Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Fall 2013    poetry    all issues


Slater Welte
What Made Us Leave

Heather Frese
The Coffee Table Book of Funeral Etiquette

Gibson Monk
The Cedar Orb

Bronwyn Berg
Try to Be Normal

Jessie Foley
Night Swimming

E. Ce Miller
A Shock to the System

Lucy Tan

Daniel C. Bryant
En route

Marc Burgett
Armed and Dangerous

Liz Cook
Why You Should Never Speak To Your First Love

Eileen Arthurs
Investing in Plastic

Barry Bergman
This Mascot Business

Katherine Enggass

Maria Hummer
The Person I Was Yesterday

Tony Burnett
Painting Over Stains

Karen Pullen
Something to Tell Henry

Catherine Bell
Getting Away

Steven Lee Beeber
The Box

Jessica Bagwell

Jodi Barnes
Six Days of Pritchett

Jessica Bagwell


The guy sitting across from the battered wood overlay table is the first person that I have told about the cancer. For that reason, I really wish that he would stop puffing on the unlit cigarette in his lips and say something. The concentrated stare he is giving his own hands radiates anxiety that burns my face. As the silence stretches on, I begin to wonder if I even said what I think I said. I’ve rehearsed it in my head so many times, it’s hard to know for sure.

He is silent; the only silent thing in this whole bar.

Finally, he raises his thin arm and brushes his stringy brown hair back with his fingers, and then abruptly drops his limb, lifelessly back to the table, knocking hard once onto the surface with his knuckles.

“Well, shit,” he exclaims.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I mean, I’m just really surprised. You really don’t look like you have cancer.”

“Thank you?”

“I’m sorry. I mean you have your hair. When will you lose that pretty hair?”

He says this dripping with skepticism, or maybe condescension, while he holds a bent unlit cigarette in his hand. It’s the same one he’s been holding all night. He rolls it habitually between each finger.

“I won’t. I’m not going to do any kind of treatment. No point.”

“I see. How do you feel?”


The waitress with the frizzy hair brings two more beers in bottles. He tucks the cigarette back behind his ear, reclines in his stool as he brings the longneck to his lips.

“So, then when will you die?” he asks.

“When will you die?” I ask.

“Please.” He says it. I think it’s earnest.

“They said eight weeks, maybe,” I say, looking down at my beer, scratching at the red and white Lone Star label.

“How long ago was that?”

Wasn’t it four days after I fainted in the kitchen and hit my head on the counter? I couldn’t be sure, but it didn’t matter anyway. My life, all of it, was now eight weeks long, and years stretched out in between each sleepless night.

“Three weeks, I think.”

“So I shouldn’t get too attached,” he says. His smirk isn’t empathetic, but it’s not exactly callous either. It’s just the casual, musing expression that sometimes accompanies talk about the weather.

“It’s hard to get attached in a few weeks anyway.”

“So then why did you sit down?” he asks.

“Hey, why don’t you just smoke that thing already” I say pointing the neck of my beer toward the cigarette in his hand.

“Well, I like cigarettes, but I don’t like to smoke them because I don’t want to smell like smoke,” he says. He grants me an apologetic shrug and drains the rest of his beer.

“You’re in a bar. There’s smoke everywhere,”

“That’s true, “ he says as he chokes on the last swig. A little bit of beer foam oozes out onto his lips. “But I can’t afford to smoke them, really. Too expensive. I’ve had this same cigarette for three days now and I feel satisfied. If I light it up, I’ll need another and another and then I’ll be broke.”

I nod.

“What kind of cancer is it? My grandma had ovarian cancer. Shit sucks.” He holds up the empty bottle and points at mine when the waitress walks by. Without stopping, she grabs both bottles as she passes our table. My bottle is still half-full and beer sloshes out and onto the table, running off the side and onto my jeans. Without an apology she hands me the towel hanging out of her back pocket. The fizz seeps through the denim, stinging my legs and I am then reminded of the care with which I shaved them earlier.

“It’s a brain tumor behind my nose. It’s next to my olfactory bulb,” I say as I press the stiff white towel into the denim to soak up the mess.

“What the fuck is that?” he asks, still rolling the unlit cigarette in between his fingers.

“It’s like a sponge in your nose that soaks up smells. It’s how you smell things.” I deliberately and spitefully drop the towel on the floor.

That’s how I’d imagined the bulb, anyway.

“Really? What does it smell like?”

“What does what smell like?” I’m looking down now. I’m staring at the jagged letters carved deeply into

“The tumor. You ought to be able to smell it, right?”

“Is that a fucking joke?” I ask.

“No, really.”

