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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-seven PINEAPPLE DRESS

by
PEYTON VANCE
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I

must have been staring at him for an hour now. He’s slept for a while on his side using his biceps as a pillow. The crimson leaves would crunch under his torso with every unconscious breath. I know he didn’t roll over to where I could see his face on purpose, but I tell myself he did it out of spite. Sunlight pokes holes through the trees and rests on his smooth face. I’m glad it hasn’t woken him up yet. I want to watch him a little longer. His mouth is always curled in a smile; it’s the smile all the girls love to hate. It’s like he knows, and he’s bragging about it.



He takes a very deep, audible breath, and I hesitate. I tell myself I shouldn’t be staring at him when he opens his eyes. “Morning,” he says with a sleepy smile, and in a heartbeat, I’m smiling too.



I don’t think he knows who I am, “Ain’t it a lovely one,” I say grinning. Before I get too lost in the character I remember, pineapple dress, and I bite my tongue.



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The silence is unbearable. Nothing but the leaves crunching for hours and hours. Not being able to hear planes or animal calls stopped being petrifying a lifetime ago. It’s not that we can’t hear familiar sounds. It’s that we can’t hear anything. No bugs’ wings, no animals’ calls, nothing. They’re just smarter than we are. They all know what could happen if they spoke up.



“I miss…” he pushes his lips together and a smile crawls to the side of his mouth, “Olive Garden the most. Where else could you get unlimited breadsticks? Where?”



“Fazoli’s.” That was a little too matter-of-factly. I should ease up.



“Ight, smartass, that’s one good thing to come from all this. No more Fazoli’s.” He says.



“Heresy. Food heresy.” Good. That was good. I think I’m smiling.



“What?” He asks.



“Oh, heresy means…” I’m squinting my eyes. If I try to explain it, he'll think I’m boring. If he’s interested he’s predictable. I’ll say something casual instead. “It’s just bad.”



“Oh.” He looks confused. I’m not sure what to say.



“Yea.”



The silence is swallowing me again. I wish he would say something. “Oh, clubs! I’ll never get to go clubin’ again!”



Pineapple dress. I force a smile. I’m starting to miss the silence.



“Hey.”



“Yea?” I say, trying to think of any number of things he could say to me.



“Are we going to have to hunt soon?” I’m a bit taken aback considering the last thing he asked me yesterday was if I had ever made it past third base.



“That’s a good question.” I say.



“Will we?”



“Not sure.”



“Come on. Don’t be like that.” He’s using that voice.



“Maybe.”



He does the thing that I still haven’t deciphered completely: shaking his head slowly while smiling. Makes a tsk sound as he does it. I can tell he’s lost interest in me. He’s practiced that look. Perfected it. If I told him that we needed to hunt then he’d ask how we would hunt, what would we use, and then I really wouldn’t know. I’m picking the battles I lose. I’m staying useful.



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He snaps and twists every branch in his path whilst forcing his way forward. I’m trying to step where dried crimson leaves haven’t fallen to make less noise. That’s all I’ve seen for so long. Crimson. Crimson. She made me a bracelet that was crimson once. She was dorky that way. A deep red crisscrossed pattern bracelet. She learned that at summer camp. Trout Ridge, I think. Pineapple dress. My right hand is balled into a fist. I scratch my face with the hand before he notices. He’s still stomping through the brush, making a very noticeable path. Jesus, it’s like he’s flexing under that coat.



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It’s a relief to see maggots again. They’re wiggling across the man’s head, finding a pleasant spot to burrow. Out of the cheek, the missing eye socket, and the fat black tongue, the tongue is the most popular spot. Their fat, pussy looking bodies are curling over each other fighting for space. My stomach tightens and groans. I’m not that desperate, but if there is nothing behind the old spices, Styrofoam cups, or grilling utensils in the kitchen, then I’d consider it. I see the girl.



Chunky ooze seeping from her mouth, eyes grey and shriveled, and the side of her head missing. I look back at the man and see a deep red spatter is staining the wall behind him. A .45 rests coiling between his petrified fingers. I piece it together, and the only thing I’m able to say is, “Again?”



I hear him talking and step in before I can give him any warning. “I did what you said. Looked behind all the junk they had on the shelves, and all they got was a few expired cans. They got some green-fuck!” The clank of the cans against the hardwood floor makes me duck and turn my head. He’s behind me with a pale face and puts a now-empty hand to his mouth. “Fuck…I can’t stand maggots, dude,” he sputters through his fingers, retreating to the kitchen.



