Short Stories

 

Woman, Don’t Try to Change Me  by Seth Lawhorn

I used to go to the movies to watch action flicks and western shoot-em-ups.  I used to play the guitar and none of my friends could beat my video game high scores.  I used to eat corn chips and chili dogs every day.  Until I met Judy.

We go to the Farmer's Market every Tuesday.  At the fancy soap shop they know us by name.  Sometimes we make love with our bodies glossed by moonlight.  But mostly we eat brains.  I like chili dogs and corn chips better.

I still sneak off to the movies when I get a chance.  I don't even care what's playing.

Peace and Quiet and Carbon Monoxide by Seth Lawhorn

Cole stood in the driveway. The silver sunlight prickled against his wrinkled skin and pranced across the plains of chrome on the old Buick. In the distance a lawn mower stuttered and droned. The sound filled Cole's nose with the smell of gasoline and carbon monoxide.

"I reckon that will do," he said.

The garden hose was coiled against the far side of the house. He removed the hose from its hook, carried it to the driveway, and retrieved a roll of duct tape from the trunk of the car. Crouching on arthritic knees, Cole struggled to tape the end of the hose to the tailpipe. His shoulder was sore from swinging the hammer. His hands were slick with blood.

He wiped them on his pants, twisted the tape around the tailpipe and hose several times, stood up with effort, and tossed the opposite end of the hose inside the car.

He strolled into the silent house, stepped over his wife’s body and into the pool of blood. Scarlet footprints traced his path as he searched for the car keys. He found them in Georgette’s purse.

Jingling the keys, he walked back outside, watching his shadow gliding across the jagged grass.

"I hope Enrique still comes tomorrow," he said as he sat down in the Buick, "hate for the lawn to get shaggy." He slipped the key in the ignition and twisted it. The engine cranked loudly, jabbering like a hateful old woman. The motor fired, the pistons hammered, and the car quieted to a soothing hum.

After ten minutes, Cole felt drowsy. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket, flipped it open, and dialed 911 with gnarled and stained fingers.

A woman answered the phone and asked Cole about the nature of his emergency.

"Georgette Brewster is dead at fourteen ninety-three Webster Road. This is the longest she’s been quiet in sixty-three years." Cole jabbed the power button on his phone and tossed it on the floor. The phone bounced off the end of the garden hose and disappeared under the seat.

Webster Road. Georgette’s shrewish twin sister Elverna lived there. By the time the police and paramedics calmed Elverna down and got Cole’s real address, the carbon monoxide would have done its job.

Cole slouched on the worn bench seat and inhaled deeply. The warmth and silence inside the car soothed him, and in a few moments he was snoring. Outside, lavender skeins of smoke twisted around the loose and blood coated duct tape wrapped around the exhaust pipe. Under Cole's feet, his cell phone rang, vibrating against the yellow spray nozzle clogging the end of the garden hose.  Cole didn't hear it. He hadn't slept this soundly in years.

 

Final Affairs  by Seth Lawhorn 

Martin stood at the window in front of his cubicle and gazed down at the cars clogging Madison Avenue. Taxis, school buses, delivery trucks. Going to work, going to school, going nowhere. A hotdog vendor served breakfast on a bun to a businessman as a group of shoppers left the early morning sale at Macy’s.

Beside him, Sophie sipped her coffee. Turning, he opened his mouth to say something, bit his lip, and returned to staring out the window. Sophie’s cheeks plumped as she grinned into her vintage Holiday Inn coffee mug. He flared his nostrils, inhaling her perfume: citrus and nutmeg.

Martin exercised his accounting skills, calculating how much time needed to pass before they would shed their morning timidity and start flirting in earnest. Three hours, he thought. Lunchtime. At noon Martin would cross the accounting department, stand in front of Sophie’s desk, and stammer an invitation to lunch just as he always did. And as she did every day, Sophie would smile, shrug, and nod. After a shared lunch, a shared booth, a shared plate of fried appetizers, they would regain enough confidence in their mutual attraction to pursue the flirtation that colored their afternoons. The remainder of the day would pass in a flurry of secret smiles and perhaps culminate in a furtive hand clasp in the parking garage.

Sophie shifted her hips, pressing her arm against his and Martin’s skin seemed to ignite. This was an unprecedented tease for so early in the day. Martin concluded that this would be a good day for flirting.

"Emerson asked me to go to lunch with him today," said Sophie. "He’s been fearless since he got the new hairpiece."

Martin recoiled as if he’d been slapped. Too late, he tried to hide the jealousy on his face. Emerson. Yesterday Emerson had invited himself to lunch with Martin and Sophie, destroying the romantic momentum of the morning. The afternoon had past in an awkward fog that had clung to Martin all the way home.

Martin started to stutter a response when a silver light flashed in the sky. He glanced out the window and saw a red-orange horizon racing toward them through the valley of skyscrapers.

Sophie gasped and dropped her coffee mug. It fell in slow motion.

Martin’s brain scrambled to process the distance and speed of the roiling conflagration charging down Madison Avenue. He tallied the totals and finished the last math equation of his life.

Seven seconds, he though after two seconds had already passed.

In his peripheral vision, Martin saw two delivery trucks on the street below collide and press a bike courier between them like a wildflower in the pages of a book. The cars, buses, and trucks compressed into a wave of steel reversing down the one-way street. The pedestrians flailed their legs at a snail’s pace, their shopping bags and briefcases scattered behind them. The hotdog vendor refused to abandon his cart, struggling to flee with it.

Sophie’s mug hit the floor, ejecting hot coffee on her bare legs. Martin turned and looked into her eyes. Her lips parted. Confusion and fear hung on her face. She reached for him, lacing her arms around his waist. Martin shivered at her touch and embraced her, pressed her body against his and kissed her. Her lips tasted like cheap coffee.

The whole world seemed bound up in the space between them, where her breasts pressed against his pounding heart. The temperature in the office soared. Martin felt droplets of sweat blossomed across Sophie’s pale skin. He clutched her tighter, trying to block out the roaring cacophony in the street and the incandescent glare of builds bursting into flames. Someone behind him screamed, distracting him. It sounded like Emerson. Emerson. Trying to destroy this last romantic moment, this brief consummation of their relationship. Martin focused only on Sophie, only on her trembling body.

Beneath their feet, the building shuddered. A gold-toned reflection of the burning apocalypse outside shimmered on Martin’s wedding band. How often, he wondered, had he lay awake listening to Molly snoring beside him and fantasized about feeling Sophie’s sweating body pressed against his.

The window shattered, belching like a blast furnace. Sophie’s hair ignited, the tears evaporated on her cheek. Martin’s shirt blazed as the seventh second ticked away.

But Martin’s math was faulty. He was granted an unexpected eighth second, just enough time to wonder where is Molly now? Is she alone? Is she afraid?

He was then consumed by a wave of destruction slightly cooler than the shame flaring in his heart.

 

All Content © Seth Lawhorn 2011