More Than One Way
by Lee Ware

he Primate Hall used to be Nina’s favorite. Linking the common ancestor between man and ape, thus man and animal, was always a point of contention on her tours at the museum, and she was fascinated to see what others saw, what they believed at their core. There were those too sophisticated to want to talk about the similarity between the animal kingdom and human civilization, and those deeply invested in that very commonality, so much so they almost took on animal features in their passion.

A sleek couple from the East Coast snickered about the knockoff the Northwest museum was of the one in New York. Nina hated the comparison, though she could hardly deny it. Even the font was the same on the signage: fragile eggshell lettering superimposed on an unforgiving black background. Nina herded her group like a shepherd around the first exhibit of the hall: a painting of the Tree of All Life, with man on the loftiest branch. Though it was not meant to be a hierarchy, it was impossible not to view it that way. The young woman threw her shiny hair behind her slim shoulder and said, “Well, clearly we chose the higher branch.” Nina was always amazed at how the women who had to try so hard to look beautiful came off the ugliest. She had been told once that pretty girls could walk all over someone and never leave a footprint.

A man with country twang said, “Don’t care what no one says, I ain’t descended from no goddamn monkey.” The devoutly religious were a special treat on tours. Denying evolution completely, they always seemed to speak a little louder than everyone else, as though they would never let any instrument of God go unused. Nina wondered what they thought of the appendix.

“Some of us higher than others,” the New York husband whispered to his New York wife loud enough for Nina to hear. His wife pinched him in the ribs, as if he might be missing one.

Nina smiled politely and directed their attention to the life-sized family tree, where man did not share the same branch with apes.  “You are correct. As you can see, none of us are derived from monkeys.” This got a cordial laugh from everyone but the New York woman.

When no one commented on the orange bumpy starfish or the other aquatic relatives, Nina led the group across the gleaming hardwood floors toward the crowd-pleasing chimpanzee diorama. Big leafy greens patterned the back of the curved wall with tiny splashes of aqua blue. What little could be seen of the sky through the lush wet trees appeared like water. The rainforest was not the only possible habitat suitable for the chimpanzee, but certainly the most dramatic. Known to build nests as high up as twenty-four meters, the chimpanzee diorama was built with a perspective that suggested the spectator was as high in the trees as the chimps themselves, but showed nothing of what lay beneath. And then there amongst what she’d tried to portray as not parents to man but something closer to their cousins was Wally himself, the head taxidermist of the museum, checking the monkeys for hair loss.

While the group she led giggled at his preening, Nina’s heart clenched like a fist at the sight of him, and she winced as a flash of memory flitted across her mind’s eye. Wally was Nina’s closest friend. He was also a man who, the previous Friday—New Year’s Eve—had landed an unsolicited drunken kiss on her opened mouth, and whose call she’d not returned for three days.  The timing was terrible, as she’d gotten a phone call over the weekend from her sister, Sara, asking Nina if she could please pick up Sara’s dead cat from Wally—she’d changed her mind about the procedure. Nina wanted the incident with the kiss to go away on its own, but she also felt relief that her sister had come to her senses, and couldn’t now let Boots be brought back to Sara stuffed like some sort of hunting trophy.

Nina tried the impossible task of moving her group of eighteen people out of the world of primates and into the hall of the big cats before Wally could noticed they were there. Half of the people on the tour were over seventy, and speed was no longer a characteristic they possessed. The moment Nina turned her back on the diorama, Wally began rapping on the glass with fervor. Too loud to ignore, she turned in time to see him point towards the side entrance all of the dioramas contained, hidden in the simulated landscape. Normally she would have introduced Wally—people were always interested in how the dead are maintained—but she wanted to get talking with him over as soon as possible.

“Excuse me,” he said, coaxing her to the side. In his usual clumsy manner, he began asking her banal questions about how she’d been and what she’d been up to, as though they hardly knew each other.

“Wally,” she cut him off nervously, nodding toward their audience. “Can this wait? I am leading a tour.”

“Oh, yes.” He flipped the tip of his tie. “Sorry. I just wanted to know if you could come over for dinner tonight. I have something important to tell you,” he said. “Very important.

