Marvin Shackelford holds an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Montana and currently resides in rural Texas, where he earns a living in agriculture. He has a poetry collection, Endless Building, forthcoming from Urban Farmhouse Press, and his stories and poems have
appeared in such journals as Cimarron Review, Confrontation, Beloit Fiction Journal, NANO Fiction, and FiveChapters.
He smells lightning, he says, and then we see it. Stab in the night’s eye, closest the earth comes to atomic. Later we’ll crawl beneath wet eaves and awnings, head to the club where a black man tells us, white people, jokes about us, white people. And we’ll laugh, laugh, laugh, because we know we’ve done something wrong. He knows and he tells us, only it makes us laugh. But Tony’s naked in the just-dark, skin growing damp with unseen weather, and we tilt beer cans and smoke. The girls do their makeup, purposefully avoid his body. The boys shine up and watch him and laugh, laugh, laugh.
I smell the lightning, Tony says. I want his pants on, singing stopped, dance if he has to inside. He says, Baby, you can taste it on my lips, come on.
I search for his clothes and make a pile. He does thirty years’ Indian dances because he can’t grow a beard, doesn’t know his father, thinks so much in his veins he can’t replace unless it’s named. And even then it don’t all bleach out. He prances and I tell him, This is just a white-people joke you’re doing, but his nostrils gulp the distances around us, neighbor to neighbor to cop-calling neighbor—and who can blame them, the nakedly flopping man—and he doesn’t care. He just doesn’t give a shit.
I collect Tony’s clothes and give up. I have a lighter in my purse, house filled with liquids flammable as gasoline. Flammable, inflammable—you know. We can leave all this and go on where he’s aiming now, sniffing the rainclouds. It’s what he wants, strike of a match set to us.
Smell’s the sense most primitively developed. We remember from school, the okay sort of evolution. Not the kind that promises no matter our tiny start, how many ounces premature or desperately childhood thin—we still take 9-5’s and drop out kids who leave us fat, trashy, as blisteringly old as our mothers. Fathers. As case may be. We at least sneak peeks at Tony. He’s made a dance floor of the lawn, a racetrack,
long ticket booth where people stand on line for days.
We don’t doubt he smells something. But it does him no good.
We dust on perfume, slick back hair.
No cops, the lightning never closes to strike, but the rain comes and tears Tony up. He wails and laughs and gnashes the flickery sky. We’re too wet to burn, and I wrangle him sniffling and defeated, coming down before we’ve begun, into the house. Everyone’s gone ahead. I wait in the kitchen, toy with knives, the gas stove and cabinets full of poisons, while he cleans up and cries. He laughs and howls.
It’s melted dirt, he calls from the shower. Only maybe it’s your brain.
I know, I say. It’s your whole life X-rayed, explained until it’s see-through and forgettable.
We hurry. We catch up and we laugh, laugh, laugh.