Annie Bashaw
A. Rose Bashaw (she/her) is a queer writer and engineer from Colorado, currently based in Washington, D.C. In addition to her short stories, she likes to write longer fiction pieces that meld magic, science, and religion. Her work has previously appeared in From Arthur’s Seat and is forthcoming in an anthology by Forest Publishing.


    She lets go of her days or they’ll haunt her.
    I’m with her when she reaches the end of a bad one and tries to evaporate the pieces. She kneels, wincing when the woodgrain pinches her kneecap skin. This isn’t a prayer, but she clasps her cold hands and settles her elbows on the starched duvet cover. She stares at the window. Sometimes, if the moon is out, and it rains, and the drops are big enough against the glass, she imagines a hundred droplet eyes staring back in judgment. Without the rain, she never sees more than her own reflection.
    She lets go of the sleepless dawn. Of crows startling her awake, screeching accompaniment to the percussive wind that rattles the windows, that shakes the sieve separating her from dregs of sleep. Of lost time as she stares at the dreary sky, waiting for her alarm to sound.
    The same morning ritual. She lies in bed until the pressure of punctuality forces her to the shower, past furnishings stolen from a magazine. She owns her condominium, but it isn’t hers. Perhaps because fertile soil will still reject a withered plant.
    She doesn’t have time for breakfast, but risks toast anyway. She burns it, bins it, and misses the bus. Her boss yells at her, baffled that the person who schedules appointments for everyone else can’t arrive on time. Shrinking in her chair, she holds her remorse out to him in penance. She wishes she could hide, but her desk is within view of his office. She feels his stare for hours and looks at anything else—grey-walled cubicle, teak desk with no pictures, no books, no line of beach glass in a row, arranged by size first, then color, then smoothness. I like to think she’d collect beach glass if she didn’t collect its absence.
    She should call him out. She should march into his office and—
    ‘Avery, you coming?’ Millie asks.
    She lets go of the awkward lunch. Of using the same sad microwave no one cleans to heat up her plastic-protected meal. Of hearing complaints about work, emails, and parents, and laughing off lonely weekends and relationships she’s long since pushed away.
    A cup under a broken faucet. Listening. Avery eats slowly, small bites at the end of her fork, as Millie fills the break room with noise. The farmer’s market Millie went to over the weekend; Millie’s after work walk with her dogs if the rain doesn’t do more than drizzle. Millie’s life, punctuated by the constant drip. She wants to sound interesting. She tells Millie she sells bread at that market. Bread with raisins. She sold out over the weekend and won’t attend the next because she’ll be away. Her website isn’t finished, and, no, she doesn’t have a card—it’s really just a hobby. But she’ll set aside some bread for Millie the next time she bakes.
    In Millie’s eyes, a flicker of doubt. Avery checks the clock and retreats back to work, lunch unfinished.
    She goes unnoticed in a bathroom stall during her afternoon break, and two people enter.
    ‘She said she sells bread at the farmer’s market, but what kind of baker brings Lean Cuisine for lunch?’ Laughter poking holes through a façade .
    Alone at her desk, she counts the minutes to homebound between bouts of doubt. She’s never learned to forgive her past mistakes. Instead, weeds sprout from the hairline cracks of her eggshell skin. I wish I could grow her flowers.
    She lets go of the alien grocery list. Of dense clouds promising rain on her way to the store. Of white tiles down every aisle reflecting harsh light from above, a place where there are no shadows.
    ‘Can I help you find anything?’
    She shakes her head. Puts the yogurt in her basket. Grabs meats she doesn’t know how to cook, raisins both golden and brown. Piles soup cans, bread flour, pudding, perishables, eggs. She can at least make eggs. She still finds herself in the frozen section. Just in case.
    She lets go of the downpour home. She lets go of—
    Avery adjusts her knees. There’s a thought, a lifebuoy amid the vast sea.
    She stares through the windowed doors of the grocery store at the pouring grey sky. She doesn’t have an umbrella. Her heavy grocery bag pulls her shoulder down, pinching the skin beneath her cotton hoodie.
    Five minutes. The walk is only five minutes.
    She steps out and raindrops pelt her head, face, back. She holds a hand over her squinting eyes. A world of sidewalk outlines and blurred silhouettes, the ksshhh of tires parting water.
