Leaving

I watched him prepare to leave, feeling a strange emptiness a foreboding. Then my dad happened to stride past. “Dom, you’re not staying for dinner?” he boomed.

Dominic shook his head. “The number 23 stops running after seven.”

“The bus?”

“Yes, dad,” I said, unable to stifle my own attitude.

“Nah, come on,” he insisted, clapping Dominic on the back. “Stay for dinner, then I’ll give you a lift.”

Dominic’s face was still, as impossible to read as ever. All he said was, “My mother might worry, sir.”

Dad gave a sharp, approving nod. “Fair enough. We’ll take you back now.” Then he turned to me. “Whaddya say, Harry?”

“Dad, just be cool.”

But he wasn’t even listening for my answer. “Dom, where do you live?”

A quick glance in my direction. “Corner of Fifth and Washington.”

A pause.

“That’s . . . that’s on the East Side, right?”

Dominic’s jaw tightened. “That’s right sir.”

The jovial tone returned. “Oh, would ya stop calling me sir. Call me Bob.” Then he grabbed the keys and flung open the door. “Come on boys, the Cadillac’s out front.”

We rode all the way to Dominic’s house in silence. Somehow, I knew that everything had changed.

* * *

A 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

Mess

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

* * *

Mack was sitting quietly on the couch, sipping a glass of ice water in which the ice had already become tiny boats skimming the surface.  The couch leather stuck to his legs as he shifted.

He heard footsteps in the next room halt.  Then a shriek.

“What did you do?” Denise burst in shouting.

“Nothing”

 “That mess in the kitchen is not nothing, Mackenzie Quigley.”

He sighed and rolled his eyes.  It was too hot to worry about something like this.  “It didn’t get on the carpet,” he said.

Denise was getting irritated.  She was a kettle on the stove getting ready to scream.  “That’s not the point.  It needs to be cleaned up.”

“I’ll do it later.”

“But how long’s it been there?”

“I don’t know … a couple hours maybe”

“And you just decided to leave it there?  Dripping and everything?”

He shrugged.  “I’ll clean it later.  I didn’t expect it to bother you this much.”

The kettle boiled.  “HOW COULD THIS NOT BOTHER ME?”

“Don’t worry.  I checked his pockets—found a fifty.  I figured dinner and a movie are on me.  Well, on him, I suppose.”

“Oh,” she said, suddenly becoming very calm.  “Where are we going?”

* * *

originally published December 23, 2010

Dune

Tori sat on a sun-bleached log, staring back down the dune the way we had come. “I just need a minute,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for me.”

I shrugged, dropped my backpack in the sand, and sat beside her. We were quiet. Gulls cawed overhead. The wind whisked away our sweat. Finally, I asked, “What are you thinking about?”

Tori’s eyes fell, and I saw her jaw tighten. I had pushed, perhaps too hard. She lifted her head, but deliberately looked away from me.

“I’m trying, June.”

It pained her to say those words, and I felt the pain echoed in my own breast. “I know you are.” I promised, instinctively placing a hand on her knee, desperate to comfort, to reassure, to protect.

“I am,” Tori insisted. Her hands remained in her lap, fidgeting. “I want to get over it. I just . . .”
“I know.” I could feel her withdrawing despite all my attempts to hold her. So, I let go.

I stood, looked up at the crest of the next dune, and said, “We should keep moving. I bet the view’s even better from up there.” Then I held out my hand.

And she took it.

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Elvira Blumfelde on Unsplash

Vulnerable

Mara’s jaw dropped. “You’re seriously breaking up with Ally because you think she’s a vampire?”

“I mean not really,” Dillon answered. “It’s just an idea that got stuck in my head, but it’s ruining the whole relationship.”

Arms folded and eyes narrow, Mara asked, “What about her is so vampiric?”

“Well, she hates garlic.”

A shrug. “So do I. Lots of people don’t like garlic.”

“But my family’s Italian. All my favorite foods have garlic. Oh!” he added, growing animated, “She wouldn’t go into my family’s church at Christmas either.”

“Do you even go to that church anymore?”

“But think about it,” he insisted, “holy water… crucifixes…”

“And have you tried talking to her about her own beliefs?”

“Fine,” Dillon grunted, “but what sort of woman doesn’t carry a mirror in her purse?”

“A confident woman with relationships built on trust.”

“Huh?”

Mara rolled her eyes. “My point is that you have a habit of sabotaging relationships once they get to a point where you might actually have to be vulnerable.”

