Saturday, 15 June 2019

'The Game' by Gay Degani

In this bar with its boozy smell, a man bent to light her cigarette with a wooden match. How odd, she thought. Most men carried Bics or silver lighters, and as they flamed her Newports, she studied their faces. If she liked what she saw, she smiled and flickered her lashes.

This guy had matches in his pocket, the kind carried by hikers, campers, and woodsmen, a nature-boy with a day’s growth of beard. He challenged her to a game of pick-up-sticks on the scratched mahogany bar.

“You mean that kid’s game?” she asked.

 “But with matches.” He smiled and tossed a handful on the bar.

They drank and played and drank some more. He always won. Her fingers, never dainty, struggled with the shorter, thicker matches. Eventually she scraped them into a pile, dropped them into the empty pretzel bowl, and set them on fire.

They watched the tiny blaze until there was nothing but ashes, his hand slipping under the bar, and under her skirt to stroke her thigh, finger her underwear, loosen the strands of her body until she was ready to take a ride in his truck. She knew he’d have a truck, and that she’d kiss him as soon as they climbed in. What she didn’t know was that he would press his finger to her lips and say in a husky voice, “Not yet.”

She sat close to him in the cab, his right hand between her legs, as they drove with the windows down, warm air and the scent of jasmine breezing into the cab. He turned up a dirt road and parked under forest of oaks, their tangled branches blotting the moon, turning the night chilly and dark. She shivered, and he wrapped an arm around her and pulling her tight, whispered, “Kiss me now,” and she did.

As she lay still on a bed of oak leaves, acorns, and broken twigs, he bent down to watch her eyes. Her head was clouded with matchsticks, slivers of wood, and pain. She wondered how many infernos could come from one oak? And how soon before her heart would stop and the police would come, moving her aside to comb through the weeds for tire tracks, foot prints, and the blade he used. And he’d be long gone, shaking a new box of matches in his pocket.

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