Long After the Long Ride into the Sunset

Marvin Shackelford

First thing in the morning I draw a blue mark in the shallow dimple of my cheek, so near my mouth I sometimes taste it. The air is curious just before sunrise, darker and cooler, and I dress a little too warm, too safe. My hands shake, pulling wool from the hanger. The house sleeps. Outside, the birds begin to speak. They’re excited, warning of something. I lie on the porch and hold my hand out away from the sun. I study its shadows disappearing. I flex my fingers and clutch them tight, find the tendons and sinew where they hide. When I make a fist they smooth away again, but my arm begins to ache. Ponies out on the plain throw their heads and stumble to their next day. I listen to their strange decisions, hoof and nicker, always in flight. They grow from gray-and-white ages past, carefree dreams, to finely pointed patches of color, clear outlines quickly separating the world. They disappear, pieces and the whole. The house still sleeps but I rise into it. I line a skillet with thickly sliced bacon, applewood, and the rooms fill with smoke. It’s the idea of breakfast, and it’s only a matter of time. I check the many bodies in their beds, see them start to swell and turn, and revisit the mirror. I’m still beautiful, the mark still there, and all our life sits neatly, nearly as we placed it. Almost unchanged, but not quite.

Marvin Shackelford is the author of Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, March ’22), Endless Building (poems), and a volume of flash forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks. His work has, or soon will have, appeared in The Kenyon Review, West Branch, Permafrost, New Ohio Review and elsewhere. He resides, quietly, in Southern Middle Tennessee.