Home Like a Shadow | Linda Boroff | The Piltdown Review

Home Like a Shadow

Home Like a Shadow

“I was born here,” Cliff answers. “Nobody moves here.”

We are racing through the Kettleman Hills, running late for his mother’s birthday dinner and heading for trouble at eighty miles per hour. I clench my teeth as the parched, shoulderless curves yank the Camaro through them by sheer centrifugal force, hot asphalt uncoiling before us like a whip. The sky is relentlessly blue, only fading a little at the eastern horizon. Below, the earth is platted into odd geometrical shapes: scalene triangles and parallelograms of umber, khaki, and ochre.

“What is it they grow out here again?”

“Cotton wheat alfalfa.”

“You know,” I say, clutching the dashboard, “those are the first words you’ve used that weren’t negative.”

“Rattlesnakes.” But he grins. Alton has been an easy place for Cliff to leave, but not to stay away from. As I scan the landscape, the word “empty” keeps coming to mind, but I have been taught that empty refers only to the imagination of the observer, never to the reality.

A jet swoops into view, flying low, reflecting the sun like a needle in the eye. Cliff jerks his head left. “Lemoore Naval Air Station. Back in high school, I used to work there summers tending the runways. Temperature out on the blacktop’d hit about one-forty.” An English major drunk on Keats and Virginia Woolf, I am trying to envision this place as a sort of boondocks Brigadoon, but it seems more hellish by the minute.

“It has its own harsh beauty,” I try.

“And you’ve read a lot of books.” But a moment later, he says, “In the spring, these hills turn into a carpet of flowers overnight. Golden poppies and blue lupine.” I lean my head against him. “Gone as fast as they came.”

His shoulder is reassuringly hard and warm beneath my cheek. Not that I’m worried about meeting his family; I know by now that I am not the type of girl that parents approve of. I don’t even take it personally anymore. “Slinky,” one mother had sniffed, as if that were something bad. Anyway, what Cliff and I have, no parent can get between. Not yet.

The town of Alton was built by Standard Oil from the ground up, Cliff tells me, back when the San Joaquin Valley was rumored to be floating on a sea of crude. Once the truth became known, the company pulled out, leaving behind a showcase high school that the town never grew into and a smattering of oil pumps that go on living in death.

These broad-beaked, seesawing contraptions remind me at first of toy birds. But the English major soon conjures each one hosting a luckless spirit, an alcoholic perhaps, condemned to suck away at dry earth until some sin has been expiated, as in Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf.” One day, the souls would fly free at last, soaring up out of the pumps as white doves to disappear into that boundless sky.

You don’t really enter Alton; you simply notice the ramshackle houses getting closer together. Piles of sunbleached lumber and crusted paint cans lie about in patchy, weedy yards, as if people had once hoped to renew their lives, but gave up. I see battered green fiberglass awnings, faded lawn flamingos, and overgrown succulents in cracked terracotta tubs. One street boasts a veneer of prosperity: “Beverly Hills,” Cliff scoffs. But most homes have that timeless look of American rural poverty, with their weathered, splintery siding and disintegrating window frames, a crate stuck under the front door as a step.

Suddenly, I ache for him: beneath his lanky, cynical poise, preppy wardrobe, spotless car, and neat file of law school applications lies this sad origin.

And I bite back an impulse to confess that my own family is probably poorer than half the people living in these shacks, only less honest about it; shoring up a middle-class façade with overextended credit cards and grudging loans from relatives.

When I met Cliff on a blind date, I had finessed my life story with carefully crafted fictions: my father’s sporadic employment and frequent absences became an executive career path; my mother’s clerkship in a toy store an escape from bourgeois boredom. Since I started college, no relationship has ever lasted long enough to reach a day of reckoning.

We grind slowly down the unpaved main street to minimize the dust cloud. “There’s Sam ’n Eileen!” Cliff waves to an elderly couple who have stopped gardening to watch us pass, heads on a slow swivel, eyes narrowed, mouths agape. “Sam taught history out at the high school, hell of a nice guy. It’s probably you they’re gawkin’ at, nothing personal.”

“Alton High, Home of the Rattlers,” I read, farther on. Outsize Doric columns are crowned by a stone frieze of warriors and naiads bracketing the etched phrase A POSSE AD ESSE. Cliff smiles at my polite, analytical frown. “It means ‘From the possible to the actual.’ No irony intended. Go ahead and laugh.”

