Indian ID, fiction by Eric Ramseier

I have this plas­tic lam­i­nated card that says I'm an Indian.  It has my name on it, the tribe I'm from—some kind of Chero­kee, and my pic­ture.  It needs my pic­ture because I don't look like an Indian at all.  I could be the cover photo for some neo-Nazi's utopian novel.  My dad made me go up to the reser­va­tion north of town to sit for the photo and get the card.  You never know, he said and left it at that.  He meant that I might need it because of the minor­ity sta­tus, like if I didn't get into the col­lege I want or I needed to get a schol­ar­ship or some­thing, I would just mark down that I'm Amer­i­can Indian and they would bend over back­wards to wel­come me.  He never had to use it, he made me well aware, but, again, you just never know.  I mostly use the card to buy beer.

The ride up to the reser­va­tion is always the same.  When we cross the bridge over the Kansas River and I look down and think what a great place the banks would be for paint­ball with all the tall reeds and sand bars and cot­ton­woods.  I feel a bit guilty for dream­ing this sort of thing.  It's like when I catch myself star­ing at the base­ball cards in the gro­cery store—I am too old for that kind of stuff now.  At least I believe I am sup­posed to think and feel that.   The high­way north is always empty except for semi trucks and farm equip­ment, and the sky is so blue that it appears purple-gray.  Maybe I always think there is a storm.  That is where they always come from, dump­ing rain, mak­ing the air smell stale and dan­ger­ous, caus­ing the dogs to howl then cower under fur­ni­ture.  There is a bizarre mix­ture of cookie-cutter fake-mall sub­urbs encroach­ing on wild prairie.  We'll see all this tall grass and farmer's weed, then all of the sud­den there's a Casey's Gen­eral Store, a strip mall with a Chi­nese food place and a fire­works stand, and a half com­pleted sub­di­vi­sion of houses.

It's always the two of us.  Dan and me.  We aren't pop­u­lar, and we aren't nerds.  We are just there.  Con­nected only because we are neigh­bors and known each other for­ever.  Dan wants to be pop­u­lar.  He asks me, "What's your favorite kind of beer?"  We are in the gas sta­tion just inside the reser­va­tion bor­ders.  It's not like reg­u­lar gas sta­tions.  It's not bright and clean with aisle after aisle of candy and chips.  The walls are wood pan­el­ing.   There's fish­ing bait on one aisle.  There's only two refrig­er­ated cases.  There's almost no name-brand food.  The plas­tic wrap­ping on the food looks old, like it's brit­tle and ready to crack.  "I don't have a favorite beer," I say.  And I don't.  It all tastes like I'm suck­ing wet bread through a straw.  I just like what hap­pens when I drink a lot of it.  The world isn't the same any­more.  Things slow down.  Thoughts come slower.  If I move my head fast, I can still see the out­line of what I was just look­ing at.  "I like the high­est per­cent beer."  I say.  "Jen likes Heineken.  We could see if they have it," Dan says.  But I don't want to buy beer for every­one.  I don't want to be known as the hookup.  I don't want the atten­tion.  I don't want the respon­si­bil­ity.  I shrug at Dan.  We both know there is lit­tle chance that there will be Heineken in this store.

The cashier eyes us the whole time.  He knows we aren't eigh­teen.  He looks like an Indian.  Straight black hair.  Looks like he played foot­ball.  I won­der what his life is like.  How is an Indian that dif­fer­ent from me?  I am the legal limit of Indian to have the card I have and to get the pos­si­ble gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits.  I think it was my grandmother's grand­mother who was full-blooded some kind of Chero­kee.  I've seen pic­tures.  She looks severe.  The cashier looks severe, too.  Maybe that's the main dif­fer­ence.  No one has ever described me as severe, and I do not think of myself this way.  I pull the card out of my wal­let and place it in front of the cashier.  It's like a pass to under­age drink­ing.  He unfolds his arms and exam­ines the card.  I think I detect a smile form­ing.  "Okay, man.  Just the beer?" he asks.  Dan has a suit­case of a brand of beer that we have only seen on the reservation—they cer­tainly don't adver­tise it on TV—in each hand.  He knows the drill.  He lifts the beer up to the counter with­out let­ting go—as though this were all a ruse and it might get taken away from him—while the cashier runs a barely-working laser wand over the bar code.  I have a twelve pack in my free hand.  We pay the money we earned from our after-school jobs and walk out like it's any other trans­ac­tion at any other store.

When we get to the car, though, it's a dif­fer­ent story.  War cries.  It's like we got away with some­thing, and I sup­pose we did.  None of us are even close to eigh­teen.  We are barely old enough to drive.  It's like liq­uid gold, what we have.  "Is there some place around here where we could start drink­ing it?" Dan asks.  He has a shitty life, though no one can quite fig­ure out why.  He likes to drink even more than me.  But Dan always has answers, and he always comes off as being full of shit.  He always wants to take that one step fur­ther from the edge.

***

            Dan's house is where we drink, though.  His par­ents are always off on busi­ness trips or vaca­tions, and his sib­lings have all moved out.  We never start at his house, though.  Most of the kind of kids that hang out at our high school hang out in the park­ing lot of the fur­ni­ture store.  It is tucked away in a res­i­den­tial sec­tion and isn't well lit.  The only times cops come out are when there is a fight that gets too loud and an elderly neigh­bor calls in.  I don't like to adver­tise how much beer we have, so we park and take it one at a time.  When­ever some­one pop­u­lar asks where we got it, we always say my parent's-fridge-and-this-is-all-we-could-score.

"Aw, shit, Jen is here," Dan says.  "Act cool."  We don't do any­thing dif­fer­ent.  Except Dan makes it clear that he is in pos­ses­sion of beer.  He pokes a hole in the bot­tom of the can with a screw­driver, shot­guns it, crushes it with his hand and smashes it against the pave­ment.  Jen sees this.  On some level, every­one sees this.

Jen has a pla­toon.   She is not the leader of the pla­toon, but it's easy to imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion in which she over­throws the cur­rent leader and becomes despot.  "Do you have more of that," Jen asks.  Dan reaches in the back­seat and pro­duces a can for her.  The rest of her pla­toon huffs and snorts, so he gets cans for them as well.  I move to the other side of the car, not want­ing to par­tic­i­pate.  "Fuckin' party," Dan says just below a yell.  The pla­toon, includ­ing Jen, roll their eyes.  The beer by now is warm and cheap, so of course they don't like it.  It offers no relief from the sweat­ing night.  "What is this swill?" Jen asks.  One says, "I'm so trashed right now," after three sips.  They ask for more, and Dan deliv­ers.  "So what are we doing after this?" Dan asks.  "Uh, we have the car wash fundraiser tomor­row for the dance team, so we are out of here after this," Jen replies, all atti­tude.  "Nice, maybe I'll have to drop by and get my car washed," Dan says.

