She wakes with that fuzzy sensation.
Her tongue feels dry and shriveled. The taste of clove lingers. Mulled wine as an I’m-sorry-about-your-breakup present.
This is the second time they have broken up. She is convincing herself she has evolved. Now it is spring break, and campus has emptied. Her roommate is in South America, building huts for the homeless or something charitable like that.
She decides to make herself a chocolate cream pie. It is a rare delicacy. She usually consumes all of her meals by dipping various food items into a bucket of hummus. She splurged on ingredients for the pie. The commission check should be arriving soon.
She’s painting a 5 by 7 foot canvas for a woman she’s met through a New Age healing group. The woman and her children are moving in with her boyfriend and his children. This painting will represent their newly blended family. The woman has requested the image include the following: seven birds to represent the seven members of their new family, a goddess with arms open to the abundance of the universe, butterflies, an infinity symbol, and trees. She’s painting and re-painting, trying to get it all to harmonize on one canvas. There’s too much good to fit together. She’s struggling to find a version where so much goodness can coexist without looking false, ugly.
The pie was delicious at first. The chocolate paired well with the red wine. She ate and drank at her kitchen table, content. Out the window, the students packed up their cars for break.
Now she hasn’t left the apartment in three days, and she’s suffocating from these paint fumes. The pie is almost gone.
The last slouching slice sits in a pool of liquid, which has separated from the pudding.
She calls everyone she knows in this town, looking for somewhere to go that is not swirling with turpentine fumes, birds, and butterflies.
She eats the last slice, seated on the floor, as she studies this final version of the underpainting. It’s as complete as it will get. The pie tastes of chemicals rather than chocolate.





About the Author

Shannon McLeod is the author of the essay chapbook Pathetic (Etchings Press). Her writing has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Hobart, The Billfold, Cheap Pop, and Word Riot, among other publications. She teaches high school English in Southeast Michigan. You can find Shannon on twitter @OcqueocSAM or on her website at www.shannon‑mcleod.com.