SmokeLong Quarterly
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The Interpretation of Light
by Murray Dunlap

Untitled, unretouched digital photograph taken at the Rose Hotel in Bangkok by R.G. Brown III
Untitled, unretouched digital photograph
taken at the Rose Hotel in Bangkok by R.G. Brown III
Jimbo brought a sheet of acid to Donna Pike's birthday party. He put a tab on his fingertip and pressed it against his tongue. Jimbo was tall and skinny with wiry blonde hair and a nose like a hawk's beak.

"Like this," he said.

"You sure?"

"Don't you want to feel alive?"

I touched my finger to my tongue. It tasted like glue, but we'd been drinking for hours and I couldn't be sure.

"I'm ready," I said.

"Chill. It takes time. I'm doubling up."

Jimbo put another tab on his tongue. He rolled back his eyes and pretended to choke. I drank from my beer.

"Shit heel, you have to wait until it absorbs."

"But it's in me, right?"

"I don't know. You don't take it off your tongue until it absorbs."

"Fuck me," I said.

"I'm gonna triple up."

Jimbo put a third hit of acid on his tongue. A family of squares. I'd never seen acid before. And I spit mine out while Jimbo was pretending to choke.

Donna walked in wearing a party hat and put a red bow into her cleavage.

"Can I be a gift on my own birthday?" she said.

Then she grabbed my hand.


I lost my virginity at the very moment a train severed Jimbo's arms. Donna pushed me flat against her parent's bed and straddled me with her skirt hiked up. No one said anything about birth control.

"I want this," she said. "I'm sixteen now."

"I'm fifteen," I said.

She took off my clothes at the same time Jimbo took off his. He had run through the dark woods naked. He found a length of pipe and beat the dirt the way his father had beaten him. The way my father beat me. The way I might have beaten you, if I'd had the chance. Jimbo ran to the railroad tracks and lay down.

When the train arrived, Jimbo might not have understood. His rewired brain might have convinced him that the brightening light was the rising sun. Perhaps he thought he should lie down with his arms wide and bask in that light. The train never stopped.

So Jimbo bled to death while Donna fucked me in her parent's bed. Jimbo bled to death while I stripped the sheets from the mattress. He bled to death while Donna cried.

Jimbo bled to death. That's where the story always ends. Except this one time. This one time I want to say, at least you didn't die like that. At least you didn't lie screaming in your own blood, armless, inches from the noise and smoke of a barreling train. You were drawn from Donna's body and given the luxury of peace. Perhaps you spread your arms wide, a virgin to brightening light.

Or maybe it wasn't any different from the train. Donna wouldn't tell me.

For all I know, it was exactly the same.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.

Murray Dunlap's fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Post Road, Night Train, New Delta Review, Red Mountain Review, Silent Voices, and many others. His stories have been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as Best New American Voices, and his first book, "Alabama," was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. He is currently working on a novel.

R.G. Brown III is an Associate Professor of Art in Sculpture at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Brown has been the recipient of many grants, fellowships and awards, and has been invited to countless artist residencies. Most recent honors include a Fulbright Scholar Grant, African Regional Research Grant for research in Ghana, West Africa, a solo exhibition, "Opure / Works," at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy, and a Wilson Center Research Fellowship from the Wilson Center for Humanities and Arts at The University of Georgia.

Read the interview.
Issue Twenty-One (June 15, 2008): Paper Mouse by Bob Arter «» The Folk Singer Dreams of Time Machines by Matt Bell «» The Bone Orchard by Randall Brown «» Disease Relics by Blake Butler «» We Decided to Make Porn by Brian Allen Carr «» The Baby Drop-Off by Natascia Casey-Dean «» The Cougar by Dave Clapper «» Anointed by Myfanwy Collins «» Sister Earth by John Colvin «» Soap by Katrina Denza «» The Interpretation of Light by Murray Dunlap «» The Hole by Ashley Farmer «» Repair Man by Kathy Fish «» In the Kitchen She Wakes by Stefanie Freele «» American Gothic by Scott Garson «» Lobster Girl by Alicia Gifford «» Pen and Notebook by Natalie Goldberg «» Memento Mori by Rosanne Griffeth «» BiC by Steven Gullion «» Parting by Evelyn Hampton «» Tuesday by Lindsay Hunter «» Waiting on Lombard Street by W.P. Kinsella «» Johnny by Nance Knauer «» Like Swimming by Jeff Landon «» Feeling Sad by Darby Larson «» Alone With Cooper by Ellen Meister «» The Angel's Visitation by Corey Mesler «» South Dakota by Mary Miller «» California Fruit by Meg Pokrass «» Home Made by Bruce Holland Rogers «» Handful of Dirt by Jim Ruland «» Steam City Girl by Paul Silverman «» Sugar by Claudia Smith «» The 13th Toast by Amy Sparks «» Gathering by Kelly Spitzer «» Tiny Shadows by Maryanne Stahl «» Double-Exposure by Thomas White «» Epistemology by Joseph Young «» Why This Isn't a Good Story to Tell by Shellie Zacharia «» Liquid by Michelle Zellers «» Real Estate by Bonnie ZoBell «» Interviews: Bob Arter «» Matt Bell «» Randall Brown «» Blake Butler «» Brian Allen Carr «» Natascia Casey-Dean «» Dave Clapper «» Myfanwy Collins «» John Colvin «» Katrina Denza «» Murray Dunlap «» Ashley Farmer «» Kathy Fish «» Stefanie Freele «» Scott Garson «» Alicia Gifford «» Rosanne Griffeth «» Steven Gullion «» Evelyn Hampton «» Lindsay Hunter «» Nance Knauer «» Jeff Landon «» Darby Larson «» Ellen Meister «» Corey Mesler «» Mary Miller «» Meg Pokrass «» Bruce Holland Rogers «» Jim Ruland «» Paul Silverman «» Claudia Smith «» Amy Sparks «» Kelly Spitzer «» Maryanne Stahl «» Thomas White «» Joseph Young «» Shellie Zacharia «» Michelle Zellers «» Bonnie ZoBell «» Cover Art "Five Years of SmokeLong" compiled from art by Marty D. Ison, Robert Dornberg, Malina, and Rebecca Gullickson «» Letter From the Editor
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