Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2021    poetry    all issues

Fiction Winter 2021 cover


Andrej Lišakov

Kati Iso

Devon Bohm

Sarah P. Blanchard
Playing Chess with Bulls

Brandi Sperry

Parker Fendler
Mittens and Things

L. Michael Bohigian

Elizabeth Lyvers
The House and the Sea

K. Ralph Bray
Rocket Girl

Brittany Meador
Darkside Knocking

Nick Gallup
My Son's Grandmother

Rodney Stephens

Salena Casha
When you find yourself at the bottom of the stair, think of Diderot

John Maki
Max, They

Writer's Site

Salena Casha

When you find yourself at the bottom of the stair, think of Diderot

She doesn’t want to but she ends up stopping at a Walmart outside of Pelham. It’s the kind of place where she doesn’t need to check if they sell guns or not because she already knows. The asphalt is slick from the mid-November storm but, fifteen minutes ago, the wipers started squeaking and she flicked them off. Just in time to see a confederate flag, big and bold and utterly lost here in the North flying off the side of a barn and she wonders who went through the trouble of making one so big. How many hands it took.

Early in the summer, her aunt told her that after a friend of a friend put a Black Lives Matter sign in the dirt of an Exeter front yard, an Amazon package with their name on it arrived with combs inside for braiding hair.

Nothing sinister but made you look around and wonder who.

“Everyone has their thing,” a bad first date told her years ago and there was a part missing from that sentence she didn’t think of until days later in the shower, namely that sentiments like that only applied to Dungeon & Dragons and weird Starbucks coffee orders. Not hateful ideas that festered in the picked-at aftermath of a mosquito bite.

It takes less than five seconds to loop her mask around her ears, cotton pressing to chapped lips though, now that she’s looking at the building, she’s wishing she brought an N95 instead. Certain places just feel more catching. Blue and yellow reflect on the shining black pitch.

Wallet, keys. In and out, just water, flowers, and a four-pack for the night. Her throat is cracked from singing on the road. The car lock clicks under her finger and she heads in. Even though she’s just a few hours from home, she feels timid, foreign.

She doesn’t know what made her aunt move up here after all these years but something must have changed. The air. The traffic. The study that showed bad air from traffic caused premature death in cities. Lungs black with ash. Or maybe it was so she could sit out on her porch in an approaching thunderstorm with a lit cigarette and no one would have an opinion about it.

The last time she’d seen her aunt like that was the Fall before lockdowns started.

“What’s one of your biggest regrets,” she’d asked.

Her aunt tugged at the rhubarb braid wrapped around her shoulder and pinched her forehead together. “Susan Cates in college. Should have kissed her because maybe I would have just known right then and there. Avoided a lot of wasted time.”

A bottle of wine had surfaced, thumping on the table. Ruby liquid lit up the ceiling.

She thinks about that visit a lot recently.

“How’re you?” Two old white ladies have set up camp in the sliding glass foyer at a plastic table next to hand sanitizers and surgical disposables and a big chalk board saying masks required.

She’s gotten used to smiling with her eyes and they crinkle as she nods. The mirror in her bathroom tells her it’s causing cracks in her skin but it’s the price she has to pay to connect with other people so she shells out.

It’s eight and she sees a few late nighters milling through the aisles. The enormity of the warehouse floors her. All white lights and speckled tiles, people as pale as her shifting in and out of the multicolored shelves in camouflage. She briefly mistakens a mannequin in a sweater dress for a shopper.

A place this big god knows where they keep the alcohol.

She decides to grab the flowers last and the beer first. Water on the way to the register.

It takes about six minutes thirty to locate the beer aisle and another twenty seconds to find the craft section. Normally, she sits there staring for minutes but the orange cans blink at her like a traffic cone and her fingers hook into the ringing. Refrigerator air blows through her clothes.

She knows she doesn’t really have a plan and so she heads to the chip aisle for a bag of Cape Cods. Maybe worth buying a red bull for the drive back. She hasn’t decided how long to stay.

It takes a moment to realize she’s not alone in the aisle and she half-turns to see a white lady about ten paces down, staring at her and her first thought is how much better everyone looks when they wear a mask, which this woman is not. The white elastics pull down at her ears, tugging at the material looped below the woman’s chin, hiding another and she can’t help but think of the early pandemic memes of ways to not wear face coverings. The woman’s mouth is fully lipsticked, tart cherry. Enough shorter than her that she has to tilt her head slightly down to get a full view of the woman.

From here, she can see roots, grim chunks of white and red and gray sprouting from a center part.

She’s careful to shift her gaze above the woman, beyond her. For a second, she wants the woman to say something she’ll regret. Or maybe thinks about saying something she’ll regret but, at best, it’d be muffled, and for that she’s thankful.

