[img_assist|nid=826|title=Smeared PagesWith Hope by Kristen Solecki ©2008|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=222]
Around the corner he come all panting and wobble-eyed with his little sticks kicking out to the sides, and he slipped because the grass was wet. One of his Velcro shoes flew off and knocked into the siding. He got himself together, picked up his shoe, and bounced inside the house. Willard. I told Angela he’s over-sugared.
The older one, Brian, come sprinting across the yard. “Will!” he’s hollering. “Will!” He dropped his old bat as he flew past me, and the screen door slapped shut, and then everything was quiet again.
I went over to the wall and turned the water off.
I’d moved in a couple months earlier. Angela and I talked about it for a few weeks, and I wasn’t hot on it at first, but she was ready to take a chance again, she said. She said her boys could use someone, too. Okay, I said. When this rental on Blue Ferry Road come available, I packed my stuff and their stuff and moved us all out here.
I got to know the boys pretty well pretty fast. Brian’s
happy to have anybody throw a ball at him. He’s one of those
kids that, if they don’t have a catch partner, you always
see staggering around the yard, chucking balls up in the air to
themself. He’ll do pretty much what you tell him to. Will,
he’s got more of an artistic side. He’ll sit for hours
drawing bloodied-up versions of the cartoons he watches, wearing
out felt tip markers to the point he’s got to lick them to
keep them going. His tongue, it’ll be purple or green whenever
he’s explaining his stories to you. They run for pages, and
he only ever draws on one side, which is a waste, I said, but he’d
throw a fit if you made him save on paper.
I could hear thuds. The two of them were talking in their bedroom.
The light fixture in the hall was rattling.
“Y’all quit dribbling in the house!” I called. “You
heard me now, Brian!”
When I come in, Brian looked up and give me a shrug. He didn’t
have the ball, so I looked to the other side of the room, and,
what it was was, Will was standing against the wall, knocking his
old head against the sheetrock, whump, whump, whump. Brian and
I stood between their twin beds watching him go at it. “Way
too much sugar,” I said.
Brian stared. “Geeze.”
“Quit that now,” I said. “You’re going
to get a-“
“Melonhead.” I took his shoulder and set him back
on the bed. He was wearing the blue shirt with the old messy looking
monster on it he liked. Brian made to go. “Hang on a minute,
Tex. Stay put.”
“Because I said.”
“Are you still washing the truck?”
“Are you . . .” he said, like I was an idiot, “still
“Just stay here,” I told him.
[img_assist|nid=827|title=Storm by Kathleen Montrey ©2008|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=176|height=69]“Let me go wash my hands first.”
We looked at them. They were pretty sticky.
“What the hell you been doing? Hurry up.”
Will had pulled his knees up to his chin and was rocking back
and forth on his bedspread. He hooked his thumbs into the neck
of his shirt and wiped at his nose so he looked like a bandit.
“You’re an odd one, Mr. Will,” I said.
Brian come back in, drying his hands on his basketball shorts.
They’d been up to something.
“Alright . . .” I sat down on the bed. I had to ask.
A rusty barbed wire fence run through the woods behind the house.
It had been there a long time, and the trees had grown around the
wire in places. Parts of it were all swallowed up in bark. We picked
our way over logs and through the trees, until Brian said, “Here!” and
he ducked under the fence and began to pass through. Will lollygagged
behind us. He swerved through the leaves like his compass was loose,
and when I called his name, he bumped off a tree, made some googly
sound effect, then fell down flat, spazzing with his arms out.
“Ow, mother!” Brian pulled his jersey off a barb.
He took a step back on the other side. “Come on,” he
said. “It’s up the hill!”
“Let’s go, Willard.” I raised the middle wire. “Get
through here now.”
He didn’t want to, but I waited, and so he pushed himself
up and slipped under. The two of them run up the cowpath into the
clearing, and for a second I thought about the way all kids run.
