“I’ll always be this?” Jeffrey asks.
“Swelling will go down.”
The left side of Jeffrey’s face looks like ground beef.
Allison calmly cuts in: “I will always be here for you, Jeffrey.”
They both live at home, but had begun searching for an efficiency in Fishtown.
They painted at the studio or in their families’ garages.
They took no chances. Being careful about how to use turpentine and
dispose of the soaked rags in a responsible way. Turpentined rags sometimes spontaneously combust.
The fire that got Jeffrey, however, got him at the gas station where he worked.
He’d been leaning under the hood when flames suddenly whooshed up onto him
like a giant grabbing hand.
Jeffrey screamed and the manager chased and tackled him with the fire blanket,
but too late. Third degree burns to half his face, his upper right arm, and down his side.
Now they sit in his hospital room.
“Look at the falling snow out there, Jeffrey. You need to paint this.”
“I don’t want to be some sort of penance for the rest of your life.”
And the shock of just everything that’s happened suddenly bursts through.
“I love you!” Alison cries, immediately wishing she hadn’t said it quite that way. Damn!
She’d been so stoic.
“I can’t love anybody,” Jeffrey says evenly, the right way. “Takes too much out of me.”
Alison stands. Four steps to his bed. She hovers over his face. Takes it full in.
“May I kiss you?” she asks.
His ironic smile gets halfway there.
“This is what I believe,” Alison says.
She bends, takes both his hands. Kisses each one.
“You still have these, Jeffrey.”
Then she lays her head on his stomach. In a few seconds, he pulls one of his hands
out from under her weeping and places it on her head, begins smoothing her hair. The monitor beeps.
“Don’t leave me,” Alison manages to say. “Please don’t leave me, Jeffrey!”
“I am not going anywhere,” Jeffrey says. “You are my girl.”
Frank Diamond's poem “Labor Day,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize Award. His short stories have appeared in RavensPerch, Insider, Kola: A Black Literary Magazine, Dialogual, Madras Mag, Reverential Magazine, the Examined Life Journal, Into the Void, Empty Sink Publishing, Zodiac Review and the Fredericksburg Literary & Art Review, among many other publications. His poetry has been published in Philadelphia Stories, Fox Chase Review, Deltona Howl, Artifact Nouveau, Black Bottom Review, and Feile-Festa. Frank lives in Langhorne, PA.