“Six-X,” by Elizabeth Gaffney

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“Six-X,” short fiction by Elizabeth Gaffney, appeared in the Summer 2018 issue.

The rental car slowed, straightening Louisa in her seat, snapping her back to awareness. She scanned the narrow road ahead for some obstruction, some sign of why her husband of seven days would be stopping. Their exit was still a ways off.

“Mole,” Jake offered. As they passed a seventy-kilometer sign, she saw a low, oval critter skitter across the gray gravel road and vanish in the grass.

“Go, mole!” she said.

They’d noticed the island roads were strewn with carcasses, and even after a week, every sighting still seemed worthy of mention, every death averted a cause for minor celebration. In fact, it seemed that everything was cause for some kind of revelry, so copious had been the recent festivities. They sat and soaked it all in, the breeze and the warm foreign air flowing around them like vapor. Today they were still alone. Tomorrow they’d be back with others, in their everyday worlds. Now and then, some feature of the landscape bore mention — a wind-twisted tree or fleeting specimen of wildlife — and the mention drew a laugh or a quiet response. They hardly needed to speak, it seemed. They just understood. She laid her hand on his knee.

For hours, they drove, contented, watching the world through the windows of the car, separated only by the stick shift.

What’s the difference between now and before, Louisa asked herself, knowing for certain that there was one. Marriage is a matter of custom and circumstance, of a culture and a couple, and yet that doesn’t begin to explain it. Was it accident or divine plan that they met when they did? Did convention or passion lie behind the formalization of their bond? Why had they been granted happiness when others were struck down by busses? The fishing lodge where they’d spent the week was just as luxurious as they’d heard — fashionable yet remote. This honeymoon was exactly as they’d wanted, except perhaps for the heat wave. Still, it hadn’t answered her questions. What changes lay in store for them? The wedding is not the marriage, she knew, the drive is not the destination, the fishing is not the fish.

A lump of freshly killed raccoon came up too quickly to be avoided, just as it must have for the truck or car that first struck it. The bump was considerable, and Louisa thought of her old friend Max, who liked to go straight for squirrels, frogs, anything — he’d practically swerve into oncoming traffic to score. He’d have enjoyed the thump thump of coon beneath the wheels; he’d have left the mole a blotch like a tar spot behind him on the road. She didn’t miss that about him. Once, when they were groping each other, clothes on, in bed, he’d told her: “You’re the kind of girl I could marry.” She’d smiled, squirmed. They’d been best friends, for a while, but she couldn’t say that back to him. He’d made her laugh. She’d liked his razor-straight hair and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes, but there was a worry she had about Max: that deep within, he wasn’t kind. A decade later, Louisa had invited Max to her wedding, somewhat against her better judgment, but she wasn’t exactly sorry that he didn’t make it.

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Image: MacDonald, J.E.H. “Falls, Montreal River.” 1920. Oil on canvas. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

Elizabeth Gaffney is the author of the novels Metropolis and When the World Was Young. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the New York Times, Paris Review, A Public Space, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She has translated four books from German. She teaches writing at Queens University, NYU, and the New School, and serves as the editor-at-large of A Public Space. Find out more at elizabethgaffney.net, or follow her on Twitter @elizgaffney.

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