THE MAP • by Jennie Hunter

The map on the wall had already begun to slip, curling at one edge as it pulled away from the painted white brick. “So, that’s where she is,” his best friend Evan muttered as Judd grabbed two cold beers from the fridge. Evan stepped his fingers along the river — no more than a thin line on a golden expanse.

Judd mumbled a positive, handed Evan his beer, and then clenched his empty hand into a fist to keep from slapping Evan’s fingers from the parchment that still held her scent. “You talk to her lately?”

“No,” Judd said. “We decided on a clean break when I said I wouldn’t go. I still have her on Instagram, though.” Judd pushed on the peeling corner of the map, fruitlessly tried to get it to stick back in place. Emily had put the map up almost a year ago when, during a night of sushi and saki, they had decided that they would get out of there together and see the world.

“Let’s start with Egypt,” Emily said, her hazel eyes shining. “The desert. Just imagine the sun flaying your skin raw. What kind of mirage do you think you’d see?”

“I dunno, water,” Judd had laughed. The idea seemed so exciting at first. Giving it all up: their jobs, their cars, their payments. They’d move into a micro-apartment, save all their money, not eat out for a year. They would retire early, as Emily pitched it.

But a month in Judd began to miss the sushi place. Two months in he craved Thursday night beers with the boys. He missed the way Emily used to have her nails manicured: red and shiny to a point.

“It’s probably no fun living on a shoestring,” Evan said, leading the way back into Judd’s living room. Judd still lived in the micro-apartment. It was bigger now that Emily was gone. But it was still too small, so he’d begun to look for something larger. But every place he looked at felt voluminous and wrong.

“She had a post about riding a camel,” Judd said. “Sounded like it was the time of her life. Apparently, she’s going to an oasis next week.”

“Cool, maybe she’ll see a mirage.”

“You don’t see mirages in the oasis,” Judd said. “You see them before you get there, when you’re sweating your balls off in the desert.”

“How would you know?” Evan said.

Judd pulled on his beer. He didn’t respond to Evan, just turned on the TV so they could watch the game. He sat on the far side of the couch, even though it was further from the television. When Evan went to sit down on the side closer to the television, Judd said, “No, man, you get the chair. I’m not sharing this tiny couch with your smelly ass.”

“Whatever, as long as I can see the game.” Evan settled into the narrow chair tucked in beside the bed. They still sat close enough that Judd could reach out and punch his friend in the arm if he wanted. He wouldn’t though, because then he’d have to reach through her, and he wasn’t quite ready to shatter the mirage.

Jennie Hunter lives and writes in Saskatoon, Canada. Her literary work has previously appeared in over half a dozen publications including Understory, Prairie Fire, and Daily Science Fiction. Jennie also works in the field of environmental engineering, which appears as a common theme in much of her writing. Currently, Jennie is working on a novel about women, mining, and the environment, with support from the Saskatchewan Arts Board.

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