Fiction In Brief

“A Terrible Thing” by Brittany Ackerman

I loved the department store down the street from us. I could spend hours perusing the sale section of half-priced designer shoes and purses. I stayed up front by the jewelry, in case you called. I saw a pair of silver studs, heart-shaped, and I thought of how it was almost Valentine’s Day, less than a month away. I thought if we got back together, I could wear the earrings. I thumbed the hearts and took them out of their posts, tried them on and put my hair behind my ears to see. They looked darling in the mirror but something felt off. Maybe I was too old for them. Maybe you wouldn’t like them anyway. Maybe they were meant for someone else.

And then you called and said I could come over. I left the store and drove to the apartment. I parked in a guest spot and you were waiting at the door. You were wearing sweatpants and no shirt. You took off my clothes and told me to go to the couch. The TV was still on, sports, the end of a game you didn’t care to see through. You said I looked good. I had lost twelve pounds in six weeks. Your hands felt knee, hipbone, rib. I felt unearthly. You went down on me and I came so quickly, the fastest I’d ever come, like I had needed to, like I wanted it to be over. You asked if you could finish on my face and I said okay but you came inside me anyway. It spilled out on my legs and I showered, met you in bed, and you read a book about public shaming. I went to sleep facing the other way.

In the morning, you asked me to drive you to your car. You had played soccer with the boys the night before and gotten a ride home. It was 7:30AM. You had to be at work in an hour, downtown Fort Lauderdale, lots of traffic. I got dressed and took you to the soccer field, next to an office building. When we got there, your car was ravaged. All four wheels gone, windows smashed, cables pulled, wires snapped, CD player ripped out, the whole thing stripped. I watched your face and you laughed. You said this was the kind of thing that needed to happen. You said that God was seeing you, He saw you. I had no idea what you meant because if this had happened to me I’d be in tears, distraught. But you seemed to understand why it was happening. You seemed to think it had a bigger purpose, a larger part in the plan.

You called the police and asked me to go get coffee. I drove to a gas station a mile away and bought one cup, added some cream, and headed back to the lot. The police were there, a man and woman, both wearing gloves and inspecting the car, the remains. You accepted the coffee and said I could go. I said I’d stay. You said you called Pauly. Pauly was an older guy, a good guy who knew us and took care of us when we were living together. He had always taken care of you since you got sober six years ago, but he met me when we started dating and helped us paint our apartment, helped sage our house when we thought we had bad spirits, helped move me in eight months ago, all my things, all my stuff.

You said there was nothing else I could do. I looked at your car and back at you and knew you were right. Pauly pulled up just then and gave me a wave. I waved back and got in my car, my red little car that worked just fine.

On the way home, I told myself I was a good person. I had gotten you coffee, stayed by your side as long as you’d wanted me there. I always wanted to help you. I always wanted to be there for you. But I wondered if you would have done the same for me. I didn’t have you anymore, I didn’t have anyone like Pauly in my life, I didn’t have God in my life either. I wasn’t sure of any “plan” that was going on without me deciding it. I wanted what you had, even though it’s only now that I can see you had nothing. I wanted your life, your sureness, your certainty that there was so much more out there. I wanted to be the kind of person whom terrible things could happen to, and I’d laugh because I knew my soul was still in tact.

And as I was driving I touched my ears, a nervous habit, and realized I had taken the earrings without paying for them. I thought about what I had done, and I realized I couldn’t go back.


Brittany Ackerman is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Creative Writing.  In 2016 she completed a residency at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, as well as the Mont Blanc Workshop in Chamonix, France under the instruction of Alan Heathcock.  She recently attended the Methow Valley Workshop in May of 2017 under the leadership of Ross Gay.  Her work has appeared in the West Texas Literary ReviewThe Write LaunchQueen Mob’s Tea House, Two Cities Review, and others.  She currently lives in Los Angeles with her forthcoming collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine to be released by Red Hen Press in the fall of 2018.