Dave Clapper

She’s got her fingerprints all over my body. Or my mind. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. She has her hand in everything, it seems, and consequently, her fingerprints seem to be everywhere. On the sides of buses, on the fuzzy tufts of baby birds’ heads when they’ve just peeked out of their eggs, sometimes on the air itself.

We used to play tic-tac-toe with an ink-blotter, mashing our thumbprints between the squares. Boom boom boom. Cat’s game. Boom boom boom. Cat’s game.

Until mysteriously, I started winning. She got caught up in making patterns and lost the rules of the game, like a child coloring outside the lines. The first few times I won, I exulted in my triumphs, but gradually I began to detect a pattern, a method to her madness, and now I can’t look at anything without seeing her fingerprints there.

When I look at a leaf, the lines of chlorophyll, the veins show her fingerprints. I smoke a cigarette and its blue fumes coat the air with her signature, her fingerprints. I cannot think, I cannot dream, I cannot speak without inky black smudges, whorls and loops engraving themselves on the insides of my eyelids.

I call her up, beg to see her. She agrees. I pull out a tic-tac-toe grid and an inkpad. We play. I win. We play again. I win again. But then…

Then I start to play her game, making pictures with my thumbs. She looks startled. The game goes on, neither of us winning, until the grid disappears, becomes one great black smudge. We’ve made our fingerprints vanish and I know finally that I can live my life freely again, that I’ll be able anew to see things as they truly are.


Dave Clapper is the Publisher of SmokeLong Quarterly and a founding member of Criminals From the Neck Up. Upcoming publications include LitPot, 3AM Magazine, Insolent Rudder, and Dead Mule. E-mail: dave[at]

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