Expiration

By Sonya Taaffe

She smokes your heart like a black-and-white cigarette, exhales a plume of smoke as milky as the seed she never let you give her; noir angles of streetlight slatted across her shoulders where the blinds sway and rattle, tambourine phantoms in the rainy wind. When she kisses you, the first and last time, cinders press from her tongue to yours. The graze of her hair makes your neck flinch.

You met her like all the others. Casual, the lift of a hand, the tilt of a smile, gestures as second nature as breathing: reel her across the room and talk. Walking home in the sifting mist of rain, reflections flashing underneath your footsteps—nothing out of the ordinary in the blurred pass of silhouettes over asphalt, no trick to the shadows that passing cars lent you—you thought it would be as easy, as pleasing and transitory, as always. A habit. Then you let her in.

Behind your teeth, an ash of iron clings like all the ghosts you swore not to tell her: names and scratched photographs, a loose collage of faces tossed into a drawer, phone numbers you knew once like a rosary—one for the answering machine, one for me. In cold and fanciful terror, you imagine smiles lifting into spirals of smoke, freeze-framed gestures and shadowplay eaten into burnt scraps and dust, fire licking the outlines of an area code before the print crumples into flame. Then the blinds clatter against the glass as the wind kicks coldly, a fracture of chiaroscuro breaking over walls and bed before the familiar silhouettes realign, and you are afraid to walk to the desk, pull open the drawer, and look: you cannot recollect any of their faces, and you might as well have never forgotten their names.

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