There was a distinct increase in interest amongst everyone standing in the Primate Hall except Nina. It was her turn to stumble over her words, until she managed to murmur a scarcely audible agreement. Wally beamed, kissed her on the cheek, and scurried back to groom the monkeys. A little girl giggled, asking if the funny man was Nina’s boyfriend.  “Absolutely not,” Nina snapped, then apologized for the interruption and regained her stride. Her heels pierced the halls with sharp echoes, tiny reminders of every step she took. She figured dinner might be the perfect way to clear the air from the great kiss debacle and to retrieve her sister’s recently deceased cat before Wally did something irrevocable.

hen she arrived at his apartment, Nina paused before knocking. It was the first time she could remember feeling uneasy about entering his home. Wally opened the door with a brown bag of almonds in his hand. His broad body blocked the entrance as if there had been a change of plans and he wasn’t going to let her in after all. He gave her his standard look of concern: an even blend of affection and condescension, as if he always knew better than her. “Oh, Nina,” he said, and enveloped her in his arms. “I didn’t want to bring it up at the museum. But I am so sorry about Boots.”

When Nina felt his hand rest on her back between her shoulders, she leaned in for a moment to feel his familiar warmth. His fingers rolled over each bump in her spine and his breath blew her bangs gently away from her forehead. He seemed to hold her closer than before, and Nina wanted to claw her way out, but instead stepped back briskly. “I’m fine,” she said. “It was my sister’s cat.”

Wally shook the bag of almonds as though expecting to find a prize at the bottom. “I know,” he said. “But I imagine it’s hard on everyone.” He stuck a handful of nuts in his mouth. Wally gorged himself when nervous. The more agitated he got, the faster he ate, and he was going at it pretty good. Between each handful he smoothed the sides of his slacks, nutty crumbs falling from his hands like powdery ash. The slacks were so grey they almost shined a faint hue of silver. His wingtips, freshly polished, suggested a slick, soft walk Wally did not actually possess.

“You have no idea,” Nina said. “You know, I’d like to talk to you a little about that.”

“Of course, of course. Come in. I’ll show you what I have in mind.”

Nina felt nauseated, but a white tablecloth cloaking Wally’s table distracted her. It was the freshly polished platters of olives and various cheeses that unnerved her, though. “What’s all this?” she asked.

“Oh,” he said, “I never get to use these serving dishes, and thought it might be fun. And I thought you might need something special, after all you’ve been through.” He pulled out a chair for her and then went to mix them drinks. He sat down and plopped another almond in his mouth. He chewed carefully, evenly, before swallowing. “I picked up some fresh halibut. Thought I’d try and fix it the way we had it at Georgina’s. Remember how much you liked it?”

Nina flushed, lifting her glass. Underneath, a damp circle pressed through the tablecloth to the glass surface. She nodded. “You know, I just assumed we would have steaks like usual. About Boots,” Nina stopped to chew on an olive, giving her time to choose her words. Wally was a sensitive taxidermist, and had always been defensive about his work.

“I think I have a couple,” Wally said, dropping the almonds for the first time since Nina had arrived.

“A couple?”

“Steaks. But there isn’t enough time for a marinade. I usually make a marinade, you know.” His steps pounded toward the oversized chrome refrigerator, wingtips screeching across the synthetic wood floor. It was the fastest she’d seen him move, and his voice stretched out behind him like a shadow.

The top door flung open, he began a blurred removal of buffalo slabs, venison, whole finches, abalone, squid, and bags of various organs. Within seconds he’d emptied the freezer, and its condition held Nina. There were no unexplainable crumbs or spills the way her freezer had—the way every freezer she’d ever opened had had. Wally’s freezer was too clean. She wanted just one tiny spill, but the interior was glossy white from the sides to the grooves of the bottom. When she saw what did remain, what was left behind, she jerked her head away. Tucked in the corner was the little grey marbled cardboard coffin her sister had bought for Boots. The manufacturer of the pet casket had even included handles, as though the occasion called for pallbearers. Wally balled his fists at his sides, then released them. When it looked like he would start on the refrigerator, Nina stepped closer. “Wally,” she said again, “I was only teasing you.”

The steaks sweated on the counter, already starting to thaw. He shuffled through the cuts several times, like a gambler stacking his cards. “All I’m saying is if you prefer steak, we can have steak.” He looked at Nina for the first time. His eyes were warm and blue, and his sincerity to please made her regret her joke about expecting steak.

Nothing on the tiled counter resembled anything Nina had in her own freezer. On every item, Wally had written a date—some went back several years. “I think these frog legs have expired,” she said.

