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Short fiction by Karen Hertzberg

Apparition
“I thought I told you to leave,” he says. Slow. Steady.

He sits on the wide sill of his apartment window, watching the afternoon parade of cars, taxis, bikes and pedestrians three stories below. He hears her make a soft noise behind him–that same jagged sigh, almost like crying, almost like the sobbing sound she makes at orgasm. But she doesn’t answer him, of course, and he doesn’t bother to turn around.

Finally, he hears her slow footfalls tick on the hardwood, receding, marking time to the rise and fall of his chest. He inhales the faint contrail of her aroma—not perfume, but some amalgamation of cherry vanilla body lotion, baby shampoo and the kitten scent of her breath. He wants to turn and pull her to the floor, penetrate, fuck to absolution. But he can’t be absolved, and he always hears the cadence of her heels as she goes. She is never gone for long.

~~~~

At breakfast the next morning, he fixes pancakes and eggs. He is reminded of the feelings of disgust and longing that always mingled inside him as he watched her fork food between her dainty lips. She would eat with tiny rabbit bites, miniscule chewing motions that drove him nuts. Today, however, he will toss the morning’s feast down the garbage disposal. Though he doesn’t eat much lately, he always overdoes it.

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Threshold

Short fiction by Karen Hertzbergcurled up

You have an amazingly high pain tolerance threshold—that’s what the nurse told us the day after your Caesarian. “She’s a trooper. Hardly touches her pain meds.” Even then, you were unwilling to medicate yourself.

The day I bring you home from the hospital, you smile thinly from the wheelchair as the nurse whisks you down the sterile corridors–they won’t let you walk. We climb into our new minivan, and I know when we emerge from it back home a sort of metamorphosis will have taken place. We will become a family. As we wind through the city, Jonathan wails from the back seat. You sit back there beside him, cooing and fidgeting, while I chauffer alone, you no longer riding shotgun.

****

A week later, you’re still weak from the surgery and sleep-interrupted nights, but you won’t touch the Darvocet on the nightstand. The bottle stands like a sentinel, staring you down each time you crawl into bed, gathering your body into a fist against the pain. You’re like the fuzzy caterpillars we poked with twigs as children, curled in that defensive posture: “Leave me alone—I’m already dead.”

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Spark

Short fiction by Karen Hertzberg

SparkWe were pulling into adjacent spaces in the parking lot at Foodmart when he dinged the fender of my old Pontiac. Though we didn’t bother to exchange insurance information, the next morning I woke up with him in my bed.

“Good morning.” He sat up and grinned at me, like he knew something I didn’t. His red hair stood up on top of his head like flames off the tip of a match. Freckles spattered his cheeks. I shook off the startled sensation of waking with a new man and barely remembering what he looked like from the night before.

“Hey,” I answered. As he glided out from between the sheets with easy confidence, the evening started coming back; the stirring of muscles under the pale skin of his solid thighs, like the flanks of a horse in full gallop. Something sparked inside me and I swallowed fire. I stared as he pulled on paisley boxer shorts. Cotton, thank God.

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