Nowhere Girl by Robert Herbst

You were one car over, all curls and eyes. I was just four wheels, an engine. This was at the stoplight – Western and Milwaukee. I pulled up, and it was like you’d been waiting for me in someone else’s backseat all night. I revved three times and you laughed. You made a serious face, mimed a bit of motorcycle. I blew a kiss. You caught it. The light turned green, and I was ready to leave you behind. When your driver caught up with me, you were hanging out the window like you wanted to take flight, asking for my number. I shouted it as clearly as I could. I barely said the last six before I made my turn.

You were a snake, I was grass. You molted in the booth at that bar. You told me everything – the tune of your rattle, the secret spot where you kept your clutch of eggs. You prefaced all this with a self-deprecating laugh, smacking your head and grimacing. I can’t believe I’m telling him this, you seemed to say. You told me that you almost cancelled a dozen times, preferring the warmth of your den. I asked why you didn’t. You stirred your venom-green drink, shared a little moment with yourself. You said you liked my tall yellow blades. Already there was nothing left for us to tell each other. Still, I noticed how raw your skin was.

You were a pot of soup, I was a tickling flame. You told me to come over. When I arrived, you’d made a Thanksgiving meal. The table was set for a feast, so we feasted. I brought my dog, and she ran laps and bounced on the couch. None of the stuff is mine, you said as I handled a Barack Obama Chia pet. I tossed it in your cauldron, and you sloshed across the long apartment. I examined a scorch mark on the hardwood. It’s always been here, you said, like a person lying to another person. As if I hadn’t already seen your burns.

My dog loved you, by the way. Only you would rub her gums like that. I’m not that kind of guy. Which I think you learned.

You were a metaphor, and I was also a metaphor. Our punctuation sparked like flint and steel. You were a hot air balloon, and you inflated and blew on by. I was the guy on the ground. I am that guy. You are two earrings and a shawl. I kept them safe for you, here. They’re right where you left them that morning, when you said you were late for work. Won’t you come fetch them? If you put them on, I’m sure you’d be human again. Not just two studs and gauzy fabric. Just like a fairy tale, we’d say, and we’d shed our skins and slither away.

Robert Herbst has been published or has work forthcoming at Gulf Coast, CRAFT, Witness, The Offing, RHINO Poetry, and other publications. He recently won second place in the Lorian Hemmingway Short Fiction prize, and has won or gained recognition in several other contests. He also is an Associate Fiction Editor at JMWW. In my parallel life, Herbst is a violinist and member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra. More of his work is available at

traffic lights in snow
Photo by Andrew Nevins on
Share This