I’m OK, I swear I just want to eathttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/DSC_0112.jpg?fit=750%2C500&ssl=1750500Beth GilstrapBeth Gilstraphttps://barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/bethgilstrapcut.jpg
In between the first time we held the same air in our mouths and the last were rides in your Volkswagen Scirocco in between Charlotte and Raleigh when you’d touch my knee after each gear shift and flip the tape at stoplights and when it went too long or the green arrow didn’t come, you’d lean over and kiss my neck. Midwinter, the ice came so we stayed at school. In between your room and mine were five brick stairwells, a brick alley, an asphalt parking lot, and a thousand branches, coated and sagging to the ground. You’d snuck in a rice cooker for us and by the time I arrived, my cheekbone already swelling from the slip sliding I’d done in the empty parking lot, it was almost ready, just shy of sticky, you said and the smell of your unbathed skin mixing with sesame oil and mirin and soy was enough to keep me from noticing how my eye had nearly closed. Crouched down on the floor, you opened the lid, catching condensation drops in your free hand, but when you looked up at me your grin vanished. You replaced the lid, turned the dial off, unplugged the thing, and led me to your bed. “I thought we were going to eat,” I said, but you said it could wait, sitting next to me, looking from one eye to the other. Instead of going back out after dinner, you propped me up on pillows, pulled an instant cold pack from your rucksack, holding it over my eye. “How does that feel?” you said. Fifteen years later when we find out we’re both in Wilmington for the weekend, we eat grilled zucchini and tofu with mole sauce over rice and when I put too much habanero on mine and accidentally brush my knee against yours you say, scooping another forkful, “How does that feel?”
Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as Fiction Editor at Little Fiction | Big Truths and a reader at Creative Nonfiction. Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week and recently selected by Dan Chaon for inclusion in the Best Microfiction Anthology. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Wigleaf, among others.