As I come out of the trees, it was like being in the country. Where
Angela’s and I were living was kind of the outer belt of
suburbs, and a lot of folks who lived here drove across the river
and into the city for work. There were gas pumps not more than
three hundred yards away, but you couldn’t see them. You
couldn’t see any manmade stuff at all here. All you could
see was the fence running around the field, and then the hills,
and the grass, and the trees, and that’s it. No wires in
the sky. It was August, a couple weeks before school.
They run through the shadow of a cloud, and I followed them up
the empty hill. They’d told me they’d found something
[img_assist|nid=828|title=Main Street in Manayunk by Pauline Braun ©2008|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=149|height=94]
Nights, Angela would go to bed before me so she’d be asleep by when I got there, which, I was learning, was how she preferred it. For a long while, I worked only second shifts with the ovens—we’re the largest processor of canned pet food in the region—and a few of us would always go out after, and I’d be home around one or so. But then they moved me to doing a lot of thirds, emptying tankers of liquid horse meat. I’d have a drink in the kitchen before bed, and when I lay beside her, I tried to sleep, though I’d usually be too wound up with things I wanted to ask her, like where she was all day when she said she only had meetings in the morning. Traffic was always bad, she said. The sun would come up, and we’d go through it all over, and as I lay there, I knew the field mice that chewed holes in my clothes were creeping around, under the boxspring—maybe even in it—or climbing through her shoes in the closet. The traffic racing on the highway was sometimes enough to keep me from thinking too much on them. People use that road to skip the stoplights out of town. They travel too fast on it, and along the shoulder you’ll find possum and deer that didn’t get out of the way. Angela worried the kids would play too close to the ditch or skateboard too far down the asphalt drive. She told me over and over it wasn’t a good home for kids. She didn’t like it out here. She wanted to find, eventually, a better place to live, even if it would be a little smaller, like their apartment before.
The exterminator told us to get a cat, so we did, but it was
a prowler, and one night come home with a gash in its chest. Even
in the house, it took two days to catch it and take it to the vet.
I had to put the medicine on because Angela wouldn’t, it
gave her the willies. Finally one night I come in, it hopped off
the counter and out the screendoor and we never saw it again. It
bothered Will the most. He used to put paper helmets on the thing.
Hero. Hero never caught one mouse I knew of.
The headlights would set the window’s shadow crawling across
the ceiling, and I remember thinking what might have put the hole
in that cat’s chest like that? A claw, maybe. Or teeth. I
pressed my fingers on the tattoo behind her shoulder and felt her
lungs fill. I rubbed the rose like I rubbed the salve on the stitches.
Maybe a barbed wire fence had done it, or some old boy’s
[img_assist|nid=829|title=Avalon Porch by Kathleen Montrey ©2008|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=206]
It was a young red Hereford , and it was lying on its side in the grass. The boys were standing over it. The smell of animal was strong in the heat, and I slowed as I got nearer, and then my stomach just dropped to my hipbones. I felt dizzy. Sticks were poking out of the little cow’s nostrils and mouth—a whole mess of them. Its white face was all stuffed up with them and made it look like some old broom. I hadn’t ever seen anything dead that way before.
Brian studied me. He tried to laugh. “It was dead,” he said.
I pushed him over. Will fell to the ground, too, on his own, and a second later he was crying.
“What were you guys thinking? This is stupid.”
Will stopped just long enough to see how his brother would answer. When Brian didn’t, Will started crying again. He rolled in the grass.
“Do you hear me?” I said. “Knock it off, Willard. Get up.” I squatted down next to it and looked at the sticks jammed up in there. “You a part of this, too?” I asked Will. It was something else. “Both of you, get these sticks out of it, right now.” I stepped back so they could move in.
They began to pull them out of its face one at a time. They seemed
to know just how. Will, he dangled a long twig in front of his
eyes for a sec. Brian was working faster.
“Did you all think it would bite you or something? Huh?”
Will dropped the stick. “It bit Zach. On his fingers.” His
mouth hung open.
