SUNSET • by Amy Altmiller

A soft pop and a wisp of fog escaped from the mouth of each bottle as she opened them. Saturday was nearly over, the heat was dissipating, and she was finally home. She leaned against the counter, tipped her head back, and swallowed a quarter of the bottle with ease. Grabbing his beer in her free hand, she wondered how long it would take them to finish all six. She smiled as she walked through the open back door.

The sun was just beginning to set, soaking the yard in orange. As she turned the corner of the house, the reflection of the ladder caught her attention. Her smile fell. She stopped mid-stride as the bottles slipped from her hand, landed with muffled thuds, and emptied silently into the ground. Her mouth opened, but nothing escaped; not a quiet pop, not a wisp of fog.

He lay on his back. His head rested unnaturally, angled toward his shoulder, and one arm twisted awkwardly away from his body. Her lips pursed to say his name but pushed out a whisper so quiet it may have only been a murmur in her head. No matter. Her legs folded, her knees hit the ground. She inched toward him, but just short of touching distance she froze and pressed her eyes shut.

Her breathing quickened then, implied urgency, but it was only pleading with time to stop, reverse its course and give her the morning, the hot and blinding sunlight as she woke, his warm body jailed in her arms, her nose and mouth pressed against his neck. To open her eyes would move time forward, forward always without him and backward never with him in their warm bed, warm sun, warm arms.

Eyelids locked and body still, she kneeled on the grass and willed herself sovereign over time. But she could not stop the heat from disappearing, along with the sun under the horizon, so that the chill of the approaching night bit her sleeveless shoulders. As she finally reached to cradle his body, she looked at his eyes. His eyes, those eyes that had only earlier in the day burrowed inside her, stared at the sky to see nothing. She leaned down to kiss him softly while her arms held what had been.

Amy Altmiller lives in Northern California, where she spends her time in a constant game of hide and seek.

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