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her hand. She never looked more beautiful to me, like every other moment I’d been near her had been in preparation for right then, up in that burned-out truck, turning slowly to us with a smile so small and honest that I was certain we’d make it, that we could start anew, again. I was so fucking certain, looking from Jenny to the manager leaning against a pile of charred boxes, to the hula hooper who stopped swaying and looked my way coyly, happy, then back to Jenny who smiled wider as she turned the painting toward us. The portrait was of me, and only burned at the edges. Jenny bit her lower lip, cocked her head, saying, “I don’t think I ever showed you this. I was going to surprise you.” “That is you,” the manager laughed, and I huffed out a laugh, too, stepping forward to inspect. “Yes,” the hula-hoop lady whispered as she began swaying her hips like her hoop was there, though it was not. “That’s a very good likeness.” The background was a blue wash to match my eyes. I wore my favorite black t-shirt and seemed to be gazing beyond the painted scene at something, or someone, more interesting. I held a wanting, serious look, just short of contentment but not unhappy. I looked like I was about to say something important, though I have never figured out precisely what that might have been–maybe it was to simply say, “I’m sorry we ever tried for more, because this other side is so hard to live within, and I’m sorry we came to this end, and I’m sorry to be the culprit, and I’m sorry to be the only real witness to this end.” “Thank you. I like it a lot, too.” Jenny held the portrait up like it was the last thing that would ever matter. “It’s my favorite. I was saving it … for a gift.” “You are the talent! You are the gift!” The manager laughed round and full, clapping four times, the sound rising into the wide bell of sky above Omaha, Nebraska. A siren whined in the near distance. The hula hooper sighed and shook her head. Jenny smiled, happier this time, said my name quiet as I tried to stare myself in the eye in that painting, but couldn’t quite. I was a culprit in the portrait. I had broken what we were 30| PHOEBE 48.2


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