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.
A pair of stories about unexpected friendships in unexpected places.
by Kelsey Savage Hays
Christine started the shoplifting. Until Saturday night they’d stuck with make-up: fancy lip gloss in flavors like blueberry cheesecake and mint chocolate chip embedded with fine pieces of glitter that left their lips sparkling like a disco ball. They swiped sample blushes from the Clinique counter, tossed perfume test bottles into their purses, snatched grape purple eye shadow from the bins at Claire’s.
by Jamie Poole
My boy Ethan was learning about penguins at school. I hated to admit that I didn’t know much about the birds. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if they were birds since they didn’t fly. As soon as he piled in the car with his Spiderman backpack in one hand and a sweaty fistful of construction paper in the other, he started up with the questions again.
“Mama, Mrs. Carson said penguins live in Antarctica but not in the Arctic. Why can’t they live in both places?”
“Hmmm … I don’t know, baby. Maybe we can read about that in one of our encyclopedias at home.” In 1982 my mama got roped into buying a set of World Books from my fifth grade teacher. They’d cost her a thousand dollars and that was back fifteen years ago. Now they propped up my box spring and mattress.
I was already feeling stressed by the time he got in the car. Car-line always made me feel that way. Sitting still didn’t come easy to me. Made me feel real nervous just sitting there, arm dangling out of the car window because the air conditioner was broken and it was already ninety degrees in
“Oh God – Fish!” Tommy screamed, skipping in full-tilt panic on the bank, screaming for the dog to pull herself to solid ice. He watched, helpless as she struggled, paws flailing, splashing the slushy water and trying to gain purchase. Tommy’s prancing got him nowhere, so he stepped onto the pond to try and reach her, another forbidden. Each step past the tree line brought the cracking and creaking his parents warned him of.
by Dixon Hearne
“Where you headed, Miss Lizzie?” a familiar voice calls. “On ya’ way to town? Visitin’? Ain’t no need keepin’ it to ya’self.” Swish-swish-swish goes her straw bag, never breaking stride. Skeet Rouse is a no account heathen in Lizzie Fate’s estimation, an abomination lower than Judas himself. Not a day goes by she doesn’t say a quick-prayer to shield herself from him and all his kind. Folks off in the woods make potions and spells to throw on you if they wander into town, and Lizzie Fate doesn’t go near any of them. Especially Skeet Rouse.
Lizzie’s mama said when she herself was just a girl – back when boogers and haints were strong on them – she found herself lost one day out in the woods and halfway to Vicksburg with the sun getting ready to sleep. She wandered around all night long, chasing the moon and losing her mind. Come morning, when she stuck her face over the black bayou water to wash it, she was plumb white-headed in the reflection. Next thing she knew, a woman the color of swamp gum popped out of a tree hollow and cast the evil eye at her, and when she woke
by Leah Weiss
My older sister Katie married her beau Clarence Barnhill in 1926, shortly after I was born. They spent their wedding night at the home place with the whole family a wall or two away. This was a common thing to do because no one had money and there was no place to go. Rural North Carolina was a soft mix of dirt roads and sprawling farms and the occasional small town hugging up against the railroad track. Next to tobacco, its biggest business was raising families.
In the middle of her wedding night, Katie was awakened by my crying. She got up, padded barefoot through the house, found me and brought me back to her bed. The practice of an older sister taking care of a new baby was routine in big families; even though I was Katie’s sister, I was also Katie’s baby. Mama could take care of the others.
Years later, after I married, Clarence often teased my husband Alvon by asking, Did you know Lucy slept with me on my wedding night? It was an off-color joke that he never tired of telling. Alvon and I hoped it would play itself out. It eventually did, but it
by Richard Lutman
The day after his release from prison Cass Franklin returned to his weather beaten cabin in sycamore grove at the foot of Blue Mountain and plugged in his TV. He needed the comfort it brought him. He turned it on and the picture rolled just as it always did.
“Damn thing!” he said and hit the top of the set with the broad palm of his gnarled hand. The picture rolled in two compact lines across the screen. “Damn thing!” He hit it again, this time striking the side of the set sharply. The picture righted itself and he reached over and turned it off, then turned it on again. This time there were no lines. The screen illuminated the room with a familiar flickering light.
He stretched, tendons creaking in his arms. Then feeling restless because he had nothing left to do, he walked to the window wondering if things would be the same as they had been before he had been sent away.
The early morning mists made everything seem fresh and new. The glow of his charcoal kiln by the barn burning through. He had spent the first hours after his return preparing the kiln. The work had
By Tony R. Lindsay
Twelve-year-olds Homer Guthry and Elwood Hatmaker meet each day at a swimming hole deep in a maple and pine forest along Indian Creek. The stream feeds into a narrow river near Hinesville. Cold, greenish water spills over algae-clad boulders and collects into an azure pond at a place called Blue Deep. Sunlight penetrating the surface yields streaks of violet. The purity and depth of the pool gives the site its name.
A short board is secured to the end of a thirty-foot rope attached high in a cottonwood tree. The boys swing out over the lake to a height of about fifteen feet before releasing the rope and yelling “Geronimo!” They flail away with arms and legs before tumbling buck-naked into the chilly water. Since the water is deeper than any youth can dive while holding his breath, the lake is rumored to be bottomless. No more than a few dozen kids and countless generations know the secret location of Blue Deep.
Elwood brings along a beagle. He calls the dog “Cat” for reasons known only to Elwood. Homer’s dog, a mostly Coonhound, has the more conventional name of Wilson. A third dog hangs around with the boys and
by John Bowers
A frog in my playpen. It is my earliest memory. Between the bars, a fat Red Oak River marsh frog on the floor of my playpen, breathing bulbously and staring at me. I cried out in alarm. I hadn’t learned much language yet, and I cried out by echoing the words I had just heard on the TV. “Crest twenty feet!” I yelled. “Cwest twenny fee twenny fee twenny feeeeeet!”
My grandpa Farhad rushed into the room and stood looking at me. “You talk to the frog,” he breathed in amazement. He got down on the floor and picked up the frog and held it in his hand, waiting for more information. The Red Oak was flooding and all the property owners along its banks were worried about where it would crest. My successful forecast via the frog became family lore.
Mom and I visited Grandpa Farhad at the Talaville prairie home every summer. We lived 600 miles east in Louisville. Come late May we’d leave behind school buses, supermarkets, traffic lights, and urban vermin to make the grueling trip on two-lane roads. I would mentally shelve my latest resentments and crushes, brushing away a year’s worth of tests and