Fiction by Jessica Rafalko
It is Sunday morning, early, and Lucy can’t sleep. She sits on the
radiator by the front window, watching the paper guy drive through the
neighborhood in his blue, boat-like Cadillac. It makes her feel old, his
car, reminds her of the junker she inherited from her parents in high
school—though the driver is about her age. He cruises past each
driveway, just under the fifteen mile-per-hour speed limit, and sticks the
bloated papers in the mailboxes.
Lucy watches his hands, his long fingers, and slips her own hand
down the front of her sweatpants. She threatens to, but does not actually,
touch herself. Instead, she leaves her hand cupped over her privates, like
a shield or a baseball mitt.
The first boy she ever loved was an exchange student from the
United Kingdom. One day, he told her he was smitten with her—that was
the word he used—and at this news Lucy developed a sudden facial tic
just above the left corner of her upper lip, a small animal digging its way to
the surface without quite making it. She wanted to kiss him, but was
worried he’d feel that pulse in her skin, that burrowing animal, and she had
never kissed anyone before. So instead she told him thank you, and spent
the rest of his semester in the States staring at him in algebra and wondering
how it would sound in his accent, the words “I love you.”
The paper guy’s name is Reed, and as his car finally approaches her
own driveway she breathes that syllable and watches it make fog on her
window. Her mailbox is at an odd angle, because someone—it could have
been Reed—drove into it and bent its stem. It now looks like a skinny kid
who’s just received a punch to the gut, doubled over in pain, and the
newspaper slides halfway out of the mailbox like a tongue from a mouth,
like vomit or a scream.
The second boy she loved, the one she married, is still asleep upstairs.
He thinks it’s weird that at Christmastime Lucy writes out a card for Reed
and puts a twenty-dollar bill in it, instead of just leaving him a case of beer
like they do for the garbage man.
Reed happens to look up this morning, after he’s delivered her paper,
and when he sees Lucy he gives her a little salute. He smiles, almost ruefully,
and in this moment they are sharing a joke, or a grievance. She slides her
own hand out of her sweatpants and uses it to wave at Reed. Maybe he
knows what she’s been doing. Maybe she wants him to know.
Christmas was a few weeks ago; Lucy decided to hand-deliver Reed’s
card. She waited at the curb in front of her mailbox, a woman in a ratty pea
coat at six o’clock on a Sunday morning with a turquoise Hallmark envelope
in an ungloved hand, and when the Cadillac neared her driveway, it came to
a complete stop. Lucy watched as Reed put the car in park, grabbed a
newspaper from the haphazard tower in his backseat, and stepped out to
stand across from her.
“Special delivery,” he said, handing her the paper.
“You, too,” Lucy said, and gave him the card.
He opened it in front of her, like this was his birthday party and she was
a distant relative, and it was only polite to thank her personally for whatever
lousy gift she most likely got him. It took him a few seconds, but after he’d
opened the envelope and read the card, he looked at her and said, “Thanks
Lucy nodded. “Sorry it’s not much.”
“You kidding?” Reed waved the twenty at her. “This ought to buy me
at least a few rounds.”
He was grinning, not sarcastically or maliciously, and Lucy smiled back
at him. “Rounds? You mean like of beer, or of ammunition?”
Reed cocked an eyebrow at her, still smirking. He got back in the
“Enjoy your breaking news,” he said, and suddenly the paper in her
hands was too light to notice.
Fiction by Jessica Rafalko
I’m not doing this because you dared me to. I hate you, especially
after art class last week, when you looked at the sponge painting I did of an
apple tree and said it looked like your dog’s barf when he eats too many
dog treats. I should have made fun of you back, maybe for your nose that
always leaks clear goopy snot, but I didn’t.
During recess that day, you dared me to jump off the swings. You
called me chicken. I didn’t do it then, jump, but today I will. And the idea
was yours, maybe, but the reasons are mine.
Last Sunday in church, when the priest was doing the homily, he
talked about how God will let you go to heaven if you follow the Bible and
do good deeds and say that Jesus is your savior. He said it like a checklist
of things to do before you were allowed to meet God, like how my mom
makes me brush my teeth and wash my face before I’m allowed to go to
So today at the park, before I get on the swings, I’m going to read
the part in the Bible that goes “You shall eat bread until you return to the
ground,” which I wrote down on a piece of paper and put in my pocket.
That’s why I didn’t let my mom make me toast for breakfast this morning: I
don’t want to return to the ground.
