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Dead Skunk Logo: round logo of a white skunk silhouette on a black background with the words “Dead Skunk” in cursive. “Dead” is neon purple and “Skunk” is neon yellow.

Molly Andrea-Ryan is a poet and prose writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sledgehammer Lit, Blue River Review, Pithead Chapel, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere. She also likes to cook and she likes her cats, and her work tends to feature a little of both. You can find her @mollyandrearyan.

          Amelia watched as Chris split a melatonin tablet down the center with a pill cutter. He dumped the two halves into his palm, handed one half to her, and popped the other into his mouth. The lamp on his bedside table flickered as the cat nudged carelessly at the plug below.

          “You know, I had a friend in high school,” Amelia said, shifting the melatonin under her tongue to dissolve. “Who gave me a benzo in class without telling me what it was.”

          “That’s strange,” Chris said. “Why?”

          “Well, I asked if he had any pain killers because I had a headache, and he reached into his backpack and pulled out a Ziplock bag of pills. I just assumed it was Tylenol or something. But then in my next class I started feeling kind of funny, you know, dreamy? So, I asked him what it was, and he said it was a Xanax.”

          “Very strange,” Chris said.

          “He was lucky he gave it to me and not somebody who would have gotten upset. He could’ve gotten into real trouble.”

          “That’s true,” Chris said. He picked up the magazine on his nightstand, glanced through the table of contents, and tossed it on the makeshift discard pile he was building on the floor. The cat leaned its body into the stack of magazines, sending them into a slick, silent avalanche.

          “I liked that kid,” Amelia said. “Not in a crush way or anything like that. He was just a nice person, a good friend. Barry.”

          “Ah, yes,” Chris said. “Short for Barnold.”

          Amelia laughed. She reached for a scrunchy on her nightstand and pulled her short hair into a little ponytail at the top of her neck. “I remember that he didn’t have a ton of friends,” she said. “I don’t know why. We got talking in class, and I guess we connected. We hung out after school a few times and everything.”

          “Amelia and Barnold,” Chris said. “Painting the town red.”

          “We went to a thrift store once, out by his house. He took me there. We looked at comic books.” Amelia’s voice slipped into the far-away tones she adopted when riding a train of thought she was unwilling to depart from. “And then we went to a cemetery. He made a little pipe out of an apple. We smoked weed, and then he ate the apple.”

          “Better than smoking out of a tin can,” Chris said. “That’s what my friends and I did before we could afford a real bowl.”

          “We started writing a short story together,” Amelia said. “Something about a man who played violin in his apartment and started to go crazy. The songs got weirder and weirder, and that’s how you could tell he was going crazy. There was another character too, a girl who lived in the apartment next door. She heard the whole thing. God, what was his last name?”

          “The man in the story?” Chris asked.

          “No, no. Barry. Barry…” Amelia drew out the final syllable, waiting for the boy’s last name to present itself. “Shoot,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe it. We were good friends. It was Italian, I know that much. It sounded Italian.”

          “Barry Spaghetti,” Chris said. “Barry Cannoli. Barry Ragu Sauce.”

          Amelia laughed. She frowned. She tapped a finger on her chin. Chris kissed her on the cheek and turned out the light.

          The next morning, Amelia walked into the kitchen and found Chris frying up two eggs. They kissed good morning and Amelia poured herself a cup of coffee, topping off Chris’s cup with the last muddled splashes in the pot.

          “It’s the third,” Chris said. “Don’t forget to pay rent today.”

          “I had a dream last night about Barry,” Amelia said, sitting down at the breakfast nook with her feet tucked under her body.

          “Did he give you another Xanax?” Chris asked.

          “No. I don’t remember what happened. But I remembered his last name! In the dream, he said his last name I know it was right!”

          “So, what is it?” Chris asked.

          “I can’t remember,” Amelia said. “I think the last thing I heard about him was that he joined the military. He might have a baby now, and a wife, but I might be thinking of someone else. Barry…I really can’t remember.”