Brian glared at him vicious. He turned away.
“You mean it wasn’t dead?” I said. “Brian?”
He stayed crouched there, wiping a slimy stick in the grass.
“Was it or wasn’t it?”
“Not at first,” Will said.
Zach lived across the highway and around the corner from us.
I could hear the TV on, but no one come to the door, so I knocked
again, harder. “Zach!”
“PlayStation,” Brian said.
Their crummy dog started barking.
I poked my head in the door and called again, and the TV snapped
off, and so I went in after him. The dog was jumping all under
my feet. I pushed it away with my boot.
It was the first time I’d ever been in their place. Cereal
bowls on the kitchen table, a cracker box on the floor with crackers
all over. They were keeping the fridge closed with masking tape.
I caught fat Zach by the shirt as he tried to squeeze out the sliding
door, and I hauled him around, and we pulled the screen off its
track. I stepped on the damn dog again, and it yelped and went
flat then scurried across the dirty linoleum to I don’t know
where. I whirled Zach onto the taped-up couch. It let out a slow
hiss as he sank in it.
“You stretched out my shirt!” he said. The dog was
“Yeah, hell, and I broke the door, too. Will!” I
lifted the screen and got the wheels back in the groove. “Goddamn
it. Brian! Get in here.”
They come in slow.
Will raised a hand. “Hi, Zach.” He plopped down on
the couch, wiggled a sec, then pulled the black remote out from
under him. He held it in his hands like he’d never seen one
“No. Put it down,” I told him.
“Just put it down,” I said.
“Y’all get off my property,” Zach told us.
“You shut up a minute. Sit on the couch there, too, Brian.”
Three blind monkeys they looked like. They needed a leader, but
there wasn’t any.
“Somebody better start saying something,” I
Zach got nervous. Angela’s wouldn’t look at him. “Stupid
cow was eating my pop tart,” he said.
Will’s eyes lit up. “You were feeding it,
“Remember,” I said. “You better remember.”
“Not all of it! I wasn’t,” Zach said. “I wasn’t.
It just started-“
“So we had to stop it,” Brian explained.
“It wouldn’t stop eating Zach’s food,” Will
cried. He got to his feet, not even knowing he was doing it.
“Sit down. And stay sat down.”
“You seen it,” Zach said to the boys.
Brian was real calm. “That’s the way it happened,
Tim.” He’d get better at this as he got older.
I tried to imagine how they brought it down. Chasing after it.
The whole thing. “Regular heroes. Stopped a cow from eating
a pop tart. How’d you think to start putting the sticks in
“Huh? You guys aren’t even supposed to be in that
pasture,” I said.
They tailed me like dogs to the metal shed on our lot. The backyard
was damp, and the shed was situated in its lowest spot—it
was always full of mosquitoes. I brushed a cobweb off my nose and
grabbed the old shovel.
“Ho, mother,” Brian smiled, rubbing his shoulder. “You
gonna bury it, Tim?”
I tossed the thing to him. He spun it in his hands.
“No,” I said.
I let that sink in. We went back into the woods.
None of them was very good. Will, he was about useless. Zach
was probably the best because he was the heaviest, but he wasn’t
into it. In little more than a half hour, they had this uneven
ditch about four feet long, three feet wide, and two feet deep.
“Shovel sucks,” Zach said.
Will showed me his palm. “I got a splinter.”
A horsefly settled just below the calf’s eye and sat there
in the sun like it was waiting for a bus. “The hole’s
not big enough yet,” I told them. “Look at it.”
Zach held his arms out to get the width of the calf, then he
tried to hold his measure as he moved his hands over the hole. “It’s
Brian snatched up the shovel. “Why we have to put it in
the ground?” he asked. “Won’t it just-“
“Because y’all killed it.” I looked around
at them. “Aren’t you even embarrassed? I’d be.
Or maybe you’d rather go over there, Brian, and tell the
farmer y’all killed his calf.”