Dillon winced. “Harsh… but maybe you’re right. I… should probably give her a call.”

Mara smiled encouragingly, revealing sharp fangs, then lunged forward and bit Dillon in the neck.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Zipper

“Why can’t I stay at home?” Zinny asked dejectedly.

Hannah answered my rote, “You’re still too little to stay at home by yourself.” Moving automatically, she grabbed a stocking cap from the hook by the door and shoved the hat down over her daughter’s mess of curly hair.

“Why can’t daddy watch me?” Zinny asked next.

“Because dad’s not home right now,” Hannah said, grabbing the bright purple coat from its hook and draping it over Zinny’s shoulders.

“But I want him to be home.”

Hannah restrained a sigh, saying simply, “I know, darling.”

Zinny looked up with large eyes that her mother refused to meet and asked, “Where is daddy?”

Hannah knelt to help her daughter with her zipper. “He had to go far away for work, remember?”

“He’s always far away at work,” she groaned.

“Yes.” Hannah yanked the zipper, and it didn’t move. She yanked again.

“I just want him to be home again.”

“Yes Zinny,” Hannah said through gritted teeth, “I know.” She tugged the zipper pull with short sharp movements.

“But why is he not home?”

“Because he’s NOT” Hannah shouted. They were on the same level, face to face, eyes filling up with tears.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Hold

The alley was wide, but few people used it. It may have been because the tall stone buildings on either side kept out the sun most of the day except for around 12 o’clock. That’s where they stood, surrounded by murky shadows while strangers passed by on either end of the manmade ravine.

“Are you sure?” he asked. He bowed his head to look at her, but she wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Are you sure?”

She nodded slowly.

A breath of wind wound its way down the alley and swept up a few of her golden hairs, coaxing them to flutter before her face and land on her moist lips. His dark, gentle hand brushed those strands aside, tucking them behind her ear and letting his palm rest for just a moment on her warm cheek. She might have been blushing, but the half-light around them made her almost expressionless face appear more serene than he had ever seen it.

He felt her jaw tighten.

“Come on. We should be going.”

Her heels clicked on the cement footpath as she walked. But he lingered ever so briefly, saying goodbye to the air where her perfume and his hand still hung.

Photo by Daniel Gregoire on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives
originally published October 16, 2010

Clinging

“I can’t do this anymore.”

We were used to shouting at each other. Angry clashes and passionate reconciliation had always been our pattern, but then a simple, calm statement ended everything. I couldn’t even summon a response, just stared blankly, searching her face for some sort of explanation.

She shook her head. “Things were supposed to be different here.” I could hear a deep, searing pain in her voice. “You said they would be different.”

“I thought they were.”

She didn’t respond for a long time, just stood in the doorway. Finally she said, “My sister’s downstairs. She’ll give me a ride. The apartment is yours now.” A pause. “Goodbye.”

She must have shut the door, but I did not, could not watch her go. At some point, night fell.

At some point, I smashed a lamp and toppled a bookshelf. At some point, I ran out of liquor. “This is your fault,” I said at last.

A thin voice replied, “No.”

“We left everything to get away from you. You weren’t supposed to be here.”

“You . . .” the voice creaked, “brought me.”

“Leave me alone,” I pleaded.

“I . . . can’t.” And I sat in the darkness, clinging fiercely to my anger.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Reasons

“Can we talk?”

Leah turned to see Marci on the next stool. “I’d rather not,” she answered flatly and turned away.

“This is uncomfortable for me too,” Marci said, “but we have to talk about this.”

“About how you broke his heart?”

It was what Marci had expected, but it still made her cheeks burn with shame. “Well,” she offered, “if I hadn’t, you never would have gotten together.”

However, Leah’s next reply was entirely unexpected. “We’re not together,” she said, draining the amber liquid from her glass.

“I thought . . .”

Leah turned back, tears glistening in her eyes. “I don’t think he was ever really that interested. Anyway, he’s engaged now or something.”

“Oh,” Marci answered. A pause. “Me too.”

Leah let out a heavy, pained sigh. “Congratulations, I guess.”

The women sat silently in the noisy bar until Marci decided to make one last effort. “You know there’s a reason I left him, right?  There are . . . a lot of reasons.”

“Yeah,” Leah said, “He’s toxic. I get it.”

“If you get it, then why do you still hate me?”

Leah shook her head. “Like you said, if you hadn’t left him, he never would have gotten to hurt me.”

Photo by Austris Augusts on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox