Sixteen Seconds

by Matthew J. Trafford

Matthew J. Trafford is the author of The Divinity Gene, and his stories have been featured in The Malahat Review, Matrix, and several anthologies. He has won the Far Horizons Award and a Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction. He is working on more stories and a novel. He has fiction forthcoming in LUMINA.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling stressed out, I take my pulse. It’s something my uncle Bill used to do—he was always worried that a heart attack was going to get him, that he’d have some episode of tachycardia that would fail to resolve, and that he’d end up clutching his chest and turning blue. But it was lung cancer that got him in the end. Anyway Bill, he taught me this trick of taking your pulse for ten seconds, then multiplying by six to get the beats per minute. I learned what the normal range was, and it’s comforting to know that I’m in it.

These days, I find myself taking it for sixteen seconds, and then not bothering with the multiplying. How many heartbeats in sixteen seconds? How many breaths?

There are so many goddamned animal videos on the internet. Yesterday I saw one of a dog playing pool. Not like the paintings on crushed velvet where the dogs sit around tables in neckties playing poker, or anthropomorphized holding pool cues. No, this is an actual dog that perches up with its forepaws on the pool table to get the lay of the land, then uses either its paw or its nose to make the shot. And the dog is good. The video is edited, of course, so that every shot the dog takes, it sinks. But they are some pretty amazing shots.

David always beat me at pool whenever we played growing up. He always beat me at everything—that’s just what older brothers do. He insisted that we call our shots, and he always punched me in the arm if I needed to use the lady’s aid. When I was really little I had a habit of turning diminutive all the sports words—I think because I learned “hockey” and “goalie” first, I thought all sports terms ended in an “ee” sound. For pool, I would ask if he wanted to be solids or stripies. For basketball, I would ask if he wanted to go shoot hoopies in the driveway. That stuff he never corrected me on.

I often wonder how something so short could have had such an extreme impact on our lives. How something so brief could ripple out and affect all of us for so long.

But he never beat me up so bad as the time I called another kid in my class a fag. He knelt on my head and said, “That’s what I am, you doofus.” And after that, he called me out any time I was being discriminatory towards queer people, whether consciously or unconsciously.

And I have to say it’s genuinely made me a better person. Besides which, chicks dig it when guys are sensitive to stuff like that. I’m pretty sure it’s part of why Evie fell for me.

The video is exactly sixteen seconds long, and I often wonder how something so short could have had such an extreme impact on our lives. How something so brief could ripple out and affect all of us for so long.

The video shows my brother in full military gear, holding a dog by the scruff of its neck. He comments on how cute the puppy is. Another marine steps into the frame and also says the dog is cute. Then my brother winds up, says flatly, “Oops, I tripped,” and throws the dog over a cliff into the gully below. You can hear the dog yelping as it falls, and you can hear the noise the dog makes when it lands. Then the person holding the camera says, “That was just mean, Moreno,” and then the video is over.

I emailed David a bunch of times right after it happened. The first couple I tried just to act like everything was normal, like maybe I hadn’t seen it. But it was on the goddamned six o’clock news, and all over the internet, and all the papers ran a story about it. If he was getting any of that info over there in the desert, there was no way he didn’t know it was all over the rest of the world. So I asked him about it. But I didn’t get any answers, and I know from my mom and dad that they didn’t either. Which meant that either the emails weren’t getting through to him, or he just had nothing to say. And both of those seemed bad.

One of the reasons I love Evie is because she’s so relaxed about everything. She hardly ever freaks out or gets stressed out about anything. She’s even chill about birth control. Most of the time, when we finish, I’m lying on my back and she’s on top of me. When I’m close, she just slides up and off, and my dick flops onto my stomach with that particular slapping sound, and I ejaculate all over myself. It just works for us.

On that first night after the video was posted, I grabbed my t-shirt from the floor to wipe myself off, and Evie snuggled into my side.