At half past six, we pull up to a white one-story bungalow whose green shutters match the Astroturf lawn. We get out and stretch wearily, nerves vibrating. The heat is still fierce but starting to yield, the relieved earth giving off a mulchy aroma. The evening serenade of frogs, crickets, and swamp coolers is already getting underway. A wrought-iron banister, leaning askew, conducts us up three steps to a wooden door bearing many casual scuff marks and three serious, penetrating wounds.

“C’mon in.” But Cliff opens the door only enough for him to poke his head through and glance around. After a moment he throws it wide and pulls me after him.

Kitchen and living room share a single space. A table midway between them is set with white cloth, candles, and a mob of silverware. I note fake wood paneling and a giant TV. A brass-chained swag lamp with a tasseled, mustard-yellow shade hovers low over a gray sofa that seems to be composed entirely of stained, swollen cushions. The dingy carpet was once bright orange.

Two women at the stove turn and squeal with delight. “Cliff! You made it after all!” The older woman takes a quick puff from her cigarette, parks it on the edge of the sink, and runs in her high heels, leaking smoke, to grab him. Her kiss leaves a blot of hot pink lipstick on his flushed cheek. “I swear, you get handsomer every time I see you!” She gives Cliff a searching glance. “Where the hell you been?”

“Ran late. Auntie Verna, this is Meghan Wittman. Meghan, this here is my favorite naughty aunt.”

“Oh, get out, you big flirt.” Auntie Verna reaches across Cliff to hug me. I get a whiff of hard liquor, tobacco, and perfume before she holds me away for a better look. Her sharp blue eyes scan me so quickly that I can almost feel the wind of their passing.

“Ain’t she pretty, and will you look at all that hair! We used to call it raven’s wing back in my day.” She laughs, her teeth straight, but stained and missing molars. Her porous blonde hair is falling out of a twist barely confined by two plastic tortoiseshell daggers.

Cliff’s mother steps up behind Verna, and I realize instantly where Cliff got his looks.

“Meghan, my mom, Lillian.”

"Just call me Lili.” She pronounces it “Lee-Lee.” Her face is radiantly beautiful, but the fragile skin has been no match for the Central Valley sun. Her sea-mist eyes, wide and large, are Cliff’s, her symmetrical features translated into the masculine. Wavy hair, dyed honey blonde, hangs to her collarbone, tendrils curling around her damp forehead. She is thin beneath a translucent, full-skirted dress that matches her eyes. Something about her begs for consolation.

“Well, I’m glad he’s late, so there,” Lili says to Verna. She looks at me. “You kids missed the worst of the heat. Lord, we’ve had a scorcher.” She rubs the back of her hand across her forehead. “I couldn’t even bring myself to start dinner till an hour ago.”

“What’s wrong with the air conditioner?”

“Ask your father.” Verna and Cliff exchange a look.

“Why are you cooking on your birthday anyway, Mom?”

“I wanted to cook, I just don’t know why Paul set the time so early.”

“Because it’s when the hell people get hungry,” comes a low growl from the bedroom. Everybody freezes, only their eyes moving from one to the other.

“Paul’s okay once he eats,” Verna whispers to me and winks.

“So’s Godzilla,” says Cliff.

“Well I’m pleased to meet you at last, Meghan.” Lili squeezes my hand. “Now let me just get you a little somethin’ to take the dust out of your mouth.”

“And I’ll help Clifford here bring in your things.” Verna takes Cliff firmly by the arm, but he stands planted.

“What the hell’s his problem?” Cliff asks.

“Now, don’t you go starting up.”

“He’s the one starting up.”

“Well, he gets that way when he’s hungry, you oughta know by now.” Verna smiles helplessly at me, and I nod in commiseration, as if I too have been down this road countless times. “He was expectin’ you at two.”

“And I told the sonofabitch I couldn’t make it here by two.”

“It’s goddamn disrespectful of your mom, is what it is,” comes the growl again. “And they been at that bottle all day, and whose fault is that?” A stubby, graying man emerges from the bedroom in a blue striped seersucker bathrobe hanging half open to reveal a hairy, concave chest above an ample belly. His eyebrows are thick black bolts drawn together by his scowl. His beard is about three days old.

