Paul Byall

Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize

Yo no sť los salmos de las hojas secas
sino el sueŮo verde de la amarga tierra.
--Antonio Machado

"Smoke and Mirrors"


Itís easiest, I think, to start at the end; that is, with the here and now, the here being a jail cell somewhere near Upland, Pennsylvania, and the now being . . . well, about an hour and a half after Officer Jenkins pulled me over on Route 452. I know thatís ass backwards, but thatís the way itís coming to me. Thatís the way Iím thinking about it.
    Iíve got Kevinís black lab, Onyx, to keep me company in this naked little room, and Kevin has my roommate, Crystal, to keep him company back in the apartment in Philly. I'm not claiming an equivalency here. Thatís just the facts.
    Onyx hasnít been accused of anything; Officer Jenkins only put him in here because he felt sorry for me. That was nice of Officer Jenkins, but I think Onyx senses this is not a good place to be. He has been sniffing out the borders of the cell and jerking his head around as if he expects a lynch mob at any moment.
    They wouldnít let me have my Alice Munro book, so there is nothing to do in here but sit on the cot with my chin in my hands and stare at the toilet. When Onyx finishes casing out the cell, he trots over, wedges his head through the triangle I've made of my upper body and slides his chin onto my lap. I scratch him behind the ears and wonder how it came to this.
    By this I donít mean the jail cell, I mean Kevin and Crystal curled up together back in the apartment.
    Iím only here because I was honest, because I didnít feel like lying when Officer Jenkins pulled me over. Thatís one of the things you should know about me: I have an aversion to messing with the truth. It spooks me.
    Hereís how it happened. It was raining, and I was thinking about Kevin and Crystal thrashing around naked when I lost my concentration rounding a curve. I guess I nicked the guardrail, or maybe sideswiped it a little, and bounced back on the road, but a few seconds later I noticed everything around me start to change colors, red-blue-red-blue, just sweeping through the car. When I finally looked in the rearview, I saw a squad car so close behind me its fenders didnít fit in the mirror.
    I handed the officer my license, registration and insurance card, and after examining them under his flashlight, he ducked down and peered in at me. ďThis vehicle is registered to a Mr. Kevin Haggarty,Ē he said.
    ďYes, thatís my ex-boyfriend,Ē I said.
    ďIs this ex-boyfriend aware,Ē the officer said, emphasizing the Ďexí part, ďthat youíve taken his car?Ē
    ďNo, officer, he isnít,Ē I said. ďNot unless heís looked out the window and noticed itís missing, which Iím pretty sure he hasnít.Ē
    The officer glanced over at Onyx, who was sitting up in the passenger seat staring at him with a worried look. ďThat your dog, miss?Ē
    ďNo, officer,Ē I said, ďhe belongs to my ex-boyfriend too.Ē

Selected Works

In 1992, as Barcelona prepares for the Summer Olympics, an elderly Catalan veteran of the Spanish Civil War tells the story of his youth.
A stranger drives a high-end Mercedes with California plates into a repair shop in a small Midwestern town and never returns for it,
Short Stories
December magazine, Spring 2016. Finalist for the Curt Johnson Fiction Award
An aging former baseball player living alone on a low country island in South Carolina encounters a young woman who claims to be his daughter from one of many one-night stands of his youth. Published as a Ploughshares Solo and available on Amazon.
Bellingham Review, Spring 2012 Winner 2011 Porter Fleming Short Story Award
Quarterly West, Spring 2018 Winner, Writers@Work Short Story Prize
Winner, 2008 New South Award
Finalist, 2008 David Nathan Meyerson Prize
Finalist, 2008 Willesden International Fiction Prize

Finalist,2009 Arthur Edelstein Short Story Award

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