“Adam,” she said. “Do you think it was real?”

I looked at her, but she had her eyes closed.

“I don’t know,” I said.

I wanted to say more—like, that if you really look at the dog in the opening frames, it’s not moving. It doesn’t seem to struggle or twitch. And that when it’s flying through the air the yelping noises sound too close to the camera; they sound fake, or like they were edited in afterwards.

But if I said that, I would have to say the rest of it, too—that the thud when the dog lands sounds sickeningly final and accurate. And that if the video could be disproved, I was almost sure the marines would have already gone public with a denial.

“Aren’t you going to ask him?”

“I’m not really sure I want to know.” I stroked her hair. “And I don’t know if he’d tell me the truth.”

I expected her to say something else, but nothing came. I wondered what she was thinking, but soon I could tell from her breathing that she was asleep. I didn’t fall asleep for a long, long time.

We shoot the shit, chit chat, and I help them work out, and tell them what they should eat, and I get whatever little tidbits about their lives they want to share with me.

When David was in high school, and when he was getting ready to enlist, he would work out constantly. Lifting weights, running, push-ups and sit-ups, all kinds of drills that we would do in the park or after school or just in the basement on the weekends. And I was always there with the stopwatch, tracking his time, handing him his water, and basically helping him out. So it just made sense that I ended up working in a gym, helping people train. I started in high school part-time, then I went through for kinesiology, and I became a trainer. It’s not some big calling, but I don’t hate it the way most people I know hate their jobs, and the pay is good enough. Sometimes I worry Evie thinks it’s beneath her—like, she’s not going to end up with a guy who’s just a trainer—but she tells me it doesn’t bother her. Some of her more book-smart friends seem to find it pretty funny, but she says she doesn’t give a shit what they think and I guess I have no choice but to believe her.

The thing about my job is that I get to know people without really having to know them. Like, I might see a client for eight weeks at a time, sometimes longer, and so one or two times a week I see the same people. We shoot the shit, chit chat, and I help them work out, and tell them what they should eat, and I get whatever little tidbits about their lives they want to share with me. But generally I don’t hear about their problems, or who they’re fucking, or anything too serious.

And with them, it’s just first names. I could look up their last names in the computer if I really wanted to, but there’s no reason for me to do that. And they just know me as Adam—the only one at the gym. No one has to hear the name Moreno, which has become such a dirty word.

Evie says I need to talk about it. She found me a group to go to, a group for family members of soldiers. She was pretty insistent that I go. She knows my history with this type of meeting – NA meetings with my mother, Al-Anon to talk about my mother to other addict’s kids – sometimes I’m sick of talking about things in circles. And I don’t mean figurative circles, though that’s part of it – I mean actual circles of people, with those goddamned folding chairs, always in some basement or rec hall that smells like dust or old feet and burnt coffee and desperation. But I’ll go, for her.

The group meets on Thursday afternoons, 4-6. I don’t drink coffee after noon—I try not to drink it at all, it makes my heart race—and they don’t have any decaf, or pop, or juice. I ask the volunteer with the name tag if they have any water, and she points me to a sink that’s stained with paint and glue, like this used to be a daycare or a place where ex-convicts did arts and crafts to express their feelings. I’m sure the pipes here are lead, and I don’t drink tap water in the city as it is. So I take my seat, dry-mouthed and with nothing in my hands, so I can’t stop myself from fidgeting like everybody else.

There’s a nervous energy I don’t like, but I’m hoping it will pass once people start talking. There are only two other guys there, one of them so old I’m sure it’s his kid he’s here to talk about. He has wispy white hair and hearing aids. His face is the kind that just crinkles in different directions—horizontal crinkles across his forehead when he raises his eyebrows in attentive listening, fan shaped crinkles from his eyes and mouth when he smiles. There doesn’t seem to be any natural resting face, just a permanent movement back and forth between these two expressions, like his face is the leathery folds of a bellows expanding and contracting with every breath.

