Hypothetically Speaking


after Ashley M. Jones

Let’s say we’ve just ordered appetizers. Let’s say
the waitress starfishes
her fingers beneath

her tray for balance, brings brown bread the color
of her skin. Say I over-dip
my wings in ranch

and it drips from my lip, a white fang stringing
down my chin, shirt. Say
I wet my cloth

napkin in your water with lemon to dab at the stain.
Say I only rub it in deeper,
make it worse.

Say the waitress returns to ask—are you ready to order
but is interrupted by the toddler
at the table behind

her, the boy nosing the neon orange eye of his plastic
revolver into her backside. Say
he screams

bang bang with every trigger pull. Let’s say we finally
order. Let’s say you reach
across the table

to thumb the grease on my mouth, to spread it like lip
gloss. Say our kiss

a crime scene, the boy murdering you while your breath
is still on my tongue.
Say we pull

apart to find his double-fisted hold on the gun expert-
steady. Say his sausage
fingers fumble

to cock back the hammer, honey mustard now stitched
into the grip-panel’s

Let’s say he then aims at me and fires. Say the empty
clack of the hammer

is still heavy enough to jerk me. Say his parents
clap their hands, laughter

like the fajitas in their cast-iron boats. Say they watch
me, wait for the clutch,
the gurgle

of blood and breath together. Say they wish for
my last moments.
Say their smiles

begin to strain at the corners, begin to say go on, play
along. Say I fist my shirt
in my hands.

Say I spill down the leather booth onto the floor,
right in the aisle. Say
I look off

into the far distance, eyes fluttering closed, then open
again. Say a waiter
steps over me.

Say I reach for the ceiling, my eyes finding yours.
Say you aren’t impressed.
Say I then stretch

an arm towards you, rasp out help. Let’s say you don’t.
Let’s say you let me die.
Say you look

over at the white family, the parents pointing and cheering,
the boy shooting rounds
of pressurized

air into my black body. Let’s say you don’t smile when you
suggest—Maybe someone
should call 911.

Taylor Byas