“Get some clothes on,” Cliff says without looking. In the silence, Lili leads me into the kitchen and points at a cardboard storage box on the counter.

“I got out my great-grandma’s bone china in honor of the occasion.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “I never did know what they mean by ‘bone,’ do you?” I shake my head, and she crinkles up her nose and laughs. “Kinda don’t want to think about it.”

“Well?” says Paul to the room at large. “Ain’t anybody gonna introduce me?”

“Not till you get dressed.” Cliff stares straight ahead.

“Aahhhh, it’s been hotter’n a goddamn furnace all day,” Paul mutters and turns back into his room. It takes him a couple of tries to pull the swollen door shut behind him.

“Happy birthday, Mom.” Cliff grabs Lili around the waist and swings her in a circle.

“My turn, my turn!” Verna capers like a little girl, loses her balance and sprawls across the counter. Lili reaches into the box, takes out an eggshell-thin teacup and pours about three fingers of bourbon into it from a half-gallon bottle.

“Happy birthday to me,” she sings, handing me the teacup and sipping from her own.

“Take it easy, Mom,” Cliff says. Lili holds her cup to the kitchen window, whose light illuminates a silver-wigged swain strumming his lyre to a lady reclining in a garden, a smitten spaniel at her feet.

“Enchanting,” I say, the bourbon burning a welcome path to my empty stomach.

“This set of porcelain was to be her wedding gift from her daddy. But she couldn’t marry, you see, on account of the Civil War. So he give it to her anyway as a kind of consolation prize for being an old maid.”

“Tell her what happened then,” says Cliff.

“Oh, she married all right and had . . .”

“Fourteen kids,” says Cliff.

“Fourteen that lived. And we descended from the second youngest son. He was supposed to be the best-lookin’ too.”

“That I believe,” I say. Verna gives my arm a squeeze as Lili sloshes more bourbon into my teacup.

“Gotta catch you up. Cliff?" Lili hands him a teacup, and Cliff takes it, raising his pinky with a simper. We women burst out laughing.

“Thanks anyway.” Cliff takes a glass from the cupboard and pours himself a stiff shot. He surveys the half-gallon bottle and raises an eyebrow.

“Oh, go on,” Verna says. “It’s a party.”

“Mom’s kin owned a lot of land back in Georgia till the Depression came along,” Cliff says, running tap water into his glass. “Lotta land.”

“You mean they hung onto it through the Civil War?” I say, “Sherman’s March and everything?”

“Yup. Worked it with their own hands after all the nigras left,” Verna says. “Just like in Gone with the Wind.”

“They had the biggest still in the county,” Cliff says, and Lili wheels on him.

“She don’t need to know that.”

“It’s no big deal, for God’s sake.” Cliff suddenly sniffs the air. “What’s burning?”

“Oh, land, I clean forgot.” Verna yanks open the oven to reveal a smoking cast-iron skillet of scorched yellow cornbread. “Ain’t too bad,” she says and picks up a flimsy potholder to seize the heavy pan, which dips in her wobbly grasp and falls, skidding. Lili screams.

“Goddamn it.” Cliff grabs a towel and hoists the pan onto the counter. We peer at a swelling red welt on Lili’s calf.

“Ain’t so bad,” Lili says, reaching for her drink.

“Stop it, Mom. We’ve got to get you treated.”

“On my birthday too,” says Lili and sips and whimpers.

“It’s nobody’s fault,” I say, feeling the bourbon.

“Get in the car,” says Cliff, taking his mother by the arm, but she jerks away.

“We’ve been cookin’ all day,” says Verna. “Your favorites, ham hocks ’n navy beans, chicken-fry steak, fresh tomatas, mashed potatas ’n gravy.”

“Hey,” says Cliff. “Whose birthday is it anyway?” Both ladies laugh.

“I done buttered it up,” says Lili. “See? It’ll be fine.”

“That’s not what you’re supposed to do with a burn, Mom.”

“Don’t go tellin’ your mother what to do,” snaps Verna. “Mr. Joe College. She’s been around a lot longer than you, and she knows a helluva lot more.” Cliff salutes his mother with his glass, and we all drink.

“Sally gonna make it?”

“No, Ken had to work,” says Lili.

“Sure he did.” Cliff turns to me. “Dad thinks Ken wasn’t good enough to marry my sister, which is true of course because Ken’s a lazy fuckup. But there’s no bad situation that Dad can’t make worse, so he treats Ken like shit . . .”

