A Trio of Shorts
by Ramona Reeves
West Texas cacti and starved poles of yucca riddle the landscape. Only the charred road disturbs their prickly presence. Before him stretches a snakeskin of pavement. When asked, he says there were options he didn’t take, things he would do differently. Thank God there were no kids. Few possessions to speak of. According to the last marker, he is 98 miles from nowhere, but surely the road will end.
Thirty miles back he bought peanut butter crackers and coffee. “Protein and vegetables,” he told the resigned, bedridden eyes of the mini-mart clerk. Coffee made with whatever kind of water they have out here, dotted with creamer dry as bone dust. Nothing like the pressed, rich darkness of city java. Where he used to live. Where they lived together. A coffee bar klepto, his ex always swiped too much creamer, too many packets of the latest organic sweetener.
The discomfort of the coffee seizes him. Sure he could pull over and relieve himself, but he’d rather leave nothing behind in this desert. He steers with his knees and rips open the wrapper of crackers. Not delicate, not the way she undressed her precious chocolate, each bite punctuated by Mmmm.
For him it was always peanut butter. He slips one salty, sweet wafer onto his tongue and savors the leisure of this moment, one hand on the wheel. Fat black letters warn Strong Wind Gusts as he passes, but who takes such signs seriously?
The signs were there all along, she said. She asked what day it was. Tuesday, he replied. And, she said. He scanned the kitchen: stainless fridge, espresso maker, matching towels. She was a railroad-crossing — open or closed contingent upon his response. Was it their anniversary? Her birthday? He was never any good at keeping track.
These are his thoughts when the coffee stings hot on his flesh, when the crackers slide, and the floorboard imitates the ceiling. His doors are suddenly worthless wings wedged between the interstate and a slab of ubiquitous, faded orange rock. The sun is burning down the day. On their last road trip, she said Avoid the main highway. But he can’t remember why.
Outside, the screeches, grunts of a halting engine. Shoes scatter loose rock through his upturned window. A wind-sheared voice calls, “You okay?”
Wiggling his fingers seems a good response. Surroundings fade and flash. A lullaby in the tar-thick air, he rocks his twisted seatbelt. Above him strange voices call. Below him falls a steady stream and fleeting relief from what his body no longer holds onto. The acidic crackers follow suit. His mouth, a cave of dry regret.
In the waning light, she breaks through. She leans against the stainless fridge, dips chocolate into a Jiffy jar, abandons fragments in the sticky, golden goo.
Ramona Reeves received her MFA from New Mexico State, where she studied with Robert Boswell, Kevin McIlvoy and Robin Romm. A native of Alabama, she recently won a fellowship to attend a retreat sponsored by A Room of Her Own, a New Mexico collective dedicated to furthering the vision of Virginia Woolf. Reeves’ other accomplishments include a writer’s residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, full-length interview in Puerto del Sol and a piece in an anthology of Latina/o poets published last year.
by Emma Susannah Morrison
The bare light bulb dangles overhead, glaring down at her. Kansas strips everything bare, Alva thinks. She watches through squinted eyes as he fidgets the gold-plated link into the worn shirt cuffs she ironed. All my admirers in New Orleans and I picked Rupert, insurance salesman. Good provider, Pop said. He drives the roads twenty, thirty days a month — nobody buys. I’m left out here in a corn field with night terrors, winds rocking the shack, smothering dust seeping like evil through the cracks.
The third-hand 1929 Chevrolet coughs out front. Past seven thirty, he’s late leaving today. She pushes off the sagging mattress, and peers out the window until the car becomes a black ant at the end of the road. Tracing his dusty foot prints to the kitchen, she opens the ice box. One jar of milk, curdled. Never mind, she tells herself, just get the sack you packed and your handbag. Under the sink she ignores the bootleg gin, and moves the box of Astrid starch aside. Two Lincolns smile up at her. She tucks the greenbacks between her breasts, grabs the gin — one little sip for courage — and tips back the bottle.
Her best coat with the squirrel collar is boxed under the bed. Despite the heat, Alva throws back her shoulders and slips it on. With handbag tucked under arm, she starts for the highway. The old Chevy’s tracks are already blurring with the red dust climbing up her ankles. She hurries, then runs, knowing the Greyhound bus — the only thing working in Kansas — passes their road at eight sharp, bound for New Orleans. And Salvation.