“Huh? And for no reason,” I added.
“It wasn’t just me.” Brian put the shovel on
his shoulder and swung for the fence.
“Get serious,” I said.
“Tim, shouldn’t we tell the farmer anyway?” Will
The barn roof showed just over the hill.
Zach wiped his nose. “Don’t forget it was eating
my food. We said the reason.”
I threw a stick at his head, but it missed.
“That’s right,” Will remembered. “It
was eating his pop tart.”
“So I heard.”
The sun was getting low. Brian was quiet. He tapped the dead
Hereford softly with the shovel.
“Dig,” I said.
“Oh mother . . .”
When we got back, Angela’s car was in the drive behind
my truck. “Aw, hell, your mom’s home,” I said.
It was a joke they never got.
Zach walked home punching a cloud of gnats like he was hacking
through some jungle, and the boys and I went inside.
“Where have you been?” she wanted to know. “No
note. No nothing.”
They escaped for their room.
“Where have you been?” I said. “We went out
on a hike. Wash up!” I called to them. She faced me, waiting
for something better. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll
tell you about it later.”
I squirted Lemon Joy on my hands and knocked the faucet on. I
wanted to say things.
She set two cans on the counter.
I shut the water off.
“You want green beans,” she said, “or baked
I don’t know, she and I had met in this strip mall bar
I tried after work once because I was tired of the bullshit at
the regular one. It was called Sidewinders. It was next to a Chinese
take-out, and she was eating a rice thing with her cigarette going
when I come in. Rum and ginger ale. I sat down next to her, and
I asked the sleepy girl behind the counter for a Budweiser, which
took her a whole five minutes to get it, open it, and set it on
the little cardboard. The whole time I’m waiting, Angela’s
stopped eating and is just staring at the side of my face–smoking
at me–because I practically sat on her lunch when there’s
a hundred open seats in the place. That’s my style.
“I bet they call you Apeneck,” she said.
“Somebody ought to.”
I bought her a drink.
Snoozin Susan brown bagged us a six, and we took it out to my
truck. We drove out to the lake, to that parking lot behind the
parking lot that had a chain up for a while, but the chain was
down and I just pulled back where the weeds grew through the gravel
and stopped beside this tall brush pile somebody cleared. The lake
glittered through the trees.
“You’re making me feel back in high school,” she
“Sorry,” I said, and I cracked another can for her.
I opened the crammed glovebox to get a napkin to wrap around the
“Good lord,” she said. “Half Burger King’s
stuffed in there.”
I kissed her.
“Apeneck,” she laughed, pulling at my hairs. “A-a-ape-ne-e-eck.”
I laughed, too. No one had ever called me that before.
She slid closer. “What did you do to your hands?” She
kissed them. Ducks were quacking.
“Nothing,” I said. “Some bullshit.”
When I come downstairs morning after the cow thing, Will was
cross-legged in front of the TV. The volume was turned low, and
he was sucking on a tube of Gogurt.
“Morning, Mr. Will. How’d you sleep?” I had
a headache. “You’re up early,” I tried again.
“Can we go to the grave?”
“The grave. No. I don’t want you guys in the pasture
at all for a while. Why would you want to go to the grave?” I
waggled my fingers at him.
“To put flowers on it.”
“I see. And where would you get flowers, Willard?”
“At Walgreen’s they have some. Fake kind.”
The nearest intersection was about a quarter mile down the highway,
and there was a new little plaza there, built for neighborhoods
creeping this way from town. So far, they had the gas station and
a drugstore and a little pizza place, where I took them once, and
a hair salon. Couple offices, maybe. One place had kung fu classes.
Others had lease signs in the windows.
“And what are you going to buy flowers with?” I asked.