“Not yet.” He considered the package, then put it away with the rest. “They have a little longer.” He had to slide the casket to fit everything back in the freezer, and as he lifted the handle, he seemed to shudder. “When I was younger,” he said, “my father stuffed my pet bird without my knowing.” Wally shut the door to the freezer. “It was terrible at first. The tight, stiff feathers and unchanging expression, like a doll.”

It occurred to Nina that maybe Wally didn’t want to stuff Sara’s cat, either. Maybe he understood the complicated emotions that could arise from such a procedure. As she turned toward Wally, she felt sorry for him, and what it must have been like to be given back his dead pet—a lifeless representation of what he had so loved. “I think the fish sounds perfect,” she said.

They stood on either side of the refrigerator containing Boots’ frozen little body. “You do?” Wally asked.

Nina squeezed his hand while catching their disproportionate reflections in the chrome. “I do,” she said, and let go.

ally kept his large apartment—too large for one man—as clean as a laboratory. The floor had a terrible glare when he turned on the light, which he did. “I know you don’t like it,” he said, dumping their glasses into the sink and then refilling them. “I only need it on for a moment, to see.”

He squeezed a lime over each glass, then stuck his fingers in his mouth and let out a loud smack. Nina waited at the dining table under a mock crystal chandelier. Wally dimmed the lights to subtle rays of orange and then sat down and carefully cleared his throat. “So, the reason for this dinner. You see, Nina, I think you know.” He pushed his bag of almonds towards her. “I mean, you’d have to know.”

Nina leaned back and felt the cool iron of the chair through the thin fabric of her dress before leaning forward to push the almonds back. She swirled the liquid in her glass and heard the ice like a deafening collision. Crack. Pop. Her heart made no sound at all and had been reduced to a tiny ball of panic.

Her silence seemed to be what Wally expected, and he went on in a rushed delivery of what seemed like a timed soliloquy. Nina’s breath caught as his performance rolled out in front of her, his arms spread like he was stretching hide. This way and that, he blurred them in the air to emphasize a point. A rehearsed sorrow settled on his face and made a home there. He said things like he loved her, had always loved her, loved her even when the pain of it was unbearable. Excruciating pain, he said. That’s what his love for Nina was like.

“Wally,” she said, his name stalling in her throat like phlegm. Her color had drained to a last, pale hue.

Wally stopped, apologized. “But it’s true—you know it’s true,” he said, and then repeated himself: “You know it’s true.”

“I guess I’ve wondered,” she said.

The truth was, Wally and Nina had always shared a mild attraction. They engaged in an easy flirtation that provided comfort in place of the real thing. But over the years he had dated other women—had been in love, he had said. And he had seen her date other men, some of them grotesque. An insensitive lawyer. A coked out musician. Once she dated a model, who always posed naked on her bed, and of whom Wally had been particularly jealous. In his vanity, Wally believed himself just as attractive, and repeatedly sought her confirmation, which she gladly gave while continuing to date other men—failure upon failure, which he claimed masked her real love for him.

“I bet you have,” Wally said, shaking his head. “You always get what you want from men. It’s not your fault. They just do it.”

“Do what?” she asked.

“Whatever you want,” he said. “And then you’re gone.” His words hit with an accuracy only achievable at close range. “I don’t want to upset you. That’s not the point.”

Excruciating pain, Wally? That’s what you said.”

He loosened his tie. He flipped the tip of it absently at first and then intently. “Look Nina,” he said, “I know how we can get past this. Remember when we were intimate on New Year’s?”

Nina’s mouth dropped in stupefaction, trying to recall what might have passed for intimacy when after the countdown Wally had followed Nina to the coatroom and kissed her there, their bodies stumbling through strangers’ faux fur. As his tongue had moved against her lips, she had taken a step back, and he fell on top of her. He tried to keep going, his mouth never losing its pucker, but the entanglement of empty coat arms and bodies had held him back. Nina had laughed while freeing herself, and then extended her hand to help lift him out of the mess they’d created. Nina wanted to forget the embarrassing moment, but Wally was clinging to it, trying to turn it into something it was never meant to be: a promise of something to come. “You have to remember,” he said. “It was just last week.”

“Differently,” she said. “I wouldn’t phrase it like that. I would say, ‘we kissed in the coatroom.’” She was being generous. “Briefly.”

He picked up the almonds; the paper bag crumpled around his hand. He put a couple in his mouth, then tilted the bag towards Nina. She shook her head. “Regardless, something happened that night, but not enough. And that’s what’s wrong. We have to go back to that night and finish it.” He began chewing with his mouth open. Pieces of almond clung to his lower lip. He spoke before he had swallowed, causing the occasional almond shaving to fly out. “If we’d slept together, I wouldn’t be in love with you now.”

