SmokeLong Quarterly
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by Steven Gullion

art by Robinson Accola
art by Robinson Accola
I was on my knees in the laundry room, my eyes watering, scooping Shamu's leavings from the litter box with my pink plastic shovel, when I saw it: a ballpoint pen rising, at a jaunty angle, from the sand, like the shaft of a beach umbrella, or the flag on Iwo Jima. Stuck in the pen's top was a plastic flower: yellow petals, a daisy perhaps, or a black-eyed Susan, stem wedged in the tube of ink. I pulled the pen from the litter, gently, as one might withdraw a splinter from the finger of a child, and saw that the cap had been misplaced, or was perhaps dislodged, lost beneath the loamy surface. Litter cloyed the pen's nib. Clear hexagonal body, blue ink, a cheap BiC, wrapped with a lime-green band-aid where your fingers might rest, ends crossed like a scarf around a woman's neck.

When wet, the litter clumps for ease of scooping; the untainted sand is left unwasted, a nod to the ozone layer—or so I tell myself on a bad day, a day like today when my knees ache and the ammonia from the cat box burns my eyes and I don't know where you are.

Look at this, I said, as if you stood behind me, as if you might appear in the doorway, your eyes behind a pair of goggles, nailgun in your hand. I held the pen aloft. Look: Shamu's learning to write. I supposed, I guessed, that might explain it, this not being my pen, nor yours. I imagined the cat in the back of his box, hunkered by candlelight, ignoring the smell of his own waste, preparing a manifesto, listing his theses on a scrap of newspaper. Or perhaps he had drafted an indictment, charting our crimes against him. First would be his name, I'd think; Shamu is a cold name for a cat, even one so dappled and swollen. The next crime would be the overfeeding—how he'd been fattened like a goose at my hand—or, if not that, the time I went bowling and left him here, unfed. Or, perhaps, the cat has forgiven us, and is writing you a letter, pleading for one last chance, making promises he'll never keep: no more hairballs, no more shedding, no more clawing the rattan.

I've given up that game, but he, perhaps, paws at hope, stubborn, like someone who has always gotten what he wants, stubborn as only a fat and literate cat can be. I turn the pen between the tips of my middle fingers. My heart beats slowly as a mussel shell, gasping open in a bath of steam.

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

Steven Gullion's other fiction has appeared in various venues, including Smokelong, Barcelona Review, Adirondack Review, and the bottom of various catboxes.

Read the interview.

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly on an as-needed basis.
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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