“Clifford! You stop that! What’s this girl gonna think of us, and she ain’t even ate yet? C’mon. Everything’s ready.” Lili begins dishing food onto the china plates with unsteady hands, spilling some.

Paul reenters, freshly shaved and dressed in a plaid sport coat, a yellow shirt, and a wine-colored tie, his hair slicked back. He catches my eye and nods once, curtly.

“Don’t we look fancy,” Verna teases.

Paul stoops to examine Lili’s leg. “What’d you go and do now?”

“Nothing you need to bother over,” Lili says.

Paul turns to Cliff. “You know what happens she gets to drinkin’ in the daytime. If you’d a got here when you was supposed to, she’d a ate somethin’ by now.” He continues past the kitchen, jingling car keys.

“And just where do you think you’re going?” Cliff says, moving between Paul and the door.

“Play a little cards.” Everybody stares. “I’ll be back for dinner.”

“Dinner’s now,” Lili wails. “Paul, you set your ass down.” But Paul continues toward the door, detouring around Cliff.

“You goddamn son of a bitch,” says Cliff.

Paul waves his hand dismissively. “You’ve already gone and ruint your mom’s birthday.”

“I’m here, Paul,” says Cliff. “You walk out that door, and you’re the one ruining Mom’s birthday.” Paul exits, slamming the door.

“It’s a sickness, honey.” Verna says as Lili sinks into a kitchen chair. Verna brings Lili her teacup, and we all look at the floor.

“He lost near two hundred last week at lowball,” Lili says. “I don’t know what to do with him.” Cliff starts for the door, cursing around the cigarette he is lighting.

“Don’t you go takin’ after him now,” says Verna. She and Lili run out the door, and I quickly refill my teacup before they reenter with Cliff in tow.

My head whirling pleasantly, I polish off a breaded steak, two pieces of the carboniferous cornbread, and a bowl of beans. Cliff, too, eats with appetite, but Verna, who is really drunk, just nibbles at her food and smokes, while Lili eats nothing at all.

“Mom, eat something. It’s a great meal.”

“Cliffer’,” Lili snaps, “you jus’ mind your own. Damn. Bidness.” Cliff answers with a little boy pout. Lili is not amused and turns away, shaking her head. Decades of disappointment drag her features down, revealing a woman who considers most of her life to have been a wrong turn.

“Where your folks from?” Verna asks me, her head bobbing.

“Los Angeles, by way of Chicago.”

“And whuz your dad do?”

“He’s a consultant in . . . systems management. For corporations.” I look straight into her eyes and smile. “My mom runs a children’s store.”

“Such a ’complish family. You Jews”—Verna leans forward and narrows her eyes—“are so damn smart! No wonder you own half the world.”

“Jews are just like everybody else, Auntie," says Cliff.

“They are not, Cliff,” Verna bristles. “How come you always contradic’ me? Whatever I say, you take the other side. Never fails.” Cliff gives me a helpless look, and I am beset with a powerful urge to giggle. I look down quickly and cough.

“I always wanted to go to college,” says Lili.

“You still can, Mom.”

“I’m tired of it, Cliffer’, doncha know? Goddamn tired.” Lili sways, the chair tipping, and Cliff stands up quickly.

“Let’s get you to bed.”

Verna too rises unsteadily. “I’ll be headin’ home then.”

“Hang on, Verna. I’ll give you a ride. Meghan can look after Mom.” He takes Verna by the arm and walks her out the door, leaving me alone with Lili, who again begins to topple.

“Here, let me help you,” I say. She grabs for my arms, and I pull her up off the chair and begin backing toward where I believe the bedrooms are. As I support her wilting weight down the hallway, I have one of those moments in which you suddenly become aware of the extreme oddness of existence, especially your own: the utter improbability and yet inevitability of being in this very place and time.

The bedroom is bright yellow. A set of veneered furniture in some Spanish motif nearly takes up the entire space: a gargantuan chest of drawers with vicious, riveted pewter corners and a headboard worthy of a conquistador. Overflowing ashtrays sit atop massive bed tables with heavy, pendulous drawer-pulls. All leftover space is filled with gimcracky figurines and framed crosstitch samplers yellowed with time or cigarette smoke: praying hands, a bonnet with blue ribbons held aloft by angels.

