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Word Riot Inc.: Kicking Small Press Into High Gear
Short Stories

The Breakfast Table by Travis Vick

Has four legs, like an animal, or any other table, most of them; this breakfast table. It has an oak top, lacquered lightly by the hand of a stranger, and stands in the corner of the kitchen, pressed against a window, with two chairs tucked on opposite sides. In the summer, a vase of lilacs sits in the center. In autumn, a bowl of pinecones. Outside the window, the view from the breakfast table: their lawn in any season; a shelterbelt of pines; their black lab, lying in tufts of overgrown buffalo grass, chews on its chain; slabs of bright blue sky; and, somewhere, a knot of holly and mud—the tucked away nest of a thrush.

On the breakfast table, amongst the plates of poached eggs, sausage links, and toasted rye bread; her naked ass. His hands, for grip, cuff the corners of the table. With each thrust, another set of ripples spreads through the orange juice, blind, like a soon to be lost memory, in the very moment of its Omni-directional expansion and eventual trailing away. Quiet sex, in the beginning of morning: His & Her pursed lips. And the unconscious repression of her pleasure in the cave of her mouth: a noise rushes up from her throat, only to rattle against the bindings of her teeth.

While he is away, she eats standing up at the breakfast table, and watches the black lab on the chain. It has cracked more than a dozen of its teeth on the metal links. Many of them crushed completely. It must swallow its teeth, they assume. As she watches, eating a grapefruit with her fingers, it chews at the chain again.

Often, at the breakfast table, he reads a magazine from one of his many subscriptions. After a long article, he’ll lean across the table and open the window. Whenever this happens, it’s best if the blinds are unbound, so that the wind, clueless of human grief as it is, may work its way through their lofty protection. And often, when this happens, he’ll look out the window and think of himself as another person. Often, he’ll be walking beneath an umbrella in a foreign country, down some unrecognizable street, one which he can’t identify; or he’s standing on the stern of a fishing boat, one just recently bound by a rope, dark and wet from the sea, to an ancient dock in the Mediterranean, his body slowly rocking, coursing, in a semi-circle of moonlight, calming him to the point that he even forgets what he’s forgotten, and it’s all real, and actually moving, alive within the maternal ebb of the ocean; or he’s in another home, a shack in a forest, and never knew his own life: his job or wardrobe or wife, as he lies back in a cold, twin-sized bed, which keeps only himself, and the darkness, and the quiet; or he’s just a ghost, dancing in the hallways of his home as his wife stumbles through, drunk and mourning, with his absence everywhere, and then counting the strands of her hair as she does her single load of laundry for the week, consisting of only her nightgown, the jogging pants and old t-shirt of his that she relaxes in while spending her evenings at home, her seven pairs of flesh-toned underwear, and work uniform, for the job she had to find after his passing in order to both support and occupy herself—all the while at the breakfast table.

She leans against the table in a blue dress. It’s strapless and short. Her tan thighs stream from its low cut like twin waterfalls. She’s made up. Her hair stretches back tightly into an eloquent bun. The room’s become her perfume, Love Spell; and she wears no jewelry, outside a pair of bright earrings. The phone’s cradled between her cheek and bare shoulder.

‘No. He’s visiting his parents in Houston.’

‘Oh, his father’s sick and we figured it’d be best if he went alone this time.’

‘No, I’ll be fine.’

‘Really, I have ways to keep myself busy without him, you know.’

‘Right now? I’m just sitting in the living room, watching a movie.’

‘No, that’s okay, don’t bother. I’ll probably just turn in early.’

‘I know, it’s boring, but you know how it is when you’re married.’

‘You don’t often have your bed to yourself.’

A quick brunch of granola and soymilk. Her hair falls awkwardly, in dark arching strands, against the vanquishing stiffness of the yesterday’s hairspray. She smells of smoke and Rosolio, and wears an old t-shirt of his over a thong. There’s no sun through the window. ‘Cloud cover all throughout the day today,’ a weatherman in a bowtie says on a muted television in the living room. ‘Not much chance for rain, just a herd of clouds, rolling through and through.’ No sun, and already the feeling of a new night on the other side of the world seems ready to come on; or the same night, last night, now gone: her night, currently expending itself on another continent of strangers, wasting away against their countless closed doors, behind which other wives, in their own tight dresses or sleeping gowns, rotate their lives upon the axes of their husbands, either tucked in bed or in dark eye shadow, reading or out alone, as they become suddenly awake or aware to the night—the one which had harbored (only hours ago) the guiltless self-bereavement of her own dignity, as she allowed herself to be bent over, slapped, bitten, violated, and roughly hauled around a room by two strange men at the Omni hotel; until the night itself pulled vertically away from her, up beyond the reaches of the rising sun, as she walked barefoot, and still surprisingly guiltless, through the parking lot to her car—her night, which comes now to them, those strangers, after engulfing the unseen and unknown world around them in the time span of just another day, making it always remarkable as it appears once more, in both a natural and phantasmagorical tone of silence so reflective of the darkened waters, right then pooling, larger and larger, in their minds beneath the term of ‘consciousness,’ that it becomes too honest to mention, or even imagine at length, in a marital bed. Especially considering how both of them—the night and their husbands—are so suddenly there, atop of them.