I’m calming myself. The door is shut, so I doubt anything important heard that. I stare at the chrome cans sprawling across the floor. Spooked by green beans. Anything can scare you. The cans themselves are in good shape. I get on my knees and begin to reach for them. The one that’s closest to me is by the girl’s tiny hand. The girl has a red bracelet. It looks just like the ones made at that camp that she used to make, crisscross. The little girl must have gone to Trout Ridge, too. She could have had this made by…Pineapple Dress. My hand hovers over the little girl’s, but it rests on the man’s.



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“What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” he asks.



Coming from him, that’s ironic. It’s hard to concentrate on anything but him when his face is the only thing our tiny fire can illuminate. The shadows make his expression harder than it really is. I’m surprised we could have even made a fire with how rocky our camp is.



“The worst thing I’ve ever done,” I repeat, “well in fifth grade—no, no…” I’m waving my hand like I’m trying to shoo the thought away. “Back in high school, I…” I’ve trailed off. I’ve never done anything worth telling. A few moments have already passed. The deep frown on his face isn’t from the shadows anymore. I’m thinking too small. “The worst thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” I say, “was stay silent.”



Nothing but unbearable silence.



It slipped out. I look up to see if his face changed. It’s the same as before. He knows. He has to. He knows who I am.



“I catfished my friend into dating a fat bitch.” He says. I wait a second before laughing. I can’t help but laugh. Not about what he said, but how he said it: completely seriously. The worst thing he’s ever done in his life. He’s laughing too. The silence is drowned out with unbearable laughter. Pineapple dress. I laugh till my eyes fill with tears, and I keep laughing.



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Light rushes into my eyes. As they focus, I see him across the campfire. Staring at me. He’s awake.



“Morning.” he says with a smile wider than what it should be. His tone is different. I brush off the leaves and try to say some witty response, but he interjects, “Ah!” and holds up his finger. “Why do you always stare at me?”



Adrenaline pours throughout my body. “I mean, I’m staring at you now.” I say, smiling. He’s not smiling.



Now he is. Now he’s smiling and takes a breath, eyes piercing. “You think you’re funny?”



I can practically hear my heart now. I’m hoping he can’t see me shaking.



“You’re really funny,” he says with that smile that girls hate to love, “That’s how you made it so long. You made them laugh, kept them happy. You made people around you feel good, useful.”



I’m inching myself off the ground. The .45 is in my bag. Under all my things. There’s no way. He’s faster than me. I have to surprise him and run. I have to get up.



“Last night by the fire you said the worst thing you ever did was stay silent.” He finally drops the cheery facade. “You think I wouldn’t know what that meant? You think I’m some retard?”



I should have been awake first. I can hear my breathing. The meal I had a few days ago is almost in my throat.



“I recognize you now. You were her little bitch girlfriend. Which means you know all about that camp, Trout Ridge.” He closes his eyes for a moment and whistles. “She looked so fine in that pineapple dress.” I stopped shaking. He’s licking his lips, “Little slut teasing me all week with that shit.” My field of vision is getting tighter with every syllable. He steadies his gaze and narrows his wide eyes, “I mean, she was asking for it. And she loved it.”



All I see is crimson. My entire world is narrowed down to the two of us. Springing from my position, I’m on top of him. His fist meets my right cheek. I’m on the ground with the taste of blood on my tongue. He grabs both of my arms, pushing his weight onto me. Holding me down, his eyes are wide, and I know he sees what I see too. Crimson. The weight on my wrists makes my hands twinge and burn.



“What are you gonna do, bitch?” He roars over me, “Just take it.”



To hit something, you always aim past it. That’s what little I can think. My knee juts up, meeting its mark between his legs. All masculinity vanishes from his demeanor. He crumples to the left of me, holding his bruised testicles.



A rush flows through every inch of me. I sit on his torso with all the power. This is sex. This is better than sex. My eyes water, but I can’t help but smile. I didn’t even notice my thumbs in his pupils until I feel the jelly under my nails. He forces me off with both hands. I feel a rock scrape against the back of my head as I’m hitting the ground. As I grit my bloody teeth and feel the gash with my bruised fingertips, I hear him. Sounds burst from his mouth that make me cringe. I didn’t know a human being could make noises like that. If he’s trying to say anything, I can’t understand it. The chaotic crunch of the leaves are barely audible, but I know he’s bolted deep into the brush.



I don’t know what to do. I know he won’t last long like that. Making all that noise or not. An overwhelming rush of guilt squeezes my heart. I break down. Tears seep out of me. They’re salty and sting my cuts. I’m crying for her, I’m crying for me, and a part of me is even crying for him.



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When I can’t hear his screams anymore, the tears stop. My hands feel pins and needles but are unharmed. The gash is slow to clot, but not too deep. My tongue scraped against my tooth when I was hit, but fortunately, I didn’t bite it off. Then I hear it again: Silence. But for the first time, it’s bearable.



   
   

 

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Peyton Vance is a writer, editor and student from Knoxville, Tennessee.



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