“Darkest Africa” by Thomas Kearnes

This is a godless moment, he tells me and kisses my cheek. He’s always saying things like that. We’re naked in my bath, immersed in the water. There’s a beige ring of scum around the tub. I always forget to clean. He’s kind enough to say nothing, or preoccupied enough not to notice. We pulled the shower curtain closed, left off the bathroom light. The darkness is complete. He still wears his eyeglasses—he told me earlier he can’t see without them. The lenses catch a glint of light from somewhere I cannot name.

Why godless? I ask. Why is he not here now?

He’s never here, he says. We’re alone in this world, my friend.

What if he brought us together?

Silly, you saw me online. That’s why I’m here.

I climb higher upon his chest, my legs nestled in his lap, my chin resting on his shoulder. Outside the bathroom, the air conditioning kicks on. It’s August, but we ran the hot water anyway. It’s a sweltering Texas night, quiet outside, as if the whole city were indoors hunkered around their oscillating fans. I think of where he’s going, where he will travel to once he leaves.

Will you tell all those children—?

What children?

The ones in the villages. You know, you see them on TV. They’re poor and starving.

That’s why I’m going there, he says. To do something about that.

Will you tell them there’s no god?

He laughs and wraps his arm around my waist. I don’t think the missionaries would approve.

You ever notice that poor people always believe in god? Maybe they think there’s nowhere else to go.

Let’s not talk right now, he says.

I always do what he says. I fear he will leave me. No, he will leave me. But I can’t let it be too soon. He will leave me for Africa. He will wear cargo shorts and a wide-brimmed hat, his arms loaded with boxes and supplies for all the needy and unfortunate, all the pitiful people that god, or time, or the rest of humanity has forsaken. He will teach them English and visit all the AIDS-infected children and pretend to pray for their dead mothers and fathers. He will not write me. He will not remember my address, and I will be too shy to write it down for him, slip a scrap of paper in his pocket as he gives me a hug goodbye in the doorway.

I believe in god, I say. My voice is small and strays.

I know you do.

He’ll watch over you. I’ll make sure he does.

How will you do that?

I’ll pray.

I can think of something else you could do on your knees. He chuckles.

Laughing too, I playfully slap his cheek. There’s a few days of bristle on it. I leave my hand there, caressing it.

That feels good, he says.

You feel good.

We should get out of this tub. Our skin’s going to wrinkle.

I don’t care.

I know you don’t.

How much longer till you go there?

Two, three weeks. I’m not thinking about it right now.

I listen to the piquant drip from the faucet, those merry drops splashing down into the standing water. I shift my leg, hear the water slap the surface of the tub. Earlier this evening, before we made love, he told me the rest of his time in Texas would be spent packing, making arrangements, preparing for the journey. It’s a little like a death, I think. He might as well be dying.

I’m going to miss you, I say.

I’ll be back. It’s not forever.

I may have a different address, a different number.

I’ll find you, he says.

I kiss him, feel his tongue move in tandem with mine. After our lips part, I settle my head back on his shoulder. I lift the washcloth from the side of the tub and absently rub his hairy chest.

I’m going to pray for you.

You can do that.

No, I mean right now.

He says my name, tells me I shouldn’t. But this time, I don’t listen. I whisper god’s name and ask him to protect my friend on his journey. I ask for other things, too, but not aloud. I don’t stop praying even as he pulls the drain and all the water, all the night disappears down the small black hole.

More fiction at Used Furniture.


  1. I love the intimacy and the vulnerability of the narrator of this story.

  2. This was lovely.

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