The Coffee Table

By Samantha Steiner

An eleven-year-old snaps her gum and swings her legs from the edge of the couch. A song plays from the TV and the girl tucks her gum to the side of her mouth and sings along. The song ends, but the girl isn’t done singing and so she sings the part she remembers over and over, but the melody morphs into something different. The girl tries to find her way back to the old melody, but it’s gone. 

The girl crawls under the coffee table and studies the woodgrain and snaps her gum again and feels saliva flow backward down her throat. As she gets up, she smacks her head on the underside of the table. Black speckles hover in the air around her. She walks until she’s a few inches from the TV screen and she watches the bright shapes shift and buzz and she snaps her gum, and snaps her eyes shut once, then twice when the doctor blows air into her pupil, snaps open the case of her new glasses and sees across the living room the sharp dark outline of every pixel on the TV screen. 

“It’s wrong,” the eleven-year-old says. 

“What’s wrong?” her mother says. “Don’t you see better?”

The girl sees too much better than she ever saw. She puts the glasses back in the case and sets them on the coffee table. The TV is a dull blurry square. The girl tries to remember the TV before it was sharp and before it was blurry. She crawls under the coffee table. The wood grain above her is a fuzz of pale splinters. She can’t tell if the table was always this way or if she caused it with her head. She hums the song that isn’t really the song. 


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Samantha Steiner is a writer and visual artist. She has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the Saltonstall Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Find her on social media @Steiner_Reads.

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