Daphne and Apollo

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I’ve come to love the silence. When I was human, noise always meant Apollo was around. With him, silence was in short supply. Even his smile was loud.

We met in the pool. That’s not a euphemism or anything: I was a competitive swimmer. He claimed he was training with Coach Gattis, but I wouldn’t have put it past him to have nabbed an extra pair of swim trunks from an open locker.

When I finished my laps, I put my hands up to my forehead and wiped the chlorinated water back from my face. I opened my eyes and his white teeth gleamed in front of me, like glare reflecting off the sea.

“You’re Daphne. Hi,” he said, offering me his hand to shake. I’ll admit I was attracted to him at first. The shadow of beard that circled his full lips. The sheen of his dry hair— he obviously hadn’t been swimming. The oyster shell necklace that perfectly set off his olive complexion.

I ignored his hand. “You’re in my way.”

“That is unfortunate. I suppose my best course of action, then, is to extricate myself from your path.” He turned away from me. A midday sun shone bright between his shoulder blades. He grabbed the ladder with both hands and flexed his biceps, then he slowly stepped up, revealing a slick, black Speedo with a small thunderbolt pattern. He turned his head to the side, slant of nose, jut of chin. “You didn’t ask, but I’m Apollo. I’ll see you around, girl.” His laughter filled the natatorium like someone playing a vibraphone.

I know. Ridiculous.

For the next few weeks, he’d catch up with me either in the pool or in the parking lot of the gym. He always started with flattery. Lame stuff that still felt good, even though the lines were obviously practiced. One day he said “I’m going to start calling you Sharpie, ‘cuz you extra fine.”

“Dude. If that’s the best you got, you need to recalibrate your suavé.”

“I can’t help it, luscious, that swimmer’s body of yours drives me wild.”

“You have to know by now that I’m training for Rio.”


“The Olympics. You know, 2016? The only relationship I’m looking for right now is with a gold medal.”

After that he wouldn’t let up. I guess he thought I’d challenged him and he wasn’t the type not to accept. Every time he saw me he’d tell me about some new girl he was seeing. Then he’d say something like, “You know, I wouldn’t have to bore you with these stories if you’d just give me a chance. I’d treat you like a goddess.” Why couldn’t he just accept that I wasn’t interested? After about a month of that syrupy crap, I asked my dad to step in.

Dad came to the gym and cornered him in the locker room. Told him to leave me alone. Most guys would step off after that. My dad’s pecs stick out in front of him like the prow of a ship. Plus he has this goatee that flows from his chin like a river, biker-style. But Apollo just shook his head and said, “I can’t. She’s the only one that got away.”

The next time I saw Apollo he convinced me to go down to the basement for a steam. Once inside, he gave me a laurel branch made of gold. Told me it was his promise to quit playing games. He seemed sincere when he slipped out of the wood-tiled room, so I didn’t listen for the click of the lock.

Get Well Soon

Everything hurt—chewing, coughing, breathing even—so between the nurses’ questions about pain levels and decreasing dosages, I occupied myself by staring at the television. The Streets of San Francisco was on. Steve Keller was chasing a bad guy across a parking lot. Rosalyn, my wife, must have gone down to make a call, and I was alone when Albert walked into my room.

“Look at you. That contraption you’re in makes you look like a robot. You ain’t auditioning to be the next ‘Six Million Dollar Man,’ are you?” He was talking about my back brace. He stopped a few feet short of my bed and waited for a reply. His bell-bottomed slacks cinched below the volleyball of his belly and pooled at his loafers. He looked ridiculous.

But instead of telling him so, I dryly said, “You should have called an ambulance” and moved my eyes back to the tv.

“You know why I didn’t.”

“They’re medics, not policemen. All they would have asked you to do is point to where I was.”

Albert had been in and out of jail since I was the size of a quarter: theft, public intoxication, child neglect. He didn’t like policemen, so after watching me fall off the roof, he got in his car and drove until he found someone else to deal with me. Yet another example of my father’s problems taking priority over my well being.