The god damned dance team.  Dan's blinded by sperm backed up so far in his brain that he doesn't real­ize he's being played.  But I'm not.  Rela­tion­ships in my high school are always about give and take and I'm not aware of any com­mod­ity I might offer beyond the abil­ity to get beer.  It's not sta­ble enough.   I learned just like every­one else that I am my own unique indi­vid­ual and that some­thing about that is spe­cial, but I can't stand the thought of being rejected.  Every­one talks to and about each other.  I don't want peo­ple talk­ing about me.  And if there is one thing the dance team does, it's talk.

I sit on the hood of the car, my back against the wind­shield.  My head rests on a piece of the metal trim bent up from the seam.  It's painful, but a good kind of pain.  The kind of pain that lets me know I am present even as I drink can after can of the foul smelling beer.  Some­one says, "I almost vom­ited in my mouth.  Isn't that so funny?"  And there is the cor­re­spond­ing laugh­ter.  I sud­denly real­ize I am in a hideous town with hideous peo­ple and I need to get away from here as soon as pos­si­ble.  I sup­pose I have always known that, but star­ing up at the stars, I rec­og­nize this isn't the only place in the world, that there are peo­ple liv­ing in com­pletely dif­fer­ent places and doing com­pletely dif­fer­ent things.  I want to be one of them.

***

            The beer runs out.  That hap­pens when a pla­toon of peo­ple share it with you.  They march off, and Dan is left with blue balls.  "It's all about mak­ing head­way," he says.  "I've laid a foun­da­tion for future encoun­ters.  This is the leg­work, and you don't always see results with leg­work.  The results present them­selves later on down the line."  I see how I'm like Dan, too.  I don't let on.  I keep my suf­fer­ing to myself.

Dan is in the back seat kick­ing the empty card­board boxes and empty alu­minum cans out of frus­tra­tion when I hear a dull thud.  "Thank fuck­ing Christ," he says, dig­ging out the twelve pack I had bought.  "They didn't take all our beer."  We end up at Dan's house.

Both of our houses are set up basi­cally the same way.  Above the front door of our split lev­els are the typ­i­cal trap­pings of sub­ur­bia.  An entrance way with embar­rass­ing fam­ily pho­tos from ten years ago, a liv­ing room with down-home charm and the occa­sional kitschy dec­o­ra­tive touch, the par­ents' con­ser­v­a­tive mas­ter bed­room, the teenagers' rooms with ques­tion­able smells ema­nat­ing from within.  Down­stairs, though, is another story.  Tucked away into the little-used sec­ond TV room amongst the fur­ni­ture that didn't match any­where else and the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions stood the fam­ily com­puter which dou­bled as a depos­i­tory of the most depraved pornog­ra­phy we could find.  I am no dif­fer­ent.  I would like to say that I am, but I am not.

Watch­ing ter­ri­ble movies is usu­ally how we fin­ish off a night like tonight, but when we go down­stairs, there is already a blue-green glow com­ing from the tele­vi­sion.  Dan's brother is sit­ting on pais­ley couch, his legs crossed, smok­ing a cig­a­rette.  If there was one thing you didn't do in any of our houses, it mess with the care­fully cul­ti­vated san­dal­wood scent.   There are sto­ries about Dan's brother.  He was this straight-laced guy all through high school.  He was 4.0, clean cut, and going on a free ride to KU.  But some­thing hap­pened to him after he graduated—nobody, not even Dan, knew what—and he sim­ply didn't go to col­lege.  It was sort of unthink­able.  Then he grew out his hair and grew a beard.  He started tak­ing all kinds of weird drugs no one we knew could even imag­ine get­ting.  He went on a vision quest in the desert.  He went to Mex­ico and robbed banks.  He started a folk band in Lau­rel Canyon, Los Ange­les.  Dan never talked about him, so who knew what was true.  I could never con­nect my mem­ory of his brother with those sto­ries, but he looks every bit the part.  He's wear­ing mis­matched plaids and a blazer even though its humid out­side.  His eyes are glazed over.  His hair is stringy and greasy.  He looks as worn out as the knees of his trousers.  "Look what the cat dragged in," he says as we file down the stairs.  "One of those beers for me?"  I look at Dan.  "You're not sup­posed to be here if mom and dad aren't," Dan finally says.

Dan even­tu­ally steps for­ward with a  beer in hand.  "What do you say to a trade?" he says.  "How do you mean?" his brother replies.  "I mean you got any­thing stronger for our trou­bles?"  I want to say 'what the fuck are you doing?'  I want to say that I'm fine with beer, that's tame enough, but there are sto­ries, and I don't want things to get out of con­trol.  I say noth­ing, though.  Maybe he just has mar­i­juana.  Who cares about that?  I look at Dan and he looks deflated, like he's crum­bling to pieces on the inside.  And I don't get it.  "Sure, lit­tle Danny, I've got some­thing stronger."  I real­ize just how much I don't know Dan and why he does what he does.  Dan's brother con­tin­ues, "But we should get out of here.  I need some air."

We pile back into the car because what else could we do, and Dan's brother cracks his beer—something we would never think of doing.  Dan starts dri­ving, as per his brother's instruc­tions, with no des­ti­na­tion in mind but mind­ful of where cops typ­i­cally have DUI check­points.  Neigh­bor­hood streets shouldn't be a prob­lem, though.  I look at Dan's brother in the rearview and won­der how that hap­pens.  He has a men­ace about him that was never there before.  I wanted to pre­tend it wasn't there, but this was not the same guy I knew.  "How'd you kids even get this beer?" he asks fin­ish­ing off the can and toss­ing it out the win­dow.  We explain about my card and how Indi­ans look the other way for other Indi­ans.  "No shit?  You're an Indian?  I did not know that."  I didn't like him tak­ing a per­sonal inter­est in me.  I kept quiet, only nod­ding at his ques­tions.  "This will work on pretty damn well, then.  Let's head up to Burnett's Mound."

***

            In ele­men­tary school we all learned that when this city was founded, the city father's bought a bunch of pas­ture land from Chief Bur­nett.  We didn't learn that he was plied with whiskey and then booted from his prop­erty.  Not to be out­done, he did as the affronted often do and cursed the land.  He said that so long as no man-made struc­ture was built on his mound, the city would be safe from  nat­ural dis­as­ter.  He knew man-made struc­tures would be built there as soon as pos­si­ble.  There was a lot of spite both ways back then.  Even­tu­ally, he was buried on that mound, though the grave marker was long gone, and tor­na­dos tore through city in 1966 and then one time in the 80s and again when I was in fourth grade and cow­er­ing in the hall­way with my hands folded over my neck.

