fiction by Michael Warne
. The steady rumble of the bus engine. Sitting in the back, he touches her knee with his fingertips, lightly traces half-circles up her leg, a swirling line, barely touching, an endless S, skin so much more sensitive between the ghostly touches.
. She sweeps his hand away and he grabs her thigh. She half-smiles, picks up his hand with her hand, and drops it in his lap with a head-cocked-forward, crinkle-nosed full smile. She gets up and walks toward the exit, pushes the button to let the driver know she’s leaving at the next stop.
. He follows her, stands across from her beside the back exit doors. She stares downward, and he leans forward to enter her view. He tilts his head and smiles, purses his lips and fills his cheeks with air, looks at her with wide eyes like a fish.
. It works, she laughs. She looks at him, fully upright. From here it’s impossible to say what she sees is anything more than a daydream. Her eyes wide and unawake, the world isn’t as it seems. Pupils in denial.
. He takes her hand. She places one of hers on his chest. A moment of hesitation. He leads her out anyway.
. He leads her, loosely enough for her to pull away, but she doesn’t. She follows him around the block, around the corner. He swings her into his arms, then pulls her into a bookstore.
. She touches the spines, one hand in his hand, one hand grazing her past loves. Thorman, Thorndike, Theodore. She remembers when she first fell in love, fifth grade with Theo Albaran—the cutest blonde she’d ever met. She still hasn’t met anyone cuter. Michel, Michaela, Micah. She glances at the spine of a worn brown and green dog-eared copy of The Ladybugs in Your Eyes, remembers Michael Huntington, how he broke her heart when she walked in on him during junior prom. She’d never dared wander into the first floor girl’s washroom again. Cmerzci, Clester, Clements. She knows a gray series of books by touch, feels the embossed trails along one book’s cover, and then another’s back and remembers Clementine. Summer before sophomore year of college, book after book of free-verse stories. Gifts from trees. Lessons from fallen leaves.
. He pulls her still.
. She brings him to the counter after kissing and quietly convincing. A kiss and a number of nudges, and she hands the clerk a red book of poetry.
. The cashier scans it with his eyes then lets her resume holding it to her chest. The boy beside her brings out his wallet, takes out a piece of paper as another falls out. The girl grabs the paper as the boy pays. She looks at it and leaves. He chases after her.
. Quick-walking through a park, she’s crying. She tears the paper, lets pieces fall to the ground. She starts from the left. 604-8 A tear falls along with it. 12-44 Another. 59 C She wipes her right eye. in Her left one. dy The last piece falls as she hurries on.
. He finds her at a park bench. As soon as she sees him she brings her brows forward, scrunches her chin and nose. Tries to twist the red book in her hands. She’s so mad she’s speechless.
. She decides to rip the pages out, one by one, letting them fall from her hands into a garbage can beside her. The tearing feels good. A rage with a direction, down and away and into a black hole.
. He sits beside her, waits until she’s done.
. She’s nearly gone all the way to the back cover when she sighs and gives up. He turns his head and hands her a flower.
. She turns her head away and gets up.
. He follows, takes her hand and then her other.
. She shakes her head, shakes her hands away from his, and sways away from him, each step coming with a second of hesitation, then a broad step away from him, an alternation of feet being swept toward the sunset.
. He tries to make a sound, but can’t find his voice.
. Instead, he walks backward toward the sunrise.
. Without words she can feel him beckon.
. She begins to walk, eyes turned away.
. She stares at the concrete and thinks and thinks and thinks.
. And he stands in the distance, sinking into himself. He watches her from half a park away, beside a tree, beside the line between green and city-grey.
. She stops in the middle of the grass field, and looks back.