“The Story of Russell”
Russell was the darkest person I ever knew—I mean, the one who did the most drugs. He had lustrous black hair and petal-white skin. His neck smelled like pine tar, loam, and molasses.
He had lived with his girl in a flat for eleven years. In his matter of fact recountings he would say her name and I could never understand it. It just passed through the air between us, heavy and thudding. He opened the tall cupboards and brought out glasses for us. It was cold in summertime. He showed me the rooms they lived in. They were painted silver and blue. She had tried to kill herself in that very apartment. If I lived there, I wondered, would I sleep with Russell and try to kill myself too? It seemed like a natural progression.
The place was tepid and bristling. We were throwing ourselves through time. His songs were always playing: inscrutable men singing about spaced-out girls, love that ruins you, things that happened in New York. He took a man’s life on the street outside late one night. He said it had been an accident. Something about suffocation or strangulation. I don’t know which exactly. No one will.
This was on Twenty-Second Street, the corridor that leads from one man to another. Everything was starting and ending there and had been going on before anyway. The jasmine grew recklessly. The air was overbearing.
Russell was selling a short life filled with the rewards of an unweighted ascent. He asked me to marry him at city hall in February. The birds were singing crazily at midnight. The sky was the color of a cloudy white marble. We stood on the grey steps under the bare trees and ice-cold winter raindrops.
“the volunteer state”
is it hot in tennessee? she asked, smiling. the question contained a small joy. yes, but in tennessee they have air conditioners, he answered and turned away so that she could see a crease in the back of his head. even his shins were sweating. the sky had set. all the tires, every road and voice from open windows, the vague sound hung on a city. her legs fell asleep at night. not from a lack of circulation, but because they were dead. imagine this kind of pain in your heart. just imagine it.
JENNIFER E. BROWN
Jennifer E. Brown is a writer from San Francisco. Her work appears in Lungfull!, The Indiana Review, Fourteen Hills, The New Orleans Review, and other American literary journals. Presently she has been nominated by Short, Fast & Deadly for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and works at Mills College in Oakland, California.
(image: Jennifer E. Brown)