Words By Madelyn Killion, Art By Adrian Wallett
You step out onto the street, the bottle tucked under your arm. Even over the din you can hear its contents sloshing, feel the liquid careen inside the glass. You take a deep breath to steady your nerves. Bodies push past you, each face different—some laughing, some angry—but none that you recognize on this thick-aired morning.
The longer you walk the warmer you get, even though the sun has yet to peek over the buildings that flank the street. Dampness comes to your armpits and your back while your throat grows drier, and still you can hear the sloshing of the cool liquid in the jar. For an instant you imagine twisting off the cap and taking a swig, then shudder. No, after, after, you will slake your thirst.
You turn down a side street, thinking it will be cooler and less crowded. Thankfully it is, and you take a moment to stop and check your reflection in a grubby shop window. With one hand you smooth your beard, noticing a small pimple hidden in the crease between your nose and cheek. Using a ragged nail, you lance it, then wince in pain. You rub at the raw spot until it stops weeping, the pinkness now bright against your skin.
Rivulets of sweat drip down your chest. You pull at the collar of your shirt, smoothing the blue fabric. You’re pleased with your decision to wear the same shirt you proposed in. Running a hand through your thick hair, you are satisfied with what you see, and walk on.
The side street is much quieter and it helps to clear your mind. From a window up high you can hear the warbling laughter of a young woman. A memory snags at your heart but you will it away. After, after you will shed your tears.
You walk faster now, eager to finish your business. At the end of the side street, you turn again so you can cross the foot bridge. On both sides of the bridge, men and boys congregate with fishing poles and buckets, casting their shimmering lines into the murky river. You slow to watch one boy, maybe half your age, stand on his tiptoes to look over the railings, his eyes wide. He pulls a piece of bread out of his pocket, and you expect him to eat it, but he rips it apart and tosses it high in the air where eager birds swoop to catch the unexpected meal. Something rumbles inside you, and you remember that you didn’t eat breakfast. Your hand squeezes your belly into submission. After, after you will feed your hunger.
You slow down as you approach her house. Your feet feel heavier than at the start of your journey, and this heaviness seeps up your legs to your torso and to your soul, so that by the time you reach the green-painted door you know so well, you are leaden. Closing your eyes, you exhale a great breath. You are ready. You are ready.
You raise your hand and knock. The wood is hard against your knuckles. You wait, the heaviness now dissipating. You feel lighter and roll onto the balls of your feet, pushing your shoulders back. You are expansive. You are true. You are ready.
Finally, you hear her voice behind the door, her soft giggle. With a click, she unlocks it and pulls it open, her dark eyes down, her pink mouth smiling. She looks up, and her smile disappears.
You unscrew the lid of the jar and let the acid fly.