“I can’t smell it. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Really, if you could, you probably would have gone to the doctor sooner, right? And then you could get better?” he says.

I nod. That is probably true. Really, though, I wonder now why I haven’t smelled it. I think now that I ought to be able to smell it all the time.

“Cancer has to smell bad, right? You know it can’t smell like flowers or something sweet. I bet it doesn’t smell like vanilla, or cotton, or leather.”

“I do not know that at all. Because I can’t smell it.”

“Right. But it’s cancer. It’s bad and gross so it has to smell bad.”

“Yes, I imagine it does, but I can’t smell it.”

“I bet it smells like dog shit.”

“I bet it smells like rotten fish.”


“Cat Piss.”


“Nursing home.”


The waitress brings us two more beers.

“So do you maybe want to leave after these?” he asks.



“I’m sober,” I say.

“I’m not,” he says. “But back to the other thing; really?”

“Yes,” I say. I expel the word with a sigh.

“Well, okay then.”

“It doesn’t bother you then?” I ask.

“What?” he asks.

“The tumor thing” I respond. “It doesn’t freak you out?”

“Why would it? It’s not like it’s contagious,” he says, still looking at the cigarette in his hand. Has he actually looked at me since I told him?

“No, but knowing I’m dying—is that weird?” I ask.

“Did it bother anyone else when you told them?”

I shake my head slightly, maybe even unperceivably. It doesn’t matter. He’s not looking at me anyway. He’s looking at the bouncer turning away two girls with apparent fakes. Everyone’s attention is now on the door, waiting breathlessly for the teens to make a scene.

“I think about death all the time. If you hadn’t told me, I already would have fantasized about you dying anyway,” he says, looking at me again, finally.

“Fantasized. I mean, Jesus. Fuck,” I say, trying to muster up some offense that I wasn’t really feeling. Maybe inoperable brain tumors are the only truly offensive ideas. Everything else is just annoying at worst.

“Not in a good way, but I really think about it all the time. I look at people, strangers, my family, everyone, and wonder how they will die.”

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Yeah. But I never would have thought cancer for you,” he says coolly.

“Oh yeah?” I say. Me neither.

“Yeah, you read more of a stroke,” he says. Then he corrects himself, “But not until you are very, very old. Like a normal person.”


“Yeah, normal like of natural causes.”

“Cancer is a natural cause.”

“It’s not natural for a young person.”

“Well then I guess I’m abnormal.”

“Aren’t we all.” It’s not a question, but a declaration.

“I see. What about—” I pause and look around the room. “What about our waitress?”

“She is not normal, “ he says and I can’t tell if he is kidding.

“No. I mean how will she die?” I ask. It’s not like I actually believe him or anything. I only ask because it’s nice to think about someone else’s mortality for a minute. I begin peeling the red and white Lone Star label from my beer.

“If she’s not careful, it will be drunk driving,” he says while pointing with his beer, over to the waitress, whose nametag says April. I watch as she takes two shots right after the other. “Wrap whatever little old sports car she drives right around a pole.”

I shiver at this prophecy. He flashes a proud smile, and winks at me knowingly, maybe seductively.

“Okay, then. What about you?” I ask, unnerved.


“Yeah. Surely you’ve thought about your own death,” I assert, slipping the label completely off my beer and starting to fold it in half over and over again.

“I’m going to be drafted, and die in whatever shit we step into next,” he says, placing the cigarette between his lips again, and angling it up and down.

“You mean Iran?” I ask.

“Could be. Could be North Korea. Could be Canada. Fuck we don’t know where we stand with anyone anymore,” he says, actually upset now.

“I doubt Canada. They aren’t very aggressive, eh?” I say.

“I was just making a point,” he says, cooling down now. “I don’t really keep up with the news.”

I put the folded beer label into the ashtray.

“You ready?” he asks.

I nod.

I step down off of the tall stool. I grab my coat and slip it over my blouse. I feel inside the pockets to make sure my license and debit card are still there. He’s already at the bar when I get there. I pull out my card, and he shakes his head at me.

“Hey, let me get this,” he shouts over the jukebox tune blasting from the speaker that is now directly overhead

“Really, I can pay. It’s fine,” I say stepping up onto my tiptoes and angling into his ear.

“No. I mean, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not your boyfriend,” he says.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I say.

“Good, then let’s take your car.” He points toward the door with the pen he has been handed by the waitress. I look at her while he is scribbling his name on the receipt and she frowns severely at me.

My companion. It is too late to ask his name now. In my passenger seat he fumbles with my radio. He stops every few stations and sings along to mostly the country songs. I hate them, but then he carefully adjusts the knob to clear up this static-filled choir song that immediately sends chills up my spine.