“I’d have had to file a report, wouldn’t I?”

“People don’t know about your record unless you tell them, you know. I can’t believe you just left me there. What if I’d died?”

“Stop being over-dramatic. You were breathing. You hadn’t broken anything. Rosalyn was only down the street, so I went and got her. I figured she’d want to ride with you.”

I had been re-roofing the house. Albert was there helping me as part of a reward system we’d worked out. He started calling me about five years ago to apologize and ask to be a part of my life. I eventually gave him the chance to prove it. He sobered up; I started acknowledging his presence. He managed to stay out of jail for a year; I invited him to dinner, and so on. It had taken him three years to work up to being my assistant carpenter.

“You should have forgotten yourself for a second and called a damn ambulance.”

“You only fell fifteen feet. And you got here, didn’t you? Besides, you’ve always been good at taking care of yourself.”

“No thanks to you, Dad.” I sneered. “I had to learn to take care of myself because my parents were too lit to feed me. You know, I was talking to Carol a few weeks ago and she told me this cute story from when I was young. Seems she found me on a kitchen counter one morning chowing down on some dry spaghetti noodles. When I asked her how old she thought I’d been, do you know what she said?”

Albert was so silent that, even through my anger and the pain medication,  I registered the tinkling of a commercial jingle playing on the television. I’d never brought up the bad years before; he didn’t know how to respond.

“She said I was five months old. Have you ever heard of a baby so young being able to climb onto a countertop? I must have been pretty motivated to get up there, huh? Bet I was hungry, and I bet I had to learn real quick that in order to stop the hunger I needed to climb counters and open cabinets. So, fuck you, Dad, for teaching me the hard way that I only have myself to rely on.”

I don’t know if it was the anger, the concussion, or the medication, but a wave of nausea overtook me. I grabbed the bed pan. When I finished, I saw the back of him turn out of my room. It was just like him to leave when someone was holding him accountable for something.

This story is very loosely based on family folklore.

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The Night of the Fox

The first night it happened Margaret awoke to find a small fox standing on her chest. She instinctively froze, not realizing she was holding her breath until the fox shifted his weight from his front to his hind paws. She felt the pressure of the animal ease off her cleavage and sink further into her belly. She exhaled, then stole a quick glance at her daughter, still sleeping in her crib. She could feel the fox’s stare as she did this.

Margaret blinked back to calm eyes, which turned her fear down to a simmer. Even in the dark room, she saw intelligence on his face. His expression reminded her of a day long ago when her grandfather consoled her after falling down the front stoop. The fox slowly lowered his long, thin nose. She saw the white of his chin recede in her field of vision as the plain of rust on top of his head expanded down the length of his body.

He tapped gently on her collarbone to get her to focus. When he was sure she was present again, he turned his head toward Ella. Following his gaze she saw that Ella had thrown off her blanket in her sleep. Margaret was reassured by the gurgling sounds only a sleeping baby could make.

With a quick wink he jumped off the chair–updraft of musk and the smell of fresh soil–and across the plush rug. When he approached the crib, he reached a paw through the slats, grabbed a corner of the pink blanket, and patted it over Ella.

Satisfied with his work he scampered over to the wall below the window and knocked. Three quick raps. Then Margaret heard the unmistakable sound of birds chirping before three starlings zipped into the room. One held a green ribbon in its beak, the loose end fluttering by her face like a butterfly.

The ribbonless birds swooped, picked up a Winnie the Pooh barrette in tandem from the mantle above the fireplace, and clipped it onto a small tuft of Ella’s hair. Blink of an eye. Meanwhile, the third bird dexterously tied the ribbon into a bow on the top railing of Ella’s crib. Four more quick raps. The birds sailed out and the fox hopped onto the sill.  He kicked out his right paw with a flair and gracefully jumped down into the flowerbed Margaret herself had planted that very morning. She saw the birds struggling to hoist up the screen from the lawn. Two paws helped them lift it vertically and the screen clicked into place.


