A rank odor of earth hung about. The boys crowded around her. To her right, the Skellern twins- one good, one bad- stood as close to the cellar door as she. “Chicken,” one of the boys said, a finger in her shoulder blade. Just one bottle. She gathered the pleats of her choir dress and descended the steps to the basement. She pushed through the black. A trapezoid of yellow light fell on the dusty floor behind her and she moved slowly through the dark, searching the air for a chain. She curled her fist around the rusted links and pulled. The bulb glowed fiercely for a moment, illuminating the pink underbellies of all that holy wine, but then the door slammed and the globe crackled and burst and rained electric embers. Black. She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dark. A tenuous, starry light filtered through the frosted glass of a ground-level window and she looked around and saw her own colorless reflection in the moonlit plane above. Silence. She felt something else there, alone with her in the dark. A thread of light bled through the space at the bottom of the door and she ran to it and pounded and pounded against the hollow frame, but no one answered. She beat and yelled and she knelt on the seam of light and pleaded for her release.
She wiped grease off the counter where bones toppled from his plate. He nodded for more as he sucked the orange from his fingertips. Chicken Flats always wanted more. In a booth in the far corner, Half n’ Half raised his glass and she brought the pitcher to him. Just Coffee wanted just her check. The place emptied around three and Corrine hunched over the bar, fingers splayed over creamy stock and colored pencils. A timer chirped in the kitchen. The sounds of things boiling. Burnt coffee smells. Corrine was lost, shading the ribcage of her paper figure, and did not hear the front door open and the man cross the room and sit two stools down from her. “You’re a good artist.” She jumped. The man was smiling at her. He took the sheet from her hands and studied it. Suddenly she saw her drawing for what it was, the disproportionate head, the ogre-like neck and legs, the flatness of the eyes, and she wanted to tear it to pieces. “This is wonderful,” the man said. “You have a gift.” Corrine smiled. She took the paper back and served him water and a menu. “What can I get you?” “Soup.” He smiled. “And your name.”
The Singer, Reprise
The violent morning sun struck through the sky and over the lush landscape, bleeding bright arms of light that shattered through the translucent wings of moths, refracting against the spider web that stretched across the patinaed spire of St. Madeline’s. They stood, side-by-side, gazing down at the woman spread and boxed before them, her Old Testament eyes firmly shut, an artificial rouge smeared on her waxen cheeks. Stella. Could any of them remember when they were last together? Black-clad human shapes surrounded them, crying and laughing accordingly, reverently, offering the perfunctory words of comfort. Somewhere behind them, Lora chased and chastised a loose child. The hallowed ground was still wet with dew as the parade carefully trampled the fresh mown grass. The wind burst upon this scene as if spectral revenants dared them to listen and the three colorless faces stood looking to the sky, the hairs on their arms brushing against one another, backs to the sun.
Memory, she thought, is just strange kin to imagination. Human minds are malleable, riddled with holes, and the delicate scenes that make up our lives, while pretty and horrifying, amount to what? Who is to say that the past that was differs from the past that was not?
M.K. Rainey received her MFA in fiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She currently teaches writing to the youth of America through Community-Word Project, Wingspan Arts and The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cider Press Review, Litro Online, Equinox, KGB Lit Journal and more. She co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series and lives in Harlem with her dog.