(from Broken Heart Symphony In Four Movements)

The day we first met, she was naked. The empty gallery had turned the A/C off and she said, “It’s hot, too hot for clothes,” and she stripped down to skin. She was pink and raw from sunburn, shiny plasma peeking out of translucent cracks in her epidermis.

“How many times have you done this today?” I asked her. “Also, hello.”

I know I flushed pinker than her, fully clothed in my capris and navy fingerless gloves, even though it was already July—burning for her, because she didn’t seem to notice her own skin.

She smiled, asked, “Am I beautiful?”

“I don’t even know you.”

“Okay,” she said.

“I have to go,” I said.


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She was still naked, our second encounter. I was eating a blizzard in the Dairy Queen and she was sitting at the counter with the tall stools. I tried to avert my eyes, to focus on whatever was outside the window in the parking lot, but she caught my gaze in hers and trapped me. As I watched her, she grinned and twirled, bare feet on the linoleum floor, bringing the tips of her fingers to her scalp.

She dug in and peeled.

The skin fell away in long, white sheets, in layers. Once, when I was seven, I was so impatient for the tulips to bloom that I dug my fingernail into the closed tip and peeled back the raw petals, watching as the little pollen strands peaked and curled. The fragrance was the same now, same too-young, too-sweet scent; same breaking sound.

When she finished, she stood, all sinewy muscle and a wiry mesh of veins, stood in a nest of her discarded flesh.

She smiled and asked, “Am I graceful?”

I shrugged. “I barely know you.”

“Okay,” she said.

“This ice cream’s gonna melt,” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

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I anticipated the dance, our third day. We were at the lakeside, an abandoned reservoir with dead wood floating in long logs in the water, the forest growing into the sea.

“It’s too dry, too dry for blood,” she said, perched on a branch hanging over the shimmery water. This time, I clenched my eyes shut.

I whispered, “Don’t,” but it wasn’t loud enough to hear and I didn’t mean it to be. I heard the crack and snap of veins and muscles popping off, the cool plops of their splattering beneath her. Then, a pause, a breath, and the splash, smooth as a stone thrown into the sea, smooth as bone.

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I open my eyes, and there she is, swimming, letting the water pass through her ribs and phalanges with ease and carelessness. She doesn’t float well, a skeleton stuffed still with lungs, stomach, a beating heart. But she bobs up and down anyway.

Her eyes have fallen out now, and pink-and-red strands of muscle drape over the branch she left. She turned to me anyway, with her hollow skull face, and asked, “Do you love me?”

“Actually,” I said to my knees, “I don’t know you at all.”

“Okay,” she said.

“I have to go home now, it’s getting late,” I said.

“Okay,” she said.

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But I watch her swim out of the corner of my eye, bald and exposed, for too long. I walk slowly, until she is eclipsed, until I’ve walked too far from the reservoir and all I see is trees. It’s only then I notice the blue thread fraying around my fingers. I huddle into my coat, goosebumps riddling my flesh, and idly wonder if it might be time for a new pair of gloves.

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—Lucy Merriman is a Senior English major at Kent State University. Her poetry has appeared in Pif and Grace Notes, her nonfiction has appeared in Long Weekends, The Burr, and Ohio Magazine, and her artwork and comics have appeared in Flywheel and Luna Negra. This is her first fiction publication.

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