These women, they think of their sons and brothers and husbands as puppies to be nurtured and fed and cared for and petted. They don’t want to hear my story.

The other guy is probably close to my age, maybe even younger, and his hair is dyed black and his nails are painted black and he wears eye makeup. His clothes are black too, and even though there’s no visible metal anywhere on him, I’m sure he has piercings in his tongue and nipples and probably other places. Before he even speaks I know he’s going to say he cuts himself. He just has that look.

The rest of them are women, women of different ages and shapes and sizes, but they all have open, empathetic faces. I know I’m not going to be able to tell them what David did. These women, they think of their sons and brothers and husbands as puppies to be nurtured and fed and cared for and petted. They don’t want to hear my story. They think of soldiers coming back from war like abused dogs that just need a good home and the proper kind of care. They want to blame war for everything—and they should, I blame war too—but they don’t want to believe that soldiers can be evil.

The emo kid, I’m surprised to find out, has a mother in the army. And unlike the rest of us, he doesn’t have any kind of horror story about her—she isn’t injured, and she hasn’t committed any major atrocities that he knows about. He just hates the fact she’s in the army at all.

“It’s embarrassing,” he says. “None of my friends’ mothers even have jobs, and I always have to explain why mine is away. When I tell them she’s in the army people look at me… they look at me like I’m dirt.”

I feel for the kid, because I know he’s not going to get much from these people. They tend to be a little more ra-ra-ra.

“You should be proud of your mother’s service,” one woman says. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

And then, inevitably, it gets personal: “They probably look at you like that because of all that stuff on your face.” This is from the old man. “And that crap on your nails. What are you doing?”

The kid just looks at him. This is when I wish there was a moderator who could handle this sort of conflict in a sensitive way. Instead, this stony silence. I know that I should speak up. David would tell me this is an opportunity to be an ally. This is my chance to protect someone who is being picked on just for being different. Whether this kid likes guys or girls, he has a right to wear nail polish if he wants to, and it wouldn’t cost me anything to say so. David would say that this is the very kind of freedom he’s over there fighting for.

But I just sit there. Eventually the kid just sniffs and looks at the floor, and one of the moms starts talking about her son.

When a video like this goes onto the internet it ends up with its own sort of life—there are spin offs and responses and analyses. For about eighteen hours, YouTube took the video down, in response to animal cruelty activists who felt it was too graphic. But there were so many pop-up versions of it that eventually it became clear taking it down was useless, and the original video was re-posted and easy to find. Soldier kicks dog off cliff. Soldier throws dog off cliff. Marine throwing dog off cliff in Iraq. These were the most searched items for the whole first week. All you had to do was type “soldier” into the YouTube search bar and it came up as the third suggestion.

I caught Evie watching one of them, a few days after the story broke. It was put up by a couple of people who, so far as I can tell, spend their time posting videos of animal cruelty in order to expose perpetrators and raise awareness. They did an almost frame-by-frame analysis of the video, to prove that the dog was real. They point to the scruff of the neck that David is holding it by, how a stuffed dog wouldn’t be able to do that. The way the legs move. When David draws back to throw it, the dog’s body moves in a realistic way, it’s hindquarters go back in a way that—and I have to admit this is true—a stuffed dog just couldn’t. The people posting the video also contend that the whimpering, though it sounds fake, is actually real, and that experts and veterinarians who work with animals in trauma would tell you that.

I wonder if maybe the dog was already dead when they threw it. Maybe they found a dead dog on the road, and decided to make this video. But I don’t know if that would be better. And there’s nothing visible on the dog—no blood, no bullet hole—no indication of trauma.

People were dying over there every day—actual human beings, and no one gave a shit about them. Why did people care so much about one goddamned dog?

At the end of the analysis video, white text comes onto a black screen, and calls for the death penalty to be given to the marines. These men deserve to die for what they have done. That is my opinion.

