The Wretch

The doorbell rings. On the mend from the flu, groggy Hal pushes aside limp folds of comforter, loosening the odor of unwashed body and linen. He shuffles across the apartment in his sweat pants and long-john shirt, opens the front door to garish daylight, blinks. His eyes burn as with a thin film of acid, and his head feels clogged with swamp muck. Before him Elle offers a plate of fresh strawberries and kiwis, with chopped mint as garnish. “I can’t stay, but I thought this might help you feel better,” she says.

Hal and Elle have gone out a few times, but this is a first unannounced visit. As Hal musters a smile, the scent of his own foul body rises from the slack neckline of his shirt, drawing down his eyes. Elle plants a toe of her sandal on the concrete landing. Hal follows the arch of her foot, roves a topography of metacarpals, ligaments, and veins, lingers on the tissue beneath her toenails. Hal concedes—as Elle hands over the plate, giving him a quick peck good-bye—that the foot is the spitting image of his older sister’s. He turns back into the apartment, the smell of dirty pink socks, which so often appeared in the hallway of his childhood home, flooding his mind. Through the kitchen door ahead of him, a garbage bin presents itself like a beacon. Should he actually eat the fruit so graciously offered to him, or not eat it and say he did?
© Thad Fowler. All rights reserved.

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