Preposterous, Margaret thought. The very idea. She decided the whole sequence was a product of lack of sleep and midnight feedings. She picked Ella up careful to  avoid the birds’ pretty bow. She closed the curtains. A lullaby about silver clouds and blue birds and only loves popped into Margaret’s head. The more she sang it the more she grew convinced that the visit had actually occurred. She was singing still when she heard the sound of her husband’s alarm clock in the next room.

“I think a fox winked at me last night,” Margaret told her husband over breakfast.


Margaret recounted the strange event, describing every minute detail to convince him, and herself, of its reality. Her husband remained bullishly unphased. When Margaret finished her husband concluded between chews of his toast that it had been just a dream.

She took his hand to the pink bedroom. She showed him the green bow on the cradle. They discussed the intricacy of the ribbon’s lacing–far superior to either of their abilities. She lifted the curtain and pointed out the fox tracks in the dirt. She even hauled out her plastic bag of ribbons, dumped its contents onto the floor, and together they determined that they did not own green ribbon. She expressed her disappointment that birds, and not her own mother, had clipped the first barrette in Ella’s hair. It was the only thing during the fantastical night that she regretted.

“What do you think it means?” her husband wondered. She heard a note of psychoanalysis in his voice. He was still not convinced.

“I haven’t the foggiest.”

“Didn’t you ask the fox?” A ludicrous question in any other circumstance.

“It hadn’t occurred to me,” Margaret said.



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Lines of Credit


“When did you know you were lost?” he asked. He wore a green vest that partially obscured the peaceful beach scene on his t-shirt. The brown and blue wavy lines sharply contrasted the meticulously parallel aisles in this little gas station somewhere in western Nebraska. The cashier propped himself up on the counter between us using both of his tattooed arms.

“On Easton. The third time I passed that barn with the tractor mural. Any idea where 12774 is?” I handed over my credit card to pay for the gas and a packet of sunflower seeds.

“Easton’s tricky. Ends at Owen Road and doesn’t pick back up for seven blocks. Might be time to invest in a GPS, bud,” and then he walked my card over to a machine tentacled with wires that stretched out over every surface of his workspace. Two off-key notes chimed: bing bong. We both looked toward the door.

A woman—her face, eyes, mouth, even her nostrils all circles—stood in the center of the main aisle. She and the cashier stared at each other for a long moment.

“Amanda? What the fuck? I’m working.”

“I found it, Darrell. I found all of it! And don’t think your sorry ass is staying at my place no more. I have kids to think about. I don’t want them anywhere near that. Your shit’s in the parking lot.” She turned her back to us. Two dings—more accusatory than the first —sirened as Amanda shoved the door open with both hands. Darrell ran out after her screaming something about how whatever she’d found helped him to pay the rent. He made a point not to name his transgression.

I was left with the rurrs and whizzes of the six refrigerators chilling more drinks than there were residents in the county. I checked the counter for my card. When I stepped behind it to search further, I heard the rising intensity of their muffled argument through the bulletproof glass.

They stood off about halfway between the station door and the first pump. Amanda had her back to me, hands on hips. I could tell she was looking at her still-running car as Darrell yelled at her, jabbing my credit card in her face on every third word. Fumes escaped from the car’s tail pipe as if fleeing the scene of a crime. To the left of the car sat two open diaper boxes and a scratched-up motorcycle helmet. The decal on the side of the helmet was of a woman’s breast, a jeweled charm dangling from its pierced nipple.

I vacillated. I didn’t want to get involved; I also didn’t want the argument to escalate any further before I could get my card back. Two more dings rang out like the beginning of a boxing match. Ding ding.

“You have my card, man,” I said as rationally as I could.

He stopped gesticulating and turned to me. “Stay the fuck outta this.”

“I don’t want the fuck in it. Just give me my card back and I’m gone.” A car door slammed. Amanda. She gunned the engine, spraying gravel toward us. Darrell sprinted after her managing to pound her trunk once before the cornfields of Route 71 hid her from sight.

Darrell’s shoulders fell when he finally gave up running. He scratched his head and turned around. When he got back to me, I asked him what he was going to do.