When I read that, a sound came out of me before I could stop it, so Evie turned around and realized I’d been watching her. She held my eyes. I wondered what we were going to say to each other. I didn’t feel anything except a vague curiosity of what could possibly come next between us.

“Sorry, Dave,” she said, then turned the computer off and went and took a shower. When she came out of the bathroom, we didn’t talk about it.

I’ve never been so aware of dogs in my life as I am in the days and weeks after the video. One morning after it went up I walked out of the apartment and within a few feet I stepped in dog shit. And instead of just being pissed off, I thought, dogs are so fucking disgusting.

And then they were everywhere: tied up outside of coffee shops, tied up outside the gym, sitting in cars in parking lots, always panting. They always have their mouths open, tongues lolling out, spumes of drool dropping out of them all the time. They were so frantic, so needy, always begging for something or wanting attention from their owner or whoever was passing by.

We never had a dog growing up; I never learned all the different goddamned breeds of them that people are always going on about, always combining into cuter and cuter names as they interbreed things that have no business humping each other. Maybe that was why David had done it—the dog was rabid, or dangerous, or just annoying. Maybe they didn’t have the resources to feed it. Maybe it deserved it.

And honestly, people were dying over there every day—actual human beings, and no one gave a shit about them. Why did people care so much about one goddamned dog?

There was this time that Evie was getting an award for something to do with her graduate degree. It was like, everyone in her program had to write a proposal for a better way to deal with common urban problems, and the top six of them were getting these scholarships that were supposed to help with their degree and also give them some seed money to implement the idea if they wanted. During the afternoon, each of the groups got to present their papers, and it was one of the most boring things I have ever had to sit through. Evie told me I didn’t have to come and that she honestly didn’t mind—which I figured was a big old lie—but in the end I wished I’d taken the out because it would have been easier to make that up to her than to sit through all those talks.

After the papers were presented but before the actual awards ceremony, there was a big dinner in a hall. It was buffet style, almost like a wedding, and we sat at these long tables all together. One of the students had a visual disability, and she had a helper dog with her, complete with the harness and the vest and all of that. I was down at the other end of the table and probably never would have noticed, except for what happened next.

The poor thing yelped and whined—these four high-pitched whines that were loud. So loud that everyone in the dining room stopped eating. Evie grabbed my knee.

I guess she wrapped the dog’s leash around one of the chairs, so that he couldn’t get very far, and mostly he would just lie down and go to sleep. Well at some point the lady next to her moved her chair back without being careful, and happened to put it down right on the dog’s tail. The poor thing yelped and whined—these four high-pitched whines that were loud. So loud that everyone in the dining room stopped eating. Evie grabbed my knee. My heart started racing right away, even before we could figure out what had happened.

It was all resolved in a second—the lady moved her chair, and the dog was totally fine—not permanently injured in any way, not even particularly unhappy just a couple of moments later. But the quickness with which that silence descended, the number of people who raised their hands to their throats and mouths, the stricken glances that were passed around the table, the thudding of my own heart—all from a couple of seconds of loud cries from that dog. We had all reacted to it, on instinct.

It could just be a trick of my memory, but I think they sounded exactly like the sounds the dog makes in the video when David throws it off the cliff. How could he do that? Just on an animal level, how? It would be different somehow if the guys seemed to regret it after, if Dave looked remorseful or upset as the dog spun ass over head through the air. But they’re all just laughing and shrugging, shuffling it off.

I keep wondering how David would have reacted if he’d been at that dinner with me. Maybe there were some instincts that some people just didn’t have?

So many of the stories at group are the things you’d expect. IEDs. Missions gone awry resulting in injuries that these men will have for the rest of their life. One woman goes on and on about her father having had multiple sclerosis, how she had to care for him and assist him for most of her life. She’d been so worried her own son would inherit the disease, and been ecstatic when he’d shown no signs of it. Then he enlisted, and he came back missing three of his limbs. And so now she has to do all those same things she did for her father, for her son.

