ARDOR Literary Magazine

ARDOR Literary Magazine - Issue Three, September 2013

Issue One, Published January 2013

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Page 97 of 109

FICTION or other reconnections of the long lost. You looked, you looked away, and then you couldn't stop looking, perhaps at one body part in particular. Staring at the dimpled elbow of the woman on the floor, Susan Varner felt as if she hadn't seen her own upper arm in twenty-five or thirty years. Just as she was thicker now than when she was a girl—like Susan Green downstairs— the body on the floor strained the waistband of the slacks that had felt too loose and sloppy in the morning when Susan Varner had put them on. Where the woman's jersey tucked in, Susan could see an almost painful cinching of the cloth and a swell of flesh. How old was she, Susan Varner wondered. Could she gauge her own remaining years through actuarial correlations of muscles slacking, skin wrinkling, or inches of added girth? But she had no tape measure, not even a string to wrap around the woman and compare to herself. Maybe she could improvise with a belt of linked paperclips. She knew she'd find paperclips in the top drawer of the nearer desk. She just had to step over the woman's body first. Easy enough, and yet suddenly Susan Varner's legs wouldn't move, and she had to turn away and make believe the woman did not exist, the woman and the floor and everything below an imaginary horizontal plane that cut across the room. Susan Varner could not look down, like a person terrified of heights. Her eyes searched upward in the cramped office, for what exactly she couldn't have said. The baby wildlife calendar was still tacked to the wall, to a photo of polar bears and the current month. In the bookcase, old textbooks still leaned together, hobbled by weakened spines. On a high shelf, the unclaimed briefcase that dated, at least, from the year Susan was hired, was still furred with dust. If time was as rubbery as it seemed, perhaps the briefcase belonged to the woman on the rug. Susan Varner felt so warm. She hadn't taken off her coat and couldn't possibly leave it behind now. She dabbed her temple, moist ARDOR | 94 GOODMAN My Effect 7 STEVEN STARK with sweat. As always, the stale air smelled of the coffee one of her office mates brought from home in a mason jar and habitually forgot on the second desk. Was the other scent, citrusy and sharper now, coming from her? Had someone left orange peels in the waste-can after lunch? Or were these emanations from the woman on the rug? If she wore Susan Varner's clothes, they probably used the same soap and shampoo. They had the same wiry, grayish brownish hair. What did the woman's face look like? Susan was too afraid to see. Its features would be fixed or slack but unexpressive; its open mouth would give off a scent that was not breath. She didn't need to touch her to know that she was dead, and if she touched her, Susan feared her hand would sink in, and the soft damp flesh would collapse, like a bath sponge or a rotten piece of fruit. She slipped out the narrow opening, back into the hall, and pulled the door shut. The Chinese Postman had to follow the edges of the graph and stop at every house; the Traveling Salesman was freer, going from vertex to vertex, on the shortest route between set locales. But so far no mathematician had factored in pity for the poor people going round and round. Whatever shape time was, Susan Varner

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