Smile: A Short Story
- by Josh Saxe
Amanda squints into the peephole that stretches a
shaggy face winking under white light. “It's Mike”:
she says, wringing the indoor air with her tightened
throat, her tone hiding in decayed drunkenness; she
clamps him with nervous fingers, like a bombed-out
refugee clutches pear-faced kids and burnt jewelry.
Tonight he and Eli leave for a dusty base in Seattle,
from there it’s off to Baghdad. Eli looks on from the
living room, his body melding with sun and dust soaked
coach cushions, struggling to vanish. Hot acid brinks
the fat root of Mike’s tongue, receding like a wave on
a lemon beach.
Aaron, Mike, Amanda and Eli prepare to do a round from
a muddy Jack Daniel's bottle, tarred soy sauce and
piss yellow margarine caked at its rippled prism base.
Top-40 hip-hop taps in the background. Mike fills.
Aaron toasts-to adventure, imagined as his two year
Navy stint in the Gulf fucking slum girls in brothels
where paint peels off the walls like dead skin.
Imagined as teenage animal terror at shooting down a
gun-wielding Iraqi in an abandoned bunker, once in the
stomach to knock him down, twice more in the neck for
his body to stop twitching. Eli swallows, throat
swells, skips the coke bottle chaser as he has since
middle school; the group’s belly laughter filling the
cracks in the kitchen tiles and cabinet hinges,
Amanda's giggles shivering the wood-putty in the
rafters and prying at the space between bones in Eli's
skeletal hands. Piano hands, his teacher tells him.
Now they're cold and purple at the joints.
Soon Amanda and Mike are chained in sweat and saliva
in the bathroom, Amanda amorous like she was in 9th
grade, the other two speaking in murmurs and slurs
beyond the door
Aaron has a cheap yellow camera with a built-in flash
that makes a dull clack when he takes a picture. He
and Eli burst into the bathroom, Dove and
Pantene-Pro-V skidding on the floor, the lovers
terrified, laughs everywhere, Amanda red, giggling,
towel clamped to her adolescent breasts, Eli striding
awkwardly towards her, Mike with jeans around his
ankles, razor burns over birthmarks on his scalp. The
four melt with laugher, faces loosening - “Smile!”
grits Aaron, wearing a wide child’s grin as he presses
the trigger - all the energy in that thin instant
pressed white hot between past and future.
Josh Saxe is an activist and student living in Los
Angeles. He can be rached at email@example.com.