Everyone nods with those sympathetic looks and makes little noises in their throats, as if they’re smelling something good in the kitchen instead of listening to this woman’s pain. She’s crying by the end of it, but then she smiles this wide grin and says she feels so much better just talking about it. She was happy to do it for her father, she lies, and she’s happy to do it for her son, it’s just not how she had envisioned spending her life.

There’s a long pause when she’s finished and a few members of the group sort of look at me, encouraging me to take my turn. It’s becoming obvious that I’m the only one who hasn’t spoken yet, who hasn’t told my story. But I don’t know how to begin. I know what’s happening to me doesn’t compare to their stories; I know they won’t have any sympathy for me or for my brother.

One of the things I can’t stop thinking about is the look on David’s face. I close my eyes and I see it there. He has this goofy grin, the same grin he used to always get when he was doing something bad. It’s that look, more than anything else, that convinces me the video is real. It’s the class clown in him, the part of him that loves attention, whether it’s good or bad.

And I can’t tell whether that makes it better or worse. I recognize him, that’s the thing. It’s not as if the war has turned into him into this cold-hearted, inhuman weapon that revels in cruelty to animals. He just looks like the same old Dave, doing something stupid to get in with the guys. But how could he be so glib about killing a dog?

Out of the blue a girl named Katia with straight black hair and cat-eye glasses cleared her throat and looked at me. ‘So, I guess we should talk about the elephant in the room.’

After it lands, after that sick thud and the little rise of dust that comes off of it, the cameraman says to him, “That’s just mean.” And my brother shrugs. He just shrugs it off with this little grin, as though he’s shot a spitball at his teacher or accidentally thrown a ball through a window.

It terrifies me, because as much as I do recognize him in that look, at the same time I feel like I don’t even know him at all. Like maybe I never did.

A couple of weeks after the video went viral, Evie and I went to a dinner party with a bunch of her friends from the university. They all studied things in the humanities, so they were pretty liberal, and they were always having these potlucks. Some of the boyfriends didn’t go—the ones who were doctors or lawyers, and could blame their work—but there were enough of us guys to make it not seem weird that I was there. Evie always wanted me to go, she said it gave our relationship more weight when we socialized together, and she would make the dish so there was really nothing for me to do but show up and eat.

The hosts were this couple called Jessica and Norm; Jessica had done a Master’s in social work and did some kind of work with disabled people, and Norm was a dentist working for his dad. Their apartment was nicer than ours but not so expensive as to be intimidating. All the food was lined up on a side table where we could serve ourselves, and then we ate in the living room, a combination of couches and laps and sitting on the floor. There was no TV in their living room.

We talked about all the usual shit, and to be honest it took my mind off the whole business of the video for a while. A couple of people had been travelling in the winter, one couple to an all-inclusive in Mexico, another had done some volun-tourism in Haiti. There was a lot of talk about the ethics of travel and what our responsibilities were as first world citizens.

Then, out of the blue, during one of those awkward silences that happen in groups, a girl named Katia with straight black hair and cat-eye glasses cleared her throat and looked at me.

“So, I guess we should talk about the elephant in the room.”

I looked at Evie, but she kept her eyes on the floor. There were confused glances going around between the rest of them.

“I just thought we should acknowledge your brother’s video,” she said. And then she looked at me, and most of the other people turned and looked at me too.

“Uh,” I said. “I guess I don’t really know what to say.”

“What are you talking about?” Norm asked. Jessica put her hand on his knee and gave him a look I couldn’t read.

Katia rushed right in. “Adam’s brother is a marine occupying Iraq.” Murmurs from around the room.

“It’s a peacekeeping mission,” I mumbled.

“And he posted a video in which he throws a helpless dog off a cliff. To its death.”

Some of the girls gasped, or said oh my god in little whispers. I stared at my socks. My face felt warm, which I knew meant I was turning red. I started to feel my pulse in my temples.

