Sludge-Man Gets to the Point
Rosalie Morales Kearns
She dreams of an oil slick that clogs the mountain stream. The black oil, reflecting starlight, is oddly beautiful, but the stream chokes and coughs. It is being suffocated. Then the moon breaks through the clouds and lights up the oil slick’s rainbow colors.
She wakes up.
She is in their tent in the forest, alone in the dark. Her boyfriend, she assumes, is out there somewhere relieving himself.
Or he can’t sleep.
Or he’s just gone.
Not boyfriend. Fiance.
From the open tent flap she sees the stream, clear and cold and oil-free. The moonlight dappling its surface is supposed to be romantic. She’s supposed to feel romantic. She’s in love, after all.
You should be happy. The message comes at her from all directions. Commercials for diamond rings. Sappy movies where love conquers all.
The stream is no longer rushing along. It seems to hiccup and sputter.
She crawls out of the tent, tries to see what’s out there.
The water turns dark, just like in her dream. But this time the oily sludge swirls around one spot, solidifies into the shape of a man.
He stands up, chest-high in the water, then knee-high. He wades toward her. She knows she should be afraid, but she isn’t.
He stands in front of her, enormous and naked and oily-black, wheezing slightly, perhaps not used to being solid, standing in one place, having lungs.
“Love,” he says scornfully, and his voice is deep and metallic-sounding, not like a computer but like the earth’s iron core.
“Love,” he says. “What is that?”
Rosalie Morales Kearns is a writer of Puerto Rican and Pennsylvania Dutch descent, with a short story collection, Virgins and Tricksters, just published from Aqueous Books. One of the stories in the collection received a Special Mention in the 2013 Pushcart Prize collection. Her poems and short stories have appeared most recently in Prime Number, Witness, and The Nervous Breakdown, and she has essays and reviews published or forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Her Kind, and Fiction Writers Review. She earned an MFA from the University of Illinois, and has taught creative writing at Illinois and SUNY-Albany.