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Throughout the early years of our acquaintance, the late Bruce Brown and I would send each other work to critique. He was such a caring and meticulous writer that all I could usually offer him was a desire to see more. He emailed this story to me a while back. When I was preparing Issue #6, I asked if I could include it. He gave permission, but suggested that I look at a more recent tale, the blistering “Silver Winter,” which I ended up using as the lead story. I am honored to present “Unrequited Love,” editing only as I believe he would have wanted, because it continues to haunt me and deserves to be read.

Walter Conley
Oct. 28, 2010
Louisa, VA


“Unrequited Love”
by Bruce Brown

The only light beside the rising half-moon was a bare sixty watt bulb dangling on a socket cord from the camper’s canopy. She could see the gray outline of trees, but the quarry below had become an engulfing black pit. Poe lit a match, cupping orange flame to his cigarette. He narrowed his eyes, taking a long drag and blowing smoke through his teeth. He snuffed the match with two fingers.

“Is there a crane out there?” She motioned with a wave.

He watched her.

She watched the thin orange line burning along the cigarette. She shifted her weight in his lap, the lawn chair creaking with the motion. She realized he was touching her left leg, a long curious caress with his fingertips.

“What’s this one made of?” He spoke slowly and thumped her leg.

“What?” She blinked. “Well, it’s plastic.”

“Not like the other? Not like wood?”

He reached for his boot and pulled the knife. He laid the knife against her left thigh. He looked directly into her eyes and then angled the blade, slipping the razor between the hose and her leg, making a vertical slit.

She straightened up. “You didn’t have to do that. I would’ve…”

Poe pressed his fingers to her lips. He made a silent sawing diagonal cut that he curved past her knee. He took both edges of the slit hose and ripped them apart, the sound like tugging a rusty zipper. The exposed leg fascinated him. It was a vague flesh color, the hinge joint a darker brown. She tried to take the torn flaps of the pantyhose to cover her leg. Her breaths came in rhythmic hitches and she made a clumsy attempt to wrest from his lap. He shushed her and drew the blade against the knee, a thin cut. A transparent corkscrew shaving wormed free. He stopped mid-thigh and brushed the excess. She touched his hand.

“Don’t. This one’s expensive,” she said.

He looked her in the eyes and made another cut.


Poe gripped her hard by the face to kiss her. She scrambled free, tumbling near the quarry’s edge. She crawled for the lightbulb and the camper. He stood up from the chair; his face disappeared into the shadows. Her pantyhose had torn further, snagging at the socket. Her hair hung in her face, matting to her cheeks. With sweat and tears her face had become an exaggeration of eyelash and smeared lipstick.

She tried to pull the dress past her knees and hugged her face into her shoulder. When Poe extended a hand, she slapped at it. She inched back, fingers grasping for traction in the giving sand. The leg dragged with her. She reached the aluminum steps of the camper and clasped to the bottom rail. He followed her, slow, kicking sand over the furrow the leg made.

He spoke to her in a soothing tone and curled an arm under her waist and around her right leg. She released her grip and he lifted her. She pressed her face to him. She refused to let him touch the leg, so he unfastened it and dropped it to the sand. He eyed the leg as he carried her into the camper.

At dawn, Poe climbed from the camper. He draped the leg over his shoulder and walked to the lawn chair. The sun had begun to creep over the lip of the fields past the quarry. Reds and yellows bleached into the morning light. A bird skimmed the length of the quarry and settled on the crane. Poe sat and leaned forward. He began to sculpt the leg. He heard her call his name once, then twice, then nothing. The leavings fluttered in a pile at his feet.


All rights to “Unrequited Love” retained by Bruce Brown’s executor.

“Introduction” copyright©2010WalterConley



  1. Wonderful, strong stoyy.

  2. ‘story’!

  3. I like this story. I like everything I’ve read from the late Bruce Brown. The feelings while reading and the atmosphere in his pieces are impossible to forget.

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