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  • Cracked Shell by Sean Gallagher

    The man took a slow drag on his cigarette. The ember winked life-red against the warm evening backdrop. He exhaled, thinking about what he had just heard, what she had just told him, breathing out in time with his thoughts. The smoke floated up towards the dim porch light.

    “So you’re not coming back.” Flat voice.

    The woman shook her head. He glanced down at the floor and rubbed the back of his head with a calloused hand. The small glass table was the only witness to their conversation, the deck devoid of other furniture.

    He grunted softly and continued. “Well, okay.”

    “Okay?” She shifted her weight from one leg to the other.

    “Yes, okay.”

    She turned to leave, aged boards creaking beneath her slight frame. Just outside the threshold of the room she hesitated, pale fingers caressing the doorframe.

    “I can’t, I just can’t.” His gaze rose to the back of her head. She turned, still holding the frame, but couldn’t look at him. “I…” She stopped. “You understand.”

    He said nothing. Her eyes flitted towards his but fell short of a reunion. She exited the porch, skirt hurrying after her, and the man turned to face the shore. He rested his elbows on the weathered wooden railing and stared. Blank eyes took in nothing.

    A sudden splash in the water demanded his recognition. A sea otter, shell on its belly, rock in its hands, preparing supper. He watched the diligent animal fix itself a meal. Who would crack his oysters now?

    He finished his cigarette, flicked it over the rail. The butt glowed warm on the sand and he studied at it as he drew another from his breast pocket. He realized that he needed to pee, but instead closed his eyes. He visualized the house, his house, walked through every room noting every detail and committing it to memory. He opened his eyes and sighed. Sticking the cigarette between his lips and pausing briefly to light, he then hopped over the rail onto the sand. His left foot landed on the first smoldering butt and he picked it up in surprise. It burned him a little as he held it on his hand. Discarding the useless filter, he kicked sand over it and began to walk to the water while unbuttoning his shirt. He removed his blue jeans and underwear and piled them with his shirt about ten feet from the water’s edge. His second cigarette dropped to the sand. The man waded naked into the surf and let the water push him. He felt one with the swelling and receding of the waves. He looked around for the otter, but couldn’t find it.

    Dripping, carrying his clothes away from his body to keep them dry, he walked back up the beach to the house. He placed his clothing over the railing and pulled himself over the rail in a surprisingly nimble fashion for a man with his frame. He left his clothes on the porch and went into the house. He spent the rest of his night destroying all of her things.

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