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✧ Finalist for the 2022 World's Best Short-Short Story Contest ✧

Selected by Robert Olen Butler

This Paradise of Air

“So much fucking porn.” “Where?” They’re sitting on the hood of the car. Jennie’s wearing Brendan’s Steelers sweatshirt, the one from before the playoffs. He’s a true fan, not fair-weather; that’s proof. “Like everywhere.” Brendan holds up his hand against the low-lit night. “Just invisible rays of data. Soup. We’re sitting in it.” Jennie considers the air. Full of data, probably true. “We’re sitting in porn? You can’t say I never take you anywhere.” This is the Brendan she likes. The droll one. The one she met years ago, who comes out with the moon like a night creature who hides in the day, bleary-eyed and snappish. She’d want to be in a porn with this guy. Not the other. Not daytime Brendan. “So let’s try it,” says Jennie. “If we’re already in porn, if we’re living in it, let’s just go for it.” Brendan actually looks at her. “I am not fucking you on the hood of my car.” He lets out a long sigh, which somehow encompasses his wisdom, her idiocy, and the way that they’d probably slide naked off the hood, wet and urgent and unfulfilled into the dust beneath them, if he listened to her. Jennie grasps for control, trying to take the reins of the conversation. “So we’re sitting in everything? Love notes, breakup texts. Videos on Youtube.” Brendan shrugs and she feels the disturbance. “Air’s alive. We’re alive. We’re conduits.” She likes that he knows things, that he thinks about them. It’s terrible how she needs to respect a man like this, to slide a notch lower than him, to lift him up. It’s obscene, in a way, more so than porn. “Aliens are probably jerking off.” Brendan’s smile flashes in the dim. He’s teasing her. It’s their dance. They’ll fuck at home, in their bed, in the usual positions. Tomorrow he’ll come home from work and grunt through dinner. Sigh while he finishes the dishes. Smoke a cigarette on the back patio while she waits for nighttime Brendan to reemerge. It doesn’t have to be like this. Everything changes. Her body, flooded with the thoughts of strangers. Their wishes, their desires. Someone is buying shoes in the marrow of her bones. Someone is discovering their secret self in chatrooms, in the back alleys of this paradise of air. She can be anything she wants. She could even leave him. She could. In the distance, an owl announces itself over and again, like it urgently needs to speak.


GENEVIEVE ABRAVANEL has short fiction available or forthcoming in The Missouri Review, American Short Fiction, The Normal School, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. Her creative nonfiction is forthcoming at Shenandoah. She is currently working on a novel.


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