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Clay Pigeons

By kayley ulmer

  1. Broken Alley
    Broken Alley
    By Allison Rothrock

He was sitting on the porch, part way done with a smoke, when she finally reached home. Mark 
smiled leisurely at her, waving the tips of his fingers lazily in greeting. She didn’t return the 
gesture. Laurel looked as if she had just been through the wringer and the back. 
Her hair matted to her neck and forehead with a cold sweat, her makeup ran in tacky streaks 
against her skin, and her shoes only barely hung onto her feet where they were not falling apart. 
Mark had no reason to ask what had happened; he knew. He also knew when Laurel was upset 
with him not to be the first the break the vexed silence. 
“You left me there!” 
Finally, she spoke with her lips thinned and anger swarming in her eyes, darkening like seafoam 
right before a storm. Mark shrunk into his jean jacket under her gaze. He was tired of 
apologizing to her, tired of fighting, even if it was his fault. 
When Mark introduced her to this side of his life, Laurel promised herself that she would find a 
way to steer him back into the man she fell for. The last thing she expected was to get wrapped 
up with those no-good friends of his, too. 
Only now, shaking in the chilly evening air and hugging his leather jacket over the skintight 
dress she wore, did Laurel lose her resolve with him. It no longer mattered how many times he 
promised that all the dirty money he earned and all the mistakes he made in this part of his life 
would no longer matter once they could build that farm they always dreamt of. Tonight, Mark 
threw her into the lion’s den while he was off drinking Budweiser in his basement instead of 
rescuing her. 
She wiped at the glops of smeared mascara on her lashes. As far as Laurel was concerned, this 
conversation was long overdue. 
“How could you do this to me?” 
“Ah, c'mon babe! You know I love you” 
“Do I?” 
Laurel barely recognized her boyfriend in the sleepless, sunken eyes and pile of spent 
cigarettes and half-drunk beer cars that made up the man before her. 
Every time he left, Mark took her clarity with him. She tried seeing other people, but not even 
the thrill of riding on the back of a motorcycle could replace her high school sweetheart. Heavy 
bile settled in her throat with the reality that she was becoming like her mother- just another 
woman fully at the mercy of a man’s imagination. 
The first time he laid hands on her, she forgave him; let him patronize her and buy her cherry 
slushies from the gas station as consolation, even. Numbness overtook her for more than the 
icy treat. She loved him, once. The parts of her untainted by her parents’ mistakes hoped the 
gentle boy who took her to senior prom was somewhere in the vacant, bitter man who kissed 
her goodnight with whiskey and smoke heavy on his lips. 
“How long are we gonna keep doing this, Mark?” 
With pleading eyes, she waited for him to give her another empty promise to straighten himself 
out so they could start their lives together somewhere new. 
“It’s just until I have enough money.” 
“Then what?” 
“Then I’m gonna marry you and build you the best damn farmhouse you’ve ever seen.” 
Laurel sighed heavily. She had heard that one before. She stamped her foot to the floor in 
annoyance like a petulant child. 
While Mark always knew just what she wanted to hear, it was just that. He drilled out promises 
left and right and Laurel still ate them up, even when she knew he wouldn’t remember making 
them in the morning. 
He grabbed at her hips, rubbing soothing circles in her sides and trying his hardest to win her 
over. He always did. 
“C'mon,” he cooed. “Let me make it up to you.” 
That night she fell asleep against his chest, covered in tears and heavy with her own regret. 
Laurel and Mark had arrived back at the start of the circles they traced around in. Despite her 
better judgement, Laurel just kept forgiving him. Mark was two different people and she was just 
hoping one day he’d come back with a dozen roses and that dreamy smile she first fell for. 
Instead, they fell into this toxic pattern not unlike that of her parents. While Mark changed, the 
naive parts of her could only hope this was temporary. He would act like himself eventually. 
After all, it was nothing she hadn’t been through with her father, in a way.