Spilled Wine

wine-stain1

My flash fiction piece was published in the latest issue of Asian Outlook. Check it out!:

“Hmm,” said a man in a black turtleneck.

“Ah, wow,” said his friend.

They were looking at either an angry flamingo or a charred pair of testicles. A small card next to the painting said, “Oil and graphite on canvas. 2011.” The man in the black turtleneck turned to the blonde woman on his left for her thoughts but she had already trailed off.

Paige had mastered the art of appearing preoccupied. While Miller was being whisked away by his boss, she was making a slow orbit around a table of tiny cucumber sandwiches. She had, in her repertoire, an arsenal of tricks designed to stave off such conversation topics as oligarchic structures in Russia and the pros and cons of composting and nearby Michelin-starred restaurants. Whenever a mouth in the corner of her vision broadened, poised to speak with her, she would employ any of these methods. One of these tricks involved examining a particularly cumbersome ball of lint on her sleeveless black dress, picking it off, and hurrying to the nearest trash receptacle to dispose of it as if it were about to detonate otherwise. Paige resorted to this method four times this evening. The sleeveless black dress was a loan from her older sister and later, a gift. “Keep it,” Nora had said. “It’ll slip right off my shoulders anyway. All the weight I’ll be losing.”

Paige’s latest trick involved slamming her thumbs against her phone screen in rapid-fire succession with a worried look on her face, creating a personal shield of dire emergency. There was no dire emergency. She was in fact sending data through wireless signals which would reach her husband’s back pocket in the form of a small vibration, a nudge in the rear that might read, “I’m ready to leave now” or “This is the last time you drag me to one of these.”

“These” referred to exhibitions held for Miller’s boss’s wife to display her latest artwork. The company e-mail Miller’s boss sent out ended with, “I’d appreciate it if all of you could come,” which roughly translated to “I will consider your attendance at this event the next time we lay off employees.” Paige understood why Miller had to go but not why he insisted on bringing her with him every time.

The exhibition this evening was held in a contemporary art space labeled “De Factory” on its painted black exterior. Prior to being a contemporary art space, “De Factory” had been a warehouse where Paige’s father had worked loading large boxes of tube socks and men’s undergarments. The warehouse was situated in an area of the Bronx once known for violent crimes and various instances of moral decay. Now much safer, the crumbled brick, graffiti-blasted walls and exposed pipes of the warehouse contributed to a trendy aesthetic known as urban decay.

Prior to being a contemporary art space, “De Factory” had also been a secret hideout for Paige and Nora. They once sneaked into the warehouse after it closed, smuggling a bottle of wine from home. Paige had asked Nora to chug the last of it, like they’d seen in countless college parties in the movies. “Alright,” her sister said. “But don’t make me laugh.” It was an impossible request. A minor crease in Paige’s eyes was all it took. Nora’s cheeks swelled up like a water balloon and her lips began to sputter, unleashing a torrent of burgundy onto the concrete floor. Paige had snot all over her mouth and giggled through her sister’s groans.

Now Paige was beginning her seventh orbit around the planet Tiny Cucumber Sandwiches. She wondered how these people could stand around staring at blobs of ink and simple smears of paint for what seemed like hours. They made sounds at the smears and talked about French expressionists and other things Paige didn’t know about. She remembered how much easier it was with her sister. Nora had an answer to everything. She told Paige about hickeys. She told her how to handle those three frightening words Dave Ramos had said at the end of their second date. She told her which colleges had the best labs and research facilities when it was application season. Then the diagnosis came and Nora didn’t have the answer to the simplest question: “Will you be okay?”

Now Paige stood in the same warehouse emptied of its boxes and pallets and forklifts, a naked space surrounded by people she couldn’t talk to and nowhere she could hide.

She crammed a cucumber sandwich in her mouth. Miller was still trapped in the buzz of “how-do-you-do’s” and feigned exclamation. He would be fine by himself. He was always comfortable in these settings.

Paige looked down at her phone, finger hovering over the number for a taxi. Then she looked past her phone and saw something she hadn’t seen before.

She saw a burnt sienna colored stain splashed across the concrete, a fossilized remnant of being 15. The stain resembled a damaged windmill or a goose with its wings outstretched.

Paige saw Nora.

She wanted to communicate something to the stain as if it might respond. A cry for help. What do I do now? Where do I go?

All she could muster was “Hm.”

In the distance, she heard a woman say “Oh, wow” in regards to something unrelated.

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