FICTION – Six Stories by Shawn Rubenfeld

We’re in an empty school, and we’re climbing to the sixth story. Most schools don’t have six stories. Most schools are flat and long. This one is long, too. But it’s also tall. It has six stories. And today, Sheena and I are climbing all six of them.

It’s like Dante’s Inferno, I tell her at story number one. Only, you know, inverted.

She laughs. When we’re done climbing, I’m going to miss her laughing. Who will laugh with me then? Not my English teacher, Mr. Schreiber, who we see, somehow, in one of the empty classrooms. He’s reading a British Literature textbook and looking out a dark window.

He clears his throat. Then you mean to say it’s like Purgatory, he says.

Sheena and I look at each other.

What are you reading? she says.

A satire upon the true protestant poet, T.S., he says.

Same old Mr. Schreiber, I say.

He sits at the desk and cries.

On the second story, we find twelve barrels of wine. I pour Sheena a glass of red. I pour myself a glass of white. I hold Sheena’s glass and Sheena holds mine.

It’s like two thirds of an American flag, Sheena says.

Bottle of red, bottle of white, I say.

Do you ever wonder, she says. How we got here?

You’re drunk, I say.

Wait, was Mr. Schreiber crying? she says.

You’re drunk, I say.

On the third story, the walls are pink. I brush against them, humming. Sheena walks on the ceiling. I like this one best, she says. We find the music room and climb into a trombone, holding each other. We’re spit out the blow-hole, depressed. Next we try the trumpet, but Sheena doesn’t fit. I tell her to suck in as much air as she can. She says in all her days she’s never worked so hard.

There’s nothing on the fourth story, which makes us sad.

On the fifth story, I’m alone. I don’t realize it until I crack a joke. Then I run through the empty halls. I check every door, under every desk, I look behind the clocks, the closets, the blackboards. I check the boys bathroom, the girls bathroom. While I’m there, I take a piss. Because how often do I get to piss in the girls bathroom? When I flush, I see Sheena squatting beneath the sink.

There you are, I say. I was worried sick.

I was tying my shoes, she says. How was your pee?

I realize, now, that I’m not wearing any clothes.

Sheena laughs brokenly. Do you want me to be naked, too? she says.

I’d like that, I say.

She takes her time undressing. She looks at me with those devil-eyes.

When she’s done, she asks how it is. I tell her that it’s naked.

There’s a skunk on the sixth story. As soon as we notice it, we turn the other way. You can’t look at it, Sheena says.

What if I talk to him? I say. I’ll ask him to leave.

Sheena looks worried. Be careful, she says.

I take a breath and take one step backwards. Mr. Skunk, I say, but he doesn’t answer. I count to three and try again. I turn, peeking into the dark hallway, looking left and then right.

The coast is clear, I say, relieved.

Then a black and white ball drops onto my head. I try to pull it off, but it wraps around my skull, spraying skunk juice. I’m choking, fighting for air. I yell for Sheena, but everything, finally, goes black.

*

I look down, sighing. I measure an inch with my thumb and forefinger. Then I feel a head on my shoulder. It’s Sheena.

“Ready to try again?” she says.

Shawn Rubenfeld’s fiction has recently appeared in Portland Review, Heavy Feather Review, West Trade Review, 580 Split, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Pine Hills Review, among others. He received an MFA from the University of Idaho, where he taught courses in rhetoric and creative writing. He currently teaches creative writing with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and serves as Managing Editor of Split Lip Magazine and Split Lip Press. You can find him here.

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