Regardless, she wonders why the woman is staring at her so hard, what made her put on lipstick this morning and walk into a store and think yes, today I’m going to breathe my unwanted air into another human’s face.

A light above them buzzes, flickers.

The chip bag crinkles in her hand, the beer’s chill radiating up her wrist. She wonders if this woman thinks about everyone in the US who has died. All 600,000 of them.

She swallows hard and makes her way around the woman, yielding her a large berth, almost flush with the Doritos. The woman’s eyes follow her enough to turn her head.

As they pass, just feet between, the woman whispers.

“Dumb bitch.”

Simple, like a quick jesus christ. It was like she watched the woman’s lips move but didn’t hear it, almost like it was said in a different language and she waited for the subtitles to kick in.

She keeps walking even though her hand shakes. For a second, she wonders if she imagined it; she’s been alone for so long she’s started hearing things. Incessant electronic beeps that have no origin, clicking through the wall. The low rumble of the homeless fighting in the post office parking lot.

The water and bouquet of purples and yellows take no time and she’s back into the parking lot, water hanging in the air and smelling like wet wood.

There’s a word for the feeling, likely something French, and she stares at the store. She waits for the woman to exit the Walmart, electric light bleeding on glass.

Can’t wait to tell you about this. She feels the emptiness of the thought as it hits her.

It’s funny how strip malls like this are all the same up here. She can mark her life in even increments with their help. The place she got her ears pierced was in the same building as the place she bought her prom dress a decade later and, five years after that, the place she bought mace the summer after she was raped. Her aunt had driven her to a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Rockingham because it was something you couldn’t buy legally without a permit on the other side of the border.

They hadn’t said a word the whole ride but she remembered at one point her aunt reaching across to hold her hand. Cracked skin warming knuckles.

She can’t remember the last time she held someone’s hand.

Maybe she missed the woman leave with her shopping cart. Maybe she hadn’t recognized her in the dark. The lights of the store stay on but either way, it’s getting late when she puts the car back in drive, heat subsiding from her cheeks.

The rest of the trip is so short she’s still catching her breath when she puts the car in park. Dark trees, wrought gate, unrushed. She takes some time there. No one is around, not even houses, just a patch of land, though it’s not like she’s expecting. She checks the address twice and grabs just the beer and flowers and, after a short debate, jumps the fence, careful of her jeans. The ground is damp but doesn’t give way. She already knows where to find it.

Even in the night, the stones shine white and gray. Clean and pure, no geese around to desecrate the rest, not like in Boston and when she finds the one, she sits down. She doesn’t smoke, though she had a friend once who liked dragging on joints in graveyards because it was fucking poetic, that’s why and she wishes for a second she was that kind of person.

She sets the flowers down at the base, the lettering so new she could cut herself on it if she wanted. The beer is cold against her hand and she cracks the can. Thinks about leaning into the stone, like she used to lean into her aunt when she was a child but thinks better of it and settles across from her like they’re at the dinner table.

Light shining on ruby hair.

You don’t look anything like your mom, her aunt had said once. You look like me.

“I know,” she says out loud. The air is mild for this time and she takes a long bitter swig.

The night she died, her aunt hadn’t called her. The woman had known it was the end and she hadn’t picked up her phone. If it’d been her, she also wouldn’t have called anyone, not wanting anyone to see her like that. Keep alive for longer just the memory of her walking still, breathing still. Being still.

If she had called, she knows it wouldn’t have been about good-bye, but more about asking her aunt one last time for forgiveness, for reassurances that she wasn’t so bad after all, that people made mistakes. That she was so much better than that woman in the Walmart even though, deep down, she knew they were the same, just on different sides.

Dumb bitch.

There’s a sycamore on the periphery of graves and she watches it instead, thinking sometimes she sees it move. Damp seeps into her jeans, taking root. She remembers reading somewhere that people who died of natural causes in an unnatural time left a different sort of hole but she isn’t sure because this is the first loss she’s felt that she has memory for.

A fox appears, eyes like torches. Disappears. Just passing through. She thinks, briefly, about a homeless man she saw sleeping on a bench in the city once, a wedding band glinting in the street lights.

The blue-black shifts into muddy dawn. She touches the stone as she leaves with numb fingers.

What she should have said only hits her on the way back, sun blinking on glass.

Salena Casha’s work has appeared in over 50 publications during the last decade. Her most recent work can be found in Bath Flash Fiction Anthology Number 6 & trampset and is forthcoming in FlashBack Fiction. She survives New England winters on good beer and black coffee. Follow her on Twitter @salaylay_c.

Dotted Line