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Heat Shrouds

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Heat Shrouds | story.one

I first met her on campus. The sun burned through the book in my hands, the heat shimmering in the air like shrouds. She sat down next to me, put a cigarette between her lips and lit it. "Why are you even studying? At the end of the day, no one cares whether you get an A or an F on the test.”

"Well, maybe because the topic interests me."

"How boring. Turns me on.” — “Excuse me?”

She studied the pages. "I could never voluntarily whistle that in, let alone keep it in."

"How's that even relevant?" I never got an answer to my question.

From that day on, she dragged me to every party in our area at night and let me drag her back home afterwards. But over time, I grew to love her. She was smaller and younger than me and acted like my little charge. My little fawn which I had to save from running into the middle of the next main road.

She sat next to me in the mornings while I hammered the study material into her skull. She lifted her cigarette high and pressed her cheek against my coffee table. "It's no use. One more chapter and my brain will start to melt.”

"Maybe your brain could remember something if you slept at night. Or better yet, if you didn't drown it in alcohol every night."

She looked up at me, her grin sending chills down my spine. "My brain has already drowned. The only thing that sticks is booze. Everything else is shrouded or blank.”

I got up and got her the ashtray. Watched as she tapped the cigarette against the rim. Under all the shrouds, she didn't seem to realize that the alcohol was tearing up her film. "Could I ever become a blank in your memory, too?"

She frowned, stubbing the butt out in its ashes. "Maybe someday."

I tilted my head back and stared at the ceiling. Just the thought of forgetting her was absurd to me. Her smile, her eyes, the smell of her cigarettes. The feeling of her brown hair between my fingers as I braided it for her. All of that and more were burned into my skull forever.

It was at night, at a party. Her head was pounding from all the alcohol, she'd said. Her words slurred, her body sloshing around like beer. "Let's go home," I told her. She didn't want to, broke herself away from me. My stomach churned, turning on all the alarm systems in my brain. I chased after her but lost sight.

The next time I saw her in front of the house. A scream had torn me away from the party. My feet were glued to the curb of the sidewalk, my eyes on the asphalt in front of me. The headlights of the car staged the action. Shrouds of heat danced in the heavy air, surrounding her cold body. She was swimming in a pool of blood, looking like she was melting away.

© Jacqueline Mac Leod 2022-10-02

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