Her Second Smile

This is an old entry I did for a 24-hour fiction contest last year. It didn’t win so I am putting up here.


“You’d rather be swimming,” he said, a bead of sweat rolling down his left temple and detouring around a mole. His voice drifted like sweet smoke from the bed across the room.

She gave him a sideways glance. It was stifling in the small room, but she had a feeling that wasn’t the reason he was sweating. His short black hair stuck to his brow, creating little brushstrokes of worry. He flashed that same misshapen grin at her and she turned away, hiding her disgust.

“Maybe,” she said. “I imagine you would more than I.”

She walked to the fireplace where a long black iron rod sat resting in the coals. She grabbed the handle and pulled it out a few inches. The other end glowed red. She returned it to the flame.

The breeze from the window was a welcome relief, the waves lapping at the distant shore. She had warned her sister about swimming alone. Bad things always happened when you swam alone. A pang of regret rattled her resolve for an instant and then the man spoke again.

“My jeans,” he said, coughing. “The pocket.” His voice was rough like dry leaves.

“Did you want any water?” she asked, still staring at the ocean.

She could still see her sister, leaving the house, waving. Her hair had been golden, once. They were going to meet up after she finished laundry, her sister never having much use for chores. The image of her sister played over and over in her mind, the door closing like some tomb.

“I don’t want water,” he said.

His charm was wearing thin. It hadn’t worked on her, he soon found out. Stripped of his only instrument, he now glared at her, his blue eyes like small iced jewels.

She walked over to the jeans that he had mentioned. They lay where he had tossed them earlier, under the eager promise of a good time. There was a lump in the pocket. She rifled her hand through it like a child reaching into a prize bag.

“Keep it,” he spat. “It’s all I have.”

She pulled out a small sack, no bigger than her fist. She emptied it into her palm: some coins, a locket, a bracelet and a pocket watch. All stolen.

Shaking the bag one last time, a small golden circle fell into her open hand. It was an Irish wedding ring, the tiny hands cradling the heart as if it were a gift. She read the inscription on the inside under the light of the flame. A tear found its way down her cheek and she wiped it away before he could see.

“Do you always keep a souvenir?” she asked, fixated on the small trinket.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, flexing his hairy wrist against the tie that held him to the bedpost.

She placed the ring on her finger and turned back to the fireplace. She heard the tension of the ropes from the bed behind her. The iron handle felt heavy in her hand, powerful.

“Look,” he said, desperation growing in his voice. “If I had known you were going to rob me, I would have just given you my belongings.”

The ocean had laughed at her that day. “Too slow. You were too slow.”

Her sister’s body had washed up three days later, pale, grinning a second smile under her chin. Her once golden hair, decorated with seaweed and sand. Her index finger indented just above the knuckle, a pale line where a ring had once been.

“I’m not going to rob you,” she said.

His eyes narrowed. “What do you want from me?”

She pulled the hot iron from the flames, orange as hate and smelling of wood ash and bone. She turned to face him, brandishing the black poker like a sword.

He struggled once against his bonds before giving up. A dark cloud fell over his face as his gaze fell upon the ring she now wore. It fit her finger perfectly as it had her sister.

She smiled, taking her time, walking around the side of the room from the fireplace to the bed. Her bare feet moved soundlessly across the wooden floor, her nightgown flowed behind her like her sister’s ghost. She leaned over until her lips barely brushed his ear. He gave an involuntary shudder. She whispered her answer.