by Isabel Cooper Kunkle
Once, the cafe had light wooden chairs, the sort that heated in the sunlight and were smooth against your skin, with lines and grains to trace during a particularly difficult conversation. You could move them easily, squishing ten people in at one table or shunting excess off to the side. Now the chairs are heavy ironwork, with swirls, reminiscent of paisley, that press into flesh, leaving red welts on any bare skin between neck and knees. In the summer, shirtless men who sit there come away looking like Indian shawls.
It's impossible to move these chairs. They're bolted firmly to the ground. Moving them might disturb the patterns chalked on the concrete at the cafe's borders; someone might cut through
a star or scratch out just the wrong line on one of the twisty Arabic letters. Most people are careful these days, yet few trust others to be so.
"They could get it inlaid," she says, gesturing to the chalk circles and triangles, pulling the comment out of nowhereâ€”hammering it together out of pure awkwardness. She's always been good at breaking ice that shouldn't exist. "If they're so worried, I mean. It can't cost more than the new chairs, or the business they lose because nobody can sit where they want anymore."
Alan turns his head to look over; the movement leaves a strand of hair against his neck. A shattered skyscraper across from him reflects sunlight to turn that hair pure gold, and Sam
swallows hard, coffee burning the back of her throat. Lead me not into temptation, for I can find the way myself. Damn.
"Human nature," he says. "It's not like it's changed or anything."
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"Aftermath" is roughly 3817 words.
Isabel Cooper Kunkle was educated in Rhode Island and currently lives in Cambridge, MA. In her spare time, she reads a lot, especially since she takes the subway everywhere; she also enjoys martial arts, video games, and watching trashy TV accompanied by a fair amount of alcohol.
Other short stories of hers include "Higher Education," which appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of Spacesuits and Sixguns Magazine, and "Stone and Fire," which appeared in the January 2009 issue of Allegory.