The Quarterly is an eMagazine of LGBTQ fiction—of all kinds. This volume features four short stories:
Never Smile at a Crocodile by Parker Goodreau
Pilgrimage by Judy Leigh
Village Diner by Richard Natale
The Distance Between the Stars by Dominick Domingo
Also in this edition of the Quarterly are the original Op-ed “Story Deja Vu” by Angel Martinez, as well as Featured Artists Skip & Pip introduce Rainbow Glade while Diane Mond talks about “Making the Translation” with Toni Griffin.
Never Smile at a Crocodile
It doesn’t feel real, even after walking around with a maxi pad stuck to my arm for the better part of a day. I think the blood clotted the fibers to my skin. It cleans up okay, but I can’t just perform belated first aid on myself in a gas station without buying anything, even if their bathroom might be toxic. Besides, I’m so thirsty I almost drank out of the faucet. I don’t know whether to be ashamed or proud that my first day on the street hasn’t completely eroded my standards.
I’ve got five dollars. One giant water bottle and an individual serving of Lucky Charms. I drop the change in the donation bucket on the counter without pausing to read the charity spiel. I stare down at the plastic cup of cereal, not sure what I’m going to do. I can’t go back to the park. Quetta’s been looking for me around there. Thank God she’s so loud I always hear her coming. And anyway, I never could eat with people looking at me.
I pull my hood up and try not to walk suspiciously. Maybe I’m being paranoid—I’m sure I look real dangerous, all five foot nothing with my Lucky Charms—but I can’t hazard even a casual interaction with a cop. Mom and Quetta may not have called it in, but the school might.
I know this part of town well. The library’s only a block away, and our school bus stumbles over that pothole every day. It seems different now. I glance between buildings, searching for a hideaway. The street is empty. I slide between two herds of garbage cans into a shaded alley. Rotten litter squishes through the hole in my sneaker. I overturn a newer cardboard box, hoping for a dry spot.
There’s a rat.
I am definitely more afraid of it than it is of me. I yelp and drop my cereal, and the rat makes off with it before I can jump back.
Add this to the list of things I have in common with Lucky the Leprechaun: short, loves rainbows, annoying voice, gets their food stolen.
At least the rat is gone. But without it, I can’t think of a good reason to leave this alley.
So I don’t.
At first, each night has a definite flavor to it. Every clutch of sleepless hours puts forth a dominant emotion, rising to the top like a fly that got into the pot.
Night one is fear.
I jump at every unbalanced heap of garbage, every pair of shiny animal eyes blinking out of the shadows. I scuttle away from pedestrians, thinking of beatings; cops, thinking of being dragged back; even my peers—I guess I’ve watched one too many tawdry crime shows to relax around the homeless. It’s a lonely night, but I fear the people more than the quiet. The margin is not large.
Night two is worry.
I never thought fear and worry were so different, until my heart is too tired to race and my skin too cold to sweat and all that is left is my mind, a constant whirring of this could happen, that could happen, your life is over, there’s no way back from this. I’m out of water.
Night three is despair.
I don’t think about trying a shelter anymore, or my family, or what if someone sees me tucked in this little crevice. I just know, in the howling pit of my stomach, in the ache of my neck, in the stiffness of my fingers, that I am going to die. It doesn’t even occur to me to speed things up. Not like back home, where I lay on my bed and mulled over the possibilities, the bullhorn in my head screaming for the end, the end, the end. No, I just sit and shiver and wait for it. The knowing is not as terrible as it should be. It is only as real as I am.