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Memphis Apartment, Downtown Poplar and Vine
by Sean Lovelace

Tympanum in the next room, the kitchen: tick, tick, tick. Something dripping, or summing the seconds remaining. Why is my breath a roiling cloud? Why am I shivering? Wake up this October morning to a Jack-o-Lantern window, gaping maw, and the contents of my refrigerator spilled onto the floor. I don't even see any food missing, just all flung out/ruptured like a retina: kaleidoscopic nacho grease, onion splinters and French fries, crumpled cans of crying beer. Is that milk? I don't drink milk. All of my ice cream and sour cream and any other creamy/smooth thing I had going all melted and gone. As in spoiled. I mean curdled, written wrong like words, crazy notions. Friend of mine holds this idea you can decipher a person's soul by the contents of their refrigerator, and now my shelves are empty. But I don't feel empty, just stirred. Tossed in a particular fashion onto the floor. I know this handiwork. I can translate. A certain type of Sara, no doubt. And, yes, I'll admit, a hungering.


An incredibly obese black woman just passed my front step—this rolling walk, waves and echoes of shimmering motion—and looked me right in the face, lifted her chin, and shouted out, "I got what you want, baby!"

She seemed comfortable, the walker and the walk the same.

I went inside and tried to write a poem on a napkin but it came out ridiculous and sad, something forced through a plastic mold, sold at discount stores, bought by impulse and not even certain why. Basically a piece of shit. I ate some corn chips covered in habanera sauce; that was better. The heat. Wiped my greasy hands with the poem and tossed it into the garbage. Then I disobeyed one of my rules, grabbing a jug of red wine and pouring a coffee mug full. It is the rule of never drinking before noon. I suppose more a guideline than a rule. What is the difference? But anyway, I broke it.


I hadn't seen Sara for a week and then she just appears like a summer rain and says the guy next door was delivering pizza last night and someone walked up and shot him, shot him dead, and took his two dollars—I shit you not; he had exactly two dollars—and she said I'm trying to do something for Memphis, I care about Memphis, but this kind of thing is why all the white people live in these big-ass rings around the city, and the center of the city all collapsing like a pierced balloon, and I'm not even sure why I ride the bus anymore, I do it as some statement when I could just take my car to work, and I'm not riding the bus, fuck the bus, not riding the bus (shaking and sobbing now) and we went inside and smoked some weed and cheap wine and yes we had sex and moments later I'm lying there, feeling badly, or should I say empty, and wondering about sex while crying, wondering if she only had sex because death was nearby, death right there crouching, but maybe those thoughts were the marijuana and that I think too much and ruin things by thinking too much and how can you float above yourself and do the thing, I mean as in be present, while you are far away?


One of the best times when the all the news saying remain indoors and drink water all day long and the way you could fry an egg on the sidewalk, it was that hot, and I'm thinking metaphor or urban legend or the way the media machine is always trying to turn up the volume and keep us all in fevers and chills of fright, but damned if we didn't get an egg and crack it on the sidewalk and stand there holding hands under tulip poplars listening to that egg pop, sizzle, and fry.


The last day was when I came home and the door kicked in and there goes my laptop, microwave, and aquarium (who the fuck steals a man's guppies?). I remember how the cops showed up an afternoon later and didn't write down a word I said. One of them, a thin woman, kept up this reedy laughing. She said, "You left a computer, up in here?!"

The second cop, this huge man with a head like a recliner, said, "I wouldn't take this shit. I-would-not-take-it."

Face scrunched, bared yellow teeth, he seemed genuinely angry, which I found as strange. Then he told me to go to Circuit City and dig a TV or computer box out of their dumpster and to place that empty box on my front porch.

"They see that box, they come right back," he told me. "I mean tonight. It's only one dude, I can tell you that. You get in that closet there with a gun, and it's over, goodbye. That's how I'd do it."

My mind now actually thinking, "Seriously?"

Thinking, "This is Memphis. I try to tell people, but this is it right here, a police officer instructing on the proper technique for murdering a petty thief."

The female cop cackled again. "Hell," she said. "We'll come by and pick up the body for you, no problem. Be doing us a favor."

They handed me a pink sheet of paper. Said they'd be sure looking for that aquarium. And then they were gone.

I meant to tell you this story somehow different, but I have lost my thread, or unraveled it along an empty floor, a thin unspooling, coiled and recoiled and snagging on itself, the type where you get your hands caught in it but you can't really see, only feel it like a strand of long hair...Where is it?

I just remember closing the door, the broken lock jangling in the broken jamb. My fingers tingling, thinking, "I've got to tell someone about this one" and I dug into my pocket, and flipped open the phone, and then shut the phone and held it loosely in my hand, because who was I going to call first, whose number, whose voice, when I knew it was no longer, no longer there, in that place—it was gone.

About the author:
Sean Lovelace has a collection of flash fiction published by Rose Metal Press (HOW SOME PEOPLE LIKE THEIR EGGS). He likes to run beer and drink marathons. He blogs at I guess that's about it.

© 2011 Word Riot

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