EXCERPT FROM

“THE FLAT WOMAN”

Vanessa Saunders

ISSUE TEN | SPRING 2018

THE WOMAN TRIES TO FIND A CLEAR SWATCH OF SAND TO SIT ON. ULTIMATELY SHE PERCHES ON A HEAP OF TRASH. SHE WAITS FOR THE MAN TO ARRIVE.

The man mounting the sand dunes. Hey, he

calls out. He falls across her, sinking his

knees into the sand. They separate. ​

Grasping the garbage sand in his palms, he

says, Will you join me tomorrow to hang ​

posters for the climate protest. Sure, she ​

says.

Coupling, their hands. She says, rubbing his

palm, Remember when I told you I didn’t

feel like I was from anywhere. He says, No. Her mind slips into the sand, which rumbles with the force of the cars passing across the

freeway overhead. Her swimming mind

comes up for air.  

A paper towel is blown by the breeze,

revealing a dead seagull laying underneath.

Its body limp on the sand, its wings

splurched on a scrap of foil. She says, ​

There’s a dead gull by your boot. He says, ​

Well.

The man, kneeling, with his ear close to the ​

bird’s chest. This bird is still alive, he says, ​

arranging his lips in a crude grin, I can hear

its heart ticking. Guess I’ll have to kill it ​

myself…

He stands suddenly. Smiles a little bit as his

body composes a blue shadow across the

woman who is prostrate. Her heart suckles

excitedly. The unexpected pressure of the

man standing. He says, I’m so much taller

than you. She agrees.

The man’s watch, the sun eating it, grey ​

flash, as his watch slides across his wrist, and

his wrist twists the gull’s feathers, and the

woman smells the spray of its blood falling

across the sand. A slow departure; a blue

feather floats, floats.

She says, You’ve pulled its head off. He says,

Guess I don’t know my own strength.  

She says, Can you put it back together. He

says, I don’t think so. Drops the gull parts at

his feet. Wind splatters her hair against the

side of her face. My shirt is ruined, he says

looking at the flag of blood.

As they walk back to the car he says,

Remind me later, I have a question to ask you.

A question, she says, touching her ring

finger.

Yes, he says, later.

ON SUNDAY, PROTESTERS GATHER ON THE CURB SEVERAL STORIES BELOW THEIR APARTMENT. WHOSE SIDE ARE THEY ON, THE WOMAN ASKS THE MAN. ONE SIGN READS, KEEP COCA COLA AS OUR KING. THE WOMAN IS PULLED OUTSIDE TO WITNESS.

NO CORPORATE TAXES, one sign ​

reads, LET POWER BE POWER. Frowns

and signs and cameras and clicking of

cellphones and rattling of elbow grease. The

woman sees a gaggle of protestors detached

from the crowd. Flashing their cell phones.

A cow bleeding in the shade. What are you photographing, she asks one of the

protestors. Decay, they say. Light beaming ​

off a black skyscraper.

 

Looking the woman up and down, the

protestor says, Is everything alright. Inside ​

the woman there is a cow bleeding for

oxygen. Her starved limbs rustle. In spite of

all this noise, the woman says, Yes, I’m fine.

 

FUCK THAT LIBERAL HAIR, a sign

propped against a skyscraper.  

 

Climbing the winding stairs of her

apartment, she puffs, comforted by the

clicking of air conditioning, where the man

is reposed on the couch. His belly poking out

from his pajama bottoms. His fingertips

shine with grease. An empty plate at his feet. 

He says, Did you figure out why they are

protesting. She says, Something to do with

coke… He interrupts her by chortling.

Pushing his body over towards her in the

doorway, he says, You just don’t get it, do

you.  He looks blank into her eyes, pouring

himself inside of her.

 

His breath smells like stuck tar.

 

Wrapping his hands around her neck. Skin

folding. Breath cinching.

 

Her eyes look down at his grip. A swatch of

hair on his wrist. As if he wasn’t actually

grasping her.

 

A man is something to believe in.

THE MAN AND THE WOMAN WANDER ALONG AN AISLE OF THE CANDY STORE. THE STORE LIT BY HALOGEN LAMPS AND POTTED FERNS. AN AUTOMATED MIST WAFTS FROM THE CEILING. SHE STARES AT A ROW OF LOLLIPOPS WITH SUCKERS SHAPED LIKE DOLLAR BILLS.

His nose is pointed down. A pink candy ring

glistening. A pane of smudged glass. He swings

towards the woman. Brandishing the ring.

Kneeling. Oh, she is trying to blush as he slides the

candy ring across her finger.

As automated mists squirts out. From the ceiling.

Splashing down her face. As the man sparks to his

feet. Squeak of his alligator boot.

He unfurls his fingers. Towards a basket of taffy.

Spreading his finger-digits. An electronic claw.

Grasping wrapped candies. Between his fingers. ​

Unwrapping the taffy. Looking at the woman, he says, Every time you breathe out, you release carbon

monoxide into the atmosphere.

Everybody is a criminal, she says, We all litter and eat and breathe out.

The man looks up. From his taffy. A steel flash in

his eyes. Not unlike a spark of recognition.

What did you just say, the man says.

Tacked to the wall. A poster of a lady. In a pink

bikini. Preparing to drop. A tuft of cotton candy.

Across her tongue.

The woman doesn’t say anything.

He’s shoving his body. Against her. Her back is

knocked back. Popsicle freezer. Adjusting the

pressure of his hips.  When his arm moves. To strike

her. She has this sinking feeling. She is on screen. So

when the man’s palm rips. Across the side of her

head. It was only the climax. Of an awesome film.

She is slumping. Onto the floor. As he kicks her.

Wiggling trunk. Yes, she doesn’t say anything.

A crowd of customers gather. Around them,

watching.

No one makes any move. To stop. What is

obviously happening.

Vanessa Saunders is an MFA candidate at LSU and editor-in-chief of Helium Journal. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Poor Claudia, Entropy, Requited, and Stockholm Literary Review, among others.

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