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Six Months In, Another Kind of Undressing


“He’s not gonna wake up,” she says of her toddler, asleep in the damaged white chair.

“But, what if he does?” I ask.

“He won’t.  Fuck, what if he does?”

“It’s not . . . ” I say.  “I can’t . . .” I try.  “This is a cultural difference.”

So we compromise on sex in the kitchen, where ants traverse the brown grime that coats the linoleum floor.  She is twenty-one, a squat-slender Latin Snow White shooting innocent eye flutterings even as her body does otherwise.  It is the first time she has invited me to her apartment, invited me to meet that one-quarter version of herself that she has named Lazaro.

Not so long ago, when she was a toddler herself, she would listen to baseball on the radio with her grandfather, even though she had never seen a game, didn’t understand what “runs,” what “steals,” what “home” even meant.  Once, he let her crayon his white hair rainbow, just because she wanted to.  Then he died, the first of many men to let her down.
I will leave this country soon.  And in the stairwell of her apartment building as I say the small goodbye that will precede the larger, she sobs and grabs and pleads love.  I, thirty-two, polite behind my glasses, convince both her and myself that I am surprised at this, since all she has pleaded for the past six months has been fucking.

The open stairwell sags from water damage.  The neighbor who gives her two-for-one coke in exchange for light flirtation watches from his doorway as if we are Telemundo.
Lazaro has awoken.  He chuckles, squeals, runs around us, trying his little-boy best to make Mom happy again.  He does her favorite game, the one she’s always wanting him to do in front of her friends—his Elmo dance, his Elmo dance for her.

A graduate of Vassar College and the University of Arkansas MFA program, Adam Prince is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English and Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, Black Warrior Review, Northwest Review, Mid-American Review, and LIT among others. He’s also Fiction Editor at Grist: The Journal for Writers.