Outside the café where they’d eaten lunch, he decisively turned to her and asked what color were her daughter’s eyes—her daughter was so observant, it was important to know what her eyes looked like. Her stomach tightened inside her dress, thin fabric wafting in the breeze. So he believed everything she’d said about her daughter, all the stories. He was interested in the girl he’d never seen.
A smell rose from the stagnant river, like laundry detergent, sickly sweet cherry jello, rusting pipes. The pipes of her had rusted long ago: that was how she explained her lack of children. Like most things in life, it wasn’t her fault but she blamed herself nevertheless. She’d always been daring, taking risks that others wouldn’t. Even lately, she drank unfiltered water in crumbling cities in the Rust Belt where she also walked streets at night alone, a large expensive leather purse hanging from her shoulder.
The wind shifted and the odors died as if they’d never been. He placed his warm hand on her chilly arm and she could tell he wanted her to invite him over, to the lovely little teal green cottage at the end of the beach that she’d told him so much about, where lived, too, a white cat, the blue parakeet with a yellow breast, her girl of seven. She liked stories of colorful harmony. If you can tell any story—and we all tell stories—why not tell one that pleased you?
He rubbed the heel of his hand over her arm, raising the fine hairs to stand golden in the light. She thought of all the efforts gathered to save the charismatic species while the unpopular creatures, like the obscure fairy shrimp that did nothing but lie in the mud, were ignored. She thanked him for lunch and imagined as she crossed the parking lot to her truck a daughter looking out the window at home, waiting for her arrival, for the crunch of her truck tires pulling up over the broken-shelled drive beside the cottage. She imagined the heart-breaking slope of the girl’s nose, the gaps in her smile from her missing baby teeth.
Peg Alford Pursell is the author of Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow, a book of hybrid prose featured in Poets & Writers magazine’s 5 over 50 and the 2017 INDIES Book of the year for Literary Fiction. Her next book, A GIRL GOES INTO THE FOREST, will be published by Dzanc Books in 2019. Her work has been published in the Scoundrel Time, The Cortland Review, Permafrost, and others. She directs Why There Are Words, a national reading series, and WTAW Press, an independent publisher of literary books.