t wish for something I can live without.”

Jude’s eyes shone in the starlight. Collin stared into them, feeling his face grow warm as he finally understood.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Bradley Allweil on Unsplash

Figure

“Here we are,” Danny announced guiding his stumbling friend up the shallow steps to the door.

Calvin stared vacantly at his own apartment building, then looked back at Danny and hesitated. “Is this the part where . . .”

Danny cocked an eyebrow, curious. “What did you have in mind?”

Blood raced to Calvin’s cheeks.“I didn’t—I mean, I don’t—” he stammered, “well, not that I don’t, I just thought that you—that we—” The longer he went, the brighter his face flushed, and the smirk spreading across Danny’s face certainly wasn’t helping. A finger pressed to Calvin’s lips, halting their speech abruptly.

“You’re drunk.”

“I just thought . . .”

“It’s alright,” Danny said gently. “Go inside and get some sleep. Maybe when you’ve figured a few things out, we can try again.”

Calvin watched Danny walk down the steps, onto the sidewalk, away. But before the other man could disappear into the darkness, Calvin called out, “What if I want to figure them out with you?”

Danny turned, studied his friend illuminated in the entryway. Was it naivete or hope that burned in those eyes? Either one could be dangerous, but still Danny found himself smiling. “How about I call you tomorrow?”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Purple

Melissa could hardly pick a detail to focus on. Dark purple polish, chipped and sparkling, the tattooed rings stacked on her upper arm, the delicate way she tucked her hair behind her ear, the pale green eyes darting back and forth, or the way a slow smile spread across Alina’s face as she read the back of the DVD case. Then suddenly the eyes turned to her, alight and vibrant.

“Have you heard of this one?” Alina asked, stepping closer. The fragrance of vanilla bean and cloves filled Melissa’s senses. Alina’s body was right next to hers. She couldn’t focus on any details of the movie, just the soft cool touch of Alina’s arm brushing against hers.

“I think you should get it,” Melissa said.

“Yeah?”

“We could,” she swallowed the lump in her throat, “watch it tonight. At my place?”

For a moment, Alina’s face was perfectly still. Melissa couldn’t feel her heart beating, and she wondered whether time had stopped or whether she had simply died right in that moment. A slow smile. “Sure,” Alina replied casually.

“And maybe we…” Melissa couldn’t find any words to encompass her hope.

Then fingers with chipped polish folded between hers. “Yes.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Wish

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives

Published 12/26/2010

* * *

The sudden flash in the heavy blackness caught her eye like a shooting star. 

She made a wish.  It was a sort of morbid tradition she had. 

Her father had been a smoker and a drinker.  She was six when he first burned her with a cigarette.  Sometimes she still saw that smouldering prick of fire and ash coming toward her face, and since then, the pain of her burns would return whenever she came anywhere near fire or smoke.

At sixteen, she had been driving at night for the first time.  Her father was in the passenger seat yelling about something.  She wanted him to stop—stop shouting, stop hurting her, stop making her miserable. 

Then—a flash of orange cinders

She had never seen a cigarette thrown from a car window before.  It flew at the windshield, and in a flash of sparks she smelled tobacco and burning flesh, and felt her scars ache. 

she tensed

hands jerked

her father shouted

and she was just wishing he would stop

and they were flying

spinning

Then all was still.  And quiet.  Just her breathing and … nothing else.

Now she wishes on cigarette butts.  Because of guilt.  And maybe hope.

Photo by Vasily Kozorez on Unsplash

Eyes

“I can’t believe I ran into you! It’s been too long.”

Renee nodded while desperately searching her memory for this woman’s name. What she said was, “I’m surprised you recognized me. Between my haircut and the masks, I’ve gotten used to friends walking right by me.”

“It’s the eyes,” she said smiling. “They gave you away instantly.”

“I guess they call them the ‘window to the soul’ for a reason.”

Exactly!” the other woman said. “That’s all we’ve got to go on these days.”

Renee realized that she had never actually made an effort to look this woman in the eye. In fact, she’d gotten into the habit of avoiding eye contact with anyone she encountered on her rare excursions out of the house. It took a surprising exertion of will, but Renee forced herself to look into the other woman’s eyes. And she saw.

Mirth
Uncertainty
The strain of trying so hard to accept that this was what life was like now
so that when she told herself, ‘it’s gonna be okay,’
she might actually believe it.
Loneliness
Determination
Confidence that everything really would be okay.

“Emina,” Renee said, recalling the woman’s name. “It’s so good to see you.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

Terminal

She called it her “sippy cup.” The water bottle had a built in straw that reminded her of a child’s spill-proof cup. Today, of course, she wasn’t drinking water. The vodka bottle from the duty free shop was buried in her bag, and she wondered how discreetly she could refill her cup in the busy terminal. She wondered if she looked as bad as she felt. She wondered why she should even get on the plane at all.

“Here you go,” a chipper voice said, cutting in on her ruminations.

“What?”

A large man with a round belly was leaning toward her and holding out a flower necklace. “This one’s for you,” he said. “I know, you’re supposed to get the lei when you arrive. But I figure, look at all these people. Vacation’s ending; they’re going home to everyday life. And travelling’s always stressful. Seems like they might need flowers too.

“Come ooooon,” he said when she still didn’t reach for the necklace, “you’ll be able to tell people you got ‘leied’ at the airport!”

To her own surprise, she laughed. Moments later, she was wreathed in pink flowers, and felt like she could face the future after all.

Photo by Killian Pham on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Dawn

The sun was rising slowly, persistently. Pale light illuminating gentle slopes, peaks casting shadows into the valleys folded around them. A world spread out around her, peaceful and still. A landscape of folded cloth.

Her phone buzzed. “Do you want to talk?”

Too much.

She retreated beneath the covers, back into darkness. It wasn’t that she wanted to sleep—not that her mind would let her anyway—another day was simply too much to bear. That growing light revealed the mess of sheets around her, the pile of unwashed clothes, the dishes in the corner. She couldn’t clean her room, couldn’t change her clothes, couldn’t even get out of bed.

Better not to try. Better to stay inside—to stay in the dark, where there was nothing to see and no one to see her. She recognized that she was cycling, but that didn’t mean she had the energy or willpower to overcome it.

Her phone buzzed again. A light beneath the covers. “I’m here when you’re ready.”

There was a whole world out there where the sun illuminated beauty as well as pain, cruelty as well as compassion. She wasn’t ready. Not yet. But she held her phone close.

     *     *     *     *     *

Photo by Hari AV on Unsplash 

Story by Gregory M. Fox