A young woman lies, shining, on a chaise by a pool. She tilts her head forward. This flattens the neck, turns it into a lovely puddle of brown butter. She examines her midriff.

At the same moment, a man passes. He is old enough to remember fresh footage of ayatollah-freed hostages. To remember their peculiar mix of weak and exulting. He has witnessed it since: an old dog caught in the rain and finally home sneezing, grandfathers at piano recitals.

He sees the woman arrayed, shining. He says to himself, Give me a weekend. I’d glaze that flat stomach Saturday night and Sunday morning I’d ruin it from the inside. He does not say this to her. He says to her, Good morning.

She does not notice the man until she hears him. She is young enough that she is comprehensively unsure of things. Where she should and/or will put her arms while lying down. What she could ever possibly do, possibly, to justify the sluice of self that runs through her head, that puts her ridiculously at the hub of the world. Her year in a children’s hospital did not change this. Losing her mother to the same bone cancer two-and-a-half years later did not change this. Nor the genes that stole from the family an implausibility to rage against. She is young enough that each thing is more different from the last thing than the same.

She says to the man, Good morning.

What she says to herself, in the meanwhile, is what she’s been thinking, and the words, were she to speak them aloud, would hardly devastate the man, though they should wound him deeper by multiples than his would her, even were he to stop smartly at the foot of the chaise and divulge the reason for his staring. The roach next to Descartes’ shoe crouched and crouched and still could not wonder after existence, and this man cannot begin to comprehend his pitifulness. For this man, a man pretending not to stare and staring, there is no change, there are tax rates and sensation, and the future is over. On the other hand, as he is not a roach altogether, hearing the thing might remind him he could never hope for such a thing.

To herself, as she watches her own skin blip out pearls of minute perspiration, she says, Soon I’ll be who I really am. Soon I will be who I really am. She says these things to herself, thought and not speech, but two thoughts, no mistake, and not because she does not want to be who she is, but because she is merely sure, freed from uncertainty by a curious mix of cowed and exulting, that who she’ll be will be more different from the last her than the same, as sure as the beads of sweat there, fat and quivering, tiny curving windows into a hazy future, right here, which is why we’re staring.

 

George Choundas

George Choundas is a Cuban- and Greek-American and a former FBI agent with work in over seventy-five publications, including The Best Small Fictions, Boulevard, Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, Santa Monica Review, and The Southern Review. His debut story collection, The Making Sense of Things (FC2 2018), was awarded the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, as well as shortlisted for the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose, the St. Lawrence Book Award for Fiction, and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. His debut essay collection, Until All You See Is Sky (EastOver Press 2023), was awarded the EastOver Prize for Nonfiction.

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