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by Christopher Gonzalez

Later this year, Manny will fall ill. When his circular pattern of speech slows into nothingness, the words sucked into a void, it’s Carmen who will sit by his side, checking his blood sugar, draining his urine sack once the pouch swells to full capacity. Bed-locked, Manny will exist in a stream of cool, rushing memories: the times he slipped by Carmen without leaving a kiss on her cheek; the brandy he drank; the bills he neglected, their edges crisp and yellowed, and the money, waving goodbye from the shadow of bad choices. There is also his son, whom he coddled, morphing into a man whose selfishness would be everyone’s undoing. These thoughts will weigh down on Manny’s body like a steel sheet. Motionless, save for the rising and falling of his chest, he will pray for Carmen’s forgiveness, beg for it in silence. But in the final hours of Manny’s living, Carmen will keep such painful memories at bay. (There will be more than enough time for all that.) Instead, she will choose to think about tonight. The two of them are in the kitchen, swaying in each other’s arms, as they had done decades ago, on their wedding night in Arecibo. Carmen’s head is pressed against the soft landing of Manny’s chest; she’s breathing in the peppery scent — spicy and sweet — embedded in his being. When she cries, now and later on, the tears come to her like a dam, seconds before the burst. Wetness builds in her eyes, followed by the slow roll of a drop down her cheek — never more than this.

Christopher Gonzalez is a fiction editor at Barrelhouse. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Hobart, The Acentos Review, and elsewhere. He currently works at a publishing house in New York, and at night he self-medicates with episodes of The Great British Baking Show. You can visit him online at chris-gonzalez.com or follow him on Twitter @livesinpages.