I would like to offer my submission for publication in the fall issue of Record Magazine. It is a 1,300-word short fiction piece called "Love Story".
Shawn R. Gaines
“I wish I could sleep forever,” she used to tell him, with a giggle and a yawn, as she’d roll back over in bed, her face hanging off the queen mattress that flowed over the bed frame toward the serrated brown cabinet.
He’d flop closer to her, like a drying perch, and spoon her naked back. Leaning into her freckled cheek, he’d assert, “No, you don’t.”
She would potato bug her way farther into the corner of the bed and nod. “Yes, I do.”
“You’d be dead, Laura,” he would say. “Sleeping forever equals dead.”
She would giggle again and say something about how wonderful sleep is, but by that time he’d usually start thinking about something else: making lists of his day, wondering if the automatic percolator started doing its job, wondering why he can’t do that potato bug thing.
Sometimes he looked at her and he wanted to shape her, mold her like warm Play-Doh into the same ignorant potato bug he was equally amused, charmed and disgusted by. Instead, on one particular day, he laid on his side of the bed, staring at the blank wall beside his window, waiting for her to wake up, throw on her spaghetti strap jersey tee with the pink lining, and suggest something, anything. A run. A shower. More sleep. Whatever guidance she offered. He didn’t care enough to devise his own path for the day, and the solid line he could trace down the edge of her neck didn’t lead anywhere anymore.
It was 9:00 a.m. with daylight savings when he shook her and she didn’t budge. He shook her again, but her hard shell never flinched and she remained stagnant.
“Stop it, Laura,” Alex said, adding a sigh and a yawn. “Stop it. I’m not taking your parents to brunch today by myself.”
Another shake and Alex knew something was wrong.
Laura knew Alex before Alex knew Laura, through a friend mostly: that friend everybody seems to know but nobody seems to mention in normal conversation. They actually went on three dates before their mutual relationship was revealed. He had known the friend from long pot-fueled nights with a towel laid across the apartment door crack and an empty six-pack of Great Lakes Burning River. She had known the friend from her college years, in some school organization where they either built stuff or fed starving children, not that Laura cared; resumes aren’t built which organizations, but how many you’re in.
Laura saw Alex in a photo at the friend’s house. He had beer dripping down his face, as if someone just told a hilarious joke while Alex’s mouth was numb from Novocain. Laura later discovered that was the case—Alex’s poor choice of Heineken after a dental extraction. The photo wasn’t flattering, and Alex was barely visible behind the crowd of loud, open mouths like a trout frat party, but Laura saw sincere laughter in the sea of drunkards and it lured her in.
She slept on his image a few nights, imagining what he might look or sound like, even thinking about him once while she cleaned herself in the shower, gently grazing her breasts. Eventually, the image left and she returned to curling around her down comforter, three hundred thread count lover in her insect nest.
A month later at a lost bar, off the main street where the beer selection is deep, the music selection is anything but sensical and nobody dances, Laura saw Alex and ignored him. She recognized him more from the photo than her recreated fantasy, but her idolization convinced her that he would only disappoint. They left at the same time, however, and as she fell out of the doorway with a throat of Three Floyds, he offered to help her up while she yelled surly things and gave him her number.
She never understood the poster of elephants hanging above his bed in his old green bedroom, even after asking him. There were a series of green and yellow lines, roaming in paths along the sides in the form of a bottle outline and overlapping at five segments that were actual elephant photos—one clearly in an African safari, three in the zoo and one that might’ve been a Looney Tunes character, probably with a lateral lisp.
“Do you like elephants?” she asked.
He raised an eyebrow, mostly because he was inside of her, near orgasm. “What? No.”
Her neck was awkwardly titled backwards, as she rested on bottom, staring back at the wall behind her where the poster hung. He tried to start up again, but her concern was only the yellow lines and the Hopper-esque combination of charcoal outlines and realism. “Did you take those photos? Of the elephants?” asked Laura.
“Fuck? What? The elephants?” He nearly raised his voice, exiting her and tossing his limp body onto the bed alongside her.
Laura knew that was it. She had been with men before who responded angrily, once violently, to her attention altercations and twice she never saw them again, without a word or tear indicating a completion. She almost smiled this time, knowing it would be over: another predictable fall line without an opportunity of return.
“I think I found it at a thrift store by work. I just wanted the frame,” Alex said; Laura stopped smiling. “But then I figured it would be a perfect discussion piece mid-fuck.”
Laura unraveled and faced Alex, who smiled, laughed, and shut his eyes.
Now Laura’s eyes were shut, facing away, and Alex shook her again, reliving his smoky memories of the stoner parties with their mutual friend and remembering that he actually found the elephant picture outside the friend’s house and stole it away because he was too fucked up to realize the photos were glued to the glass.
Alex grabbed his cell phone and let his bare feet flop onto the cold carpet around their bed. He started dialing Laura’s parents, but hung up after one ring and called for an ambulance instead. He incomprehensibly screamed something about her not moving and the emergency services assistant said an ambulance was on its way.
He wondered if he should lift her and wished she was curled back up in an easily toted ball and, as he stared, his spittle dripped to his chin, sans beer, and he reached for the dresser where he kept a couple joints and he lit the first one up like spiced incense and toked and sat back along the bed, tapping his frozen feet and waiting and waiting and the siren whirled loud enough to make his heart skip a beat and Laura coughed.
“Fuck,” she whispered, her voice strained, her throat a colander. “Shit. Did I..?”
Alex opened his mouth to finish her sentence and point out that she passed out, probably from dehydration or something and then assure her she’s okay and that the paramedics are on their way just in case, but he didn’t say any of it. Instead he stroked backwards and fell down, aligning their rested heads on the couch, and thought long and hard about cradling her.
The paramedics knocked and screamed for someone to open the door, help was here. “Where do you think your parents want to go?” he asked.
Laura shrugged. “You know how they are.”
Alex and Laura heard their front door slam to the wooden floor as the paramedics rushed in below them, sweeping the hinges off the barriers that stood in their way.