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Red Paint

/cate mcgowan

Consequences in Water

For all of us who dread the dim light, who stare at the stars for understanding, whose eyes adjust   at dusk, our perfect mammal smallness

is a pressure. Yesterday, I screamed at my own inconsequence. My guttural yell rifled like gunshots.   It reached nothing, unlike the ocean’s

prompts, touching wherever they go. On tribal islands, washerwomen scrub laundry on breakwater   rocks. Some men canoe to an isthmus

for the best catch. And through spume-barrels, a child stands on a board and ducks. Most people   don’t question, but pay tributes to the sea’s

foam thudding their shores, the water’s high-tide petticoats that sift all kinds of sky-sun-cloud-airplane   reflections. I wish I could read those scribblings

on the surface or tonight’s half-moon that tugs at me. Blue driftwood, striped with salt, piles itself onshore.   And right now, sails of shadow—cumulonimbus

fleets, armadas of stars—move over all the fish and their crazy calligraphy language. I look upward and spy the ink   smudges of bat wings going everywhere. Nowhere.

Cate McGowan is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Norton’s Flash Fiction International, Glimmer Train, Crab Orchard Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barrelhouse, Shenandoah, Into the Void, Louisville Review, Atticus Review, Vestal Review, Unbroken, and elsewhere. A native Georgian, McGowan’s an Assistant Fiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and is pursuing her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies. She won the 2014 Moon City Short Fiction Award for her debut short story collection, True Places Never Are, published in 2015, and her debut novel, These Lowly Objects, will appear in early 2020 from Gold Wake Press.

Illustration by Aliya Smith.


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