CIRCLES • by Mary Rees

Kelsey draws an invisible line on the kitchen floor, all the way around so that when she straightens, she stands in an imaginary circle.

“There,” she says to Kyle, “That’s my line in the sand. Don’t cross it.”

Kyle crosses his arms, huffs, rolls his eyes. “Are you kidding me? That’s not even how a line in the sand works. A line in the sand is a dare. It’s just straight, not circular.”

“This is a dare,” says Kelsey. “I dare you to cross it. If you do, you will find yourself in a pit of misery.”

Kyle’s face reddens. He considers and rejects several replies. Kelsey doesn’t use magic much — it gives her a headache — but he knows she can. He wonders if the circle is a real barrier. He drifts around her and she pivots to keep her eye on him as if he were a wild animal, stalking.

“I thought you were twenty-four years old,” he says. “Not five. You act like a child.”

“You act like a child and you’re twenty-five years old,” she snaps. “You’re the one who called Stacy. That was a very childish thing to do.”

“Calling someone isn’t illegal!” He runs a hand through his hair, pushing it back so his face looks like an egg. “I just wanted to ask her a question!”

“Was it, ‘Can I sleep with you?’ Was that the question?” Kelsey’s eyes glint. Her eyebrows rise questioningly.

Kyle’s face burns. “I just — I mean — Look, can I come in?”

Kelsey turns her back. “No room.”

Kyle circles around to face her and she pivots again, keeping her back to him. He tries this several times, until he sees a tiny twitch of Kelsey’s mouth and realizes she’s enjoying his frustration.

“It’s not even a real circle!” he bursts out.

“Real enough,” says Kelsey, facing him. “This circle is my personal space and believe me, you won’t be entering my personal space anytime soon.”

Kyle flushes again. He never knows how to respond.

“I don’t even like Stacy!” he says.

“Never said you did,” says Kelsey. “What I said — implied — was that you wanted to fuck her. There’s a history.”

Kyle winces. “Would you please not say that word?”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“I got a circle for you,” says Kyle. He pulls his wedding ring off, tosses it on the floor.

Kelsey turns pale. Struggling to get it loose, she pulls her ring off, too, dings it against his and they both slide across the floor and under the refrigerator. Kelsey makes a little shriek, but she doesn’t leave her circle.

Kyle dives after the rings, tries to get his hand under the appliance, grunts.

“You can’t get at them with your big ugly man hands!” Kelsey says.

“I have talents you don’t appreciate,” answers Kyle. He lays his head on the floor, peers under the fridge. “I can see them.” His back to her, he pulls off his right shoe, tosses it, narrowly missing Kelsey and it lands in the sink, clattering against dishes.

“Kyle!” says Kelsey. “Don’t break things! You always break things!”

“It’s not my fault! You knew I had giant in me when you married me. But you didn’t know this,” says Kyle. Sitting on the floor, he raises his bare foot high, making sure she can see it, and wiggles his toes. They are almost as long as Kelsey’s fingers.

Kelsey giggles in spite of herself. “You are so gross. How did you do that?”

“They’re extendable. I didn’t think you’d appreciate them, so I didn’t tell you.”

“I appreciate things!” Kelsey shouts.

Smooth as a dancer, Kyle lowers his foot to the edge of the refrigerator. His face changes expression as his toes explore, reaching deep beneath the refrigerator. His eyebrows lower, rise, lower again. “Found a fork,” says, and slings the fork out. It skids across the floor, just missing Kelsey’s circle and stopping under the table. He goes digging again.

“Ah!” his face lights up. “There they are!” He holds up his foot, showing the two rings held in toes curled like a fist.

Kelsey claps in delight, then stops herself, restoring her severe expression.

Kyle scoots a little closer to her, holding the rings. Carefully, he drops them into her circle.

“Two rings for one,” he says. “I’ll trade you.”

Kelsey smiles, bends to pick up the rings and says, “Does Stacey know about your toes?”

Kyle scoffs. “Of course not! I don’t tell her personal things.”

Kelsey smiles. “All right then, spider toes, come on in.”

Mary Rees writes in Birmingham, Alabama where she lives with her husband, three boy children, three dogs, and two walking fish.

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