We drive to the top where a barbed wire fence sep­a­rated us from the enor­mous beige water tower that was built into the side of the mound.  Dan's brother wraps his blazer around a sec­tion of barbed wire and scales the fence.  Dan tosses the rest of the beer to him and climbs the fence as well.  I feel left behind.  I don't remem­ber many preg­nant pauses shared with Dan, but we share one now.  I'm not so drunk that I don't know what's going on, but I am drunk enough not to care, so I fol­low.  We are not walk­ing through vir­gin prairie back there, as I had thought we could be.  Crum­pled candy wrap­pers and plas­tic bags lit­ter the ground.  We see a few used con­doms and lost fris­bees.  The grass is over­grown and our socks col­lect cock­le­burs with every step.

We fol­low Dan's brother up the iron lad­der welded on to the side of the water tower.    It's smooth and slick on top.  The metal is sweat­ing from the heat.  From there, though, we can see the lights of the entire city.  It's so depress­ing see­ing the ter­mi­nus.  We each open our last beers.    From his pants pocket Dan's brother pro­duces a hand­ful of brown but­tons.  "This is straight up Anasazi  pey­ote.  I got it off an old med­i­cine man.  It's totally legit.  Take one and swal­low."  We each swal­low a but­ton and wash it down with the beer.  It tastes bit­ter, and I won­der if I'm going to throw it up before it has a chance to work.  "Why do we have to be up here to take this?" I ask.  I have never taken the stuff before, obvi­ously, and don't know what it does.  I start to have con­cerns for my safety.  "This is cursed Indian land.  This is Indian drugs.  This is the only place in town wor­thy of tak­ing this stuff.  I want to see if it messes you up more," he says.  "I want to see if you can sum­mon the spirit of Chief Bur­nett.  If you can kill a buf­falo with your bare hands."  Dan laughs, but his brother seems serious.

My face burns.  I feel like I'm being asked to per­form.  The two of them stare at me, so I turn my back on them and step to the edge.  Far off to the west I see heat light­ning.  I crouch down hop­ing the pey­ote will take pos­ses­sion of me, and I'll no longer be here.  I won­der what the cashier on the reser­va­tion is doing.  I won­der if I could get a job at the gas sta­tion.  I could take the shift after him and sell beer only to peo­ple that have their lam­i­nated cards.  I real­ize that, too, is a night­mare, and I just want to go home.  I want to go to bed.  I won't even mind tomor­row when I'll wake up with that feel­ing of not know­ing whether I'm hun­gry or sick.

The two of them stand behind me.  "Oh man, you should do a dance and see if you can call the storm this way," Dan's brother says.  "Yeah," Dan adds, "Maybe it's like this innate thing you can do."  I look up and Dan, but he's not help­ing.  He won't see that I don't want to par­tic­i­pate, and I feel betrayed.  "Come on, man."  "Yeah," they urge.

I get up but do so too fast.  I lose my foot­ing and fall off the water tower.  It's prob­a­bly twenty feet, but I feel like I'm falling for­ever.  I do finally land.  I know I'm not par­a­lyzed because a dirty news­pa­per ends up on my face, and I remove it and am once again look­ing up at the stars.   My body tin­gles, and I hope it's the pey­ote.  All is silent, and I think about what I was about to do.  My nat­ural incli­na­tion would be to just do a goofy dance to remove the ten­sion and move on to another topic.  But I'm not so sure that's what I was going to do.  I might've been con­fronta­tional.  I might have really laid into those insen­si­tive pricks.  Told them to go to hell and they weren't going to be using me any­more.  That it was cruel how they were treat­ing me.  That I wasn't even really an Indian.  I knew noth­ing about it.  My heart pumps harder as I grow more and more con­vinced that this is what I was going to do.  I feel sweat bead­ing on my face.  Or maybe it was rain;  per­haps I did con­jure a storm.  I close my eyes and hope it is the pey­ote.  My body quakes.  I hear rustling in the grass around me and open my eyes.  Two fig­ures sur­round me.  "Jesus, are you dead?" one of them asks.  "If you aren't, get up.  We want to go get more beer."  I wig­gle my fin­gers and toes and reach out to the stars.  They looks so close, yet I know that I won't touch them.  I mouth 'Fuck you,' but I don't think I actu­ally say the words.  I shut my eyes tight, and I feel weird.  I hope it is the pey­ote.  I want it to be the cool light of day, and I want to be run­ning through the grass with a smile on my face.  I want to grab an orphaned fris­bee or my Indian ID card and loft it into the air.  I can't do this.  I just can't do this.

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Appalachians, by GC Smith

Moun­tain folk

I see them every­where. In the cities now. On the streets. In the pool rooms, bars, fightin' clubs. Inswank hotels. Still back in the Piney woods. I see them dri­vin' pick up trucks. Dri­ving BMWs.

Endur­ing people.

Fight­ing for the Gov­ern­ment. Wear­ing the Nation's uni­forms. Teach­ing school. Grow­ing pot.Pre­serv­ing the Nation. Turn­ing wrenches. Dri­vin' trac­tors. Lay­ing brick. Mend­ing fences. Writ­inglaws. Heal­ing the halt and lame. Swill­ing shine. Fight­ing the Gov­ern­ment.
Hardy folks.
Scots-Irish. Blacks. Red Indi­ans. Melun­geons. Folks with reli­gion. Folks with­out. Folks doing thehard work. Folks stick­ing to it. Folks liv­ing in the hard­wood forests. Livin' in the long leaf pinestands. Cookin' corn whiskey. Hard­scrab­ble farm­ing. Strip min­ing. Build­ing cab­ins. Cut­tingfur­rows. Build­ing roads.

Good folks.

Folks on moun­tain roads. On white water rapids. On back trails. On ridge backs. In Hollers. In thehills. In Cypress Shacks. Folks caught in snow drifts. Folks hangin' on.

Music mak­ers.

Dolly. Bill Mon­roe. Vas­sar Clements. Chet Atkins. Roy Acuff. Carters (Mother May­belle. June,Helen and Anita. A.P.). Johnny. Emmy­lou. Jerry Dou­glas. Alli­son. Lester Flatt. Nitty Grit­ties(Hanna-Ibbotson-Fadden-McEuen-Thompson). Doc Wat­son. Bela Fleck. Merle Travis. John Prine.Randy Scruggs. Ricky Skaggs. Earl Scruggs.

