Each Breath a Chain

Sara Hills

After school and on Saturdays we couple up and make-out under the overpass in the middle of town—under shirts, over jeans. Our parents say the tunnels are full of rats. They tell us to take the long way round, warn us about gang violence and drugs, but we laugh them off.

The only rat in the tunnels is Tommy, pilfering smokes from his dad’s dresser drawer; so after we tire of exploring each other’s contours, we can practice blowing smoke rings, each breath a link, a chain—our futures mere specks in the distance, spread out like blacktop, unbroken.

When the end of senior year approaches, Tommy dares us to camp out. We haul our sleeping bags into the tunnels, burrow into each other’s warm crevices, spray paint our names and ‘4-ever’ inside hearts. We swear by pinkies, by blood. Promise to call, to write. Say we won’t change, we’ll stay evergreen, but by autumn we’ve scattered.

The passing years scar us. We seed ourselves in new pacts, birth new promises, raise our kids to take the long way round. We warn them off gangs, off drugs, and stir fears of rats in dark places. Our kids don’t listen. They seek out the tunnels, come back reeking of spray paint and smoke, believing each breath a chain, swearing the future is a speck. Swearing time and love are untouchable. Swearing they’re the ones who can make it last.

Sara Hills has been published in various journals such as SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, and New Flash Fiction Review; twice shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Bridport Prize; and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Microfictions, and Best Small Fictions. Although she grew up in America’s Sonoran Desert, she now lives in Warwickshire, England and tweets from @sarahillswrites.