SmokeLong Quarterly
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A Minor Setback
by Tara Laskowski

art by Robinson Accola
art by Robinson Accola
He found the Ramen noodles his sister had hid in the back of the pantry so no one would see, piles of them huddled against one another behind the Japanese breadcrumbs, one-a-day vitamins, and that dried tofu blend. He stacked them on the kitchen floor to make a fort as they did when kids. The snow used to come rarely, but when it had, it had been plentiful, enough white to feed them for weeks. For days he sat there, nibbling like a rat on the crunchy, brain-like noodles, while his sister made steak tartar and lamb chops with raspberry sauce and served them to guests with delicate fingernails and eyes that lit up like candle flames.

When they came over, she spoke with a slight French accent. He was the one who'd studied at MIT, but she, the one with the class—at least among company. After they left, she danced barefoot and giggled over the laugh tracks of sitcoms, snorting slightly. If she caught herself, she always dabbed her nose with a linen handkerchief.

Several days later she slipped on an empty bag of pork rinds and crashed into the North entrance of his fort. Their noses touched and she could see him. He knew what he must've looked like, loose limp silk tie, stubble about to achieve outright beard, clutching an empty desk calendar, but she looked into his eyes and it was like jumping off the deck into their above-ground pool with mom yelling in the background about how they'd be paralyzed from diving into shallow water. Eating the green beetles found under the rocks behind the shed. Picking roses from the neighbor's yard while the pit bull watched. Running barefoot through the Toyota car dealership at night, even after their classmate Louie Tarnton told stories of his tetanus shots.

He handed her a sack of teriyaki supreme and opened some YooHoo. They built the fort higher, until it nearly blocked out the penthouse window view. They set up the GI Joe guys and had them die in miserable ways, threw Barbie to the wolverines. She showed him how to play jacks the right way. He felt like he belonged again, instead of the guy who showed up on her doorstep jobless, the small, bothersome brother-mole that the doctors could remove with outpatient laser surgery if she'd wanted to waste her lunch hour that way.

The phone rang, and it sounded like box-shaped offices, the hum of a computer, the hiss of a florescent bulb burning out for good. He told her not to answer. She crushed the Ramen fort in her hurry. A draft came in through the hole and he was cold. He listened to her conversation, her voice softening, changing, and he knew it was all over again.

"I have to go. There's a meeting," she said.

He tried to rebuild. The noodles kept slipping through his hands. "But I was a manager!" he said. "I was in charge of things!"

She patted him on the head, pressed fingers into his scalp and gave a ting of a laugh. Her heel pressed into his shin. "You have to think outside the box!" she said, her red nail tracing a square in the sky.

"Will you be back?" he asked. He could smell perfume intermingling with the powdered chicken broth, staining the inside of his nose. It was only Tuesday.

"Oui," she said, and then was gone.

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

Tara Laskowski is the 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong. Her fiction and nonfiction are forthcoming or have appeared in numerous journals including Pindledyboz, The Rambler and So To Speak. She earned an MFA from George Mason University and writes for its alumni magazine and web site. Tara is, as of this journalís publication date, in Ireland on her honeymoon and—depending on the weather and abundance of Guinness—might not come back.

Read the interview.

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.
Issue Twenty-Five (June 25, 2009): Bush Chanting by Cynthia Helen Beecher «» Flying Pens by Pam Bolton «» Rats by Z.Z. Boone «» The Hobblers by Dan Chaon «» Slanguistic Lipstick by Frank Dahai «» Rain by Natalie DeClerck «» Good Friday by Steven Gullion «» Me and Theodore Are Trapped in the Trunk of the Car with Rags in Our Mouths and Tape Around Our Wrists and Ankles, Please Let Us Out. by Mary Hamilton «» Underfoot by Joan Harvey «» A Minor Setback by Tara Laskowski «» Woman in a Bar by Dorianne Laux «» Matt: How It Will Happen by Amanda Nazario «» Trace by Darlin' Neal «» Exile on Payne Street by Ryan Ridge «» Home Economics by Gail Louise Siegel «» A Funny Smell by Ray Vukcevich «» Andersonville by Lindsay Marianna Walker «» Northern Migration by Brandon Wicks «» Interviews: Cynthia Helen Beecher «» Pam Bolton «» Z.Z. Boone «» Dan Chaon «» Frank Dahai «» Natalie DeClerck «» Steven Gullion «» Mary Hamilton «» Joan Harvey «» Tara Laskowski «» Dorianne Laux «» Amanda Nazario «» Darlin' Neal «» Ryan Ridge «» Gail Louise Siegel «» Ray Vukcevich «» Lindsay Marianna Walker «» Brandon Wicks «» Cover Art "The Vanishing Lotus" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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