SKYGLOW by Nell Smith

They stood in the middle of his living room. On the counter, between stacks of day-old dishes, bread dough rested in a stainless steel bowl. She watched its raw form threaten to overwhelm the bowl and felt his body pressing into hers.

“You don’t know, or no?” His hand low, her jeans up, unzipped.

“I don’t know.”

The air was stale and suspended particles of dust swayed in the low light. She closed her eyes. Weren’t they supposed to have kissed first? Wasn’t she supposed to feel more? His hand was moving too quickly now and she imagined calluses. A girl at summer camp years ago claimed she could tell exactly what a person did by how their hands felt. She thought about the bread dough in the bowl and wondered whether this meant anything. This isn’t strange, she told herself.

She kept quiet and still because she felt like being quiet and still. She focused on her breath: in, out, smooth, controlled. His breath faltered and his hand stuttered to a stop.

“I can feel your heart beating.”

He said it like he was telling her something about herself that she didn’t know already. It didn’t mean what he thought it did. 

“I’m going out for a smoke,” he said, finally. “Come with me?”

“Sure.”

Outside, she pulled in a breath too fast and coughed as the cold air cut her lungs. He flicked a spark from his yellow lighter and inhaled the cigarette’s warmth. He probably would have tasted like old smoke caught in fabric anyway, she noted. That smell never goes away.

“Are you warm enough? Do you want to go in?”

She realized she was shivering, but maybe she had been shivering before they came out outside. Beyond the house, it had grown dark.

“I’m fine.” 

Snow began to fall. She thought about trying to explain herself; something about skin splitting like an apple when you press your thumbs hard into its flesh and how competence could feel like moving in the dark. But she was tired and her body felt numb. She imagined snow rising up the sides of the house until it engulfed them.

Smoke twisted from his lips, illuminated faintly by the porch light. The bulb was dimmed by little mounds of flies that had died that summer, trapped in the shade of the light they were trying to get close to.

“Some towns have dark sky ordinances,” she said. “All the lights go off. Street lights, office buildings, porch lights, everything goes dark. They say animals lose their way when there is too much light.”

“Should I turn the porch light off?”

“I was just thinking about it.”

I’m going to walk home, she almost said, but instead just shivered again. He raised an eyebrow at her so she blamed it on the stainless snow that was falling in on itself, slow and spiraling, clotting with mud and salt as it touched the ground.


Originally from Maine, Nell Smith is a multigenre writer and field biologist based in Arizona. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment & Natural Resources from the University of Wyoming. Read more at www.nellsmithwriter.com

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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