“Second Temptation” by Peter Groesbeck
You folded the photo of your husband into the inside of your left boot, the edges crimped and frayed, wet with mud and sweat. The last thing you wanted was Thomas finding it, ending the expedition early, leaving the Sumatra Island behind you on one of those tight, jostling planes, your shoulder bumping his with each turbulent shift.
“How much farther do we have to go?” you ask, the Nikon D300 and its various lenses inside the airtight case, tugging against your collarbones.
“Not much. We can’t,” he says. He turns to look at you, droplets swinging from his tight braid, glasses misted with condensation. You asked about the braid the first time you met him and he said it was a tradition from an Indonesian tribe. It showed virility. Then you attempted to say the tribe’s name, perfecting it, repeating it after him until it felt like he had prodded into the pockets of your mouth.
You had sex with him for the first time on a hammock outside the hostel, the palm fronds quivering from your movements. It had been seventeen days since you touched your husband. Then again on a cot beneath a mosquito net while a moth with the wingspan of your hipbones beat against the fabric. It frightened you—how easy it was the second time. That night a beetle squirmed into your ear and, with a thin twig, Thomas fished it out, digging so deep that you became dizzy, like when you pull your eye away from the viewfinder after you’ve been focusing too long. You held his thigh as he poked the paint splotch, abstract tattoo beneath your right breast. Your early twenties, you said, a phase, intellectual rebellion.
The machete swings from his hip and you can see how much the blade has dulled from the vines he’s sliced through. You realize that maybe there is no way back, that you’ve come so far the only thing left to do is trail his sweat-stained shirt until you emerge on the other side, in a land where no one speaks your language and no one has cheekbones as sharp as yours.
You smell it first, and you’re expecting a dead animal. This is the one thing you’ll remember years later—the rotting stench of the flower clogging your throat before you see it, the white splatters on its thick, meat-red leaves; the entire flower resting on the dirt, so big that it frightens you, that you feel like you’ll fall into the floral opening and Thomas won’t be able to pull you out. You’ll remember standing next to him, your breath caught somewhere in your esophagus.
Before your photographs are even published you will lose both men, so you’ll celebrate alone in a silent apartment with an eight-dollar bottle of wine. But here, you sweat so much you can feel it beneath your fingernails. Here, vegetation tugs at your elbows and your ankles and never lets you go.
Garrett Quinn is an MFA candidate at Wichita State University and is the fiction editor for mojo. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The Adirondack Review, Barely South Review, Used Furniture Review, and various other journals.