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by Marvin Shackelford

Somewhere in his brain chemical signals begin firing and jumping neuron to neuron in a chain of lightning both tiny and infinitesimally grand. Blue at the edges and then red. His mind is a night sky — though he’d never think of it this way — seen sprawled but rounded at the corners from the flat, cleared top of a countryside hill. The stars whisper of the storm on its way and finally fade. In the bare moment it takes him to feel it, for the red rush of blood to settle against his cheeks and his fists to curl and his spine straighten that last inch and a half to upright, a complicated game of telephone plays out along his nerves:

She’s in the bed.

Tara’s in the bed.

That’s Tara ass-up in our bed.

That isn’t me in the bed.

He slams the receiver down inside himself. The bedroom smells of salt, something burnt. Along the length of the house he’s patched hand-sized holes in the drywall sixteen times, carefully applied paint from a leftover half-can of Silver Lining white. Her damned little Chihuahua-mix dog cowers when he turns a football game on TV. All their photos long ago disappeared from the mantel, the hall. The Christmas tree is still up, but so is a string of orange and black crepe paper from Halloween. More than once he’s broken the long, dry handles of shovels and snow shovels and rakes across the handrail of the back deck. He’s twice kicked at and broken that railing. In certain respects, he already can feel himself narrating as that first electric message unfolds and finally moves him across the room toward them, this is nothing new. He’s only arriving at the heart.

Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems, Urban Farmhouse) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). His work has, or soon will have, appeared in Kenyon Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. He resides in Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.