Mary Lynn Reed ~ Sway

They stand in the mid­dle of a hol­lowed-out 7‑Eleven, search­ing for food or water or some arti­fi­cial­ly-sweet­ened sal­va­tion, but all of it is gone. Not even a pack of cin­na­mon Trident or a spicy Slim Jim to be found, and they’ve looked in every cor­ner, under every crum­pled ceil­ing tile and shard of shat­tered glass.

She stands beside a top­pled counter and runs her hands over a row of thick-braid­ed charg­ing cords — hot pink, laven­der, char­treuse — relics of a world undone.

Outside, the sol­diers march in ragged for­ma­tion, yelling out names of fall­en com­rades. The streets are emp­ty, save the sol­diers. Their cadence rever­ber­ates into the ran­sacked store, boomerangs back to the street.

March, march, march. Thomas. Jones. Martinez. March, march.

He kneels, chas­ing the sound of tiny foot­steps too soft to threat­en. What’s that? he whispers.

She takes the pink cord, wraps it around her neck, crouch­es down, too. They crawl across bro­ken glass.

Under the soda foun­tain, their knees damp­en. He grabs her wrist. There.

She nudges him and he sees the orange tab­by, head bent to the floor, lick­ing up a small pud­dle of murky drudge.

Shards of glass stab into their wrists, jab their kneecaps.

The cat looks up, his mouth lined lime green.

He clicks his tongue the way he used to for Sam, their sweet Siamese.

The cat con­tin­ues drinking.

Is it safe? she whis­pers.

The cat draws back, hiss­ing a sharp warning.

Does it mat­ter? he says.

Outside, heavy foot­steps approach.

The cat looks at them. Eyes widen, as if it has some­thing deeply impor­tant to con­vey. But there’s no time. The cat bolts away, leav­ing the pud­dle and the two of them crouched beside, wondering.

He dabs his fin­ger and lifts the mois­ture to his cracked lips. Gritty metal­lic sweetness.

The sol­diers cry out a new list of names, and the two of them rock back and forth, tak­ing turns dab­bing and tast­ing the glint­ing mois­ture dry­ing quick­ly on the floor.


Mary Lynn Reed’s fic­tion has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffin, and many oth­er places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She lives in upstate New York, and she is co-edi­tor of MoonPark Review.