“God, this song,” he says, turning it up.

“It’s kind of creepy,” I say glancing at him. His eyes are closed and he is swaying his hands back and forth like a choir director. God, he really is drunk.

“It’s my dad’s favorite,” he says.

When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll

So, it’s a hymn.

“I’m not religious,” I proclaim over the choir.

“Me neither, but my dad’s a choir director at a Baptist Church.”

It is well.”

“Which one?”

With my soul.”

“The big one, the main one, downtown.”


Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say—”

“I thought you said you weren’t religious,” he says turning the volume up.

Though Satan shall buffet, though trials shall come—”

“I’m really not.”

“Even now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that when people are dying the tend to find God or whatever.”

I sigh and grip more tightly on the steering wheel.

My sin, O the bliss, of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part, but the whole!”

“I thought that’s what you meant.”

I bear it no more! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord. O My soul!”


“It is Well!”

“I just . . . ” I begin.

“It is Well!”

“I think it’s a little late for all of that.” I bite my bottom lip and clench more tightly to the steering wheel.

“With my Soul. O, my Soul!”

The choir fades out, and a commercial for the bible store downtown begins to play. He reaches over and turns it off as we speed through a changing yellow light.

At my apartment, maybe we would sit on a couch if I had one. Instead, since I don’t, I apologize for the empty room as sincerely as I would for a room stacked to the ceiling with dead bodies and lead him to my bedroom. He sits on the bed while I fumble with my iPod across the room, contemplating which song would set the right mood. Really, I’m contemplating which mood would be the right one to set.

He picks up my throw pillow and hugs it close to him, pulling his face toward the ruffled edge.

“You know, I expected you to have a fluffy white cat around here somewhere,” he slurs teasingly.

“Well, I don’t.”

“Are you allergic?”

“No, I just don’t have a cat,” I say.

“You should get one,” he says.

“Really would seem irresponsible to get a cat I can’t take care of,” I say, deliberately allowing the sardonic tone to grow with each syllable.

“Oh right, sorry. Because you’re dying. Maybe you could find a dying cat, and the two of you can relate and comfort each other,” he says.

“Yes, maybe there are ads on Craigslist for just such a cat,” I say, looking up from my iPod and turning to face him. He lifts his head and sets the pillow aside and looks at me.

“You could post your own ad in the “Wanted” section,” he suggests.

“It wouldn’t work anyway. Cats have nine lives. It’s very likely that after we each use up the lives we are on, he will go right on ticking, and I’ll be dead. So we would be back to square one with no one to take care of him,” I explain to him in the way I would to a child.

“I guess you’re right.”

I give up on the music and drop the iPod in apathy. I walk over slowly and sit next to him on the bed. He is pulling on a loose thread in my bedspread now. He pulls it out further and further. He unravels several more inches of stitching before he realizes what he is doing and then abruptly releases the thread and smoothes out the wrinkles his tugging has created. He looks up at me, embarrassed. Then, as if to atone for his mistake, he kisses me. An apology kiss? This can’t be how this goes.

I pull away.

“I only want to have fun.” I say with contradictory self-consciousness.

“That’s good.”

“I mean, just while I still can.”

He nods looking down at his knees then quickly turns to look me in the eye.

“Wait, you’re not a virgin are you? Because I really can’t do that.”

“No I’m not.” I laugh indignantly to corroborate my story.

“Good. I can’t do that. I can go along with this whole thing, but I can’t be picking cherries on a dying tree, you know?”

“Oh, please.”

“But promise.”

“I’m twenty-six.”

“But really.”

“I promise.”


I can’t look at him anymore and reach across him turn out the pink-shaded lamp on my nightstand.

When it’s off, he feels for me in the dark. He touches me, but not too much. He kisses me a little too much, though. Not on the mouth but on the neck. He pulls me down into a horizontal embrace, while my feet uncomfortably entwine around each other, shoes still on. Then, all at once, he turns me over and asserts himself on top of me. In this new position, when he’s kissing my neck, my eyes, now adjusted to the dark room, are only able to look at the ceiling fan above me. Even with just the moonlight, actually probably the streetlight, pouring in, I can see the clumps of dust that form on each of the blades. I wish he would kiss my mouth again, that his face would obstruct my view, so that I couldn’t see it. Instead, he pulls my shoulders up and raises my arms above my head.

He pulls me clumsily and hard by my arms and slips my sweater off. It is moist and sticks to the small of my back a bit. He directs my hands to his pants. I move them back to his neck, but after a few seconds of kissing, he pulls them back down to his crotch, so I reluctantly begin fumbling with the closures. I feel his oversized belt buckle, and the double button at the top of the zipper.

