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  • The Last Afternoon
  • Laurie Thomas (bio)

Shana has been watching a soda bottle spill strawberry liquid across the subway car floor without a soul intervening. The train is stuffed with wooly coats and puffy jackets, body heat condensing on car windows, and this little game is keeping her from passing out. When the bottle rolls toward them, she smirks at the way the riders lift their snow-caked boots, like the inside of a piano when the keys get whacked. Shana picks up her boots, too, when it's her turn to be struck.

If Clarence were there, he would have lifted his head from Shana's shoulder and stomped the bottle out, spraying soda all over the dark overcoats and the natty scarves. She could see the dirty puddles of soda and snow swirling around his boots like a kind of subway-floor sundae. Riding the train during the winter had a way of knocking the sense out of you.

Shana could still feel the weight of Clarence's head on her shoulder despite the fact he was not there. His head was like a bowling ball pinning her to the subway seat. The swaying of the train would put him to sleep like a newborn baby—even though he was twenty years old.

She remembered on those summer days, as the train car shook, how he would twist his head down into her lap and gaze up at her as if he were sleeping under the stars, as if she were the Big Dipper. He didn't need to have a real job, or bring home diamond-encrusted baby strollers. He only needed to keep looking at her like that.

And she thought about, after Clarence got out of work, how they would ride from the top of the subway map to the place outside the frame. As she watched Clarence's breathing rise and fall, sometimes she would catch a commuter lifting an eyebrow at their love. That's when Shana would stick out her tongue, the color of orange Doritos dust, and beam rainbows from her eyes at the stuck-up bitch doubting them. If she could, she would have taken her high-tops and stomped [End Page 14] all the dirty uptowners and lousy downtowners, like roaches, swinging from sweaty hanging straps, wishing they had what was hers.

When there was no one sitting across from them, whispering about their love, she would look from Clarence's sleeping head to the car window, her reflection splintered into pieces by the speed of the train, and think how much she looked like her mother these days.

If she still had the chance, she would claw her mother's eyes out. Sometimes people find love at twenty, or thirty. Shana was lucky enough to find it at thirteen.

The last time Clarence fell asleep on her, it was still summer. She wanted to stick two fingers in his nostrils and a thumb in his mouth, forcing his eyes to snap open like the doors on a train. Except Clarence didn't tolerate jokes, and it wouldn't be worth the friction when they got home. Instead, she let his head sink farther into the crook between her neck and shoulder, pressing her small bones open.

"Let's go," she said to Clarence when they reached the end of the line, wishing her mother would hear her and keel over. Shana raised his head with her still-growing hands. She grinned at the crisscross lines printed across his face, giggled at the impression of himself he left on her bare legs.

"Already?" he asked, as he stretched and twirled his gangly limbs. The light from outside was floating into the car, hanging above their heads. She heard the ocean water surge below. "Already," she answered.

As they ran onto the platform into air stickier than a melting Creamsicle, they became heat waves of their former selves, disappearing down those rotten, wooden stairs, half-eaten by the salt air. They raced in the direction of the water's relief. After the ocean had its way with them, they wiped the salt from their faces with the bottoms of their...


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pp. 14-18
Launched on MUSE
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