Unknown Animals

Peg Alford Pursell

He was smiling down at her, his full lips, eyes shining, so happy to have had his say. Above, stars littered the black, black sky. Somewhere in the distance, the unheard ocean.

She lay on her back beneath him, the ground cold. Once she’d loved these camping trips, the open salted air, shifts in the wind offering the smell of the extinguished fire’s ashes, scents mixed with the briny taste of his skin. The excitement of animals lurking out there in the surrounding darkness.

His face had been so dear that she knew every crag, every line, how his eyebrows quirked when he was unsure. Her knowledge of the intricacies of his changing expressions, the minute shifts in the muscles along his jawline had elated her.

Now as he fingered his beard, she filled with the sense that not only was it he who was ugly but she too. Only momentary beauty existed, an instant of respite with the sole purpose of demonstrating its elusiveness.

It was no one’s fault that she lay as she did, stiller than she had heartbeats earlier, the hardness under her back unforgiving. Love was like rainfall, either softening the ground or washing it away.

His say — those insignificant words he’d insisted upon — drifted away in the night. His smile evaporated. She let him take her hand once he moved to lie beside her.

Soon he fell asleep. She listened for animals out there in the wilderness, for any sign at all.


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