Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Of course, that was the same year the tomatoes never came of age.
They remained that reserved, childish green all season, like heat heavy in the lungs,

sweat brimming beneath the collarbone—an itch, a burn unsatisfied. Kept quiet.
Like standing water everywhere that summer, held at the lip of boiling.

And her mother fretted over the plants all season too, out each morning checking the soil,
the skin, for where such a muted denial could begin.

Her mother hated summer—the sweat, the heat. She blamed the heat.
Too hot for anything to want to bloom

from any cage, especially those sternly-held, chlorophyllic fists, to ripen a red heart
from those green, stiff orbs stuck to those dried-out tendrils of spring.

The girl thought of the compression beneath that skin, the little cracks and breaks
in suppressing those movements, if that tumult was like that of the hummingbirds,

keeping them aloft, timeless, songless, only speaking that soft, longing hum.
She wondered, if, with all that pressing, it was only what made sense,

that perfect still and silent, that keeping green, keeping pretty, keeping at bay
the slightest blush of red. Either way, that was the same summer

they caught the fox. It was a dainty trap, wiry and too small, they all knew it,
and she was young and lovely, the fox. Almost indecently so, for their imagination

of the gluttonous creature raiding the coop, scattering feathers and heads as though seeds,
as though she could be a bird. Her mother warned of its teeth, its slick and sharp claws,

its stomach, how it was like a stomach, all desire, devouring, eyes
of a temptress like tiny, hovering birds remaining hovering

only by their own hunger. The fox curled comfortably in this second wired skin,
unbegging, not spitting, or hissing, or clawing,

as she should have done. As would have been natural. To plead. The girl, being outside
the wire, being able to so easily flip the latch, should have felt less small than she did

in the fox's unwavering gaze, staring back with that slight bemusement or else curiosity.
Eyes so still, she thought, like the heat isn't. Like wings almost aren't.

She imagined this creature had tried and tried at the latch, had pulled and pulled, rattled it
until her hands bled.

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