“Boss has a cot in back he uses to sleep off hangovers before he goes home. Don’t think he’ll mind if I use it a few nights. I’ll be fine.” He handed me my card without stopping. I heard two soft dings uhh hemmm, then I was alone.

For a second I wondered if he’d even charged me for the gas, then I figured it didn’t matter. I put the nozzle back in its cradle, screwed the black cap onto my tank. When I drove by the front of the store on my loop out of the station, I saw him sitting head-in-hands on a low pallet of pork rinds.


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Game Ends

He taught me how to read people’s eyes.

It wasn’t until our third date that I realized our intentions were different. This revelation hurt my feelings at first, but then I realized I could learn about flirting from him. Plus, I’d have a good excuse to be here studying the clientele. On our fifth night, he said “You’ll have a date by the end of the night, but not with me.”

His name was Greg. We were people-watching at Game Ends, a bar across town that has a patio out back stuffed with hydrangeas and wrought iron furniture. We’d end up here every time we got together. He was studying Behavioral Science and liked to put his knowledge to good use. Gay bars were his favorite venue.

“I don’t want to date you.”

“I know you don’t. Not anymore.”

I blushed. The truth was I had been interested. Greg had this endearing habit of jutting out his jaw after taking swigs from his drink. He tempered his confidence with quickly served self-deprecating jokes—the kind that let you know he didn’t take himself too seriously, not the kind that made you feel bad for him.

“The one wearing the Tigers cap up there just met my eyes then looked down at his feet. I think he’s my ride home tonight.” Greg raised his Zima to me. I clinked it, then searched the crowded space.

I found Tigers Cap talking to another guy wearing a backwards cap underneath ‘The Promenade’ sign at the top of the stairs. Despite the big-ass sign the owners put up a few years ago, everyone still called the complicated boardwalk around the patio ‘the Escher.’ It connected the back doors of all the businesses on this small city block making a sort of outdoor mall. The different heights of the doors required a network of ramps that seemed more and more impossible the higher you climbed.

Tigers Cap and his friend looked over at me. I waved for them to come down without Greg seeing me. I had a sudden urge to surprise him and knew he wouldn’t mind skipping a few steps in his process.

“He’s walking this way. What are you going to do?”

“I just have to sit here talking to you until I catch him looking again. Then I have to swing on the hope that he likes a guy with a gap in his teeth.”

“You’re not worried he’ll think we’re together?”

“Nope. He’s been here before; he knows we don’t leave the bar together.”

“Had your eye on him for a while now, huh? What if he hadn’t seen us before?”

“He’d be wondering. Or he might know to check our feet to see if they were pointing toward each other.” Greg was right; our feet were akimbo.

“I’m thinking most people wouldn’t know to check foot direction. Is that how you knew I’m not interested?”

“Nah. Your pupils don’t dilate when you see me anymore, and you blink less when you talk to me.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Don’t be. We’d never work anyway. We’re too much alike.”

“No, we’re not. You’re into grunge, and football, and the direction of guys’ feet. I’m into techno, and boy bands, and the definition of guys’ abs.”

“No, not like that. I mean we both notice things. There’s no way we’d get through a conversation without picking apart each other’s body language. We’d analyze the fun right out of being together.”

“Girl, I wasn’t like that till I met you,” I said in my best RuPaul voice.

“I seem to recall your opening line to me.” He threw his left shoulder back and narrowed his eyes, “‘I like a man who checks out the scene before he pounces.’ You hadn’t been out here for more than a minute before you started chatting me up.”

“I don’t say things like that.” I deadpanned, and then cracked. I was still laughing when Tigers Cap and his friend arrived at our table.

“Hi, fellas. Care to sit down?” Greg said with no surprise in his voice at all. He pulled out a heavy chair.

“Hey, what are you two laughing at?”

“Greg here was doing a really bad impression. I’m Andy, by the way,” and I reached over to shake hands. I noticed the friend’s feet were pointing straight at me. I winked at Greg, just as he was reprising his imitation.