For my good deed, I’m going to apologize for cutting you in the lunch
line the other day so I could get the last chocolate ice cream cup and you
were stuck with vanilla.
And then, when the swing is at its highest, I’ll let go. I’ll slide off the
seat, just like that bacon in the frying pan my mom made me for breakfast
this morning instead of toast. I’m going to close my eyes and say in my head
that my Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ, the same way we say it in church
And what will happen then, I hope, is that I’ll float away, up to
heaven. I’ll have checked every box on the list. I’ll get to hang out with
God up in the clouds, where I bet His nose will never run and every painting
I make will be beautiful, or at least He’ll pretend like it is.
You’re not in the room a lot—most nights, you’re out getting drunk
at the frats or auditioning for plays, because you are artsy but not lame-artsy.
You can get boys to fix you special drinks while you tell them about your
favorite soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet, about Romeo being cut into stars
and making the face of heaven so fine. And later on you let the boys kiss
your mouth and your neck and your breasts, and you tell them about how
you love the night but pay no worship to the garish sun.
“That’s just a classy way of telling them they’re a one-night stand,” I
told you once, and you laughed at that and smiled at me. You think I am
funny, and clever, but funny and clever don’t inspire guys to mix drinks or
fall in love—and they don’t help me figure out what I’m doing with my life
on a Friday night, working on calculus problem sets and gnawing on my pen
You don’t like that, the pen cap thing. You tell me that I’ll choke,
that I’ll kill myself. You say it partly like a lecture and partly, I think, like a
dare. Not a dare to kill myself, but a dare to do something with myself
other than work my molars over the smooth, rounded plastic of my pen cap.
So you’re disappointed when you get home at two in the morning and
find me still at my desk, puzzling over differential equations and fellating my
Paper Mate. You ask me to take the cap out of my mouth, so you can see
it: punctured with teeth marks that look like bullet holes draining saliva. It’s
disgusting, you tell me, and I wipe the spit off on my flannel pajama bottoms
and put the cap back in my mouth.
You never see this part, but I don’t just chew on the cap. Sometimes
I place it between my lips and blow into it, like a cigarette you smoke by
exhaling instead of inhaling, and the rush of air against plastic makes a sound
like an animal pouncing at the wire mesh of its cage. I like the music in that,
though I’m not a musician—not an actor, not a lover—and sometimes I
wonder what it would be like to have that pen cap replace my voice box, so
that I’d only speak in the frantic wordless tones of quarantined beasts wishing
to be free without understanding that it’s just another, worse kind of restraint.
This is how I get ready for work in the morning: I shave my legs in our
too-small shower, nicking myself in twelve different spots; I run-don’t-walk
down the narrow steps to our kitchen; I extract my Pop Tarts from the
toaster with a fork. You tell me these things are endearing, like I am a puppy
you’ve adopted whose indiscretions are cute and forgivable because it
doesn’t know any better—but I know that you worry about blood loss,
broken necks, electrocution.
We do the grocery shopping together every weekend, which is when
I buy my pink disposable razors and blueberry-flavored Pop Tarts, and last
week you pulled a pair of socks off one of the shelves in the pharmacy
section and held them up to me so that I could see the white treads on their
bottoms. “For traction,” you said, “so you don’t trip down the stairs.” You
said it partly as a joke and partly as a genuine suggestion—the most
diplomatic way to get things done in a relationship.
We do our grocery shopping on Sunday mornings, when other people
are maybe at church. You have a Presbyterian view of heaven because you
were raised that way, though you’re an agnostic now, and sometimes you
wonder out loud if we’ll both be saved, or damned, or if only one of us will
be saved and the other one damned. You are a romantic, so you want to
believe our fates are the same, that we’ll either soar or burn together; I am a
pragmatist, so I tell you that if one of us is meant for heaven and the other is
meant for hell, maybe the two will cancel each other out.
“Does that mean we’ll both just live forever?” you say, and I say, “It
means we’ll both just die forever.” But I smirk when I say it, and then I
wedge the top of my Pop Tart between the tines of my fork and pull it from
Jessica Rafalko is currently a third-year undergraduate student at King’s
College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, majoring in English Literature. Her
short story “The Dog Sitter” received first prize in Delta Epsilon Sigma’s
2011 Undergraduate Writing Competition in the short fiction category, and
her non-fiction piece “Edith Brower and the Question of Talent” received
an honorable mention in the informal essay category in 2012.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 8, Number 1
Copyright © 2013
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
|Notes Left for My Minor
Suicide Attempts (Ages Nine,
Twenty, and Thirty-One)