I resolved to fade into a lost afternoon. Grass and shadows. Thick contrails blowing across the sky. I smiled in a cotton dress, a skunky beer in my hand. It was a green bottle. He’d always said to stay away from those. Seemed like all the picnic food had the same three ingredients. Pasta, raisins, mayonnaise, and some sweet vinaigrette. I smelled cucumbers, but I didn’t see them.

That morning had been the same as the night before. Eugene and I were still buzzed. My daughter was asleep in her room. She was wearing the too-small dragon pajamas her grandmother sent. She liked the mesh wings under the arms. She’d glided into bed that night, and I sang twelve songs before she fell asleep. Eugene was maybe still drunk when he pressed his thumbs into my temples. I thought I could have been dreaming, but the pressure was real, white and then black. No breathing, no swallowing. A stitch in my throat. Crickets in the night of my head, the fuzz of a TV–what I used to call a flea circus when I was a kid–when I was a kid sitting in a cabin on top of a mountain and we only got one TV station. There was no pain, but it felt like he was trying to kill me. I went into the TV screen, into all those fleas and then into the Badlands and the highways haunted with thunderheads, the dark morning cabs of lonely truck drivers. Beds bigger than I imagined. It was over soon. He’d blacked out or fallen to sleep on the bathroom floor. The shower was running, and he was naked. I could smell piss in the bed sheets.

When I left in the afternoon, I could hear my pulse in my head–like one of those sound machine recordings of a mother’s heartbeat that’s supposed to help babies sleep. The trails of his fingers were in the screen door. His coffee mugs strewn around the front porch, my lipstick on some of them. At the picnic, I listened to the ladies talking. One of them said over and over, “It’s so huge.” And I thought of Clifford the Big Red Dog. We were standing under a pear tree, my daughter and I, and there were granddaddy longlegs every time I looked down. My daughter watched them hobble over the lawn. She told me they weren’t spiders. They were harvestmen looking for fallen fruit. She held onto my leg. We were in the middle of nowhere, at someone’s house. Their property and a nature preserve backed right up into each other. Two birds flew over the tree line. I watched them turn to arrowheads in the clouds. It was only three in the afternoon. I kept thinking of him. A silver whisper in my head. The tine of a fork in a drawer. I shut my eyes and remembered myself as a girl lying wet on a rock by the water.


Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s stories and poems have appeared in New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, Nano Fiction, Glimmer Train, The Florida Review, Appalachian Heritage and others. Her work has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband, son, and daughter.