The Slow-Cooked Sentence

​Under a voyeuristic sky

Rachael Conlin Levy

Only when her stomach twisted into a hungry fist did she wake and open her eyes to look into the unforgiving sky. Her head throbbed and her eyes watered from its brightness, and she snapped them shut, sniffed instead: grass, warming earth, exhaust fumes.

The man was still with her. She felt the firmness of his body against her back, and rolled over to nestle into his thin arm. Moving made her stomach churn, and for a second she felt sick. Slowly she opened her eyes to watch him sleep, not looking at his face but at his barrel chest rise and fall, smelling the musty sweat of his jacket. Beyond him, sunlight reflected off chrome as cars slid past.

She was grateful not be alone.

Last night they’d gotten off the bus, but hadn’t gone more than a few yards before laying down in a small triangle of grass created by three intersecting roads. In the dark, they wrapped arms around each other and slept. Or tried.

It’s coldest just before sunrise when the sky grays, yet the city remains drained of color. Dew had settled on grass and bus bench and on her clothes and his, so they clung to each other and shivered. She’d hidden her face in the curve beneath his chin, and her trapped breath, sour and smoky, loaned her warmth and a bit of hope.

Headlights from a delivery truck swept over their huddled shapes before turning onto the on-ramp. Night ebbed and street lamps blinked off. But the shadows around the bus stop remained tall and heavy, and she sensed there was a tree nearby. Now, as a robin burst into song overhead, she knew the tree was tall because the bird preferred to shout from the highest perch. She didn’t give a fuck whether it was hemlock or spruce, but welcomed the robin’s interruption because it meant morning would follow soon. It was so cold.

The sky turned white and exposed the grass in which they slept. A small island connected by sidewalk to the rest of the city, there wasn’t much there but weeds, scabs of dirt, scraggly wands of purple fireweed, the tree, and the bus stop now populated with commuters.

Surrounding the island was a dribble of traffic turning into stream. It eddied around the paused bus and pooled at red lights before surging onto the highway. Navigating the river of cars, drivers sipped coffee, checked Facebook, listened to radios, applied lipstick, brushed teeth. Their passengers fussed in carseats, finished breakfast, forgot homework, kissed goodbye. No one noticed the couple who’d drifted into an exhausted and heavy sleep.​

If only human muscle would soak up sunshine the way pavement stored heat after the sun set. But rather than bank the warmth, skin burns, bodies overheat, and the woman woke hot, hungry and with an aching head. She shrugged out of her coat and lifted the mat of graying hair off her sweaty neck before letting it drop again. She scooted away from the man just a little in order to enjoy the feeling of damp coolness between her shoulder blades while the sun continued to bake her shirt and jeans. He shifted in his sleep, stretched an arm across her belly. As she waited for the heat from the sun, from his arm, to soften her tense muscles, she fell back asleep.

Shadows and her troubles shrank with the sun’s climb to noon. She woke to discover his hand now rested on her breast, that time had dulled her hunger, and now she desired something other than food. Pushing up onto her elbow, she tugged at the man’s belt. His head rose, fell. He grunted in his sleep, batted her hand away. Traffic carried off her laughter, freed for a moment from the cold, the cravings, the wandering. She swung a leg over his hips and pinned him with her thighs. Then she leaned over him, mouth searching for ear.

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