by Ingrid Keenan

Jack was trying to break up with Persephone, but she wasn’t having it.

On the August streets, people whimpered under the humidity, and the relentless sun made them want to stab their eyes out. Down in the basement apartment it was dry and cool, but Jack had a headache anyway, and he wished that Persephone would stop arguing with him and just leave.

Persephone, who had stopped crying but still looked blotchy, cradled herself on the couch while Jack had to perch on a desk chair. Jack looked down at his phone and pretended to send a text. Persephone. What kind of a name was that, anyway?

“Can I at least get a glass of water?” Persephone pleaded, but he just played with his phone and shrugged.

“Help yourself.”

The kitchen was at the back of the apartment, down a long hallway. Persephone felt around on the wall for a light-switch.  She had the hiccups from crying so much.

The fruit was on the counter next to the sink. A long, rectangular tray, of brass or bronze, heaped with rare and luscious fruit cut and arranged artfully. A still life: indigo grapes, persimmons, obscenely split figs. Peaches, dark clusters of dates. And in the center, a pomegranate, cut into quarters, the arils like rubies.

Persephone took a step closer. She was furious, her sorrow forgotten in indignation: it was obvious this fruit was for a guest, and obvious the guest wasn’t her. She reached out her hand, hesitated over a slice of lemon, a stem of cloudberries. Didn’t she, after what a jerk he was being, deserve—

She could hear Jack coming down the hall. Persephone grabbed a pomegranate wedge, broke its back, and plucked out four glistening seeds. She quickly put them in her mouth and replaced the pomegranate on the tray. She turned around just as Jack appeared in the doorway.

“Okay. Time to go.” He leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed.

Persephone felt the arils in her mouth as he followed her back down the hallway. She rolled them under her tongue as she crossed the living room where a lonely patch of sunshine played on the floor by the one high window. It was still daytime – how strange, she felt like she’d been here forever.  As she stepped into the vestibule she felt the arils burst, their sweet sourness puckering the insides of her cheeks. She swallowed the seedy part quickly, so Jack wouldn’t notice.

She went to give him a hug, but he was still standing with his arms crossed, looking down.

“Goodbye,” she said.

Persephone opened the front door, and took a step forward: but she was immediately pushed back, like a magnet turned the wrong way around. Jack looked up, annoyed. Persephone tried again, but again some invisible force kept her from passing through the door; she could see the street if she looked up, could see the wheels of cars and trucks, the sandaled feet of pedestrians, she could hear the traffic and could almost smell the heat. But she could not go.  Jack watched her as she tried several more times, each time pushed back gently but definitively into the basement.  Through the doorway he saw the sun begin to set, he saw the leaves turn golden and fall on a crispening wind, saw the sky darken to amber, then purple, then ink.

Finally Persephone turned around to face him. They stood and stared at one another, like that, for a good long time.

Ingrid Keenan’s stories have appeared in Iron Horse, Room, The Carolina Quarterly and online at Shirley, The Puritan, and The Rusty Toque. She is currently working on a novel about a witch in a gentrifying neighborhood.