Really, in sex or any other time, clothes come off just as they go on, with about the same enthusiasm. Not slowly, but the way clothes are hurriedly stretched over your body when you are running late. It’s deliberate, with a bit of annoyance at each piece. That’s the way the come off. That’s the way we pare ourselves away from them.

“Do I need to do anything special?” he whispers in my ear.

“Fuck. How sexy,” I say, though I know exactly what he means.

“I mean do I need to do anything for your—”


“Really, I just don’t want to shake the tumor loose while pounding you from behind.”

“You won’t,” I say. I hope.

He slides next to me and reaches down to the ground where his jeans are and I hear the rustle of foil as he slides a condom out of his pocket.

“Hey, don’t bother,” I say.

“You sure?”

“It’s okay. I promise,” I say.

Back on top of me he keeps his face buried into my neck as he aligns our bodies. While fucking me, he moves slowly, as though he may lose his balance at any moment, and his breath is labored and reeks of beer. I remember the cigarette he won’t light, and have to stifle a laugh as the whiff of musty smoke from a hundred different brands of tobacco enter my mouth.

Again, my eyes are fixated on the dirty ceiling fan. When a car pulls into the apartment parking lot and the lights shine through my window, it is like a spotlight spilling onto the fan. How long has the dust clump been growing there? Why haven’t I noticed it before now? He begins moving more intensely now and with my ear next to his jaw, I hear his teeth grinding.

Overwhelmed by the odor, the sounds, and shame, I mumble that we should switch. He exits, holding himself protectively and falls onto the bed. I assume a top position and pull him inside me. I move back and forth slowly, even still keeping my eyes clenched as tightly as my fists, which are both pushing into the mattress on either side of his head.

And then, suddenly, I feel a tickle sliding down my throat and nostril. I close my eyes with the instant recognition of this sensation. I should have tasted it while lying down. I should be used to it enough by now to know when it’s coming. A splatter of warm blood rolls out of my nose and directly onto his face and into his open mouth.

I stop moving, open my eyes and stare at him in the dim light. My entire body begins trembling and burning with embarrassment.

He tastes it, closes his mouth and swallows hard. I think he probably swallows down vomit as another large drop of blood lands on his chin. I bring my hands to my face as I unhinge our bodies and climb from the bed, without a word. My feet are stung by the impact they make with hard wooden floor.

I go into the bathroom and run water over my white washcloth, wring it out, and bring the cloth ball to my face. I look into the mirror as I hear the lamp on my nightstand click. I stare into the mirror at my face, nearly unrecognizable with mascara smeared over my droopy, tired eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” I say through the closed door.

He coughs hard and the headboard hits the wall as the bed shakes.

“I’m coming back, but I’m naked. Would you mind turning off the light?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says as he clicks the switch.

I climb into bed and pull the sheet up to my neck, keeping the rag close to my nose. In the dark I glance over at him. I can see his silhouette against the illuminated window, rolling the cigarette between his fingers again.

“I’m so sorry.” I close my eyes and wait for him to respond. I hear him sigh and clear his throat in the darkness.

“It’s really okay. I guess you were for real.”

“What do you mean?” I ask looking over to his shadowy figure.

“I kind of thought you were lying.”


“I don’t think I wanted it to be true. It’s such a waste, you know?”

I say nothing. I’m embarrassed. I’m irked by how earnestly and self-consciously my heart stopped at the word “pretty” and I wait, shamefully hoping there’s more flattery to come. Even now, we’re still flirting.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a lighter would you?” he asks.

“Why? Are you finally going to smoke it?”

“Yeah, now seems like the right time. In movies they always smoke after sex,” he says.

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t smoke,” I say.

“You really shouldn’t either. They say it causes cancer,” he says.

“That can’t be right,” I say.

“Swear to God. But honestly, with all this girly shit I thought you’d at least have one match to light one of your hundred candles you got in here,” he says.

We lie there silently. I lean back on the pillow and hold the rag. This is the fastest way to stop the bleed. I stare again at the dusty ceiling fan. And then, in the silent darkness, I realize it for the first time.

“You know what?” I ask in a whisper, clearing my throat of the blood that has drained back there.

“What?” he says.

“It smells like cantaloupe.”

“Is that right?” he asks.

“Yes, very ripe cantaloupe,” I say.

“Well ain’t that some shit.”

Jessica Bagwell is a Senior Creative Writing student at Texas Tech University. Born and raised in Lubbock, she harbors a special love for the unique people and culture of West Texas. In addition to reading too much, she enjoys spending time with her three dogs and watching the same movies over and over.

Dotted Line