          “Couldn’t you just look him up?” Chris asked.

          “I could,” Amelia said.

          “But that would be cheating,” Chris said, pointing over his shoulder at her with the spatula.

          “Correct,” Amelia said with a sigh. “He was such a good friend.” She accepted the plate Chris handed her and stared blankly at the linoleum floor while she ate her egg and two pieces of toast.

          Chris downed his breakfast quickly and wandered into the bathroom to take a shower. When he came back to the kitchen to pack his lunch, Amelia was still sitting at the breakfast nook, plate empty, eyes drifting back and forth around the kitchen. “Don’t forget about rent,” he said again.

          “It ended with an ‘i.’ It was definitely Italian,” Amelia said. She kicked her feet out from under her body, vaguely aware of the rush of blood that filled her legs like TV static.

          “Figglioni,” Chris offered.


          “Well,” he said, patting the top of her head. “That was my best guess. I have to go. Don’t forget rent. Arrivederci.”

          Chris went to work and forgot all about Barry and the Xanax and the apple pipe and the violinist. He texted Amelia around noon about the rent, and she responded she’d paid it. He texted back an emoticon of a heart.  He went back to work and finished his shift and got in his car and drove home. When he walked in the door, the cat greeted him with a toothy nuzzle against his shins. Amelia glanced up from her computer and made a kissing sound before frowning back down at her screen.

          She waited a moment while he took his lunch box to the kitchen and deposited empty, sauce-stained pieces of Tupperware into the sink. She heard the fizz and crack of two beers being opened and when he came back into the living room, beers in hand, she announced, “He’s dead.”

          “Who’s dead?” Chris asked, taking a concerned sip of his beer.

          “Barry,” Amelia said, throwing her hands up in the air and dropping them in her lap.

          "Barry’s dead?” Chris asked. “What happened?”

          “It doesn’t say, exactly. It says that at the age of 23, he died in his sleep. Just went to sleep and didn’t wake back up. I was wrong about the baby and wife. I was right about the military. I can’t believe he’s dead.”

          “Well?” Chris asked.

          “Well, what?” Amelia replied, plucking her beer from the coffee table and cradling it in her hands like a newborn chick.

          “What was Barry’s last name?”

          “Oh,” Amelia said. “Smith.”

          “Smith,” Chris repeated.

          “Yes. Barry Smith.”

          Chris covered his mouth. Amelia shot him a look. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged. Then, he started to laugh. Amelia frowned, crossing her arms across her chest. Slowly, a smile spread across her face. Finally, she started laughing, too.

          “Italian,” Chris said. “It’s Italian. You must have said it five times.” He wiped tears from his eyes.

          “Ah, yes, the Smiths,” Amelia said. “Of Southern Italy.”

          They kept laughing and when their laughter faded away, Amelia said, “Arrivederci, Barry Smith,” and they started up laughing all over again.

          Finally, Amelia shook her head. “No,” she said. “No, it’s sad. He was a good friend.”

          Chris lifted his beer into the air. “To Barry Smith,” he said. “Any good friend to my wife is a good friend to me.”

          Amelia lifted her beer to meet Chris’s. “To Barry Smith.”

          They sat in a short but respectful silence before turning on the TV and drinking their beers. The local news anchor spoke in an overly calm voice about a string of robberies in the neighborhood. The cat jumped up on the TV stand and stretched. Amelia walked to the kitchen and threw a bag of popcorn in the microwave, staring out the window in search of the robber. At 9 o’clock, the two went to bed and Chris cut a melatonin tablet down the center with a pill cutter. He handed one half to Amelia and popped the other half in his mouth, and they went to sleep. Amelia dreamt of Barry, boarding a boat in a military uniform that didn’t fit his 16-year-old frame. She waved to him from the shore and waited until the boat disappeared on the horizon before turning her back and walking home.

Orange sunset and a figure canoeing in a lake. Mountains in the background.



Header image MyCanon30D, Getty Images Pro

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