“What do you want him to say?” This was Evie, god bless her. She was behind me on the couch, and I didn’t turn to look at her, but I felt her hand on my shoulder. “It has nothing to do with him.”

“I guess I was just wondering if you had any insight, or could explain to us why anyone would do something so heinous,” Katia said.

Suddenly all the quinoa and black beans and vegan tacos and guacamole and hummus threatened to come up. I wanted a beer, but I was driving.

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything,” I said. That Katia girl just kept looking at me, barely blinking. “I haven’t heard from him since it went up. They won’t…” I cleared my throat. “They won’t let us talk to him. I don’t even know if he’s getting my emails.”

“There’s going to be an investigation,” Evie said.

Then there was more silence. No one knew what to say from there. I got up, and stepped over people so I could go to the bathroom.

I wondered how many people named Moreno across the country were getting the same kinds of messages. But this guy knew I was David’s brother.

“Babe?” Evie asked.

“I’m okay,” I said, but I wasn’t sure about that at all. I got into the bathroom and started running cold water into the sink. I splashed it on my face, which helped a little with the flush. I put my fingers to my neck and counted, looking at my watch. I got to 18 while the second hand went from 30 to 40. That meant 108 beats per minute. That was high—anything over 90 counted as tachycardia. I took slow, deep breaths. I waited.

Within a couple minutes I could feel my heart rate going down. And suddenly there was music coming from the other room, and I could hear voices, so I could tell they’d moved on. When I opened the door, Evie was there.

“Are you okay?”

I nodded. “I just want to go home.”

“Yeah. Okay. I’m sorry.”

“Me too.”

There’s something else that happened that I didn’t tell Evie or anyone else. One of David’s exes wrote to me and asked to meet up.

I was at work when I got the message, between clients, just screwing around on my phone. I saw I had a message on Facebook from a name that rang a bell, although I couldn’t place it. Louis Bundholding. It said: Hey man, I don’t know if you’ll remember me, or if David ever mentioned me to you, but I used to hang out with your brother. I’m in the city and just wondered if we could meet up to talk about everything that’s going on. I can’t believe it and I just want to talk to someone else who knew him.

I knew he was referring to the video. I had half a dozen other messages of people just trolling me, people who didn’t know I was related to David but were just taking a guess based on my name. I wondered how many people named Moreno across the country were getting the same kinds of messages. But this guy knew I was David’s brother.

I clicked on his profile and from the rainbow flag filters on his friends and a glance at some of Louis’s posts, I knew what he meant by “hang out” with my brother. David had never been one to date one person for long—at least so far as I knew—and he never brought anyone home for dinner or anything like that, even though our mom always told him it would be okay. To me he always made it out like he just couldn’t commit and was sleeping with dozens of guys all the time, but I always figured he was exaggerating. Or not. I don’t really know.

But I had no idea who Louis was. It’s not that I was embarrassed to meet up with a gay guy—Evie had gay friends that we were close to, and I really am cool with the whole thing—but I just had no idea what I could say to him. I had no answers, no insights, no secret keys that would unlock the mystery of this whole debacle.

And if I wanted to talk, I had group for that.

In group, nobody knows my last name. We don’t even know if each other’s first names are real, though I told them Adam that first week because I couldn’t think of anything else. No one has mentioned the video or the incident, which is almost conspicuous, because in every other area of my life except the gym, it seems to be all anyone is talking about. But even if they’ve seen it, without a last name they have nothing to tie me to it. David is wearing a helmet, and desert goggles, and you don’t see much of his face, and we don’t look similar enough that anyone could ID me just from that.

“That’s just mean, Moreno.” That’s what the other guy says at the end of the video, and that’s how my brother was identified as the perpetrator, and that’s how everyone knows I’m his brother. Lance Corporal David Moreno, and me his baby brother Adam. Most of the time, I’m mad at that guy, whoever he is—why did he have to say our last name? Even if he’d just said “Dave,” no one would have connected me to it.

