by Amy Denham
Louis' parents divorced when he was six. Two weeks later, he had a new stepmom named Becky. She laughed a lot and left lipstick stains on Louis' forehead. Sometimes she took him and his dad riding in the Jeep with the top down. Her long hair whisked all around the steering wheel like a forcefield, and Louis wished everyone could have hair like that.
art by Beth McKinney
Becky started having children when Louis was in middle school. Every few years, there was another half-sister. Louis stood over the crib, curled his fingers around the new baby's cheek, touched his thumb to her Christmas bow mouth. When Louis graduated from high school, all his sisters were still very young.
Louis' mom was a math teacher with chalk-smudged fingerprints and coffee-stained shirts. She didn't remarry until later in life, when Louis had children of his own. She had known about Becky before the divorce, had hated her. But every time a new half-sister was born, Louis' mom embroidered a set of pink footie pajamas with the new baby's name and sent them with him to his dad's. Sometimes she showed Louis pictures of his big sister who died during infancy.
In sixth grade, during a game of hide-and-seek at his mom's church, a girl with blue eyeshadow told Louis to meet her in the baptistry. He found her half-lit face in the corner of the tank opposite the drain. He kissed her, felt her shoulder blades and waist, until someone shined down a flashlight. Later, Becky told him that making out was a wonderful, normal thing. His mom said it was okay this time, but generally, not a thing to do at church.
For two years of high school, Louis dated a girl in his remedial math classes who had wavy hair like Becky's. When he kissed another girl on the dance team, his girlfriend broke up with him. Later, Becky told him that this was a life lesson. That he had to learn to trust his instincts in these moments, to make the right decision for himself. His mom suggested that next time he break up with one girl before kissing another.
During college, Louis dated a perfect type, a pre-med beauty queen, for two whole months. He took her to the mall with Becky. He brought her to church with his mom. The girl stopped returning his calls, and two weeks later, she was engaged to someone else. Later, Becky told Louis that there were plenty of other girls out there. But his mom cried. She laid out the pictures of his older sister on the kitchen table and said that if the baby had lived, surely she would have been a heartbreaker, too.
Read the interview.
Amy Denham is a graduate of the MFA program at Bowling Green State University, where she served as an assistant editor of Mid-American Review. She has stories forthcoming in Washington Square Review and the anthology Girls on Fire.
Beth McKinney studied art and creative writing at Virginia Tech and received her MFA from Bowling Green State University. She enjoys getting paint everywhere.
All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2015 by its authors.
Issue Thirty-Eight (December 17, 2012):
Call Me Your Unbroken by Chuck Augello «»
Slow Dance by Andrea Danowski «»
Moms' Advice by Amy Denham «»
Crushed Ice by Gary Fincke «»
Second Runner-Up by Faith Gardner «»
The Fear of Something Happening by Nick Harmon «»
Christopher by Annie Hartnett «»
Messing with Texas by Anderson Holderness «»
Exercise in Translation by Naira Kuzmich «»
Boy Cyclops by Helen McClory «»
We Were Always Laughing by Mark O'Neil «»
The Speed of the Sound by Patty Petelin «»
The Earth Drowns Us by Brenda Peynado «»
Shit To Do with a Wedding Dress by Angela Readman «»
The Invitation by Amy Scharmann «»
The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper by Linda Simoni-Wastila «»
Dark Times by Matthew Smart «»
Parameters of a Kingdom by Laurie Saurborn Young «»
Chuck Augello «»
Andrea Danowski «»
Amy Denham «»
Gary Fincke «»
Faith Gardner «»
Nick Harmon «»
Annie Hartnett «»
Anderson Holderness «»
Naira Kuzmich «»
Helen McClory «»
Mark O'Neil «»
Patty Petelin «»
Brenda Peynado «»
Angela Readman «»
Amy Scharmann «»
Linda Simoni-Wastila «»
Matthew Smart «»
Laurie Saurborn Young «»
Cover Art by Josh George «»
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