The Jelly Beans We Bought Near Black Rock

by Amelia Morand

“The Jelly Beans We Bought Near Black Rock” placed first in THE BODY contest (microprose), judged by T Kira Madden, who had this to say about the winning submission:

The Jelly Beans We Bought Near Black Rock is my favorite kind of short story, one that sneaks up and unfurls on you with every consecutive read. Here, a direct address is used to great effect, one of the many delicately crafted choices used to build a steady thrum through the piece. Jelly Beans is sensorial, a wind whip at the ear, mosquitos “knuckle-sized and furious” and “stoned dogs dozing on the folded-down back seat.” It’s a moody and gutsy piece of writing working at multiple angles, with an ending that drives it home.”

You haven’t spoken to me since Moab, have picked out all the pink and white and green ones and slipped them out your cracked window while I’ve kept my eyes on the road. I snapped at you for getting us lost, though following directions has never been a strength of yours, and it was my fault for thinking that today, any day, would be different.

By the time I fish a few from the bag and shove them blind into my dry mouth, only the licorice are left. You know how much I hate licorice. That muddy sweetness burns up my sinuses and drips down the back of my throat, twinges in the wisdom teeth that lie nearly sideways just below my gums, the ones I’ll never get around to having pulled.

I feel you smirking out the passenger side as I spit into my palm. Opening my window, I hold out my hand so that the wind can blast it clean.

I take a sip from your scratched-up Nalgene, but the water just swishes the flavor back and forth while my left hand glues itself to the steering wheel. There is nothing I can do about any of it at 80 miles an hour: the inescapable taste, the stickiness, the angry silence filling the car as the stoned dogs doze on the folded-down back seat.

I’m sorry, I say, inside my head but loud enough that you can hear. It’s too late, you reply by planting your bare feet on the dash.

I close both our windows so you might talk to me, and you cross your arms, refusing to try and open yours again, assuming I’ve clicked the child-lock on.

I haven’t.

I clench my teeth to pop my ears and think of how you remind me of your mother––not so much that you’re alike as the way I can trace these tactics to her absence––but then again, I look just like mine when I drive: my seat wedged so close my boobs could steer, my smile blinking on and off. I even jiggle my leg at red lights, so hard the whole car starts shaking.

I choke on the water I’ve just swallowed and swerve across the double lines, and you grab the wheel with one hand, placing the other on the back of my neck. I stop coughing, and you leave it there.

Pulling off at an abandoned rest stop, we squat recklessly among the tall grass by the river, but within seconds mosquitoes are everywhere, knuckle-sized and furious, and we hobble bare-assed for the car. Thousands swarm in around us before the doors slam, and they bite us as we slap at them with the windows all the way down, speeding on an unknown highway, the dogs pushing their noses into the wind, sniffing out the horses.

After earning her MFA at the University of Montana, Amelia Morand has returned to her hometown of Santa Fe. She will continue to serve as Senior Fiction Editor with Cutbank Magazine and hopefully also find a job that pays. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming with apt, Brevity, Hobart, Lunch Ticket, and Pithead Chapel.

Artwork by: Ashley Inguanta

Ashley Inguanta is an art and portrait photographer. Starting out in photojournalism, Ashley found her love for landscape, place, and human expression as she navigated the world of newspapers in the late 2000s. For five years, she served as Art Director to SmokeLong Quarterly, and she’s also collaborated on book cover projects with indie publishers like Burrow Press and Press 53. Additionally, Ashley is the author of three collections: A chapbook, The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013); a hardcover art and poetry collection, For the Woman Alone (Ampersand Books 2014); and Bomb, a full-length collection of poetry (Ampersand Books 2016). Her newest full-length collection of poetry and prose, The Flower, is forthcoming with Ampersand Books.