Nina managed to get her drink down without choking. “You think so?”

“I do,” he said. “Either that, or we’d be together.” He reached into the bag again.

“I don’t think so, Wally.” Nina passed under the archway into the kitchen and poured herself a drink. “Want one?” she asked. She set the bottle of gin down and leaned against the counter. The night was evolving in a way she had not anticipated. She felt she owed it to Wally to stay through dinner before asking for Boots; otherwise, she might make it worse by first rejecting his passes and then his profession. But she wanted to flee. She took her drink in one go. “They’re always better when you make them,” she said, and then made another for each of them. She brought the glasses to the table but could not bring herself to sit.

Wally took the glass in his hand and raised it to his mouth and stopped. “You know what? We don’t have to talk about this right now. You’ll see soon enough.” He stared before himself, blankly.

Nina followed his line of sight to the glass case againt the wall behind her chair. Wally kept different geological artifacts in the case, and she scanned the familiar objects with little amusement—volcanic ash, minerals, that sort of thing. Then she noticed a particular piece of petrified wood with colors mimicking those of a prism. “Wally, this isn’t one of Brown’s pieces?” Brown was a farmer up in Washington who had discovered an entire petrified forest, perfectly preserved.

“It is.” Wally stood and removed the twig from the case, then placed it in her hand.

“It’s so light,” she said. Most petrified wood collapsed and was carried by flowing lava, breaking up along the way, but Brown’s upright forest had remained intact. Its range of color added to this extraordinary quality. “It’s remarkable.”

“I thought you’d like it,” Wally said. “Why don’t you hang on to it?”

The stone sparkled in her hand, showing no evidence of its fifteen million years. The wood was peculiarly green and seemed to glow against her skin. She gently rolled it in her palm and contemplated its beauty. “Oh, no, I couldn’t. Really, Wally—it must have cost a fortune.” The museum had paid three hundred thousand dollars for four larger pieces and a few smaller slices like what Nina had in her hand—and that price had been a hefty discount.

“A small one,” he said.

“I can’t,” she said. “I couldn’t.” She set it back down behind the glass.

“Just because you can’t afford it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it.” He gave her the same sad, concerned expression he always did. He appeared vulgar and old in the light, and for a moment, Nina wanted to knock his warm blue eyes right out of his skull.

He had regained his confidence, along with a newfound smugness, and raised his glass to her, but she declined the toast. “Where do you think we should bury Boots?” she asked. “I was thinking of driving out to the woods. Find a nice tree or something.”

Wally didn’t move, seemingly caught, framed within the rattlesnake skins stretched along the pantry door. The rattles he kept in a jar in the entryway.

Slowly, he turned and made his way into the heart of the kitchen, “I need to start dinner,” he said. He began skinning baby potatoes around the center, leaving the peel on both ends, the flesh glistening between. He shook a few seasonings into a bowl then tossed the potatoes with his hands. Rosemary clung to his fingers, and for a moment the kitchen smelled just like Georgina’s. He placed the potatoes in the oven, shook a carton of orange juice, measured out a little less than a cup, poured it into a pot with rice, and began boiling it. He pulled out the halibut and set it on the counter. He stirred the rice, sending whiffs of orange through the air, then spooned out even heaps and began filling the fish.

“Look,” Nina said, “Sara doesn’t think she wants Boots stuffed anymore.”

Wally began stirring the rice again. Slowly. Evenly. “We don’t stuff things, Nina. We cast a mold of the animal.” He slit open the next piece of halibut.

“I know, Wally. I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just, well—he’s a house cat. I don’t know how to explain it exactly.”

Wally finished with the rice and jabbed skewers into the fish, still wielding his knife. He began lacing it in place with a precision Nina had never seen before. “I understand. It’s a pet,” he said.


“Although in some places they still do that sort of thing. But if you don’t want it done, I won’t do it. That’s how much you mean to me.”

He placed the fish in long shallow dish, brushed it with butter and herbs, then squeezed a lemon over it before sticking it in the lower oven. “Damn it,” he said. “I forgot to preheat this one. Now the timing will be off.” He turned the temperature down on the top oven. “Speaking of timing. I suppose you’ll want to take Boots when traffic is good. You wouldn’t want him to start to thaw.”

