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by Nick Black

“You look tanned,” said Simone.

“Burnt,” I said, touching fingertips to my cheeks. “Actually quite sore,” and I smiled.

I’d come straight from the airport; my bags were in our hosts’ second bedroom as we ate. I’d been due back the previous day, and wasn’t sure Simone wasn’t mad at me for the delay. My translator Emil had snatched and hurled my passport onto the back of a passing flatbed as a “hilarious prank” …

“Eric’s just returned from living among cannibals,” I suddenly heard announced to my left. Stephanie, Simone’s agent, the lady of the house, arched her eyebrows as everyone turned to her. “Pray tell us more,” she crooned and, in an apparent afterthought, lobbed her untouched side-roll at me. I caught it and turned it over in my hands. I thought of the conch shell in Lord of the Flies.

“They weren’t cannibalistic that often,” I started, slowly, “though they did take the Paleo seriously …”

I let people laugh while I watched Simone, covering her glass when someone offered wine, a fat dark drop of pinot dripping onto the back of her hand as the bottle was lifted away. She was smiling, but looked bashful. Proud to be with me? Embarrassed? The look could have passed for either.

***

“I saw a movie about that region,” Stephanie’s husband said. “Fitzcarraldo?”

I see-sawed my palm in the air, not wanting to correct him.

“Were you scared?” asked the woman next to Simone.

“I didn’t sleep for six solid weeks,” I said. I was glad when the conversation then moved away from me, despite my still holding the bread roll. My fingers had punctured holes in the outer crust while I’d been talking. It looked like a baby’s bowling ball.

***

I bummed a cigarette when we left. I’m only an occasional smoker, and I do it badly. I like to bend at the knees a little and pretend I’m Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet, without letting anyone else know that’s what I’m doing.

“Could you please not blow that in my face?” said Simone, stepping away. We watched my smoke drift in her direction, as if chasing her.

I looked at the cigarette in my hand as if reprimanding it, then tossed what was left.

Light from the lobby fell on us, gold and cool.

“I’m late,” Simone said.

I started to raise my wrist but she shook her head.

Well, that explained her not drinking.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

I stepped into traffic to hail a cab, leapt back as one slid up to the kerb. I opened the door for Simone. “I’ve left my luggage upstairs,” I mumbled.

“Shall I wait?”

“You didn’t while I was gone,” I said, out before I could stop myself. Her mouth made a perfect circle. Her eyes looked ineffably sad. After a long heartbeat, I closed the door and patted the roof twice, which I’d seen done on screen. I felt more like putting my arm through the window.

I stood there while it drove off, then turned to look up. It was a tall building. I decided my clothes could wait, probably forever.


Nick Black’s stories have been accepted by literary magazines including Open Pen, The Lonely Crowd, Severine, Funhouse, Firefly, Spelk and Litro. They’ve also won various flash contests and been listed for the 2015 and 2016 Bath Flash Fiction Awards, Land Rover/GQ/Salon House Short Story Competition and the Spread the Word Prize. www.fuzzynick.wordpress.com

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