I went into the kitchen and put the coffee on. Duh. A fresh trail
of mouse droppings run along the counter’s splashguard. During
the night, I had come down for a drink of juice and found a mouse
scrambling in the empty sink. It couldn’t get out. It reminded
me of the kids with their boards at the skate park. I stood there
half-awake, watching it scratch its way up the steel sides only
to slide back down. Then I gripped the roll of paper towels and
set to it with soft, quiet crushes. I barely slept at all.
Will sang along with a commercial for some sort of crap.
“Hey,” I called.
He come to the doorway.
“C’mere, buddy.” I took Angela’s purse
off the chair.
Zach’s mom called and spilled the beans. Old Zach the Sack
complained I made them dig–it give him blisters–and soon it all
come out, and, presto, the bag calls Angela.
“Why didn’t you tell me?
“Why did you bury it?
“Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
She’s a strong arguer, Angela is. She gets energy from
it, though I’m not sure about her reasoning sometimes. She’d
gone on and on and ended her favorite way with, “End of story.” She
The farmer was a Carlson or a Carlton , and as soon as she had
the right number she called the old boy up. “I’ve got
to go to work,” she told me. “You’re going to
take care of this.”
“Okay,” I said. “I thought I’d
taken care of it yesterday.”
“I know you do. I know you do . . . Hello,” she said. “Is
this Mr. Carlson?”
His mailbox was a half mile down the road from ours, the opposite
way from the plaza, but then I had to drive my truck another quarter
mile down his old gravel lane, which went around the foot of the
pasture, and then up to his house and barn on the far slope. I
drove slow. A new Chevy sat in the dirt drive. I got out and shut
my door. The house had a cool, settled look to it, and the whole
place, even outside, smelled like a basement. It might have been
the weather. He was waiting just inside the screendoor, and he
let me into the enclosed porch and stepped aside as the door eased
shut against my back.
In an instant, a dog was sniffing my boots. This happens regular
to us who work the floor at the plant. I tried to shake it without
overdoing it, but it growled and started sniffing and licking again.
Carlson spoke to the dog then shut it in the kitchen.
The porch was concrete and covered with a big round rug, and
a pair of stuffed chairs faced each other, and a shelf of magazines
and newspapers. A chain of pop can tabs hung from an empty birdcage,
and this feather dangled at the end of that. It was dyed blue,
like the kind you might win at a carnival or get at a gift shop.
“Where you keep your bird at?” I asked.
“It died from fumes from something I had on the stove,” Carlson
said. “On accident.” He was heavy, and moved and talked
slow, but he had this calmness and confidence about him because
of it—he might have hurried on his own account, but it was
clear you weren’t going to rush him. I never got the impression
he was dumb. He smelled like he had just shaved. “You want
to have a seat here?” He raised the birdcage by its pole
and set it aside. “I was surprised to get your call, but
I was glad you did. I hadn’t realized what happened. Go on.
“That was Angie who called,” I told him.
“So she said.”
“Believe me, we’d love to tell you this was all an
He sat down, too. “I know you would. I’d prefer to
“We can pay you for it.”
His big hands rested in his lap. He was looking at the stripe
on my boot where his dog had licked.
“I don’t know it’s the price that worries me
so much,” he said, “though it might’ve at one
time. I can see how it might be some relief to you to pay something
for it.” He smiled sadly. “Her calling, your coming
up here says a bit. I appreciate that part.” He cleared his
throat and looked hard at me. “I just went out there after
lunch. You all buried it?”
I leaned forward, nodding.
“I suppose there’s been some pretty sharp words in
the household over all this,” he said.
“Yes sir, there sure has.”
“Imagine there could be some more yet.”
I wasn’t sure if he meant there should be, or if he was
just guessing there would. I leaned back and found myself not caring
what he meant, exactly. “You bet there will,” I told
him. “What was that calf worth?” I asked. “It’s
important those boys learn the price of things.”
“It’s not just the price.”
A flicker of sun caught his face through the screen. “Did
you notice it was the only one out there?”
I hadn’t. I told him so.
“I haven’t kept my own cows in ten years,” he
said, as if it were something. “That one was my granddaughter’s.”
