Do You Have Any Instincts? by Kacy Cunningham

Kacy Cunningham's oblique vignette about a struggling relationship.

We sat across from each other, a gesture that took effort - you slid the chair away from my side, straddled the thing, its wooden back creaking. You searched everyone's face but mine.

"Coffee's good," I said. Your leg was tapping under the table, your eyes still moving. "Is it too hot?" I asked.

"It's fine," you said, looking at your cup suddenly. "It's good."

It was a drafty corner place made of thin sheets of wood. Your father lived just three blocks uphill.

When we first met, we spent hours in cafés. I was only sixteen and the bartenders always knew. We ordered hot teas, black coffee, espressos, muffins, and warmed scones. Anyway, I liked those café days.

Why am I telling this to you, you who was there too? Why not to someone new, someone who wasn't there? It's a good question. The way I figure it, you must've forgotten. I mean, you must have. Even me. I started forgetting too.

How am I? Fine. I'm fine. Why? How are you? You know, it is so like you to dictate how I tell a story. Yes, I think it's a story! Well, what is it then, huh? It's something.

So. We had our coffee and the paper cups were getting soggy on us now. Our hands were still pale and cracked, the blood drained from the fingertips. I moved my hands to the middle of the table and waited. You looked at them like they were two red-faced babies you couldn't understand.

"Don't you have any instincts?" I said and I moved my hands, wedged them under my thighs. The chair squeaked.

"Christ, you're going to lecture me on instincts now?"


You turned on me and the color was returning to your face. The angles of your face were terrific, especially when you pursed your jaw in such a way when you got mad. You breathed funny, unsteady but between a laugh and sob. "Not now," you said. "Let's just drink our coffee here then we'll walk back," you said. "Not this morning, okay. Not now."

I looked at my watch. "It's half past noon," I said.


"What?" I said. "I was only saying -"

"All right," you said. Your jaw was fixed again and you chewed your bottom lip. You wanted a cigarette, I could tell, but the pack was in my purse and you weren't about to ask.

Outside the day looked more like night with the thick winter sky, the heavy smoke from every fireplace on the street. The streetlamps still shone; snowflakes flickered under the light, just like a soft rain. A couple entered, the girl leaning into the boy's arm. We were all more or less the same age and that made me envy them more. I guess one of us would have left that drafty café right then, right there, if it hadn't been for that business in Wyoming.

I said your name and you made a noise in my direction.


"You never look at me."

"I look at you," you said, not looking at me.

"Not really."

The stereo sputtered with static and started back then, louder. You tried to hide a smile by taking a big drink.

"What is it?" I smiled too.

"Nothing." Another drink.

"Come on. Tell me." I sat up straight.

"This song." You shook your head. "This place."

I didn't know the song. It sounded folky, something out of the Virginias. You only listened to rock with me. I considered all the days I had missed, for you were already twenty-seven when we met. All those songs and dances, meetings and meanings and memories. I was jealous, don't you see? Jealous you had a life before me.

"I've never heard this song," I said. I saw how you looked at me. Like it was a warning. I felt my pulse quicken. I knew whatever else was happening we were nearing the end. I couldn't stand you anymore, and you hated me too.

"Forget it," you said. But just that minute, the music got louder and your foot tapped to it still, tapping faster.

"Maybe I've heard it." I spit out the words. "Maybe I have. What's the name again?"

"Band of Horses."

We spent eight days in Wyoming - that's it. I hadn't even known you for a year. Not a year. And it felt so long, those eight days in the summer.

"No," I said. "I don't know them."

We sat there, just like we sat at the head of a table with a white tablecloth. Your best friend, Ronny, he was making a slurred speech, reaching for his beer while he stuttered. I played with the tablecloth in my lap. You had already burned a hole in it with your cigarette and I was smoothing the fabric under my thumb, but the yellow from the burn stayed. The flowers in my hair drooped during our first dance, one mid-dive in a picture where you're looking out at everyone else and I'm waiting for you to look at me. We knew then, right there, didn't we? We knew what we felt wasn't happy. The coffee was shit and that place needed heat. I tossed out more than half my coffee and cursed the three-block trek to your father's house. When we entered, he fussed over the fireplace and sat back in the loveseat so hard like he'd been fighting with those coals for years. And, looking back, I guess he had. I guess he had.


  1. this is such a great story, love the words and the construction. maybe not so unusual, also sounds like it may be true. either way, first class.

    Michael McCarthy

  2. I really enjoyed this story. The emotion comes through clear and real. Great piece

  3. Well done. Nice depiction of the feeling of something ending.

  4. First person past tense - haunting man, haunting!

    Brooke Fieldhouse

  5. Really enjoyed your story. You did a nice job describing the inevitable arc of many a relationship.

    Oscar Davis