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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 2


written by

Megan D. Henson


Her name is Opal—a paradoxical name for a young woman who cannot keep the shadows from leaving their bruises beneath her eyes, which are all dusk and dead of winter. Watch the way she tilts her head and sighs as she shelves the colorful, grimy romance paperbacks at the used bookstore. The look on her face says she can’t find meaning in her work; she can’t find meaning in anything.


Her name is Opal. Her black eyes are like oil slicks—any light that hits her dives back outside itself, dividing into twenty colors, always a spectrum, always confused. She flirts

with the cowboys down the road at her cousin’s ranch. Her vermillion cheeks inspire their imaginations. The men are ravenous—they are isolated out here in the country, and every woman for miles is a relative, married, or elderly. Opal is fresh flesh, a pretty face, an artistic disposition. They want to know her secrets, her desires. They want to gobble her up.


One man carries Opal’s heart in his pocket; he is a religious man, a moral man who wears a ring that promises he’ll wait to have sex until marriage. He has no interest in gobbling her up. He is unattainable. Opal reaches for him over and over. He pays her no mind but grants her his prayers when she loses her job and becomes a whore, and his pity is worse than any heartbreak she’s ever known. She loses hope.


She comes in a hundred different versions of herself—always shifting with the sunlight and the shadows. The entries in her diary seem like they’re written by different women, and nothing is meaningful. She relies on physical passion to heat her cold interior and quiet the uncomfortable, disconcerting shifts in mood. The mania leaves her reeling. The dips press her to the floor, heavy as the bodies she can barely keep straight—whose name to call out? Bill? Danny? Roy? Whose face belongs to which heaving, sweating, sharp-scented man?

The cowboys are content passing her among themselves, but no outsiders. NO OUTSIDERS. These are the terms of her existence.


Her dream of the religious man—his purity, his respectfulness—has blown up like a star. Only dust remains, its granules like sandpaper, painful, rubbing smooth her sternum.


Her name was Opal. Now it’s “honey”, “baby”, “sugar”, “gorgeous”, “whore”, “bitch”, “cunt”, “slut”, “sex kitten”. Every man holds a fragment of her. She has never been more genuine than she is when she’s fractured. And then the religious man pities her and she feels herself disappear. Once, on the front porch of her cousin’s ranch, the religious man is seduced by the full moon. Opals make a spectacle out of any available light. He

leans in to kiss her, but Danny steps between them, his face a storm. She has violated the terms of her existence.

She flees with tears in her swarthy eyes, the shadows moving across her face under the streetlamps, which is just a shadow’s way.


Opal has a dream that her diaries become a book. Men are hungry, but women are dying of thirst. They have spent decades in dull marriage beds, not that her experiences

are any better. But Danny has fallen in love with her and now, when they have sex, he makes her come first, and she sees his heart breaking when he hands her the money.

Maybe this is why, when Danny pulls out an engagement ring, she says yes. She will get over the religious man because Time is a governing force; that is just Time’s way.


The men do not take the news kindly, but they have to admit that they have worn out her beauty. Eventually another will arrive, and they will gobble her up.


See the blue-eyed young woman curiously reading Opal as she shelves the book on her knees at the used bookstore…

Megan D. Henson is the author of What Pain Does (Dos Madres Press, 2018). She received her MFA in Creative Writing from University of Kentucky. She teaches developmental reading and writing courses at Northern Kentucky University.

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