Foot­stomp­ing, fin­ger tap­ping multitudes.

Keep­ers of the cir­cle. Folks playin' dobro tuned gui­tars. Man­dolins. Auto­harps. Wash­boards.Fid­dles. Mouth Organs. Upright bass. Folks voices, solo and har­mony. Folks clog danc­ing. Whiskeysip­pin'. Singing rounds. Dancin' squares. Early day and mod­ern music makers.

Folks insur­ing endur­ing circles.

Singing. Amazin' Grace. Just a Closer walk. Life's Rail­way. Lit­tle Moun­tain Church House. One Toke Over the Line. Walkin' Shoes Don't Fit Me. You Don't Know My Mind. Wild­wood Flower.Honky Tonk Blues. Grandpa Was a Car­pen­ter. Lost River. Dia­mond In the Rough. Sunny Side.Fishin' Blues. Earl's Break­down. Will the Cir­cle be Unbroken?

Appalachia-Appalachians. America's back­bone. America's people.

The cir­cle endures, unbroken.

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Two Poems by Teisha Dawn Twomey

Wan­derun­lust

I want to believe in truck stop din­ers
blue­berry pan­cakes, vaca­tion villages

on the way to never ever again land.
By morn­ing, I’d think any place

could be home. I con­tinue to carry
old key chains with me.

They fail to unlock any doors
but open as many cold-ones

as I need. So, I call my older brother.
He is always on vaca­tion and I ruin

his good time. He has pre­dictable advice
on the other line, I should really take

care. Tonight I’m smashed-mouthed
and stormy. Some­times I’m like that.

grand illu­sion destroyed. I want that
tonight. To be unlike me, soft-spoken

and sweet. A child un–
will­ing to take off her boots

back­pack off, laces
laced too tight.

A Female Redback

Spi­der looms her tough untidy web
another male offers up his abdomen

som­er­sault­ing towards her mouth­parts
in exchange for a moment or two close

to her. This vul­ner­a­ble pos­ture only elic­its
a preda­tory response. The smaller he is

the more force­ful he’ll be can­ni­bal­ized.
This first and last instinc­tual barter

ben­e­fi­cial to the species mutu­ally.
He doesn’t con­sider the pros and cons.

He’s dri­ven towards her snare, the dance
in his loins, a never-ending congo of brothers

to come after and before lined up
at her door. She tidies her untidy trap

never waits too long. Same old song
on the radio and a young woman practices

tying another slip­knot behind a locked door.
The female Red­back spi­der has it pretty good.

Not just a girl in this country-bumpkin town.
has pow­er­ful limbs, a set of fangs, no step-daddy

too young for the mother but not for the daugh­ter.
The female Red­back Spi­der bears a bright blaze

on its abdomen. It warns: don’t draw too close
you’re sure to lose a hand. That’s just how it is

plain as day, seems fair and square. Sure
as shit, her venom could kill a full-grown man.

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Goosy Gus and the Cash Mob, fiction by William Trent Pancoast

(orig­i­nally appeared in Revolver)

Gus had acquired the name “Goosy” because of his shell shock and bat­tle fatigue from WWII and now he was no longer allowed in his daughter-in-law’s donut shop in down­town Cranston even though eat­ing donuts was his favorite way to start the day.

When he was cor­nered or con­fronted with loud noises, he struck or grabbed the peo­ple or things in prox­im­ity to him­self. All who knew him tried not to sur­prise him, though the guys at the steel mill used to enjoy get­ting him going for their own enter­tain­ment. One day the new mill man­ager was tour­ing the plant and intro­duc­ing him­self to the employ­ees and when he came to Gus, one of the other mill­wrights slammed a board down on the floor behind Gus. The result was that Gus grabbed the plant man­ager by the throat and squeezed. He almost got fired over that one, until his dis­abil­ity was con­firmed by the secu­rity depart­ment and plant hos­pi­tal to Human Resources.

The rea­son he was barred from the donut shop was because of the “Buy Local” cam­paign, a last ditch save-our-jobs-and-city effort spear­headed by the local cor­po­rate news­pa­per. The same paper that had scoffed at Gus’s Buy Amer­i­can let­ters to the edi­tor twenty years ear­lier when Amer­i­can work­ers like him were plead­ing with the Amer­i­can peo­ple to con­sider buy­ing union prod­ucts made here in the USA.

Goosy Gus had been there eat­ing a maple-frosted cake donut one morn­ing when two car­loads of folks—the news­pa­per edi­tor included—piled out of a cou­ple of Toy­ota vans and came into the shop, bab­bling about the big come­back the down­town area was experiencing.

As they all ordered bags of donuts the daughter-in-law real­ized she was the bene­fac­tor of this week’s Cash Mob, a group of do-gooders who bought shit from a tar­geted mer­chant on a cer­tain day.

Gus sat in the cor­ner siz­ing them up.

There was the edi­tor, whom Gus referred to as a con artist and fraud and said that if jour­nal­ism was a spit­ball it wouldn’t stick to his slip­pery ass. The head of the Cham­ber of Com­merce was there too, a coun­try club­ber of the high­est order who had sided with the national Cham­ber and Karl Rove in spend­ing $40 mil­lion to try and beat the state’s demo­c­ra­tic Sen­a­tor. Along with those two was a gag­gle of hangers-on, the sort that Gus knew from look­ing had never worked a day in their lives. These folks were all here to shower some wel­fare on his daughter-in-law’s store.

Gus sank low in his chair at the back table, hop­ing this too happy group would buy their donuts and get the fuck out. He had just received notice that his health insur­ance, part of his steel mill retire­ment from a decade ear­lier, was being ter­mi­nated and he was in no fuck­ing mood to hear about the happy horse­shit these folks were shoveling.

With no warn­ing the com­pany had dropped his insur­ance. There was a meet­ing sched­uled for that after­noon at the union hall, but Gus knew there was noth­ing any­one could do about it. The com­pany always won. They would fake bank­ruptcy, lie, cheat, steal, buy politi­cians and news­pa­per edi­tors, what­ever it took. Goosy Gus had only wanted to con­sume a maple donut in silence—two this morn­ing instead of his usual one—to soothe some of the pain he was feel­ing. He knew that with his wife’s med­ical bills his sav­ings would be gone in another four months, and he, along with a bunch of the other retirees would be headed on a shit-greased slip­pery slope to bankruptcy.

