After the Storm, by B. B. Garin

As things go, it could’ve been worse. There could’ve been mud to our knees. The levees could’ve broken like when I was a girl. There could’ve been drowned cats. Nothing smells worse than a drowned cat the day after, when it’s hitched up against a fence and started to bloat.

The storm passed off with nothing more than a tumble of branches, a waterfall from the gutters and one cracked tree. The big pine by the patio thundered like the end of the world when it came down, but fell the other way, across the neighbor’s unmown lawn.

Inside was different. Lampshades were crooked. The clock had crashed into the kitchen sink, its cherry red face specked with coke and whiskey. Maybe a few drops of blood. Dave and I sat on opposite ends of the sagging couch like we hadn’t been here before. The dishtowel around my palm turned a rusty brown. The bleeding had stopped an hour ago, around the same time the wind faltered and the rain became a half-hearted drizzle. But I hadn’t unwound the checkered cotton yet.

When I did, it’d be a signal. A truce flag thrown into the no-man’s land of the beige carpet. Dave would look at the limp towel and nod in his strange, solemn way. We’d stand, and with nothing being said, clean up.

I wasn’t ready to clean up yet.

The storm rolled on to the next town, where it would batter someone else’s windows as if ours, lit with the chaotic glow of a muted action movie, had never existed. Dave took a whistling breath. I closed my eyes, praying he wouldn’t speak. We never spoke after. If he spoke, he’d start something new.

“You think you need stiches?” he asked.

“It’s fine. It’s stopped bleeding.”

I forced my eyes open, toward his face. He leaned forward, elbows braced on his knees, staring between his bare feet and the frayed hems of his jeans.

“That’s good,” he said. There was still a thin, pink crescent on the underside of his foot from last time. He hadn’t needed stiches, either. Or he said, he hadn’t. I’d felt bad after, blood oozing up from the carpet, diluted by foamy spray cleaner. But really, he knew better than to go barefoot when I started.

“Yeah. Good,” I said.

I reached up with my unbandaged hand to undo my ponytail. The gesture caught Dave’s attention. He drew toward the arm of the couch; too slow for a flinch, too deliberate to not be defensive. My arm fell loose with my hair. I had nothing left in me.

“I should clean this up,” Dave said.

“I’ll do it.”

The rain was only the lightest glimmer on the windows now. At least, I hadn’t broken any windows. Then we’d have a real mess.

“You’re tired,” Dave said.

I laughed. As if I’d had a long day at the office. Or run a marathon. Or done anything other than fall apart. Again.

There was a time, before the first time, when we would’ve said this couldn’t happen to us. Other people, sure. But us? No. There’d be no broken bottles and storm leaving a sticky heat as it rumbled off for us.

I swallowed against a rusty taste in my throat. My fingers shook. I gripped the dishtowel tighter, though there was no more blood to soak up. I remembered buying the towels to match the placemats on the new kitchen table. I’d always wanted a dining room with a silky, shiny table. Something dark. Mahogany maybe. But I’d been happy to start with matching placemats in the kitchen.

Dave had brought home flowers every Friday and I kept forgetting to find a vase. We laughed about it, using a rinsed-out yogurt container until the bottom grew green and crusty. I threw out the container. Dave stopped buying flowers. But I picked out kitchen towels, stacking them in the cupboard with the four extra placemats we never used. If we had friends over then, we sat around the TV or in camping chairs on the slab patio, passing around take-out boxes, beers sweating on the concrete.

No one came for dinner anymore. Something close to fear lurked in their eyes if our paths happened to cross in the supermarket. As if my bad brain cells—bad blood—bad luck—whatever was to blame, might infect them next.

Dave and I ate in silence most nights, forks scratching on red bordered plates. Placemats reminding us we were meant to have moved on to greater things. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe without an audience, all our dreams emptied out. Exposed by the silence for the imposters we always knew them to be.

“We should…” I started to say.

We could—” Dave began at the same time.

We both halted, neither offering to continue. It was just as well. What was there to say that wouldn’t be pretend?

I let the dishtowel unwind from my hand. A red and white ribbon fluttering away.

“I’ll start cleaning up,” I said.

“Listen,” Dave said, turning to the window. “Storm’s over.”

B. B. Garin is a writer living in Buffalo, NY. Her e-chapbook, New Songs for Old Radios, is available from Wordrunner Press. She is a recipient of the 2020 Sara Patton Fiction Stipend from The Writer’s Hotel. Her work has appeared in 3rd Wednesday, Crack the Spine, Inklette and more. She is currently a prose reader and occasional blog contributor for The Masters Review. She earned a B.F.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, and continues to improve her craft at GrubStreet Writing Center, where she has developed several short fiction pieces, as well as two novels. Learn more at

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