The Innocent
by Annee-e. Wood

When they said ovens, she imagined the soldiers wearing enormous bakers’ hats as they filed people through. She imagined the people came out on the other end as gingerbread families, and the whole thing all just seemed so fake, like a cartoon or a ballet, and she imagined the soldiers as friendly as witches, grotesque and sad, just part of the plot.

She imagined the end, when if finally came, would bring sweet revenge for children and restful, dreamy nights. But she was older now, and losing innocence. So the first night they made love, the first night she made love to anyone, she listened. When she asked him where he came from, he told her he had been sent to England by boat and he didn’t remember what his father looked like and he didn’t remember what his mother looked like, only her smell: lipstick, meat, ash. He remmebered some human packed trains were going one way and some human packed trains were going another, and he remembered the last thing his father told him before he turned away: there are no good or evil people, only the very lucky and the dead. He remembered the snow, and the impossibility of comfortable warmth, only extreme chills and extreme blasts of heat. As he held her, he told her how he imagined the inside of the ovens. And the temperature at which flesh begins to sear.

When they said love she didn’t imagine the hurt. She didn’t imagine hiding naked in the sweat of blankets. She did not prepare for the sour smell of skin. She had not practiced the bareness of rubbing or the strangeness of eyes that held the pain of old ghosts. She did not imagine his cries of pleasure would sound so lost. She did not know the rocking wetness would be sore and tender or that his breathing would make her weep. Or that when he pulled out she would feel the empty space between her legs, and sense a cold abandon. Later, in the morning, she tasted salt. The bitterness of hair. She felt a cavernous scar on the small of his back. She wondered if somehow she had caused the burns, if their heat and friction and persistent touching irritated the skin. She promised herself she would remember every fold of his body, every mole, every line, she would take notes, she would write it down, she would listen, so that eighty years from now when she’d think of heat, she’d think of love, and never forget.

Anne-E Wood grew up in New Jersey and studied theater and writing at Macallister College in St. Paul, Minnesota. She now lives in San Francisco, where she is getting her MFA at San Francisco State University. Her stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from Beloit Fiction Journal, Cream City Review, and Other Voices.

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