Fac­ing bank­ruptcy, and this chicken-shit cor­po­rate news­pa­per edi­tor and his thiev­ing busi­ness leader buddy were all gal­li­vant­ing around the decayed rem­nants of the down­town with a bunch of old women who had never hit a lick in their lives, bab­bling about how fuck­ing great it all was that donut and bas­ket shops were spring­ing up in the ruins. One of these women got Gus banned from the donut shop. She had gulped her first pain pills of her new pre­scrip­tion that morn­ing and was cack­ling like a rooster pheas­ant on open­ing day.

Gus had heard her jab­ber­ing from curb­side when the do-gooders first got there. Then when they entered the store she gushed and eyed the pas­tries, point­ing out the var­i­ous kinds and describ­ing them in detail, dash­ing around in front of the other Cash Mob People.

Now she was in front of Gus’s table—the lone occu­pied table in the place— ges­tur­ing at the donuts in the glass case and on the shelves behind his daughter-in-law, point­ing at him, then to the donuts and peo­ple nearby. He heard the words “Buy Local” and “Cash Mob” sev­eral times. He watched the cack­ling woman, her hus­band was a bank vice pres­i­dent and they went to his church—his church not their church—as they were fresh in from the out-of-town cor­po­rate merry-go-round, as were all the peo­ple who now owned every­thing in his town, folks he called Tran­sients. As her face grew red and heated through her speed-freak dance before his table, he stood up and tried to slide along the wall toward the exit but she fol­lowed right along with him. He couldn’t help notic­ing her nip­ples pressed hard against the front of her rust-colored silk blouse, grow­ing in uni­son with her dance. He fix­ated on them as they grew longer and sharper and pointed as if accus­ing him of some unde­fined crime.

Gus thought about the expen­sive silk blouse she was wear­ing. Sex­u­ally abused lit­tle girls in South Amer­ica prob­a­bly made it. The union had always made sure its mem­bers were edu­cated on the issue of global labor.

Gus heard the words “Cash Mob” and “Buy Local” one more time. His right hand shot out in a blur of motion. His cal­loused and swollen arthritic fin­gers latched on to her left elon­gated nip­ple. He twisted it to the right. She screamed. She screamed sev­eral times. The Buy Local mob mem­bers turned toward Gus as the lady backed away, point­ing at Goosy Gus.

Gus’s daughter-in –law had been the only per­son to see what had hap­pened, and as she real­ized that none of the oth­ers had seen it, that they were all intent on her deli­cious donuts, she did not rat out her husband’s father, despi­ca­ble throw­back that he was.

The woman calmed down, but kept Gus in her view. She rejoined the group, and in a cou­ple more min­utes the Cash Mob was gone. Gus’s daughter-in-law stood over him at the table. She shook her head in silence as he fin­ished his coffee.

Fuck­ing Toy­ota dri­vers,” Goosy Gus said.

Now every morn­ing Goosy Gus sat at the Dunkin’ Donuts out by the free­way. For a while he said, “I like Dunkin’ Donuts bet­ter any­ways” until his son told him to shut the fuck up.

William Trent Pancoast's nov­els include WILDCAT (2010) and CRASHING (1983). His recent fic­tion has appeared in Revolver, Steel Toe Review, Mon­key­bi­cy­cle, Night Train, Fried chicken and Cof­fee, As It Ought To Be, and Work­ing Class Heroes. Pan­coast retired from the auto indus­try in 2007 after thirty years as a die maker and union news­pa­per edi­tor. Born in 1949, the author lives in Ontario, Ohio. He has a BA in Eng­lish from the Ohio State University.

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Squeaky Wheel Gets the Nitrous Oxide, poem by Dennis Mahagin

Carry on, wis­dom, as if eye teeth depended,
floss, floss, don't let them fit you for insane.
Lips make a purse, spit out
the Jolly Rancher,

get on your bike again.

Rot­ten molars,
a hail of bul­lets. My hygien­ist is buy­ing
an assault rifle on time.

It’s what you've got
to take, entropy and a flask of flu­o­ride
in the jockey box, you’ve got to talk
to the voice at the Drive Through

like an old uncle who's very, very fond of you
yet wor­ried, with a ner­vous smile. A Check Up
would ease the mind, as crack
on a side­walk, numb­ing the gums
come on hum­mer: hurry up twelve speed,
live the youth before they yank it now
sit up, sit up and spit

the wind for what it does to fears, rip­pling
tall grasses in sum­mer, the dis­tant rum­ble
of helios, hogs and chop­pers.
I say, hang
a hard left here at the light, you begin
to under­stand, all right, too much, fruit
smoothie on such a beau­ti­ful day,
coun­te­nance bright

as any dime, a lit­tle bell on
the han­dle­bar, you work it

like a Water Pic: it’s a laugh,

it's a gas,

and it's going away.

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And Rapture, fiction by Sheldon Lee Compton

There was this time I thought Gabriel was blow­ing his horn and dive-bombing me into Hell.  Turned out it was a Mack coal truck across the road at Dale Trivette’s Truck­ing pulling onto Route 610.

I was in bed and think­ing about what Mother told me while we had a snack that evening.

Don’t worry if you’re a sin­ner and the time comes and Jesus returns,” she said. “The Bible says Gabriel will sound his horn to sig­nal the Lord com­ing.”  She leaned down to me and put her soap­suddy hand against my face.  “When you hear that horn sound­ing out, just ask the Lord to for­give your sins and you can go to paradise.”

She smiled so big when she went back to eat­ing her straw­berry Jell-O.

So when that Mack honked to pull onto Route 610, I started pray­ing.  It wasn’t much of a prayer, you know.  Not the really prac­ticed kinds of prayers you hear in church.  What I was say­ing was mostly out of fear and it all ran together and maybe I was whim­per­ing a lit­tle, too.

A few days after I started vaca­tion bible school I was at mom’s house for the week­end.  My real mom, not my grand­mother who I called Mother.  I told her I was going to get saved.  She had just had my baby sis­ter, whose dad was mean but gone most of the time.  She looked tired and hurt before I said any­thing.  When I told her, she stared for a long time at the floor and then went into the bathroom.

I bent down and talked under the door.

I said, “I know I’m just a lit­tle boy, but I want to walk with Jesus Christ.”  I pushed my mouth close to the open­ing between the bot­tom of the door and the floor.  “You can, too, Mom.  If you hear Gabriel blow­ing his horn, all you have to do is ask Jesus to for­give you and you can go to par­adise, too.”

Vaca­tion bible school ended not too long after that and I started think­ing more about play­ing base­ball than I did about Jesus and sin and Gabriel.  But when win­ter came back around, I stood in Mother’s kitchen and started imag­in­ing again what Gabriel would sound like blow­ing his horn.