It’s my third week at the group and I’m the only one who hasn’t spoken. Shared. The old guy, Alan, has talked about having all three of his sons in service and abroad, the moms have all cried and held each other and told their terrible stories, and the emo kid has complained about his soldier mom two different times. I have a feeling they aren’t going to let me get away with sitting through another meeting without saying something myself, and it turns out that I’m right.

“Adam.” The woman who says it is named Maria or Marina or Marita, I can never seem to hear it clearly no matter how many times she repeats it. “We haven’t heard from you yet. Please, tell us your story.”

It’s quick and warm, and I slide my hands down to her hips, but she’s doing most of the work. It’s only a couple minutes, but we both know sometimes that’s all it takes; we just want to get off before falling asleep.

Everybody looks at me with those faces, waiting to hear my sad story. They must mean well, but how will they stop themselves from comparing my story to theirs, to quantifying their pain against mine?

“My brother’s in Iraq,” I say, and already there are nods and encouraging gestures. A fat blonde lady who always clutches Kleenexes is already dabbing at her eyes.

I start talking then, and a river of bullshit comes out of me. I don’t tell them about the video, the dog, or David. I tell them that my brother was a sniper, and that he had to kill women and kids who were carrying explosives, and that when he got home the PTSD was so bad that he shot himself in our garage. I swear I didn’t plan it. It just comes out, so fast, just a few quick sentences. And before I know it I’m crying, and the fat woman is hugging me, and Marina is looking pleased with herself. An older woman named Delores tells about when her sister committed suicide, and then the meeting moves on, and then it’s over.

That night, Evie gets home late. I’m already in bed, waiting for her. The apartment’s mostly dark except for one lamp that bathes her corner of the room in a yellow triangle of light, so she can see to lock the door and make her way over to the bedroom, to the bathroom. She’s moving quietly, because she thinks I might be asleep. I hear her brushing her teeth, peeing without flushing the toilet, so the noise won’t wake me. I love her.

She pulls back the covers and a sluice of cold air touches my body. Then she is in the bed beside me with the covers thrown over her, and my heat starts to warm us both as she snuggles up to my side. I touch her hair, her cheek, and we kiss.

I can taste the minty residue of the toothpaste, but beneath it there’s white wine, and something savory. She makes a little noise as I swirl my tongue around her mouth, and she swings a leg over me and climbs on top. I’m hard already and she takes me inside her without even taking off her t-shirt, and I haven’t even opened my eyes, but I feel so happy and so safe.

It’s quick and warm, and I slide my hands down to her hips, but she’s doing most of the work. It’s only a couple minutes, but we both know sometimes that’s all it takes; we just want to get off before falling asleep.

I feel her tense as she goes to lift herself off of me, but I keep my hold on her hips and resist.

“I thought you were close,” she says, still moving up and down.

“I am.” I throw my head back as I say it, my pillow puffing out around my head and almost covering my ears.

“Adam,” she says. I can’t tell if the tone in her voice is a warning or an encouragement to keep going. She rises up again with a little whimper, but I hold her down, close to me—I’m strong and it’s easy to hold her there—and I thrust, and we both finish. It’s intense.

“Jesus, what were you thinking?” She says this as she’s snuggling up to my side, nestling in for the night. “We have to be careful.” She slaps me lightly on my shoulder, a playful reprimand for risking our future on a few extra seconds of bliss.

“I know we do,” I mumble. “Sorry.” She makes a sleepy little sound like everything’s okay.

I turn towards her, and put my arm around her, and hold her close.


Matthew J. Trafford is the author of The Divinity Gene, and his stories have been featured in The Malahat Review, Matrix, and several anthologies. He has won the Far Horizons Award and a Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction. He is working on more stories and a novel. He has fiction forthcoming in LUMINA.