Veronica Mattaboni

(n) something lovely discovered by chance; a windfall

At the directions of the spine studded guy
slurping whisky from both navels
of the girl laying on their kitchen counter,
Marx waded through the bumping mass
of sloshing cups and bitter breath,
making his way to the stairs in the hopes
of finding Jonesy.

Where the oak steps met the second floor landing
stood a stag of a woman. Root-like bone sprouted
from her scalp in a halo, arching through the air
parallel to her gaze as she lifted it from the cellphone
in her hands to land on him. Periwinkle braids fell
in rivers past her ears, hair-ties low enough to flirt
with the freckle on her ashen collarbone.

Alloe paused; questioning, for a moment, her instinct
that the horned boy at the stairs was going to speak.
Rather – like a balloon remembering it was full of air,
his shoes parted with the floor and he began to drift
toward the ceiling.

Her voice was like being punched in the face
in a dream. He dropped to the floor, playing card knees
nearly folding beneath him. Marx cleared his throat.
                                                            Sorry – have you seen my friend?
                                             Tall, lanky, drunkest bitch at his own party?

Alloe quirked a brow, gesturing at her forehead
with a twirl of her finger.
                                             The one with the strawberry vines for hair?

Marx tucked his hands in his pockets, then
thought better of it, electing to shift his cowlick
from its weird position curled around the horns
just below his hairline.
                                                                           Yeah, that’s him.

Alloe nodded at the bathroom door,
pushing off from where she had been leaning
on the frame.
                                             I think he’s praying at the porcelain alter right now.

And maybe because Jonesy heard them
or perhaps because Alloe had pointed it out,
a formidable retching thundered from the door.
A breathy laugh escaped Marx’s chest and Alloe smiled
through a grimace, stepping away from the bathroom
to stand at his side.

Marx knocked gently
                                                                           Hey buddy, you okay?

and was greeted in return with an open door,
the wafting smell of stomach acid,
and a pale-faced Jonesy, rubbing his charcoal
claws in little circles around the tendrils at his temples.
                                             Fucking hell – that is the literal worst. Hey man.
Jonesy clapped Marx on the shoulder
then pointed a blackberry claw at Alloe.
                                                            You ought to get this girl a drink.
                                             She just saved you from chipping vom’ off the stairs.
He spun around, arguably
too fast for someone who
just shared his lunch with the toilet,
and trotted down the steps.
                                                            C’mon! I’ll make you something good.

Marx laughed sheepishly, looking up at Alloe who was
looking back at him, which forged a level of eye contact
the blood in his cheeks was not prepared for.
                                                                           Uh, ha. Thanks I guess.

Alloe grinned, starting down the stairs, herself.
                              Don’t mention it; helping strangers to the bathroom is my calling.

He paused, then lifted off the ground
descending the staircase after her.
                                             Oh – I thought you might be one of Jonesy’s friends.

                                                            Well, the invite was in my mailbox.
She glanced at him from over her shoulder
tilting her antlers just so.
                                                               I’m your next-door neighbor.
                                                            Nice house warming, by the way.

(n) the unsettling awareness of one’s own heartbeat

So they talk

sitting on upturned mulch buckets
and plastic patio furniture around
a folding card table; the green vinyl
peeling at the corner where the glue
had come undone.

And this is where he learns of her.

She tells him her socks have narwhals on them
and little winged pizzas – the holiest of pizza cherubs;
and she smiles gleefully, like that means
everything in the world. These simplest of joys.

She pulls an arrowhead pin from her hair, tells him
it is for the men who look lustfully at her antlers,
think only of the way they’d compliment the wallpaper
once hung above their headboard. So they will know
they are not the first who has crossed her, nor will they
be the last.

She asks him to tell her something she doesn’t know,
and laughs when he asks if she knows how much
a polar bear weighs.
                                                            Enough to break the ice! Ba-dum-tss.

And Jonesy scoffs at the question.
                                             It’s too open-ended. What kind of a question is that?

                                                                                          A good one.
She snickers like a palm reader does to a non-believer.
She plucks a strawberry blossom from Jonesy’s head
and threads it into her braid, smiling like she has settled something.

And Marx thinks to himself
she is a book he could read
for a lifetime;

a breath he could hold
‘til the sun comes up.

(n) a sudden and very heavy rainfall.
Just before the chime of midnight,
there was a knock at the door.
                                                                           …Hey. Is Alloe over here?

Alloe shook off the sandman
sleeping on her shoulder blades
and rose like a plant to meet the sun
at the sound of the voice at the door.

From the threshold emerged a broad-shouldered boy
who swiftly cocooned Alloe in an embrace, one set of arms
wrapping around her neck, the second locking around her waist.
                                             I missed you. You stopped answering your texts.

Pulling away, Alloe sighed and stretched,
popping sleep and rust from her joints.
                              Sorry baby, my phone died. You look exhausted; we can go home now.

She turned to the boys
in their plastic lawn chair thrones
and smiled a tired kind of smile
that said the night was over.

Jonesy stood, nearly toppling the card table
and extended a midnight hand to the stranger,
taking care not to cut the newcomer’s forearm
with the edges of his nails.
                                                            Didn’t catch your name, friend. I’m Jonesy.

The boy reached out with his upper right hand.
                                                                           I’m Dauz. Nice to meet you.
Dauz tilted his head to look at the card table.
               You know, if you guys need furniture, I know someone who’s having a moving sale next week.

Jonesy glanced at their bare wood floors.
                                                                           That’d be great man – thanks.

Dauz nodded a reply, threading one right arm around Alloe’s shoulders
and taking her hand with the other. Alloe waved a simple g’night
as they wandered out of the living room.

Marx exhaled a groan into his palms
and prayed for a sleep that would not come.

Veronica Mattaboni is a fiction and poetry author from Pennsylvania. She graduated from West Chester University of Pennsylvania in 2016. Veronica's work has been featured on the Feminine Collective, Penn and Anvil Press, Heart Beings, and Daedalus. She has also worked as an Associate Editor with 823 on High, and as a volunteer at the Poetry by the Sea global conference.
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