Behind Wally, she could see the chrome refrigerator. “No, I wouldn’t,” she said. Part of Nina wanted to stand, collect Boots, and get the hell out of there. Never look back. The other part thought they could get past it. Somehow, she thought, things could stay the same. She wanted them to be the same.

t the table, Wally again pushed the almonds towards Nina. Again, she refused. “You used to love almonds,” he said, and reminded her of the time they had eaten them in the park together. “We couldn’t stop eating them. I got them for you,” he said.

If it had happened, it had been a fluke. She had a casual fondness for almonds, but hated the way they got stuck in her teeth. The mess of almonds. Wally’s memories always included things that Nina’s did not. It had become comical, the way they had to shrug off the discrepancies, but this time it made Nina uncomfortable. “I’m sorry I don’t remember,” she said.

“No matter,” he shrugged.  “You know, I find preserving animals is rather Egyptian, in a way. It gives an animal’s soul a place to come back to. Like the Ka to the mummy.”

“What?” Nina said, a little more incredulously than she had meant to. “I didn’t know you believed in souls.”

“Sure. Don’t you?”

The citrus separated from the rind in her drink and swirled near the top like a distant galaxy. Some pieces of fiber stuck to others when they collided, while others broke off, floating independently. “Never have.”

“That’s so easy,” he snorted. “Without a soul, why would you care about anything?”

“It makes you care more about everything,” she said, only half as exasperated as she felt. Wally had never mentioned souls before. “We should just make the most of the time we have.”

“Sure,” Wally smirked, “that’s how I feel, too.” He slid away from the table, moved towards his bedroom, stopped and turned to face Nina again. “I want to show you something,” he said.  “But give me five minutes to prepare.”

Wally’s collection continued in his bedroom. The south and east walls were composed entirely of built-in cases. Another case sat away from the walls, the kind you walk up to at a museum, place your palms on, and lean over to look down at the objects within. Wally periodically filled it with new pieces, then showed them off like a proud child. More often than not, they were unimpressive and mundane. Once it was a sea urchin, another time a mountain lion’s skull. He had managed to get a piece of a meteorite that Nina somewhat enjoyed. Assuming this time it would be more petrified wood, she went to make herself another gin and tonic. She couldn’t find the knife they’d been using to cut the limes when Wally shouted from the bedroom: “Come in!” he said.

She left the drinks behind. As she pushed the bedroom door open, it let out a piercing crack. The room was endless in its blackness. Nina had never liked to feel her way through the dark. “Come closer,” Wally said softly. Nina took languid steps, hoping to regain her sight. After two steps and eight heartbeats, her eyes began adjusting to the darkness. First she could see the outlines of shelves and jars, then bones and glass, and then she could see him, Wally, undressed and on all fours on top of his plush bed, his bare ass to her. He wiggled and sort of bounced. The backs of his thighs were pale and blotchy, and his left cheek had a half-dollar tuft of hair that had grown darker and coarser than the rest. It must have been growing from a mole, she thought. His head jutted out from the side, craning with a smile so expectant she couldn’t turn away—she was compelled to look, and she could see everything. A giant buffalo head mounted above the bed stared down at her accusingly, like a painting of Jesus at church. The beast had been botched: one eye drooped sadly to the left, the result of a poor incision. Not knowing what else to do, Nina looked toward the display case at the foot of the bed. “Wally,” she said. “There’s nothing here.” It was true. Wally had emptied the case, and all that remained was the royal blue velvet lining. Everything was dustless.

“Come on,” he said. “Over here. This is how I am going to pose the new leopard we’re getting. What do you think?”

The creak of the springs indicated that he’d bounced once more, but Nina had already doubled back and was making her way out of the bedroom. She wanted to flee from his apartment, slam the door on her way out, but the memories of their friendship kept her there.  She wasn’t sure if she was ready to let go of that. “Get dressed, silly,” was all she could think to say.

t seemed to Nina that Wally had lost his mind—a good portion of it, anyways. She stood at the table in the kitchen. The white tablecloth had a tiny stain she hadn’t noticed before, pink and round on one end. It must have been where a drop of wine had fallen from a glass and the drinker had either not noticed or had said nothing. She scratched at the stain with her fingernail as though she could claw it out, until Wally returned, dressed and panting lightly at her side.

“I’ve never been able to remove it,” he said. “I’d hoped no one would see it there at the end. I guess I’ll have to replace it after all.”

“No, you don’t,” she said. “You could just dim the lights a little more.”

