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by Chad Lutz
The thread was thin. No, thin’s a gross understatement. Let’s see. It was more like extraterrestrial; alien thin. No dings, pings, or zaps, no pows. A zang every now and then, but mostly muffle. Space. Wide-open space, confined to an area no more than a dot on a speck of dust. This is where our conversations happen; in the space between spaces; in no space. A place within places. Places within a place.
There’s a problem in this. You see, from where I’m seated at the café bar, it’s very hard to tell what H is saying to He. Almost like clockwork, around the same time every day, He begins prattling on about how B, who lives five blocks down from He, always carries their weight around. B gets all offended when He implies B is a low-abundance molecule and can’t handle the additional weight, and the two fight it out.
“There’s as much of me as there needs to be,” B replies, and goes storming out the café door, and then whirls along into a nothing the size of everything.
He and B may spend a lot of time arguing with one another, but not nearly as much as He and H. H is seated at the counter opposite me, staring into a latte that’s gone cold, just waiting for He to say something. He and H get into so many twists and tussles there are times I can’t tell which is which. Sometimes, they act so similar you’d swear they were cut from the same atom. Their arguments turn whole galaxies inside out; send violent bursts of energy into the direct paths of giant orbiting planets, in spaces the size of a St. Bernard’s nostril. They tumble and tremor and tangle through areas as narrow as silica, as wide as light years.
Ag and me sit back and poke an ear out here and there at the interesting murmurs; glazed vocabulary frothing from mouths of the café’s patrons.
As the two of us sit at the bar and drink our mocha frappucinos, mine with a caramel crisscross, and Ag’s with a fresh sprig of mint, we study the letters filling up the air, take notes in our notebooks, exchange sly glances, wait for Au to show up, but they never do.
What Ag loves to talk about more than anything is this pervasive feeling of always being second best, despite spending most of their life hanging from the ears of rich women and regulating currents in batteries.
But Ag is elemental, essential. The stories of their places in the spaces between spaces and the faces in those spaces of the places they have lived are always of hopeful liberated paces, like tied shoelaces and candy-scented maces, like the best granted graces from places and spaces where great stories happen to be.
The best is the one Ag tells about almost taking first at the Olympics in the 100m backstroke.
“I was this close to nipping the competition,” Ag says with a nostalgic conviction, “when Au, touched me out at the wall.” The crowd, which is always so wrapped up in the climax of the story, ooohs and aaaaahs at the ending, to which Ag always shrugs and sips their drink cold.
“I really hate that guy,” Ag once said to me, wearing the condemnation proudly.
“Too stuffy?” I asked.
“Au’s always first,” they say, always lamely, always hopeful, inspecting one side of their nails and then the other.
“Not according to number,” I always say back. “You weigh less, too.”
And Ag stares at me, stupidly, as if in amazement.
“I wish I’d of thought of that,” they say, sulkily optimistic they’ll get it right the next time.
Then I pat Ag on the back and say something like, “You just did.”
Chad W. Lutz is a speedy, bipolar writer born in Akron, Ohio, in 1986, and raised in the neighboring suburb of Stow. They graduated from Mills College in Oakland, California, with their MFA in Creative Writing in 2018. Their first book, For the Time Being (2020), is currently available through J.New Books. Other recent works appear in Haunted Waters Press, Drunk Monkeys, The Journal of Short Fiction and Poetry, and Sierra Nevada Review.