Out­side the kitchen win­dow, the grass in the front yard, the porch rails, the hum­ming­bird feed­ers, were cov­ered in ice.  Even whis­pers seemed to bounce off the frozen things and go on for­ever.  They bounced and bounced and made such a loud sound when they did.

Shel­don Lee Comp­ton is the author of the col­lec­tion The Same Ter­ri­ble Storm, which was nom­i­nated for the Chaf­fin Award in 2013, and the upcom­ing col­lec­tion Where Alli­ga­tors Sleep. His writ­ing has been widely pub­lished and anthol­o­gized, most recently in Degrees of Ele­va­tion: Short Sto­ries of Con­tem­po­rary Appalachia. He was a judge's selec­tion win­ner in 2012 for the Still: Jour­nal Fic­tion Award and a final­ist in 2013 for the Gertrude Stein Award. He sur­vives in East­ern Ken­tucky. Visit him at bent​coun​try​.blogspot​.com.

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Parade, fiction by Henry Hope

I can’t abide this shit. I can’t and I won’t.” Desmond, my mother’s new boyfriend, jabs his oily knob of a fin­ger into my fore­head. His breath is com­ing in rapid lit­tle spurts, a sign, I have learned, that his anger is one notch away from becom­ing phys­i­cal. “I don’t think you want me to hurt you but if that’s what it takes then that’s how it’ll be. Now put ever one of them tools back where they go and get your sorry ass out of here.” Desmond slams his hand on the work­bench. The sev­eral pairs of pli­ers and screw­drivers I’d laid out jump off the particle-board counter.

When I don’t move, Desmond steps in close. I can smell the scorched wheel-bearing grease spat­ter­ing his hands and fore­arms, feel the burn radi­at­ing from his shaved head.

Looky here, boy” he says. “When I tell you to do some­thing I mean it. Now get busy.”

I angle around him and reach for the near­est pair of pli­ers. He waits until I slip the sil­ver han­dles into their peg­board rings.

Soon as you’re done,” he says, “I need your help. So hurry it up.” With that he is gone.

I think of my mother while peg­ging the tools. Think how she is a lousy judge of men, always has been. My own father, before he died, was a drunk and a crook, always plot­ting how to get some­thing for noth­ing. Cheat, steal, con, it made no dif­fer­ence to him. He got shot dead nine years ago in the park­ing lot of the Rocket Launch B&G. I was six years old. But as young as I was I had seen enough, had lived through enough of what he called dis­ci­pline to keep my dis­tance from him. I was glad he was gone, felt like who­ever done the shoot­ing done us a big favor.

I enjoyed the free­dom while it lasted. Then the parade started. Most of the men my mother brought home dis­ap­peared after a night or two. Some made it a cou­ple weeks. The only halfway good one she hooked up with was here four months before she got bored and ran him off. And now it’s back to the likes of Desmond.

If you were flesh and blood I’d shoot your ass,” I hear him yell. “Turn you into a human colander.”

I’m sure he’d like to shoot me, too. He’s said so. But right now I know his threats are directed at his truck. It broke down yes­ter­day. The left front wheel locked up when he pulled out of the yard for a trip to Billy Morrison’s place the other side of Pomaria. He never made it to Billy’s. Didn’t even make the hun­dred or so yards to County Road 2 that runs past our singlewide.

I know he buys drugs from Billy because he once told my mother, “Billy got a new ship­ment of rox­ies in this morn­ing. I’ll stop by on my way home tonight and see what I can get from him.”

If pain pills and whiskey were a planet, you could look through a tele­scope and see sev­enty, eighty per­cent of the peo­ple who inhabit this holler orbit­ing in its grav­ity. It has been this way as long as I remember.

I slide the last screw­driver through its double-ring holder just as Desmond yells, “What the hell, Don­nie! Ain’t you done with them tools yet?”

When I step from the tool shed into the yard I see the coal-black soles of his Dr. Martens first, and then the rest of him sucked beneath the front axle of his Chevy. The tips of his boots are tap­ping empty air like he’s keep­ing time with some drug-addled coun­try song play­ing in his head. The wheel is off, a dark cir­cle of rub­ber and metal pros­trate on the cracked earth of our yard.

For a sin­gle blind­ing moment I want Desmond to feel the pain I feel when I have to pre­tend I’m asleep while he slaps my mother around in the next room. I want to ram a screw­driver through his fat, hairy chest, spit in his face, promise him he will die a slow death by my hand. It is then I see the jack han­dle jammed into the hous­ing. I notice there is no jack stand to take the Chevy’s weight should the jack fail. With one solid kick I could send Desmond on his way for good. Watch him squirm, stomp his help­less legs while the Chevy squeezes the final gasp­ing breath from his col­lapsed chest.

But then what? Déjà vu is what. The parade will com­mence all over again. So as much as I hate the man I’ll take my chances with him, and then the one after him, and the one after him. I can’t say when the parade will end or even if it will end. But what I can say is it makes me sick to be here and be a part of it. But that is the card I drew and until a bet­ter one comes along I’m stuck, just like Desmond if I trip his jack.

Desmond cocks a leg in my direc­tion. His greasy arm flops from the wheel well. “Hand me that socket set.” he says. “And make it quick. I don’t care to lay in this dirt no more than I have to.”

I walk to where the socket tray is spread open and slide it toward him with my bare foot, care­ful not to rush.

Dammit! Hurry it up!” he says, more of a grunt than actual words. “If I have to crawl out there and get it myself you can bet I’ll wrap you around that tire while I’m at it.” When the tray is close he snatches it, pulls it within easy reach.

While Desmond works I squat next to the truck, hop­ing the socket will slip, throw­ing his hand into the tie rod and rip­ping the skin from his knuck­les. No such luck. Across the yard, through the singlewide’s tiny bath­room win­dow, I see my mother hunched over the sink. She is hold­ing a washrag to her bruised cheek. I won­der how many bruises, how many black eyes, how many bro­ken bones she has had in her life. I won­der how many she will have yet. I hope for her sake it won’t be more than she can count on one hand. And as I wait for Desmond to call it a day, I hope for my sake I won’t have to be here much longer to serve wit­ness to it.

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Harry Crews' Unfinished Novel, poem by Dale Wisely

Harry real­ized then that the book was so inti­mate
that all he could do was mark his place
with a thumb, close the man­u­script,
look out the win­dow, and try not to cry
because, he said, it’s so damn close to the final shit

and because the book asked the reader a ques­tion
that only God Almighty should be able to ask
because, see,
Harry said, it’s just
such a freak­ing, hor­ri­fy­ing bur­den
to have that ques­tion asked of any man.

