Issue > Fiction
Michael Dwayne Smith

Michael Dwayne Smith

Michael Dwayne Smith proudly owns and operates the English-speaking world’s most mysterious name. His apparitions can be conjured at Word Riot, kill author, Monkeybicycle, Blue Fifth Review, BLIP, Northville Review, Pirene's Fountain, Orion headless, and other haunts. A recipient of both the Polonsky Prize for fiction and the Hinderaker Prize for poetry, he lives in a desert town with his wife, son, and rescued animals—all of whom talk in their sleep.

Swimming Lessons

"You can't make this shit up, Spider."

"Not on a Sunday night, man," says Spider—who I can always count on to have the right reactions, even if it's a story he's already heard—"and that, Ben my friend, is the cold ass truth." We clink bottle necks.

"One minute her tea kettle is screeching," I say, "the next Libby's dropping a bomb: divorce ... that's when the call from my dad came." Spider drains his bottle, burps, says "Man, that is some fucked up shit."

"So, Libby hands me the phone. Ben? Dad asks, because he always asks if it's me, even though he always knows, right?"—and Spider laughs—"So anyway, then it's the atom bomb."

"Mushroom cloud, man," Spider says, blank look into his empty bottle, picking at the label.

I order a couple more Buds, catch myself in the mirror behind the bar. My face not looking too good in blue and yellow neon.

Next morning I pack first thing, call work, tell them I'm taking personal days. Libby I almost feel sorry for. Looks like a ghost. Throwing up from the guilt of rabbit punching me right before I got the call about Mom's "six-months-to-live" pancreatic cancer.

Libby's in love with a student.

It's an hour to my parents' house by freeway, and I can't make up my mind what to do while driving. Radio loud, radio soft, radio off. Think about Mom, think about Libby, think about death. Shitty options. I settle on cutting off discourteous drivers. A low-rider and semi try to run me off the road to return the favor. I hunker down in the seat, stare at the broken line.

A year ago the world was mine. Absolutely. Martinis and blowjobs all around. Awards, keynote speeches, parents proud, colleagues envious. Libby, it seemed anyway, had forgiven and forgotten my brief and only indiscretion. She was electric again, radiant. We went out, went dancing, left little bedroom invitations around the house, fucked more, and crazier than ever—I made love realer than ever. I meant it.

Turns out later she was already deep into it with mister twenty-something.

By Wednesday Mom can't walk or talk anymore. It's clear to me and friends and relatives, everyone but Dad, who is in textbook denial, that Mom's leaving quickly. Hospice sets up in the living room. Dad creeps around, peeks into rooms. Finds lots of excuses for running errands.

Thursday is popping morphine into Mom's mouth, over and again, like she used to do for me with jellybeans. Worst part is when she sits up in sudden jolts, terror stretched like shedding skin across her face. Thirty years of church life scared right out of her.

Libby and Dad have been placating one another on the phone daily. He speaks not a word about the cruelty of Mom's pain, much less imminent death. She refuses to reveal her intent to divorce his son. But Friday morning when Libby calls she wants to talk to me.

"I'm so sorry," she says, "and I can't think of a single thing to say to you." "Well, then," I tell her, "seems you picked a great time to call."

Saturday morning the sun is moving underwater.

I've heard about time suspending, read about it. Shit really is slowing down. While Dad hid in the back of the house all night, I laid awake on the living room couch next to the hospital bed, like summers when I was a kid and used to float on my back in the pool, trying to make sense of stars, and the uneasy feeling I got from the word infinity.

I have no idea what time it was. No idea when Mom's body stopped convulsive pleas for morphine. Just no more struggle at some point. Unlearning to breathe. The gurgle of her drowning in the sunrise.


Amit Majmudar

Amit Majmudar


Alessandra Lynch

Alessandra Lynch
When The Body Drifts Off


Alica Friman

Alice Friman
The Real Thing