No Such Luck
Clio Velentza

Richie was dying in that muddled halfway world we’d got lost in, slowly and bloody in the blazing sun, with fistfuls of dry earth in sweaty hands and cracked glasses hanging lopsided on his freckled cheeks.

It was the two of us. We’d gone running from that swarm of bullets, I had two holes straight through one shoulder and at least the pain had a coherent center. Richie had just the one in the gut, oozing blackness. The highway vibrated close by, avalanches of trucks screaming past us. I thought maybe I could stumble onto the tarmac and fling my good arm up for emergency room or bust.

But Richie was already half sunk into the dirt.

We were only trying to make it, same as we used to fly planes over the enemy ground of grandma’s flower beds. I was the bad one, he was the good one. It must have been his glasses, held up with tape through an entire school year, making him seem like a downtrodden wizard and me his trickster familiar trailing along. I still had the image of him trudging ahead of me in the winter mud, his book bag hanging stained and forlorn, that helmet of a baseball cap sinking over his ears. I was thinking, this must be the trenches, I’ll just keep going wherever he goes.

It wasn’t easy now, as Richie kept imploding like a crushed doll. I’d been talking to him but I couldn’t hold on to my words, they were slipping out and wriggling into the ground. Richie didn’t even mind. I could tell from the way a dimple had formed on the edge of his mouth. Last time I’d seen that dimple was under a girl’s final kiss. It had remained there as he handled the gearshift and talked about the game. In the desert, I just went on cursing at him as if he’d been hogging the covers.

I couldn’t decide where it all went wrong. Must have been somewhere between my rocking horse ideas and Richie’s judgment coming down blunt – let me do this, you’ve always been the good one – he’d said and the world was sent spinning. That day I saw the vacuum between us, that empty spot we kept pushing each other in. Until then I’d been living according to that fantasy of him chewing goat-like on his laurels while I plodded on into ignominy.

The image of Richie’s big square hand, made for cupping book spines and lukewarm beer, covering my semi-automatic on the table like that of an old man’s saying grace. I never believed he was able to coexist with something so prosaic. That was how things went south. Never trust a poet with a gun.

Richie’s lips were moving so I put my ear to them and red spit blessed my face. “Get me a burger,” came the brittle order. An archetypal craving for burgers through flu, measles and gunshot wounds. If he could feed on raw meat he would, christening it absorption of life force. Richie always craved the blood power of the primitive myths and kingly tales that had no place in our arid playgrounds, wide expanses of curving horizon dotted with beetles and mummified shrubs.

“Get your own damn burger.”

There was a tremendous amount of sky that morning. As I scrambled to my feet I was certain that the sun could never cross it in the space of a single day. The hours would stretch over us until our shadows grew bored. The day would muffle, just like those blaring sirens. It would tighten around us, cutting the flow of oxygen between the slices of time. I was being wrapped up in film to be consumed later.

As the blasts of red and blue lights approached, I lowered my head. I fell on my knees, suppressing the urge to cross myself. My good hand scurried to find Richie’s. It was icy in the desert heat. And the sun reflected in his broken glasses blinded me.

Clio Velentza lives in Athens, Greece. Her work was included in the Best Small Fictions of 2016 and anthologized in “Rethinking the Plot” (Kingston University Press, 2016) and in “21 New Voices” (Eleftheroudakis Publications, 2011), as well as literary journals including The Vignette Review, Literary Orphans, and Hermeneutic Chaos.