Fiction · 07/31/2019



Alone in California, extended in fog, you hitched me down the PCH. One-hundred miles of snaking highway and strangers’ confessions. Then her. Last ride, straight through to Caspar. Her bitter stories lurched the wheel, shattered life tactics like so-many curves, like it was the road’s fault, not the shitty men and how she’d fallen, hard, every time, and landed harder. Her nail-chewed fist whacking the dashboard, raging, salty. Like the sea below, wafts of teeming life. I imagined the plunge: brake squeals over brittle cliffs; wheels spinning air; her ultimate sigh as gravity and death tangled us. “What’s in Caspar?” I asked. “Nothing,” she said. Was she driving away or toward? I never knew. But twenty silent miles later, I smiled and you approved. As you do. Opposable but never opposing.



You started Al Green, my lone CD, waved and tapped time in a nowhere motel. Tested the mattress, traced coarse sheets. Beckoned, a nod of knuckles, and she leaped on the bed. On me on the bed. Laughing. You parted the hair that curtained her eyes, to see her. To see her see me see her. Poked, traced, twirled, caressed. Later, you scissored a cigarette and shushed her worries. Hands interlaced in the dark. I told her, “We discarded history at that door.” You singled her out and pointed a future. A later not too late.



Not much later, awkwardly centered, crowded in-between. Trapped but “useless on your own,” she screeched. Her eyes hot coals. My silence, ice water. You unhooked the beer bottle. Curled a fist. Uncurled. You peeled the bottle’s label, scraping the quiet. Then, I showed your use. Flipped a primitive gesture and fetched the last slammed door. Past the middle, the end is always in sight.



It’s the rub or the lack of it. Encircled by gloves or the other wringing: for warmth. For loss. Fucking freezing that Nebraska winter. Neverending. Hand stretched over naked hearts, too many to count, hoping to thaw. Though frostbite — it seems — works from the inside, too. You, ringless and reaching across empty beds. Her, long gone.



Last in line and lonesome. Near useless. Dabbing tears with a dirt rimmed nail. In some languages you have no name, just as there’s no word for endless rings of an unanswered phone. Wordless. You cleared my ear and again tapped call.


Michael Harris Cohen’s fiction has won several awards and has been published in Conjunctions, Catapult’s Tiny Crimes, Pseudopod, F®iction, The Dark Magazine, and Fanzine, among other places. He’s received a Fulbright grant for literary translation and fellowships from The Djerassi Foundation, OMI International Arts Center, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, Jentel Artists Residency, Blue Mountain Center, and the Künstlerdorf Schöppingen Foundation. He lives with his wife and daughters in Sofia, and teaches Creative Writing and Literature at the American University in Bulgaria. Find him online at