And then Harry refused to describe either the novel
or the ques­tion and when, under influ­ence of drink,
you protested and pressed the point he threat­ened
to kill your ass, man, to spare you the pain
of ever know­ing that awful load
that Harry now bears for you and for us all.

Dale Wisely founded and co–edits Right Hand Point­ing, One Sen­tence Poems, and White Knuckle Chap­books. He can draw a Venn dia­gram to help you under­stand the rela­tion­ship between mus­cadines and scuppernongs.

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Feather, fiction by Elizabeth Glass

Wayne leaned back on the rock where he was kneel­ing next to Mandy when she told him she was preg­nant. He could feel the cool moss seep­ing damp­ness into his jeans. He saw Mandy look­ing and act­ing older after hav­ing a baby. His nose crin­kled at the thought. He never minded that with other girls, most of the girls he had dated had kids, but Mandy was different—young as he was and pure as the first win­ter snow.

Aren’t you going to say any­thing?” Mandy’s blue eyes were wide, and she used the baby voice that before he found cute.

Oh. Con­grats, I guess.” He sat back fur­ther and took a swig from his beer, then pulled his fin­gers through his beard. He told peo­ple he had a beard to get girls, but the truth was it so he could buy beer.

What’d L.J. say? Guess he’s happy,” Wayne said.

Oh, I ain’t told him yet.” She rubbed her hand across her belly.

Wayne stared at her. “Why didn’t you tell him?” He looked back into the woods, shift­ing posi­tion on the rock off of an area that was pok­ing his hip.

You know he and I ain’t been hit­ting it. You’re the only one, Wayne.” She bit her lips. “I haven’t told him cause you’re its daddy.” Mandy looked at Wayne, then down at the ground. She picked up a beer, popped it open and took a long swig. “Guess I have to quit drinking.”

He swung his boots around the rock and looked into the ravine. They spent most of their time together there. Some­times they’d risk it and go to Mandy’s, but they never knew when L.J. might stop by. Some­times he came by the house for lunch or made an early day of it. Once they nearly got­ten caught, but Wayne jumped into the shower, and Mandy told L.J. Wayne’s water was turned off so he was bor­row­ing theirs.

Wayne lived in his mother’s base­ment and he could do almost any­thing he wanted there, with one excep­tion: he couldn’t bring mar­ried women around. Every girl he took over there, his mother would poke her head down the steps and yell, “Come here, you mar­ried?” She would have to look his mother right in the eyes and say “No ma’am.” Then his mother would pick up the girl’s left hand and look for a ring or marks where one had been. It’d got­ten to be such a pain that unless a girl actu­ally was sin­gle, Wayne didn’t take her there. And since nearly every girl he had been out with was mar­ried in one form or another, he learned to be creative.

He looked into the ravine, thought about jump­ing off the edge of the cliff, but fig­ured with his luck he’d just wind up par­a­lyzed. “A kid, huh?” His back was toward her.

Yeah. A kid.”

Well,” he cupped his lighter to the wind to light a cig­a­rette, “I guess we can get mar­ried and all. I could prob­a­bly get on full time at the track.”

Oh, well, there’s some­thing else I have to tell you, too, Wayne.” She paused. “Could I have a drag?” She pointed to his cigarette.

The pack’s there, get one.”

No. I gotta quit. Just one drag.” He handed her the cig­a­rette, watched her wine-colored lips curl around the end. God, she’s sexy, he thought, eye­ing her mouth as she exhaled smoke. When she gave him the cig­a­rette back, her lips had made a dark bur­gundy kiss on the end. “Like I was say­ing, there’s some­thing else. L.J. got transferred.”

Wayne paused, look­ing out over the rocky hills. “Hmmm. Well, at least we won’t have to see him around everywhere.”

Wayne, I’m going with him.”

Every day, Wayne replayed in his mind the day Mandy told him she was preg­nant with Feather. Some­times he made changes, things he wished he said like, “If it’s my baby, you’re stay­ing here. The hell you’re leav­ing!” He didn’t real­ize how much he wished Mandy was with him in Ken­tucky until he got the first let­ter from Alabama with baby pic­tures of Feather tucked inside, a coral-colored kiss on the envelope’s seal. Mandy’s chang­ing and I’m not even there to see it, he thought, look­ing at the lip­stick color on the envelope.

He put one of the pic­tures of Feather on his bath­room mir­ror and one in his wal­let so he’d see her every day. So that he’d know just why he was work­ing fifty hours a week cut­ting meat at the track—the steaks and chicken for the peo­ple upstairs, where he could never afford to go. Why he put up with his boss yelling at him that he wasn’t cut­ting the meat per­fectly, with bones slic­ing into his hands even though he wore thick, hot, black gloves made to keep just that from hap­pen­ing. Every week he sent a third of his check to Mandy and Feather at the post office box L.J. didn’t know about. He knew it wasn’t any­thing com­pared to what L.J. gave her, but at least he was giv­ing them some­thing. At least maybe Mandy could get Feather a toy or her­self a new pair of jeans. The rest he split into three parts. One part he put in an old may­on­naise jar next to his bed to save for bus fare and hotel money for Alabama. Every time he got enough saved, he fig­ured he’d go spend a week or so with them. At least be in the same town as them. One part he gave to his mama to help out with pay­ing for the house and bills, the other part he used for beer, cig­a­rettes, and food.

Wayne stared at him­self in the mir­ror. God, I look thirty fuck­ing years old, he thought, splash­ing water on his face. He looked around. He hated bus sta­tions more than any­thing he could think of: they all looked just alike, they all stunk, and there wasn’t a damn place to sleep and be com­fort­able. He walked out of the restroom and found some old guy sleep­ing on his worn sleep­ing bag. He’d had it since the year he was in the Boy Scouts, before he got kicked out for smok­ing on a camp­ing trip. It was way too short for him; if he put his whole body in it, his shoul­ders and head stuck out at least a foot. Usu­ally he let his feet stick out the bot­tom instead. He watched the old man snore; he looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. Shit, I can’t just wake him up, Wayne thought, so he headed toward the bus sta­tion restau­rant and ordered some over­priced cof­fee while he waited. By the time the cof­fee got there, the old man and Wayne’s sleep­ing bag were gone.

When he got to Alabama, Wayne looked around but didn’t see Mandy. He went to the ticket counter, “You seen a cute girl, blonde hair, car­ry­ing a baby?”

No. You Wayne Fred­er­ick?” the man asked.

Yeah.”

