Next of Kin by Rebecca Jensen

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In the parking lot, I forget that there are other humans on Earth; aware only of my boots in the gravel and the snap of the breeze off the bay slinking its way along the hem of my dress and the sleeves of my jacket. I sit on the curbside for hours that feel like days or seconds; my face obscured behind the winding blue stream of a cigarette that I don’t have the energy to smoke.

I let my cell phone fall from my hand, the line disconnects. I don’t hear it crackle against the curb, I don’t remember it making a sound. The only thing I know is the echo of a voice on the line: I don’t think we should see each other anymore.

This is how it’s supposed to feel. Like I’ve swallowed a bullet. I feel small and I like feeling small when there is someone to cushion me, to break the fall with hands making circles on my back when my organs are heavy inside my body and I feel the weight of it all. You are a very small being in a very large universe. But this small isn’t small enough. I am shrinking inside of myself, trying to will my body to turn itself outside-in, trying to get even smaller to push out the voice with the news.

It is just after four in the morning when I wake up and find my sallow reflection in the bathroom mirror. I brush my teeth and rinse my face in cold water. I used to always want to try living alone and waking up alone and getting ready for work alone and leaving the house on my own. I listen to podcasts just to swallow the vastness of the house with the noises of other humans, pre-recorded or otherwise. Who would you call if something happens? I am saving these shows for the times of day that I know will become ritualistic and, by proxy, the most difficult. The host’s voice drifts in and out of my thoughts as I move between rooms, searching for earrings, keys, shoes.

I take a drive up the interstate just because I can. It’s empty and I trundle along with only the vultures overhead for company. They are black dots and burning pieces of paper spiraling across the gray. I pull into the rest station and turn off the car. I walk inside and sit on a plastic bench beside a plastic table and watch as the couple across the room share a bag of fries; a cluster of teens pick up coffee orders and pay no attention to each other; a mother holding her child on her hip sways him to sleep.

I wanted to stop at the rest station and just sit in its plastic sterility to feel the comings and goings of the people I would never see again after today. It is the same feeling I get in airports, in waiting rooms, in hotel lobbies; a public space intended specifically to be temporary. When I come back to this spot, the people won’t be the same ones as now. Or maybe they will, but none of us will know and they won’t be thinking about it. When we travel, we think only of ourselves, the countdown to our next stop, the loved ones we hope will be waiting for us on the steps of the front porch when we arrive.

I pull out of the parking space and return to the road, the vultures still spiral. And when I arrive back at the house, the imprint of his form burns up from my memory. I think about it and feel a rush of something through my bones. In my mind, I have recorded the negative spaces between his shoulder and neck, crooks of the elbows; knees perched, and toes curled around our stained front doorstep. I play it back as if he is here.

In the mornings, he used to crack eggs open and pour them into the cast iron skillet resting on the grill. The shells remained; a tally of cool mornings and foggy lake views that in turn became weeks of humid afternoons lounging at the pool, and then evenings in which we pushed together two couches to make a nest and allowed our feet to touch while taking turns falling asleep in front of a football game on television.

I want to think about the silky down of his hair against my cheek, but instead I think about my car in the driveway, in the sweet dust under the carport. I zoom out to see the map of my location and fall asleep to the sounds of the Dallas Cowboys making a touchdown. I never did understand the game. The shape of him takes over the images in my dreams. The backdrop—a soundtrack; the humming of a heart.


Rebecca Jensen received her MFA in creative nonfiction at Florida Atlantic University in 2017. She has served as Fiction Editor for Driftwood Press, Managing Editor for FAU’s Coastlines, and recently completed a writing residency at Sundress Academy for the Arts. Her work appears in West Texas Literary ReviewGravel, Crab Fat Magazine, Eunoia Review, and FishFood Magazine, among others.

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