The Unlonely One This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

They have long since settled into their temporary resting places, those fragments of green and brown glass. They glimmer dully in the bare light of the bulb. Emptiness has just struck the fridge, and it has lost its purpose. It seems depressed; the hum of electricity has not been so loud since the last bottle was removed from its bowels. It doesn’t know why it’s here if it can’t keep those precious bottles cold. Warm bottles mean red temper. Red temper means scarlet blood. Scarlet blood means soiled carpets. Soiled carpets mean red temper. And thus the cycle repeats. For now, the house is empty like the fridge, and this realization is a nugget of gold in a river run dry by greedy hands.

Shh. Shh. Shh? The way is clear. Bottles will not fly, blood will not run, and he will not cry. A foot peers around the corner of the wall. Blurred eyes peek out from beneath ragged earthy hair. A small victory today? Shuffle out into the room; there’s nothing to fear for now. The path is clear, there’s a chance. A second foot appears. The thin body is clothed in only warm air. The first foot rises up onto bony toes. He is ready to brave the minefield. Careful! - Glass hurts. There is a clean spot there. And there! It won’t be too bad today. And then he clears the worst of the floor. A broom leaning by the cobwebbed counter beckons. The cracked handle begs to be held. It’s spent too many lonely hours here with the spiders since the last time the fridge sat empty. The broom doesn’t like to be alone. He understands – it can be hard to be alone in this place. But now, to be truly alone is safe. The glass must be cleared from the floor before the fridge is refilled. This is the easy part. Gaunt fingers grip the handle of the broom like the hand of a lover. Crooked fibers sweep the glass into a pile in the corner. There is a hole in the grungy floorboard by the counter to stow the glass. Long ago, when the fridge was filled with things other than bottles, a family of mice lived in that hole. Now, of course, they have disappeared. Mice know better than to live here. Before the fridge was filled with bottles, the television in the corner worked. It showed people running and flipping across rooms. Swinging on bars, walking on beams. The audience watched in rapt attention, and cheered with delight. The performers did not walk on glass.

The floor is clean, the broom placed carefully back in place. Now he can do what he came out here to try. He pushes aside cobwebs that sit on the top of a wooden beam in the corner. A forgotten corner. Nothing has moved here in eons.

Tiny toes flex and press into the leather covering of the beam. Tiny feet balance precariously between the edges. Tiny ankles support shaking knees. Tiny hands wring in anxiety, in nervousness, in unease. In anticipation. The left foot edges forward an inch, followed by the right. The left foot inches forward again, then the right. It comes easier now. If the fridge were full now, bottles would be airborne. Blood would be spilling. But the fridge is not full, it is empty, and he is free to try to cross the beam. It saw use once, long ago. Before he could remember anything. Now it was alone, had been alone for years and years. Almost halfway across the board. A foot slips, and he nearly falls. But the wall catches him before he can hit the floor. He takes a deep breath, and then climbs back onto the beam. Tiny steps, now. Must not fall again; there isn’t much time left. There will be no third chance. Step one. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Careful…nine. Ten. Eleven. This is the end! Yellowed teeth peek from between his lips, curled toward the ceiling. He steps down from the beam in triumph, bowing to his lifeless friends.

There is no applause.





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