Kaleidoscope

“Just wanted you to know, I’m here if you ever need anything.”

She held her phone tightly, unwilling to read those words again. Instead she stared blankly at the lights refracted through the raindrops on her windshield, almost as if she expected the payday loan company to dissolve into that blurry kaleidoscope and coalesce into a new way out of her predicament.

The contact in her phone was named “Don’t Answer”, and in the two weeks since the text had arrived, she hadn’t opened it. She also hadn’t deleted it. She had simply read the preview over and over again, trying to fight off the feeling that the decision had already been made for her.

Now she had waited as long as she could, but now escape had come. The phone felt heavy in her hand. This was how he operated. He would help her, give her whatever she needed without question. And with the most compassionate smile, his jaws would close around her throat.

She couldn’t go back. And she couldn’t pay her loan.

Hands trembling, she unlocked her phone.
She opened the message.
She deleted it.
Tears blurred her vision as she started her car and drove away.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash

Prize

Derek didn’t mind the cold; falling snow made the moment more romantic. Almost giddy, he declared, “I’m here to win you back, baby.”

Sela remained stiff and aloof on the other side of the threshold. “It’s not a contest,” she replied. “And I’m no one’s prize.”

Derek grinned even wider. “That’s just it though – you are a prize. I was too stupid and selfish to see it before, but I know now. I know how lucky I was, how lucky any man would be to have you.” It was everything he had been wanting to say. The moment was perfect.

“You can’t have me,” she answered.

Snow crunched beneath Derek’s feet as he shifted his stance. “So. Who is it?”

Her eyes flicked away. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re seeing someone, aren’t you? Already?”

“His name’s Jeremy,” she said, shaping the word into a smile.

“I don’t care who he is. He doesn’t deserve you.”

Sela shrugged. “He makes me happy.”

“I don’t care if you’re happy,” Derek spat. “I only care if you’re mine.” The echo of his own words struck Derek like a blow. He turned away from Sela’s shocked expression, and fled into the winter night.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Puke

Leah rubbed Aaron’s back gently as he puked over the deck railing. A wave of cheers drifted out of the warmly lit banquet hall.

“What are they doing now?” Aaron groaned.

“Looks like they’re cutting the cake.” Another choking groan followed by a distant splat. “You’re feeling pretty shitty aren’t you?”

Aaron spit out a stray chunk of regurgitated food and mumbled, “You think?”

“What’s going on?”

“I drank too much,” he said, dragging himself upright.

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”

He shrugged and pulled out a flask. “What about you?”

Leah blinked out into the darkness. “I’m fine.”

Aaron unscrewed the flask, then held it out. “There’s no way you’re fine with how awful I’ve been tonight. Pretty sure you need this more than I do.”

She glanced at the flask and frowned, then looked back at Aaron. He was a mess, but his eyes were warm, kind, generous. She snatched the bottle and took a long swig.

“That bad, huh?” Aaron grinned when she finally offered it back. “I guess you know I’m in love with the bride. Who are you in love with.”

Feeling like she was going to throw up, Leah answered. “You.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Again

Their eyes were ringed red and bloodshot, staring blankly into the half-empty cup of cooling tea.

“How many times are you going to do this, Cal?” she asked.

A lazy shake of the head. “Shut up, Jane,” they muttered.

She leaned forward to speak, then sighed and relaxed back into her seat. Cal’s thumb drifted back and forth across the lip of the mug. Jane tried again. “I’m just sayin…” she began.

“No you’re not,” Cal interrupted.

“E-excuse me?”

Cal’s eyes turned deliberately away from Jane, out to the window. Out to empty darkness. “If you have to tell me that you’re just saying something, that hundred percent guarantees you’ve got something even worse that you’re not saying.”

Jane leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. “Like what?”

They gave a lazy shrug. “Fuck if I know.”

She rose, snatched up Cal’s mug, and carried it to the sink. “I’m helping you, aren’t I?” she asked. “I’m letting you stay here, right?”

“Don’t make it sound like such a threat.”

Jane leaned wearily against the counter, head low. “What do you want, Cal?

Cal’s eyes were wet with unshed tears. “I don’t know, Jane. I wish I did.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

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