I arrange the frayed patchwork quilt as best I can and lay Lili on top; after a moment, I take off her shoes. I carry out the ashtrays and dump them in the kitchen trash. When I get back, she is asleep. Fighting an impulse to study her face, I return to the kitchen, clear the table, and wash the dishes, helping myself to more bourbon.

An hour later, I go into the living room, locate the remote deep amid the couch cushions, and turn on the television. At one A.M., I tiptoe down the hallway to the bedroom in which Cliff had put my overnight bag, change into a nightgown, and get into bed.

I am awakened in pitch black by shouting; then a shattering crash, and another.

“Go on,” Lili says, “do ’em all.” The crashes continue as I listen, blinking. A child waking into the nighttime battles of adults is an ancient, universal experience, and the dread too is universal and often justified. The dark is pregnant with menace, but also with anticipation. Shamming sleep, you are a clandestine audience, taking in unimaginably juicy and terrifying new information. Secrets are revealed, mysteries solved for better or worse, usually worse. And each uttered word holds the potential to change the landscape of life forever.

You debate whether to stay put in hopes of peaceful resolution, or to reveal yourself and demand explanations, exact concessions. Most of the time though, you lie immobile, fearful of diverting the conflict onto yourself. More than anything, you wish for morning, which lies galaxies away, across the sky.

I rise at last and crack open my door to peek out. The teacups lie in wicked curved shards all up and down the hallway, and as I watch, a couple of dinner plates sail past me and shatter against the opposite wall.

“What the hell’s going on?” Cliff comes pounding into view. I can see inside the parents’ bedroom across the hall, where Paul is now wielding a large sewing scissors from which dangles a dress, its sleeve nearly amputated.

Cliff twists the scissors out of Paul’s hand and hurls them onto the floor, as Lili shouts look out, look out, don’t don’t don’t! Paul gazes stupidly at Cliff, and they disappear from view, grappling. Lili rises, only to rebound, seconds later, onto the bed.

“You’re going to kill him,” she implores above the grunting and shuffling.

“Hope I do. Fucking old bastard.”

I leave my room and begin to cross the hallway before I remember the shards. Too late, I feel the bite under my left heel and blunder into Cliff and Paul rolling across the bedroom floor. They knock me over like a bowling pin, and I seize Cliff’s hands and try to pull them from around his father’s neck.

“Cliff, stop!”

“You’re going to kill him,” Lili shrieks again and sprawls across the bed, reaching down to grab for Cliff, who finally lets go of Paul.

Paul looks at us all with a blank, uncomprehending stare. “Try puttin’ a pillow under your ass,” he says to me.

Cliff shakes his head. “Go back to bed, Meghan,” he says. “Please?”

But instead, I grab the box of china and carry it into the living room. All of the cups are gone and most of the gold-bordered dinner plates, but a large soup tureen, the saucers, and the soup bowls are still intact. I notice a folded piece of paper between two saucers and draw it out. It is a letter, written in pencil, dated April 10, 1864. The paper, a ruled stationery, is soft and thin, the penmanship precise:

My Dearest Beatrice—
By this time, you must surely know of the esteem in which I hold you and always have done. The uncertainty of our present circumstances gives me no reason to presume that you would look favorably upon a proposal of marriage from one who may not even rely upon seeing another summer. Nevertheless, the thought of you is the sweetest joy to me, and I cannot rest without asking you to consider becoming my cherished wife directly these hostilities should cease.
I do not wish to burden you with my entreaties, but only desire selfishly to carry with me the knowledge that your eyes will soon see, and perhaps look kindly upon, this proposal from a heart that will be loyal and loving so long as it beats and through Eternity as well.
With Highest Regard,
JEREMY SINCLAIR, CAPT., C.S.A.

I stand holding the letter while time seems to swirl around me. For a moment I consider taking it with me, to keep it safe from Paul and Lili’s slicing and ripping; their need to annihilate. But I finally replace it and cover the box with a cushion. My foot is still bleeding, though the stains are nearly invisible on the blaring carpet. As I return to my room, Cliff holds up a slashed blouse for me to see.

