Gabriel Smith

June 5, 2024 
The following is from Gabriel Smith's Brat. Smith is 28 and lives in London. His fiction has appeared in The Drift, New York Tyrant Magazine, and The Moth, and he was mentored by the late Giancarlo DiTrapano of Tyrant Books. His next book, The Complete, based on his O. Henry Prize-winning short story of the same name, is forthcoming.

It was autumn and there were leaves everywhere. I decided to go back to London to get things. On the train I sat facing the wrong direction and looked out the window. The air was full of rain. I was carried backward into it.

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In my flat the furniture was still there. The sofa, the television, the stereo, the gifted soft‑furnishings.

But when I opened the wardrobe to get a clean jumper it was empty. Or, two‑thirds empty. All my girlfriend’s things had disappeared. Her dresses, blouses, skirts. Her floating light‑fabricked trousers. Her multiple heavy winter coats. I went to the dresser and checked the drawers that belonged to her.

But they were empty, too. All that was left was lint, and the decrepit sprigs of lavender she believed would ward off moths.

Then I noticed the bookshelves. They were also mainly empty. So was the bathroom. All the stupid and expensive houseplants had disappeared.

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I was surprised at how few of the things we owned together belonged to me. There were outlines of dust all around the places her things used to live.

The air smelled different somehow.

I looked around for a note or something. But there wasn’t one. So I tried calling her phone again and it rang once and then went silent.

I went out onto the balcony for a while. The sun was setting gray.

When I woke, it felt like someone was watching me.

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I sat up in bed for a second. Then I turned on the lights. But there was nobody in the room. And the curtains were closed.

I noticed that in my sleep I’d built a person out of pillows next to me. Maybe so it felt as if she was still in the bed.

I could feel my heart pushing my chest.

When I couldn’t get back to sleep I dressed and had a drink. My girlfriend had taken some of the wine but left the spirits. After that I felt a bit better.

I started packing possessions into the suitcase she hadn’t taken. It was the ugliest one. We had named it “Ugly Green.” By the time dawn was done I was ready to leave. I wrote an email on my phone to the estate agent saying we were vacating the flat; that they could dispose of the remaining contents, at our expense, as they saw fit.

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Then I tried calling her again. But it rang out.

I rolled Ugly Green to the door. I turned around and began to wipe the dust outlines of her possessions from the shelves and counters and other furniture surfaces. But then I decided I did not feel like it. So I gave up.


The train back to the house was half‑filled with commuters, in various states of rained‑on, all umbrellas and ugly lap‑ tops. They thinned out as we got farther out of the city, until I was alone, in the train carriage, in the countryside.

From the outside, once I was back at it, the house looked very empty.

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The plants around it seemed to have gotten bigger.

There were vines growing up one of the walls. They were almost touching the glass of a ground floor window.

My key was loud in the door. Nobody shouted hello.

In the bathroom, I picked at the skin on my hand. It felt dry and funny.

The skin pulled upward, from my wrist, all the way from my palms and fingers, and then across the back of my hand.

I just kept pulling, until it had come away from all my fingers and shifting hand veins. The skin came away in a single piece. It didn’t hurt. I looked at it. It looked like a glove of myself.

I threw the skin into the bathtub. I turned the showerhead on and aimed at the skin and watched as it disintegrated and was carried down the drain.

My brother and his wife were back in their big and increasingly valuable house in London. So I was alone in this one.

It was mid‑afternoon. I got drunk. Then I went to bed and slept dreamlessly.


It was almost afternoon again. I was not sure how I had slept so long.

I wrote a message to my brother and his wife to confirm that I would be living in the house, ostensibly to help clear it out for the sale.

I did not want to do that. But saying it would make them feel okay with me living in the house.

After I wrote that message I looked at Twitter. My girlfriend had a new story out. In Guernica. She still had me blocked. But the story was all over everyone else’s Twitters. So I saw it anyway. Everyone was calling the story excellent, dark, funny, astute, etc.

I opened my laptop to look at it on there. I scrolled all the way to the bottom.

I didn’t recognize her new author photo. Her hair was shorter than it was. Beside the photo it said: Kei Kagirinaku is a writer from London.

Downstairs, I heard the television say: the magnetic North Pole is moving increasingly toward Siberia, away from Canada. I didn’t remember turning it on.

Again I had the feeling someone was watching me. So I stood up and closed the bedroom door. But I couldn’t shake the feeling. So I sat back down and started reading.


From Brat by Gabriel Smith. Used with permission of the publisher, Penguin Press. Copyright © 2024 by Gabriel Smith.

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