By the last curve, gasping, she doubles over to breathe — and hears it: big wheels whirring … louder … louder … gone.
Tears tremble down Alva’s cheeks. She wiggles out of the heavy coat, and sinks to her knees.
“Damn Kansas, anyway.”
Emma Susannah Morrison graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and, afterward, resided in Turkey and Canada before moving to the Florida Keys. Her writing credits include the Vancouver Sun and Spectrum Literary Magazine of Key West. She recently completed “JEREMIAD,” a modern historical novel set in Mississippi in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement, and is currently at work on a novella about family secrets.
A God-Fearing Man
by Brandon Garren
Grandpa never really did care much for the Lord’s name. He just wasn’t that kind of man. He always felt if our Lord and Savior deserved a good cursing then he’d be the first to oblige.
“Prayers and politeness are for townies with lacquered shoes,” he’d tell me, “folks with no cognizance. If you want to be, then justbe. You don’t need an invisible man for that.”
Grandpa always said things like that — abstract things — things that festered in your mind and only really ever made sense when you weren’t thinking about it. But there was always some sort of kernel of truth to what he said — however convoluted and proscribed these things left his mouth, they always ended up having some sort of legitimacy. And I think that’s why I feared him.
I was sent to live on my Grandpa’s farm on my eleventh birthday. Both of my parents had been conscripted as Navy medics in the Gulf War. I was sent to stay on the farm until they returned. Now, I’d never really cursed the Lord before, but I sure did that day —really gave Him hell — explained to Him that I didn’t need His stupid miracles anymore or His stupid Sunday school lessons about His life or His Son’s and I was tired of not being able to say his stupid name when I was mad and I was sure as hell not giving Him anymore of my money in that stupid brass plate.
And Grandpa witnessed this tirade. And I was scared shitless. He had grabbed me on the shoulder and spun me around hard as I was kicking the Hell out of one of his hay bales. He had looked at me for a long time, straight in the eyes with his worn face. And I trembled. And he stared. But then after a long while, he only smiled and walked away.
Living with Grandpa was a different set of strokes, a different way of looking at the world. Most evenings we’d sit on his porch looking far out into the dark fields, sometimes talking, sometimes not — sometimes just laying there together telling each other stories with our eyes. Everyone once in a while he’d actually speak up in his bumbling, throaty voice and I’d just listen. He’d teach me about manhood and the important things he figured necessary for a young man to have inside him: about things of loyalty and bar fights and cattle branding and friendship and cuss words and bird watching and whiskey nightcaps and revenge and booby traps and Mark Twain and spittin’ and poetry and compassion and the proven ways of luring a woman to your bed for a one-night stand and most importantly, how to get away from Grandma when she was angry. And he’d claim all the while that if his way didn’t work than you were either doing it wrong or you had too much faith in something else.
Grandpa wasn’t really a sour man, just not really of the God-fearing mold. I’ve yet to forget one night, a couple summers after I’d moved to the farm, when my old dog back then snuck through some mesh fencing in the chicken yard and barked the laying hell out of Grandpa’s hens. And if you’d a known Grandpa and his relationship with them hens you’d a known every damnation in scripture was about to be cast throughout that farmyard. And you’d a been right, too. I’d never seen Grandpa so embittered in my entire life —he must have cursed the Lord right out of Kingdom Come that night — I could swear to it. I had to climb all the way in the barn loft to escape Grandpa’s tantrum — his storming back and forth through the wooden gates, kicking mounds of dirt into the air, spitting, hollering— really just cursing the very soil he walked on. It was damn this and damn that and why did the Lord fail to watch his damn fence. And I couldn’t begin to tell you what he was fixing to do to that poor dog. Grandpa looked that dog so hard in the face that night I swear he didn’t pee for a solid week. But that’s neither here nor there, that’s just how Grandpa handled things. He was just that kind of man.
Brandon Garren is currently a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in biology and minoring in creative writing. He was born in a rather rural part of Concord, North Carolina, and has lived there most of his life. This story is loosely based on his experiences and childhood with his grandfather.