    She trudges through the pouring rain. I would have warned her about the curb if she could only hear me.
    She tumbles forward. Hands slap water, then sink to asphalt. Groceries smush, spill, rupture, and crack. Yolks seep over packaged food, soup cans plunk and roll away.
    She isn’t bothered by the rain so much as the plunge. A dip in the road, her body cut by water. She only smells the wet. Just like the time at the lake. Just like the time she almost drowned. She shouldn’t have held on for so long, she shouldn’t have—
    Fingers brush her back and slip into the crook of her elbow. Grip. Pull, gently this time.
    ‘Here, now, let’s get you off the road.’
    Avery brushes hair from her face as the hand guides her across the street. The short stranger lifts his arm to share his umbrella. She searches for familiarity in his mustard raincoat and long face but finds none. She realizes he has gathered her groceries. He holds them out to her, arm quivering from the load.
    As she heaves the bag over her sodden shoulder, the stranger pulls up his hood and presses the umbrella into her free hand. ‘Not that it’ll do you much good. Get home and get dry.’ He leaves before she can say Thank you.
    Avery takes the final few steps to her front door. Five minutes, and she trips on her own street. Receives a gift she doesn’t need.
    Inside, she tosses out the eggs, and later, a burnt, crusty raisin-flour husk. She cracks the windows to let out the smoke and microwaves a meal she can’t mess up. While she waits, she opens the umbrella in the bathroom to dry.
    Kindness. Something she hasn’t recognized in a while. Perhaps she can keep it, peel it from the rest. She tugs a corner and it yields, dawning yellow yet familiar in her hands. A raincoat. She takes it, folds it carefully, tucks it under her pillow as she rises and climbs into bed.
    I hope it keeps. I hope her pillow absorbs the kindness and gives her sweet dreams.
    She sees herself when she closes her eyes, a worse version of her window reflection. Drenched. Raisin fingers. Wet shirt, wet socks, wet eyes.
    No, Avery. Rest now. Tomorrow is a new day.
    But the kindness betrays her. It soaks her pillow and clogs her ears. Slips into her memory and sucks out the one she’s kept submerged.
    She dreams of the lake. A pocket in dense pine foliage. She’s allowed to play with the older kids, but they tell her to stay on shore, collect her beach glass. You’ve been captured. We’ll rescue you. Don’t worry, stay there.
    They take too long, so she decides to rescue herself.
    She wades, dives. Feels a second, liquid skin, holds a bubble of breath in her cheeks. Opens her eyes to a sea-green blur of fractured light, algae, legs treading water. She finds the legs she’s looking for in the deep.
    She surprises the leader of her captors, the one furthest from shore. The sound of her glee peels across the surface, spreading waves. Her hands slap his shoulders. She wraps her arms around his neck, clamps to his back. He dips under.
    Avery, let go.
    The older kids whoop and shout—they must be encouraging her. They splash and race but they’re too late. He can’t hold her up. She can’t hold him and herself; she kicks, she treads, she panics, she pushes him down and takes little breaths where she can, glances at him, sees the top of his ear bobbing, breaking the surface and plunging, the bulge of his eyes as he cranes to look at her, the lake lashing the bridge of his nose.
    An older kid pulls her hair, grabs her elbow, yanks her off. She swallows water and sinks. Bobs and sputters to shore. Fears she did something wrong. The older kids catch her up, push her down, chew her out, make her weep with the darkening afternoon sky.
    They drag him onto the beach and a while passes before search and rescue collects her mistake.
    I wish she’d let this day go. I wish she’d give it to me.
    Instead, she tries to shove it down, submerge it in her pool of memory. But it swells. The mass breaks the surface and thickens from honey to molasses to tar. It oozes between her fingers and warps around her hands. It climbs her arms, arcs before her like a wave, looming, denial the only thing keeping it at bay. She cries, she holds it and she cries, and the seconds, minutes, hours seem endless as it tips toward her and bursts, drenching her. It pours down her face, down her body to her aching knees and feet. It spills through her lips, coats her tongue, stains her teeth. It fills her throat until she can’t breathe.
    Her eyes fly open. She snatches the kindness from beneath her pillow and flings it away.

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