Where the Pieces Lie - Nebraska

"Hey Malcolm." The day was a blaze, frozen in time, almost too hot to move, with not a puff of wind to rustle the trees, when the dry, husky voice of the bronzed, silver-haired woman broke the silence. Her heavy footfalls crunched in the gravel, the black leather boots cracked, chuffed and speckled with red. She was wearing overalls, but she'd taken off the top half and tied the sleeves around her waist. She was covered up only by a white tank top over a perfunctory sports bra, which didn't need to do much lifting.

Monika stopped in her tracks and pulled a pack of smokes from her pocket. She lifted an arm, sniffed underneath, pulled a face. "Too warm to be dragging a fucking Nandi around, Malcolm. These things weigh a fucking ton." She produced a lighter, lit a smoke, inhaled deep, held it, released. "I know it's bad for me, Malcolm. But how many of us live to see retirement anyway, right? Something will get me before lung cancer can even get started."

She walked forwards another few steps. "I mean, take you. I still haven't met a better hunter than you. You were the only one who even tried to help mum from whatever the fuck poisoned her. You brought dad down on your own after he ripped my brother's throat out." She chuckled. "Hey, I can even talk about that now without cracking. Could barely talk to you for over a year after that happened." She took another drag and held it longer this time. A whisper of a breeze made her skin break out in gooseflesh. She hunkered down. "You did all that, and then you got yourself offed by some random fucking chupacabra." Her hand reached out and barely trembled as she touched the cold granite of the slab. She knew there was nothing but ashes in the ground beneath.

"So don't tell me not to smoke," she said. She sat down cross-legged, her heavy boots scraping the gravel aside. The breeze had come and gone, and now the smoke rose straight up again. Ashes dropped from the glowing tip. The sun inched downward as she sat and smoked. She looked at the butt, now almost finished, and repressed the urge to extinguish it on her arm. "Not here," she said quietly to herself. "Not around Malcolm." Instead, she stubbed out the cigarette in the gravel and tucked the butt in her pocket for later disposal, sinking into a morose silence.

It was perhaps half an hour before she moved again. She got to her feet and dusted herself off. "I'm gonna try to come round again soon, Malcolm," she said. "Gotta take care of your place, right?" The cheer in her voice sounded shrill and fake. She brushed a leaf off the stone, which was otherwise in good condition. It was hard to tell it was nearly 8 years old by now. "See you around." And while she walked back to the truck, she lit another cigarette. Where she'd stub out that one, well, she'd decide that when it was finished.

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