The boy with the glass eye was back. His third time that week. He popped his eye from its socket, twiddled it between fingers the way a magician would a coin.
The first time he’d come in the store, he left his eye alone. Said he was taking a class on world religions and needed a Bible. Across the street, limestone buildings sweltered beneath a canopy of leaves. It was summer and the streets bare. He asked which Bible was best. She said they were all the same, but he didn’t believe her.
“That’s what they want you to think,” he said, good eye roving her body.
Esther wasn’t pretty and she felt his eye like a joke, pressed her glasses into the bridge of her nose. Sweat beaded her lip. Dark, un-ironed hair sprung like cotton from her head.
His third time in, he didn’t look at Esther at all, but spun his eye atop a thumb. He asked if she worked ‘til close.
She thought he was asking her out.
He waited beside the dumpster. She saw him through back windows as she shelved new stock or used the Employee Only toilet with its frosted glass blocks set high in the wall. She blushed, remembering his one eye on her—how it knew what it could not see.
She kept the trash for last, closing the blinds and locking the door.
When he kissed her, she let him. It was summer and the sky still pink. Scraps of cloud, like litter, blew across it. He held her against the dumpster; her head rested on its lid. His lips felt her neck. She thought, I never thought it’d be me.
When he slid the skirt with its elastic waist from her hips, she tried stopping him, and he pulled her by her hair from the front of the dumpster to the corner between it and the limestone building beside. The alley was narrow, the sky a thinning strip of gold. Bare hips pimpled in the air, unused to it. Blood, where she’d hit the wall too hard, matted her hair.
“Bitch,” he whispered.
The boy watched the next evening, through the store’s glass-plated front. Trash scuttled the walkway where he sat against a pillar that separated him from the asphalt parking lot.
If he’d held her, she thought, even a touch, it wouldn’t hurt. Her insides pulsed where he’d been—like a living thing she’d seen once through aquarium glass; it moved by squeezing itself.
He watched and she saw him watching, though she tried not to. He sat in the shade cast by the pillar, and she thought of the coolness of the pavement there. How it would feel on her thighs to sit with him—there in that spot where the sun didn’t reach. He twiddled his eye between his fingers. Popped it in his mouth and held it on the tip of his tongue, wagging it at her.
She looked away. Wondered what it meant that he was back.
The woman at the register wanted to know why Historical Romance wasn’t included in the Christian Living sale. Lycra shaped her thighs; her eyes were dew rimmed with black.
Esther said she didn’t know.
The boy with the glass eye moved from the shade where he sat, stretched so that his shirt pulled away from his pants and his belly flashed white over the woman’s shoulder, beyond the window-fronted store. He lay on his back on the sidewalk, away from the pillar’s shade, like a cat in the sun. The woman’s car parked behind him.
“I don’t have time for this,” the woman said.
She left the book on the counter. Bells jangled above the door. Esther put the book away. Outside, an engine roared. There was a thump and a pause, then a thump again. The woman’s tires left marks on the sidewalk and something else besides—the boy with the glass eye.
Maybe she thought it was a curb she hit.
Her car turned a corner onto the main thoroughfare.
Esther ran outside.
The boy saw her and reached out, his chest a hollowed pulp.
She grabbed his hands, pressed them to her lips, then said,
“I could have loved you.”
His eye lay on the sidewalk.
He tried speaking; only blood came out.
It was summer. No one walked the streets.
She handed him the eye.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We’re closed.”
Stacy Trautwein Burns lives and writes in north metro Denver. Her flash fiction is scattered about the web at places like Smokelong Quarterly and Jellyfish Review. See www.stacytrautweinburns.com for a full list of her publication credits.