by Margaret Emma Brandl

Honorable Mention, 2020 Fiction Collections

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Kennedy Blake wakes, late afternoon, in a third-floor apartment on 15th Street. There is always more studying Kennedy can do, an evening lab exam, but the weak light coming in the curtains of the bedroom gives her a false sense of security in the amount of time stretching out ahead of her, the silly hope of Brett in the next room making eggs in the disaster of his apartment kitchen. They’ve been back together now for two weeks but this is her first time in over a month waking up in his bed, the room around her strewn with clothes and a few Solo cups. Soft kitchen-sounds: she envisions the packed refrigerator, the counter full of dirty dishes, crowded with produce. They had purchased bananas to make banana bread, zucchini for its own bread incarnation, pomegranates on a whim. They cracked one open in the early post-studying hours of the morning and plunged it into water—the best way to extract the round red seeds, Brett insisted; their hands bumped as they separated the pulp, laughing, dripping fingers scooping away at treasure like rubies, the fruit. They stained their lips with red juice and left the groceries forgotten, a project to take off the stress of finals, dissolved into mouth on mouth and skin on skin and a tempest outside.

Judging by the light, the sky outside is still gray, and Kennedy is tamping down that part inside herself that warns danger. She tries to reframe the way she played possum when Brett woke her moving around in the bed, when the glow had worn off, when she remembered in the pit of her stomach all the times she’d thought maybe she shouldn’t have begged him back—how she struggled to keep her breath even as he pushed himself up against her, snaked his arm over her back and down the plane of her stomach, lower—how she twitched just then, as if she was asleep, moved away with her eyes closed. She tells herself she was just tired. She tells herself not to listen to empty anxiety, giving it that deliberate label: empty. She tastes pomegranate juice on her tongue.

end of story

© 2021, Margaret Emma Brandl Also by Margaret Emma Brandl