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by Casey Whitworth

“In an alley off Bourbon I found her sprawled among trash bags. A drunken idiot, beads around his neck, swayed over her, dick in hand, pissing as the other hyenas took pictures with camera phones.”

“Clyde, please...” the doctor’s voice cracked and faded.

Clyde screamed gibberish and gesticulated wildly and hurried the men back to the safe chaos of Bourbon. Down plastic-cup littered streets he carried her to a condemned building off Decatur. By the window he laid her on ratty blankets, peeled off her boots, and kept a vigil.

Her eyelids fluttered in the sticky August morning. Clyde lifted her head and gave her a cup of water and yesterday’s bread from the bakery down the street. She hugged him and wouldn’t let go.

Nights later, on the roof ledge, Cadence told him she was dying.

Clyde sat pinching tobacco from sidewalk cigarettes into his pipe. His feet stopped swinging over Decatur.

She passed the stolen bottle of Night Train and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Maybe already dead.”

A cloud of dust and gnats swirled around the streetlamp. A horse clacked by, crapping as it trotted, tugging a ghost tour carriage.

“Maybe this is Hell,” said Cadence. She chugged the bottle and smashed it in the street.

Tourists turned to search for wayward ghosts. A camera flashed on the bottle shards.

“We can find out,” she said. She bent backwards over the roof’s edge, hands and hair now gravity’s captive, her legs gripping the ledge. “Turn the world upside down,” she said.

That night she slunk away. He searched Jackson Square, wandered lonely streets, stepping over sidewalk sleepers. He crouched on the rocks by the water and watched the moon reflect in the black Mississippi. Maybe she’d gotten locked up. Maybe she got tired of fighting the current and let the river spit her into the sea.

Clyde met Cadence on the stairs three nights later. He had decided to go back home. But home — what he had left behind — could wait another night. They chased each other upstairs and made love in the streetlight slanting through the window.

“Where’d you go?” he asked, when they lay beside each other.

Cadence sucked on her cigarette and shrugged off the question. “Oh, check out what I found.” She pulled a revolver from a crumpled paper bag. Silver glinted in her eyes. “Got it dumpster diving. There’s only one bullet.”

“Let me see.”

She stuck it behind her back and leaned against the white wall. She handed Clyde the cigarette. “Russian roulette? I’ll go—”

White light exploded in Clyde’s eyes, and he realized he was staring at ceiling fluorescents.

“Okay, Clyde?” asked the doctor.

“No — er — yes.”

The doctor scribbled in his notepad and re-crossed his legs. “This time respond with one word. First word that comes to mind.” The doctor showed him another inkblot.

Clyde gazed into the black splotch for a moment, maybe an eternity. Calmly, he said, “Bang.”

Copyright © 2009 by Casey Whitworth

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