DARK JOY • by Dave Seaman

“She’s gone.” The text message lit the screen of my cheap cell phone. What my best friend wrote pissed me off. She wasn’t gone. Gone implies she can come back, which she can’t do because she’s dead. Shelly is dead. Just send a text saying she’s dead. I know what Phil means by using the word gone, and maybe he wants to protect me from being found out, the same way he protects himself.

“Safe sex requires protection.” Shelly once said. “A dead woman tells no stories.”

I lean back on the sanitary Howard Johnson pillowcase and try relaxing on the rigid mattress. I close my eyes and take a drag from a cigarette. A luxury not allowed at home. The wife has a terrible struggle with the cigarette smoke I relish. She would also struggle with the knowledge of me diddling another woman. So would Phil’s wife. A piece of seamy history now past, dead with Shelly, just the way she wanted.

Dead Shelly now lying on a stainless steel trauma table at the hospital amidst the smell of sterilized air and unsightly green tiled walls. She hoped death would come during a nice meal, slowly being laid in a four-star hotel room, maybe in the hot tub. Expiring somewhere comfortable and idyllic. Her husband had other plans, as spouses often do. Hoping desperately to hold on to her, his happiness dying on the table as the trauma team heroically attempted to revive her from the heart failure that ultimately was her end. Her chest cracked open in an ugly manner that I was sure she would have been repulsed by.

Shelly was a voluptuous beauty. She lived close to that surface, cultivated it, used her looks to every advantage. She was vain; having her insides showing for the world to see would never have been acceptable.

“All I want to do is fuck,” Shelly confided in me before it came to this, her on the stainless steel slab and me running off to get drunk. “I don’t want to lose my hair and shrivel up from chemo.”

“It would be appreciated if you held on for a bit,” I pleaded. After all, we were friends. Phil, Shelly, and I like three amigos at the hospital second shift x-ray department. We were close enough to know each other’s tell during a game of spades, yet smart enough to leave each other alone after work hours.

“It’s my life and if I want to spend my remaining months fucking everyone I always wanted to fuck then it’s my concern.”

“What about me?” I asked.

“Consequence-free sex,” she replied. “Fucking a hot brunette your wife will know nothing about.”

We held each other naked and she kissed me deeply. Wrapped her smooth long legs around my thighs to pull me in and hold me in place.

“Please be selfless tonight,” she insisted in a sultry voice. “This is about me.”

“But what about me?” I asked in a whisper. Shelly didn’t hear me. She was breathing heavy with her eyes closed and her head tilting back. Her legs tightening around me, and a single tear trickling down her cheek.

And what about me? Hiding out alone in a hotel room far from home smoking cigarettes and casually emptying a bottle of Chivas.

“Character is determined by the hidden secrets of the soul,” Shelly said softly as we held each other during post-coitus reverie. “A part of me will inconspicuously influence every iterative aspect of your life from this night on. In this way, I’ll always be your obscure dark joy.”

She was wrong. I took a drag from my cigarette. “Iterative,” I said angrily in the empty room. Must have been on her word of the day calendar.

Dave Seaman has antecedently been published by Slice Magazine, Foliate Oak Online Literary Magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal, Downstate Story, and Bluffs Literary Magazine. He is an English major at Illinois Central College.

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