Terri Muldoon

Summer Fiction

Your 2020 Summer Reading List: Jesus De La Torre’s ‘Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand’

You had to know Leon Bridges would show up in our summer microfiction package, right?

We used to watch Forensic Files until dawn or until fear invaded us. Our one takeaway being that a lot of people were now dead over life insurance money. You made me promise then that we’d never kill each other via minute, imperceptible amounts of arsenic, that we’d never even consider pulling the teeth out of one of our lifeless heads for the sake of getting away with murder. I remember you’d get up and check the locks often—to keep people out, you said, and to keep me in.

At the time you were taking literature courses at the community college across the street and you’d read aloud the texts you were assigned. Because you’d implied at one point that I was shallow or vain—I can’t remember which (probably both)—I would sit through it all and say things after lengthy passages to impress you:

Goneril and Regan are dicks. And later, Poseidon is, too. And so on in that vein.

I purchased a pair of Dior Homme denim once with a credit card you hoped we’d keep for emergencies, por si las de hule. At Barneys, they gave us free bottles of water, and, after you saw the receipt, you said it was the most expensive bottle of water you’d ever had. Shortly after, you began to call me a logo whore. But in a sweet way, like some might say sugar, honey, amor, or asshole. I’d say brands were irrelevant; it was the material, the cut I cherished. You said they were nut huggers. You said expensive didn’t always equal better. I directed you to the drawer in which you kept a slew of failure can openers from the Dollar General, and reminded you of the time I had to use a flathead and a hammer to open up a can of sweet corn.

Towards the end, you put scissors to those jeans, cut them from femur to tibia, the pockets hanging out like a couple of mocking tongues. It was the worst thing you ever did to me.

Speaking of the end, I remember going out a lot and in response you started bringing your work friends to the apartment real often. One night, you and that pack of hard-ups were talking about some guy named Enrique’s ass. Sometimes, if I was home, I’d sit with you because I liked to flirt (subtle, imperceptible stuff) with the finest of the bunch, even though she was a little bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t felt jealous in ages, but I got up, went straight to the bedroom, slammed the door, the pictures on the wall rattling like teeth in a mouth of a person who’s cold.

April, one said.

And before they returned to talking about how well Enrique filled his jeans, the cross-eyed one said, “You better get that motherfucker.”

I could tell by their demeanor that night that you’d been sharing things about me you hadn’t even told me and that I probably didn’t want to hear. Still, that night we slept well. Your legs were on top of mine. When I knew you were asleep, I slipped mine away because I was beginning to sweat.

A week later, it ended. It had nothing to do with Enrique. You’d gone through my phone and in it found messages to a woman that you deemed scandalous and traitorous. You asked me why, and I told you more or less the truth: she’s a better dresser.

But I’m no monster. I took it back quick and held onto your legs, pleading even though I decided in the end to leave. You understood. You’d be there still. You said I just needed time.

You were right. Often you were. I did need time—four months. Daisy was her name. The only thing worth note is the amount of debt we accumulated in such a short amount of time.

When I leave Daisy’s place to return to yours, I can’t decide if I’m returning because I’m finally ready to tattoo your name on a tasteful part of my body or because I have no place else to go. The spare key you had insisted I keep was a casualty of my stint with Daisy, so I have to knock when I arrive.

I hear you at the door, but you recede.

I smoke now and I’ve started writing poems—my little poems, Daisy called them. Birds invariably make an appearance: cardinals, quetzals. On Illinois Avenue, which we were often on, we mostly saw crows, gangs of them perched on power lines forming an obnoxiously long ellipsis. In the poems, women (often you) are cardinals in snow or some other precious fowl against some ominous colored sky. All this to say, I wanted you to read my little poems.

I knock again.

This time the door swings open. An older woman appears, very old—I give her two, maybe three years to live, no more.

Who are you, she wants to know. Who are you?

April, I think, knowing right then I’ll never see you again, what the hell?


Jesus De La Torre earned his MFA at the University of Virginia, where he was a Poe/Faulkner fellow. His fiction can be found online at Gulf Coast. He lives in Dallas and writes mostly about Oak Cliff.

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