Wally’s shoulder nudged Nina as he brushed past. She swayed forward, then backward. “Only a few more minutes,” he said, his head peeking in the oven like nothing had happened. He moved about his kitchen like a child in his own little world. Nina thought all this time they might have been playing an elaborate and twisted game of house. Their friendship meant nothing to him. She was merely a doll amongst the other inanimate objects he kept.

“I think I should go, Wally.”

He removed the thick quilted mitten from his hand. “Why?”

“I just think. Well—” she set the last word down and waited. She wanted to make a joke, something to dissolve the tension, but failed to find one that fit without mocking the entire history of their friendship. “With what just happened.” Nina pointed toward the bedroom, then let her arm drop slowly back to her side. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe it’s just better if I leave.”

“Oh, that.” Wally swatted at the empty air as though her words were merely a pesky fly. “That was nothing. A joke,” he said.

Nina looked at his face for the first time since he had redressed. He wore a different expression than the one attached to his nudity. There was no shame or regret about him. She blushed at the acknowledgement. “Maybe I should have left sooner.”

“Don’t say that. We haven’t even had dinner yet.” He wrung a dishtowel between his stubby fingers, then picked up the knife to cut limes for the drinks Nina had left on the counter.  “Seriously, Nina. Lighten up.”

Nina wondered how she had not seen the knife there. She returned to pinching the tablecloth, and she realized she what she felt for Wally was not sympathy, but fear.

“Besides, you can’t leave. I still have Boots.” Wally crossed his arms across his chest.

Her fingers stilled, but she felt a stabbing quiver in them. “What does that mean?”

“It means nothing,” he said. “I just have him. And that is why you came here, after all.”

Nina’s stomach churned, and she crossed the kitchen without thinking. The freezer door stuck a little and she had to jerk it open. She pushed aside a couple of rump roasts and the frog legs, then grimaced while pulling the coffin from the back. She shut the door and held the box against her body. It was cold and icy along the edges, like it could cut right through her.

“What are you doing?” Wally said, his voice shrill. “That’s mine until your sister tells me otherwise. It doesn’t concern you.” He stepped toward her, grabbed hold of one handle, and pulled the box loose from her arms, but Nina caught it by the other side.

“Wally, stop!” she yelled. “What are you doing?”

They each tugged from their respective sides. Nina’s handle weakened as they pulled. “Wally!” she yelled again, but it was too late. The cardboard broke in her hands, and as Wally won the bulk of the box, the lid slid off to the floor, and with it Boots came toppling out. He hit with a thud, but did not bounce or slide. His fur was matted and his face smashed within the clear plastic bag. His front left paw was flexed slightly so that the tips of his claws stuck out from the oily fur.

“Oh, God,” Nina said, turning to face the table. Her breath felt thick inside her lungs.

“I’m so sorry,” Wally said, placing his hand on her shoulder.

Nina shrunk from him. “Please don’t, Wally,” she said. “I’m sorry, too. But please don’t.” The warmth from his hand evaporated as he stepped away. She heard him scoop Boots back into the box.

“Why don’t they use black bags,” he said. “Why clear so you can see it all?”

Nina had wondered the same thing, but was surprised it bothered Wally. She figured he would be used to seeing it all.

He secured the lid, put the box in a shopping bag, and set it on the table. “He’s yours,” he said. “Maybe you should just bury him.” He picked up the paper bag of almonds but just held it in his hand not eating any of them, just holding on until he spoke again. “When I was seventeen my father prepared and mounted my pet bird.”

Nina felt emptied, her flesh pulled out by the handful. “I know,” she said. “You told me how creepy it was.”

“At first,” he said. “But now every time I go to my parents’ house, I always make a point to say hello to him. It’s comforting to know he’s always going to be there.” He looked at her and sighed.  “But I guess you wouldn’t understand that. Come on. I’ll walk you out.”

Nina followed Wally through the apartment, passing all of his strange objects on the way, and stole a last look at the petrified wood. Its eerie green glow was so beautiful she almost wished she’d agreed to take it. When they reached the door, Wally opened it slowly, drawing it out like he could slam it shut at any time. He turned, caught her by the wrist, and pulled her closer. Her body tensed, preparing to throw him off of her. “Here,” he said. “Take these with you.” He placed the bag of almonds in her hand. The weight of it was sudden and heavier than she thought it would be. He looked from the bag to her and back to the bag. “In case you change your mind,” he said. “You never know. You might be able to make the most of them, like you did with me.”

Lee Ware is a freelance writer currently living in California.