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A flash fiction for review and comment. I am beginning the new revision of Devil’s Gut. This is an exercise for the ol’ writing muscle! I welcome comments and criticism.

“It is harder to deprive oneself of a pain than a pleasure.”

 

Custard Out-Touched

 

The thought arrived in a puff of smoke.

 

“Possession is nine points of the law,” she thought. Kim looked across the room to watch Jerry, her husband of 15 years. He had turned on the television to watch the Olympics, but his gaze only encountered the television sporadically.

 

She could feel his eyes watching, trying to read her mind.

 

Without warning a pain shot around her ribs and rose before settling between her ears, pinching her brain with an unrelenting pressure. She knew it would pass in a moment, but the impulse to respond had to be checked, somehow.

 

“I think a little ride would do wonders, Jer.”

 

“You think that’s wise?”

 

“Jere, please!”

 

“I’ll go with you-“

 

“I’m fine! It’s been two weeks. I just want to ride 76 South to Abbott’s for a custard. You know, ride with the windows down and feel the rush of air.”

 

“And that’s all?”

 

She looked at Jere as if his anything else was incredulous.

 

The announcer on the television interrupted with the introduction of Michael Phelps in the 200 meter butterfly, his signature event. They both paused to watch him stride along the pool, headsets fixed in his ear and waving to the applauding crowd. They were distracted for a brief moment while history played out before their eyes – history, if swimming mattered to you and the number of gold medals accrued by one athlete.

 

“This is his moment; but he’s not the fastest time in the pool, you know.”

 

“He’s got eighteen medals! Jeez, Jere. You can’t take that away. Possession is nine points of the law.”

 

“Some think you’re only as good as your last race.”

 

“Yeah, well…” and Kim’s mind drifted to her last race. Another pain challenged her mask threatening to break open the pain shooting through her ribs and back. The grinding of her teeth was almost imperceptible, except perhaps for Jere.

 

“You’re mother called me at work today-“

 

“Oh, let me guess! Mommy dearest was blaming you for my condition.”

 

Jere rolled his eyes back to the television, where the eight swimmers were all poised on the blocks. The shot sounded and eight bodies launched themselves into the water.

 

“The butterfly is a ridiculously inefficient stroke. Look at that! It’s just not natural.”

 

Jere grunted.

 

“It’s got to be painful!”

 

Jere’s eyes cut back towards Kim. She felt the indictment. There was pain there, too.

 

Kim and Jere watched as the swimmers made the turn and lunged home repeatedly.

 

“So, tell me where the butterfly is! Who thinks this is a butterfly?”

 

They watched as the swimmers neared the wall, Phelps clearly in the lead; the South African closing.

 

“Damn! He’s gonna do it, Jere! Oh, my God! Look-“

 

There was much splashing of water and frenzied applause. Phelps finished second; the South African Chad Le Cos out touched him at the wall.

 

“Jeez, honey! Didn’t he do that to someone in Beijing?”

 

She did not hear him only watched in disbelief. The pain brought her back. She stood up hoping to mask her discomfort.

 

“You’re hurting aren’t you?”

 

“I’m gonna go for a ride.”

 

“You didn’t answer me. You’re hurting, aren’t you.”

 

“It’s how I know I’m alive.”

 

“You selfish bitch.”

 

“It’s my body, what the hell does it matter? We’re all dead anyway.”

 

Jere switched the tv off with the remote and stood up. Kim walked past him toward the door; he grabbed her by the arm.

 

“What are yo-“

 

Jere pushed up the sleeve to bare her upper arm. He looked up from the naked arm.

 

“You took it off…”

 

“Life never cared for me anyway. The pain tells me I’m still alive-“

 

“What about my pain? What does that tell you? Everyday I die a little?”

 

“We’ve been over this too many times, Jere.”

 

“What kind of perverse pleasure can you get from a cigarette?”

 

“Actually, none. Pleasure is… simply something to mask the pain. The pain is real. That’s how I know I’m alive.”

 

She pulled her arm away, smoothing the sleeve back down her arm. She had gone more than two weeks without a cigarette following this last operation; that was two weeks too long. He didn’t understand her desperation for the only life she’s known. She ripped the patch off this morning; she had to.

 

“Don’t go out that door, Kim! You’re not going for Abbott’s, are you?”

 

“Certainly, I am.”

 

She gave him a light peck on his cheek, grabbed the keys from the hook, and disappeared out the garage door.

 

Jere flicked the TV on again. The commentators were discussing Phelps’ lack of desire in the last moments of the race. Pictures of him standing on the platform in the silver medal position were humbling and disturbing both.

 

Jere knew he would be blamed yet again. Hell, his mother-in-law would probably blame him for Phelps’ silver medal finish. Jere settled into his chair, the silver reflections of the TV flashing across his otherwise expressionless face.

 

Traffic was heavy on 76, darkness beginning to saturate the air. The intense lights of an oncoming tractor trailer caught Kim’s eye. Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel. Her hands, on the steering wheel drifted to her left. The blaring horn should have startled her. Then she felt the comforting pain, but only for an instant. It was over.

 

The television blared, a sleeping Jere completely relaxed into his recliner. He almost didn’t hear the the phone ring.

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