By David Valin

Her lips were pressed together so tightly that they were white, empty of blood. Blink. Blink. Her eyes were large without her glasses on. In the linen room, the hotel driers thumped and blew and the washers whooshed, and under the door, I saw shadows move outside in the hallway.

As I undid the buttons on her blouse, Amy stiffened. On a pile of white towels, she quivered while I touched her. “Please,” she said. Her tongue paused at the back of her mouth, ready to slide forward with the next word. I could see the S of the word “stop” form. I waited for the next word, waited for her tongue to trip over the tiny ridges that lined the top of her mouth. I almost wished she would say stop. I would stop, and we would go back to work, and she would put on her glasses and blink at the world while it slid along, and I would try to figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do with my sorry life. As my hand moved down her stomach, she took deep breaths. She moved her mouth again. “Please,” she said again. And after she said please, she made no other words, just a sound, a sound that rose and lifted and made my throat catch.

* * *

Cups of water on a dusty shelf rattled while a train roared by and made the water shake and move in rings. The cups touched and made small music. Amy’s eyes were cups of water for a moment, then they just disappeared.

Gently, I laid my ear against her stomach. I thought I heard the cells dividing, mitosis. Then again, maybe the sound came from inside my head: the sound was of an engine firing and blowing with backfires and explosions, pressure building, like my skin ripping.

“Mitosis.”

“What is that?” she asked.

“I think it means that I just asked you to marry me.”

* * *

A blindfolded bronze woman held scales. The marble steps clicked with high heels. In the judge’s office, I waited.

From behind his glasses, the judge looked at me: “Do you, Samuel, take Amy as your wife, forever?”

“Yes, I do.” I held a gold band in my hand; it felt hot, warm, alive.

“Do you, Amy, take Samuel as your husband, forever?”

Amy had her eyes closed, and a tear bubbled out of the corner of her eye and ran down her cheek. As her chin quivered, she took shallow breaths like it hurt her to breathe.

“Honey, I need an answer,” the judge said.

Her mouth moved like she was going to say stop, but she never got that word out. She moved her mouth like a fish gasping for air, begging for someone to run water over her gills. All I heard was her choking on air, not saying yes.

Recently, David M. Valin was named the third place finalist for the Kirkwood Award in Creative Writing. UCLA Extension gives the award to a student whose work shows literary promise. Hobart and Monkeybicycle have recently accepted stories of his for publication.