His heart breaks whenever she replaces the vase holding the lilacs with the bowl of dead pinecones. He never sees her collect the pinecones, and so the bowl always strikes the breakfast table in the essence of an unexpected period, debunking the summer in mid-sentence. And now, in front of his plate of diced potatoes and bacon, the pinecones appear, and the sight of them makes him turn toward the window: where the world, all at once, has diluted, has lost a shade of vibrancy, and sags, seemingly prepared to give in and fall, carelessly, at any moment persistent enough to wait; and within it the black lab, once more chewing on its chain, shivers—either from a quick chill, stretching onto it from within the stomach of the pines, or from another cracking of its teeth—then pauses and looks up, the chain still in its mouth, begging, it seemed to him, for some unknown thing.

It’s clear, she thinks, sitting in front of her husband at the breakfast table: her love, with her guilt, is gone. While trying to further understand this, she quietly watches her husband pick as he picks at his plate of potatoes and cyclically eyes the pinecones and then the window, even while absently placing a single die into his mouth every minute or so, chewing on it for some unnecessary amount of time, as if it were petrified, before swallowing it with an almost invisible movement of his throat, as if really he’d only let it slide on its own regard past the rear of his tongue, into his body. Watching him, she tries to convince herself of a decision, any decision: stay or go, scream or move, turn or fall; but only comes to the conclusion of reaching across the table, grabbing a handful of his potatoes, and then shoving them into her mouth. They’re overcooked and cold. For a long time, she chews them.

For no reason, even to himself, he buys a blue tablecloth for the breakfast table. The house is empty as he carries it inside under his arm. He tears away the plastic covering and feels the cloth’s texture with his thumbs, his cheek. Then, leaving the tablecloth on the counter, he walks over to the breakfast table and takes the bowl of pinecones into his hands. Never, he thinks, have I seen her gather them. He calls her name through the house, and listens as his voice falls away and the quiet resumes. Never, he thinks, have I known what inclines her to the end of summer. Where is she even now, he thinks, but only for a moment, before tossing the bowl and her pinecones into the direction of the trashcan, missing altogether, and yet is unable to care enough to even look down to the scattered porcelain on the ground around him at the sound of the break—because, already, he is in the process of holding the tablecloth up to his chin and letting it drape to its full length, hiding his body, before flapping it, out and upward, in one smooth movement above the breakfast table, and noticing during this, with an almost violent hesitation, the unstoppable second in which the tablecloth seemed to hover, in his raised hands, like a summer sky.

After sweeping up the porcelain, she gets on her knees and picks up the pinecones, then sets them in a pile on the breakfast table, and begins to open the window with the intention of tossing them out, but, as she spreads the blinds and then locks her fingers beneath the window’s lip, she notices the black lab outside, nosing at its empty food bowl in the grass. So instead, she moves away from the window, grabs two cans of soft food from the pantry—a recommendation from the vet due to the deterioration of almost all the dog’s teeth—opens them with the electric can-opener, and walks out to where the dog is chained. The morning is ending. Still, dew rolls onto her toes as she walks. She takes his food bowl outside the chain’s reach and shovels the soft food into it with a spoon. But, when she looks to the dog again, holding the bowl in her hands, it’s lying down, chewing on the chain. She walks to him, sets the bowl down, calls him, whistles, and pats her thighs; but the dog stays, holding the chain betweens its front paws for stability while it chews. Irritated, she takes up the bowl again and walks over to the dog, yanks the chain from its mouth and shoves its nose into the food. The dog jerks its head back and looks up at her, letting its tongue loll from its mouth spreading then into a grin of confusion, and revealing the blood pulsing from its naked gums. At the sight of it, she cups her hands over her mouth and nose, and looks away, to the shelterbelt of pines, then the window, where her husband stands shirtless at the breakfast table, sad and stooped, looking at the pinecones—anything—it can’t mean anything, they think.

Screen shot 2014-01-16 at 9.02.38 PMAbout the author:

Travis Vick is currently pursuing his MFA down many long and dark hallways. His work is forthcoming this spring in such places as H_NGM_N, Booth, Nano Fiction, and many others. He lives in Texas.

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