Spotlight: Burdens

[fiction]

The biscotti slipped first, falling to the floor through the space of her forearm. Next went the cheese, then the crackers. Agitated, she dropped the rest of the assorted bags and packaging and breathed deeply. She knelt down to restack the boxes, starting with the largest and utilizing every angle of her arms and torso to balance each.

“It’s just like a puzzle,” she told herself.

She closed the pantry, brushed her shoulder along the light switch, and followed the thin trail of light coming from her bedroom. She felt the impact of a sudden thud on the bottoms of her feet. She attempted to catch the falling picture frames and paintings that lined the walls. Fearful of a noise complaint, she picked up her pace and stormed to her room. She tossed the food aimlessly into her room and shut the door. The food slid by the shark’s mouth. It was slamming its head on the floor.

“Hey, hey!” she screamed, holding up her hands.

The shark and its eyes moved to her. The upper part of its body lifted slightly. She pointed to the various bags of chips and sliced meat lying around the shark. The shark just stared.

“Right there,” she said. “Just look down!”

She knelt down and picked a crumb cake off the floor, keeping her eyes on the shark. Though it had yet to show signs of aggression, she remained skittish. At the very least, it stared at her too much.

*     *     *

One night, the shark stared at her while she read. It was past 1 a.m. She caved and stared back at the shark, breaking her promise to ignore it. She thought she had cracked the code that night and mastered the beast beside her. She saw a pupil floating inside an iridescent blue iris, like her own. For the first time, she couldn’t look away from its eyes.

“I haven’t seen eyes like yours,” she said to the shark. “Is it the saltwater that does that?”

She moved in for a closer look, placing both hands on the shark and resting her left ear on its side. Its dorsal fin extended high next to her head. She could hear the shark’s heartbeat. It was muffled, encapsulated by a seashell and beating faster as she lingered. The shark thrashed its body around her room, destroying a few possessions before she tossed a handful of gummy worms into its mouth. It silenced and remained still for the night.

*     *     *

She unwrapped the crumb cake and pretended to eat it.

“Yum,” she said, rubbing her stomach and smiling. “See, you can eat this.”

She waved the crumb cake in front of the shark. Its eyes followed, and it dragged itself forward. She tossed the cake into the air, flinching when the shark lunged its massive head. It swallowed the cake without chewing, then took notice of the other snacks on the floor.

“Ugh, thank god,” she said. “Have fun.”

The shark indulged while she quietly left the room. As she made her way to the kitchen, a piece of broken glass pierced her right foot. Her feet slid around in the sea of shattered picture frames and glass until she found her balance.

“Unbelievable,” she said, hopping on one leg to the light switch.

The glass had lodged itself deep. She used a butter knife to pry the exposed glass out. Once there was enough space to grab it with her fingertips, she yanked it. A swell of blood draped the floor. She limped to the kitchen and blotted her foot with a paper towel. It turned red immediately, so she grabbed the entire roll and wrapped it to the bottom of her foot with duct tape. Her cat jumped from the handlebars of her treadmill and crept over.

“New shoe, Bean!” she said, trying to reason with herself.

The cat took note of the blood and debris and tried to sniff it. She pushed it away. A dotted bloodline stretched from the kitchen to the hallway. She shuffled through the pictures on the floor. Some lay face down in drops of blood, while others emerged unscathed.

“Well, I hated this one anyway,” she said, periodically.

It didn’t hurt her to toss out the ruined pictures. She cleared the floor and scrubbed away the last of the blood marks, using her “shoe” to wipe away the excess. Her walls now consisted of the following: an aerial shot of Dubai, a photo of her parents at their wedding, two paintings she bought in Dubai, and a picture of Bean. Of the pictures, none of them included herself, though the corner of her hand is visible next to Bean.

She paused to admire her work, studying each frame and its position to the one beside it. It all had to align, or she would start over. This took twenty minutes, but it finally made sense.

“We just need more of you on the wall,” she said to Bean as he coiled between her feet, biting the roll of paper towels.

She carried an apple with her as she stepped onto the balcony. She was hoping the shark wouldn’t need her again for some time. She looked over the edge to see the street. The roaring of the city kept steady below, while she watched and detached from it all. She lit a cigarette and watched her smoke cloud hover over the street. The lights inside a fifth-floor apartment in the building across from hers turned on. She made out the silhouette of a pelican perched on the edge of the apartment’s balcony. A young woman appeared on the balcony, carrying a steel bucket. The pelican flapped its wings and repeatedly snapped its beak closed. The sounds echoed between the buildings, drowning out the noises from below. The woman pulled three dead fish from the bucket and tossed each to the pelican before walking back inside. It waddled over to the bucket and continued to eat the remaining chum. The feathers that it lost during the heated moment had floated their way down to the street. She heard someone yell that it was snowing.

Dakota Morgan is originally from the tiny town of Chocowinity, NC. In 2019, he graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington with a BFA in creative writing and a certificate in publishing. He enjoys writing screenplays, short stories, and poetry. When not hugging trees or overthinking, he is probably somewhere drinking wine and laughing at a tasteless joke.