“Lunatic.” He strides down the hall, slippers crunching on broken china, and returns moments later with a roll of large black plastic bags, a broom and dustpan. He rips off a bag, inflates it with a violent shake, and loads the clothes quickly into it. Then he sweeps up the china and throws it into the bag with the clothes. When he opens the back door, a rush of cool night air brings a sweet, mysterious fragrance. I hear him open a trash can outside, then jam the lid back down and reenter, locking the door behind him.

“Get some sleep, Meghan,” Cliff says. I get into bed, and the lights go off, and the house becomes very still. But I crave the cool outdoors so powerfully that I am soon driven to rise and tiptoe down the hall, open the back door, and glide into the yard.

Without ambient light, the sky is so thick with stars that they seemed almost smeared across the black vault: the true, primal sky. I stand rooted with astonishment and nearly scream when Cliff comes up behind and wraps his arms around me.

“C’mon.” He takes my hand and guides me across the yard to his car, where I stretch out in the back seat, still transfixed by the sky through the windows. “I can’t lie about them anymore,” Cliff says. “I had to let you see it.”

“It’s okay.”

“I know I don’t have the right to ask you to . . . be with me. After that.” He holds me so tightly I lose my breath; then he raises my nightgown and we make love, he stroking my hair and breathing my name over and over. “We don’t have to end up like them. I’d rather be dead. You and I, we can live.”

I awaken to painful brightness. The sun pouring through the flimsy blue curtains of my bedroom has ignited the walls, my limbs, the very air into flaring turquoise. Children’s shouts and morning sounds pour in through the open window.

I rise and stretch silently, holding the knowledge of Cliff’s and my deeper love gingerly, afraid to think about it, lest it vanish. Perhaps it is already gone. I grab my overnight bag and steal down the hallway to the bathroom, where I confront myself in the mirror like an old, lost friend. The reflection is not true and elongates my face like a Modigliani. My eyes, circled beneath, gaze back at me wide and conspiratorial. What the hell? I mouth at myself.

From a rusty nozzle, I turn on tepid water and brush my teeth amid moaning pipes. The shower is a yellowing plastic Durastall unit with holes punched for the head and handles. I quickly climb in, soaping with a slimy-soft bar that I find on the moldy rubber mat. I wash my hair with it too, and it turns my waist-length hair into a tangled heap, which I comb through as best I can. I hurriedly apply mascara and lipstick with shaking hands, then return quietly to my room and close the door. The blue conflagration has faded to pastel, but the brief morning coolness is already giving way to the heat, flexing its strength at nine A.M.

I make my bed, only now allowing myself to glance around. When I spot high school yearbooks, I seize one and page through it greedily for pictures of Cliff. I am not disappointed. He is on the flyleaf, crouched in a football uniform, then caught in a candid with gavel poised in a meeting of the student senate. Pages later, tuxedoed, he escorts a homecoming princess.

Outside my room, I hear stirring at last: Paul’s heavy tread and the click of a cigarette lighter. In the kitchen, the refrigerator door opens. “Pork chops ’n aiggs,” Paul sings out. Lili shuffles down the hallway, smoking.

“Meghan,” she calls, “coffee’s on. You sleep okay, honey?” I leave my bedroom and enter the kitchen at the same time as Cliff, still in his bathrobe. He cadges a cigarette from his father, who lights it for him solemnly. They exchange laconic looks and burst out laughing.

“I thought sure you was gonna raise that little Mexican bastard,” Paul says, smoking with relish.

“Nahhh, I figured he was holdin’ a full house.”

“Sometimes I think you do got half a brain in your head.” Paul guffaws, and Cliff chuckles. “Musta got it from me.” He winks at me, and I laugh along with everybody. “What you kids got goin’ today?”

“I thought I’d take Meghan over to meet Earl ’n Marie,” Cliff says, looking at me for the first time.

“Oh, that’ll be nice,” says Lili, beating eggs. “They was askin’ after you.” Paul fills a coffee mug, crosses the kitchen, and sets it in front of me.

“You take cream ’n sugar?”

“Black’s fine,” I say.

“That’s ma girl.” Paul shakes a Marlboro from his pack and offers it to me. After a moment’s hesitation, I pluck it out, and he lights it. “I hear things got a little lively here last night.” He winks. “You gotta get used to us.”

“Oh, I slept just fine,” I say. Cliff comes over and puts his arm around my shoulders, while deep within me something stirs, as if ready to rise and take wing at last.  

            
2018 Fall/Winter Fiction Contest—First Prize $500

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