“She had her own calf?”
“Prizewinner,” he said. “She helped raise it.”
“Then we definitely want to pay her for it.”
His mouth moved slowly as he stared at me. “She’s
moved off with her mother to we don’t know where.” The
dog started barking behind the door. “They’re not really
your boys, are they?”
“How they manage to kill it? They got a gun?”
“No,” I said. My voice raised a little. “Sticks.
Rocks. A bat, maybe.”
He studied me, but I didn’t flinch. He looked out the window
of the old porch. “How old are they?” he asked.
I told him.
I called in sick and went and found her in the Sidewinder. She
was sitting with some smiley guy, with her stool turned to face
him, sipping her rum and ginger ale. She saw me but didn’t
say anything as I sat down on the other side of her. Susan waited
her to say yea or nay, but Angela she just kept her back to me.
Maybe she rolled her eyes.
“I went to talk to that old Carlson,” I said.
She turned half around. There was lipstick on her straw. “You
should have,” she said.
“I’m Tim.” I stretched my hand past her. He
didn’t take it. “You all talking business?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” she said.
“Can’t you see I’m sick,” I said.
She lit a fresh one. “There’s no point in prolonging
this. How do you want to play it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Just get it over with,” the man told her. He wasn’t
I went to my closet and threw all my clothes into my duffel bag.
I had broke my right middle finger on him when it got caught weird
in his collar. I sat going over my checkbook, one-handed, until
they come home.
They had been at their dad’s girlfriend’s place,
and Angela had picked them up, after I guess she had taken Smiley
home or to the hospital. She didn’t explain anything. I was
planning to check into a motel somewhere.
The boys were chewing candy bars and went straight past me to
the TV. Will, he was carrying a plastic package of birthday prizes.
He held it in front of my face as he went by.
“What’s those for?” I asked.
“I thought you were getting flowers.”
“We didn’t like them,” Angela said. “Get
out of here. I’m serious.”
We stared across my big bag that had the outside pockets chewed
up by mice.
Will came in holding a plastic cup. “This was under the
couch,” he said.
“Well, that’s not where it belongs,” Angela
said. “Go and drop it in the dishwater. I’ll wash it
He skated to the sink in his socks, dropped it in, then went
to her, and she held him between us while she smoked. “There’s
something wrong with you,” she hissed at me. “How many
chances do you want? You’re messed up.”
“I’m messed up? You spend afternoons with Dudley
Dipshit, and I’m messed up. What, you expect me to hug him?”
“You knew it was going to happen,” she said. “You
Later, I thought of more things I could have said.
In the pasture, Will opened the birthday prizes one by one. He
was fascinated by them, and I could see him struggling to keep
on task, as Angela put it. The boys insisted I come with them,
and Angela didn’t say no. All she said to me was, “You
don’t ride with us.” I followed them in my truck.
She was slowed down some, done with the insults and the hollering
and just waiting for me to shove off. I was ready to. The boys
could tell something was wrong with us. She talked quietly to them,
almost in a whisper, while to me she spoke a touch louder than
regular. It was as if there were two groups—she and I were
one, and she and the boys were another—and, to be a part
of them both, she had to run two different personalities.
“Aw, hurry up, Will,” Brian said.
Will whipped around. “Be quiet, Brian!” He pulled
a spider ring from his finger and added it to the circle in the
Angela tapped Brian, and they walked down to the creek for a
spell, since it seemed Will might be a while. The creek run from
a dirty pond on the hilltop and curled its way to the bigger creek
below Carlson’s house. The banks were steep with switchbacks
where the dirt had caved away. As my eyes followed it, I saw Carlson’s
blue truck driving toward us. For a sec, I wondered what to do,
how we might go without him being the wiser. He pulled up beside
Carlson looked at the little rubber and plastic things scattered
over the dirt. “What you doing, there?” he asked.
Will glanced up at him. “These things are to mark his grave,” he
said, standing up.
