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by Diana Bollmann

With her legs tangled between the rumpled sheets, Jessamine lay on the bed while Kirk nodded off next to her. Her skin, glistening with post-sex sweat, smelled fleshy, like uncooked turkey. She once heard that people get horney after funerals and she was no exception. When they lowered her Aunt Pauline's casket into the ground, she had to have Kirk right then and there. While the other mourners fed their faces with casseroles and desserts, Jessamine and Kirk snuck out of her cousin's house and headed for her aunt’s place a few miles down the road.

The turn-of-the-century Oklahoma farmhouse belonged to Jessamine now that her aunt was gone. Its weathered exterior, that survived nearly seventy years of dust, blight, and tornadoes, stood like a bastion against the flat grasslands. Inside, the drapes and chairs still contained the aroma of pork, okra and cornbread within their fibers, recalling days past when families gathered there to eat, drink, and tell their stories of harder times and tougher days.

Jessamine’s eyes followed the periphery of the powdery blue bedroom that hoarded heavy shadows in its dusty corners. She fingered the brass bars on the headboard of her aunt’s double bed while Kirk slept. Pauline hadn’t lived in the house for over a year, ever since she got sick. Jessamine pressed her hands into the mattress. Auntie wouldn’t mind. She pulled up the bedding from underneath her legs and covered herself. She prepared for sleep, noting the overhead fan as it clicked with each completed counterclockwise revolution—its military-like cadence lulling Jessamine into a hazy stupor. 

Her eyelids fluttered, then closed. The muted tapping of the blades brought to mind childhood recollections in pictures, frame-by-frame, as if in slow motion. In the distance, she heard the sound of her own child-like voice counting out loud. One Mississippi. . . . a picture of her father comes into view. Two Mississippi . . . he approaches Jessamine as she stands in their kitchen. Three Mississippi . . . he raises his arm and slaps her face with the back of his hand, slamming her up against the wall.

She sees herself at eleven years old, sliding down to the wooden floor, holding onto her side with her quivering hand, the memory of past injustices festering fresh beneath the surface of her skin, the meaty taste of her own blood covering her tongue. The fan's background clacking flicks Jessamine's eardrum as her father's image continues to project itself against the backdrop of her mind. He stands before her like a mirage, wavering, with his stubby fingers wrapped around the neck of a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam. With a quick snapping of his head, he turns away, leaving her by herself—this time, for good. 

The abrupt move from Alabama to her Aunt Pauline's house following her father's sudden departure, left Jessamine feeling his lingering presence throughout her adolescence. As Jessamine grew older, she saw her father's menacing face behind the eyes of every ill-begotten lover who crossed her path. The married manager at the tire store where she worked after school, for instance, who compensated Jessamine with a can of Orange Crush for thirty minutes of her time at the local Motel 6 on US Highway 75. Or the buck private stationed at the nearby army base who promised he'd come back for her after his stint in Vietnam, never thinking a more cunning Vietcong soldier hiding behind a bush would strike the last tally mark of his days on this earth with a combat knife. Or her twelfth grade English teacher, who wrapped his clammy white hand around her wrist one day in his classroom after school when she stopped by just to ask him about the next assignment—an essay on integrity, oddly enough. Despite their distinct personalities, each man left behind an indelible hint of himself, an unforgettable presence that pulsed inside her with every heartbeat.

A warm breeze came inside from the opened window and trailed across her face, recalling Jessamine back to the present moment. The overhead fan continued to clatter as Jessamine opened her eyes. While Kirk stirred in his sleep, she studied his face—his blonde hair and fair skin—a stark contrast with the ebony tones of her naked body. How long will this last? A question she asked herself with increased frequency. He turned to his side and wrapped his long arm across her shoulder. "Hey," he said, gazing at Jessamine with his blue eyes. She smiled and stroked his hair with her fingers.

"Go back to sleep, baby," she said, with a slight wrinkle to her brow. "We've got all afternoon."

Diana Bollmann makes her home in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has published a short story in the Sedona Journal of Emergence and spent most of her grown-up life teaching children with learning and behavioral challenges. Contact Diana.