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by Gay Degani
Under a star-pinned sky, the bay curves like a lover’s spine, the fortress at its end silvered by the moon, the Malecón spreading out for Audrey like an unrolling piece of art as she leans against the rusty iron rail, three stories above the lamp-lit street, thinking she could maybe live in Cuba with its beautiful crumbling buildings, its stinging ocean air, its seeming rebirth, and as she breathes in Caribbean salt someone bumps against her elbow from behind, her glass coming loose from her fingers, spinning down, down, down, shattering on the pitted concrete below, startling her, and she turns to find the man who sat next to her on the airplane, him by the window reading one of those airport thrillers while her mother chatted away on the aisle, all gesticulating hands and elbows, and herself crammed between them with her headphones on, and here he is now, startling her by leaning in close, his green eyes playing hide-and-seek behind wrinkles as he tells her they’re the only single people here, he and she, and she, annoyed, asks how he knows she’s single since they ignored each other on the plane and when he explains her mother told him, she rolls her eyes and mutters, “It figures,” because her mother, who nagged her to come along on this art museum tour, thought it would be a good way for Audrey to meet men, and now Audrey is trapped, a guy with a nice head of hair, and arms too long for his body is now flirting with her in this Cuban sculptor’s apartment crowded with art-loving Tampa tourists, all because her mother has perfected the fine art of wheedling, and now stands and stares at Audrey from a knot of people with that smug, thin-lipped grin she has, and Audrey, annoyed, turns away as the man hands her another Cuba Libre, saying how sorry he is for making her drop her glass onto the street, and she notices he has a nice grin and tips her glass at him and smiles, thinking her mother doesn’t understand that she doesn’t want a man, at least not a permanent one because she loves her privacy, the time she has to create her giant collages, the freedom to choose every minute of her life for herself, to decide at the spur of the moment to drive up to the mountains or down through the desert to paint, to collect, to breathe, that she understands there might be regrets later, but she doesn’t have them now, and not for all the years she’s been alone because, she thinks, raising her eyes to meet this man’s, she does take lovers, and this one just might do.
Gay Degani’s many nominations include Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Her work has appeared online as well as in print journals and anthologies. Her story, “Scablands” placed fourth runner-up in the 2023 Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Fiction Contest. She’s published a chapbook, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum, 2016).