Carlson got out of his truck, and his dog waddled over to my
“You about finished, Will?” I said.
“No. Why’d they leave? They were supposed to stay
for the whole funeral.”
Angela and Brian sat beside the creek, talking. Brian bent to
the mud, pulled something out, and swished it back and forth in
“Well, I’m not sure they understood exactly what
you’re doing here, Willard. When you’re the master
of ceremonies, it’s important you explain to folks what’s
going on, so they don’t nod off during the service.”
He swept his hand. “These things are to mark its grave,” he
Carlson opened his wallet and unfolded a little green award ribbon. “You
can put that on there, too.”
“What’s it for?”
“That’s its tag,” Carlson said.
Will flattened it in his palm and tried to read the gold lettering—maybe
Smiley could teach him–then he just put it with the rest.
“They all mark his grave,” Will was saying. “Especially
this one.” He picked up a sparkwheel and pulled its trigger. “I
should keep this one, to remember.”
“I think you better leave it.”
His eyes clouded. “Goon!”
“Mommy says you’re a goon, Daddy says you’re
a goon. Everybody thinks you’re a goon.” He
pulled the trigger and turned away to watch it spin in private.
“Aw, that’s not true, Will,” I said.
Carlson waved and went down slowly to introduce himself to Angela.
“What else she say, Will?”
“We’re moving to another place. And you’re
going somewhere else. End of story.”
Angela shook Carlson’s hand, and he walked off like he
had business to do, check his fence, maybe. Brian called out and
come running past Angela up toward Will and me. He held out his
hand when he reached us. They huddled close, like kids will when
they’ve got something new to show. Will took a step back.
“To mark the grave!” Brian grinned. He laid it with
the other things. Some blanched bone. It looked like something
washed up from the sea.
“No!” said Will. “It’s not part of it!”
“Yes,” Brian said.
“No! Mom!” Willard flew down the hill, sticks kicking.
She sat on an old stump, smoking a cigarette, keeping her distance.
He was waving his arms, trying to explain the situation before
he even got there. He clutched her belt loops. The wind blew her
hair. The ground went lighter, then darker. Then lighter.
“She said I could ride back to the house with you,” Brian
“Then what?” We stood there. “Okay, let’s
We left without waving. The dog come running down the hill. It
shot out of the weeds when we turned the bend and chased us down
the lane. When I hit the brakes it come out in front of us and
stood with its paws out flat and lowered its head. It fell in to
chasing us along the passenger side, barking wild again. Brian
watched it beneath the window. I slowed a little so it could keep
up. Once it popped up high enough where I could actually see its
ears, and Brian called it a name. I put my right arm out to hold
him as I put on the brakes. My broken finger throbbed on his chest.
There was a yelp.
The wheels skidded in the dust and gravel.
“Oh mother,” Brian said. He looked over at me. “We
hit it!” he said. “You hit it.”
I could see the highway.
He opened his door and leaned to look, then hopped out. The dog
limped off into the high weeds. He didn’t call to it. The
weeds were still. He leaned back in the door. “He be alright?” he
“He’s still walking,” I said.
Brian stepped away from the cab. He looked down the road. Angela’s
car was coming way behind us. She stopped before they got any closer.
I made out the shape of her head over the steering wheel way back
there. We were staring at each other, backwards and forwards. Just
get it over with. I could still hear the way he said it. I
said it myself.
“What?” Brian asked.
“You go with her now. Tell her about the dog.”
“But she said-“
“Go with her, I said.” I opened the glove
box, and brushed the napkins onto the floor. “Here.”
“Here. Take these.”
“You give them to her.” The bundle felt stiff in
my hand. “Just like this.” I wrapped his hand around
the straws. He shut the door and backed away as I pulled onto the
Chad Willenborg’s work has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Believer, CityPaper, and Fugue, and has been nominated for Best American Short Stories. He is working on a new novel set in Philadelphia.