Friday 24 November 2023

Love by Stacey Lounsberry, strong black coffee

 He came sometime during the night, using his key quietly at the front door, rattling into her dreams, unwelcome. She had chided her mother about those locks. ‘Change them,’ she'd said. ‘Switch them out before he comes back.’ She knew it then, and her mother knew it too, that she wanted him to come back. Her mother prayed he'd come back.

When she woke, he was exiting the bathroom, leaving the sink a hair-poked mess, still-wet razor in its own puddle on the edge. She slithered between the toilet and speckled porcelain bowl, pinching her nose to his scent which clung to the hot, stale air.

‘Molly.’ His voice sneaked down the angel-pied wallpaper, caught in the peeling rip where the two strips met; he cleared his throat. She rolled her teenage eyes at him and in return he furrowed his middle-aged brow. For a moment she glanced at his fingers, the fat pads curled around the door frame so she couldn’t completely shut the door. Only a glance; she couldn’t risk bringing his attention to the feeling of vulnerability that those door-stop knuckles were flooding into the room.

His teeth, lined in places with brown, shined a dull yellow behind the contrasted red-lips of his grin.

‘What do you want Jared?’

‘Is that any way to treat your step-dad?’

‘You’re not even married to her.’

This time, Jared’s eyes rolled. ‘Kid, that’s the government telling you what to do. I don’t need a cer-tificate to tell me who I love.’ Molly’s shoulders hunched in at the way he dragged out the ‘cer’ like he was saying ‘sir’ and ‘terrific’ after. His hand moved up to the peel in the wallpaper and flicked its rip, right down the middle of an angel eye. She thought of her mother hunched over on her bed, the smell of unwashed sheets, cottony pills and picks in little islands across the old fabric, the late-afternoon sun coming in cascades through the curtains like the exit of a cave that led to another world.

‘Why Mama?’ she’d said, draping a towel from the floor across the bruises stamping her mother’s bare back, each one a shimmering black hole in their universe.

‘Sometimes, this is love, baby girl. One day you’ll understand.’

She understood well enough. As soon as his hand was gone from the door frame, she pushed it closed, relishing the click of the latch as it tucked itself inside the door, the splendidly stolid lock like the first, swooping punch after the insult. His fist hit the top of the door, boasting his height and strength in one rattling force—’Love isn’t always dressed up in gold and lace, little girl.’ She heard the back of his hand slide slowly down the stained wood of the door on the other side. ‘It gets ugly. Choosy. But you know that, don’t you now?’

She sat on the toilet and stared at his neck shavings like fairy dust on the sink, listening to him talk about love. At some point, she closed her eyes. ‘I wish—,’ she whispered.

‘What was that?’ he yelled. She could tell his ear was pressed to the door, top to lobe like a suction cup. She hoped it hurt when he pulled away.

She breathed in, held it for seventeen seconds—the age she turned when she woke up that morning—and blew until the black sprinkles of hair fluttered up from the sink, against the spotted mirror behind, catching a moment above the faucet like birthday confetti. 

About the author

Stacey Lounsberry is a full-time mother and writer, and her work has appeared in The First Line and Inscape. She earned a BFA in Creative Writing from Morehead State University, and later an MAT in Teaching Special Education. She lives in Eastern Kentucky with her two sons and husband. 


Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

No comments:

Post a Comment