Some woman called, said she can’t pick you up, but for you to go to the Motel 6 and she’ll call you.”

When?”

Shit, what do I look like? An answer­ing machine?” The man shook his head.

Wayne walked off toward the street. He looked up the address of the Motel 6, then found it on his map. He couldn’t walk that far so he hoped he could hitch a ride with some­one. Once he got out­side, he found the police sta­tion was on the same block as the bus ter­mi­nal, so he went back in to call a cab. It cost four­teen dol­lars to take a cab to the motel—fourteen dol­lars he hadn’t counted on spending.

It was the next day before he heard from Mandy. She pounded on his door at eleven in the morn­ing. “Ugh, what? Go away. No maid ser­vice.” He worked third shift. The trip had messed with his schedule.

It ain’t the maid, Wayne. It’s me.”

He crawled out of bed. His hair stuck up like he had teased it with a comb and sprayed it stiff with hair spray. As soon as he opened the door, he went back to bed.

You look like crap,” Mandy said, look­ing at him.

One of us has to. I only look as bad as you look good.” He looked at her hair swept into a pony­tail, her coral lips thick and pouty. “Where’s the baby?”

She’s with L.J. right now. He wanted to take her to this baby-bed place that he sells to. They want a baby for a com­mer­cial, so he’s show­ing her to them.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “If you go get cleaned up, I’ll remind you why you missed me.”

That whole trip, it was like Wayne and Mandy hadn’t been apart. She brought Feather over every morn­ing around ten with a tiny baby bed, and food and beer for them. They lay around watch­ing The People’s Court mak­ing bets on who would win.

A cou­ple years later, Wayne real­ized nearly two days had gone by that he didn’t think about Feather. His daugh­ter. He was pissed that he for­got about her that long. He took his may­on­naise jar to Charlie’s Tat­toos While You Wait. He walked in, looked around and said to the tat­too artist, who turned out to be Char­lie him­self, “I have a beau­ti­ful daugh­ter, wanna see a picture?”

Char­lie nod­ded and Wayne handed him the photo, curved and warm from his wallet.

She’s cute,” Char­lie told him. “How old is she? ‘Bout a year?”

Wayne flushed, “No, she’s two. This is an old pic­ture.” He turned the pic­ture over and saw the date printed in blue ink in Mandy’s bub­ble hand­writ­ing on the back, Decem­ber 28, Feather’s first birth­day. “Damn,” he mum­bled, “the newest pic­ture I have is over a year old.”

Yeah, I got a cou­ple of those around, too,” Char­lie laughed. “You want­ing a tat­too? You can look around. There’s lots of exam­ples. Plus we got pic­tures of some of the cus­tom ones we done.”

I want a feather, with FEATHER writ­ten under it.”

You like feath­ers, huh?” Char­lie asked.

It’s a name.”

Aaah, a girl. Bet ya twenty bucks you’ll be back within two years to get it tat­tooed over.”

No, it’s the baby’s name.”

Aaah.” Char­lie got his tat­too gun ready.

Over the next few years, Wayne kept up his trips to Alabama, and was still cut­ting meat at the track. He’d become a veg­e­tar­ian because the sight of meat made him nau­seous. The older Feather got, the less he was able to see her when he went to Alabama. “She’ll remem­ber you. She’ll tell L.J.,” Mandy said after Feather learned to talk. If he couldn’t see Feather, it made it hard to see Mandy. And if he couldn’t see either one of them, it seemed point­less to go, but he did.

On Feather’s fourth birth­day, Wayne sat in his bed­room after work think­ing. It had been over six months since he’d seen her. Mandy hadn’t spent a lot of time with him last time. Shit, he thought, it’s my kid’s birth­day. He took shots of Jim Beam, one for every year of Feather’s life, then started tak­ing one for each year old Mandy was. He poured his may­on­naise jar of money out onto his bed and counted. Ninety-two dol­lars and eighty-seven cents. Not enough for bus fare and a hotel. “Damn.” He walked into the bath­room to wash away the stale smell of meat and sweat. He’d helped a buddy muck at the track muck a stall, so also smelled of hay and manure. When he saw the pic­ture of Feather he’d put on his mir­ror years ago, he stopped. “Aw hell, I’ll fuckin’ hitch.”

He grabbed a blan­ket and stuffed some clothes into a duf­fel bag, col­lected the money on his bed, and stopped on the way out the door only to grab an apple out of the fridge and write his mom a note.

He didn’t have a lot of luck hitch­hik­ing, and since he didn’t shower before he left, when he did get picked up, peo­ple made him get out about a mile down the road. Just past Nashville, a guy in a truck picked him up.

They rode in silence a few min­utes, then the dri­ver looked over at him. “Hey man, you fuck­ing stink!”

Yeah, I got off work and I’m going to see my kid,” Wayne said. He expected to be dropped off, but was hop­ing to draw it out as long as he could. It was colder than the ice box at the track out­side, and damned depress­ing sit­ting on the side of the road waiting.

Look buddy, I can’t take that smell. You’re wel­come to hop in the back if it isn’t too cold, but I can’t stand you up here.”

Wayne got out, glad to at least he’d still be mov­ing. He hud­dled close to the cab of the truck, pulled his blan­ket around him, and fell asleep.

When he got to Alabama, the guy dropped him at the exit a cou­ple blocks from the Motel 6. As he checked in, the woman eyed him like she’d just seen him on America’s Most Wanted.

He shut the door to his room and was going to go back to sleep. “I smell like I fuck­ing killed some­body.” He took his clothes off and threw them in the sink. He started the shower, but then called Mandy.

Hi!” she said when she answered the phone.

How’d you know it’d be me?” he asked.

Hell. Wayne, that you? Shit, what are you doing?”

Came to see my daugh­ter. Brought her some stuff for her birth­day.” He looked down at the Ken­tucky Wild­cats base­ball cap and pen with a vel­vet rose cap that opened like a jew­elry box with a lit­tle “pearl” neck­lace inside. He’d picked them up at a Super Amer­ica on the road. “Well, it’s not much,” he said.

That’s real sweet of you,” Mandy said. “Wayne, I have a new friend here. He’s com­ing to get me and Feather and take us to Wal-Mart. We could stop by.”

He knew it would hap­pen sooner or later, another guy would come along. He even won­dered if there’d been one the last time he was here because Mandy wouldn’t even kiss him. She said it was her time of the month, but that wouldn’t have stopped them kiss­ing. “That’s fine.” He hoped he’d get to see her more than just for stop­ping by. “I gotta shower. I stink like some­thing dead’s been out in the sun too long.”

Half hour?”

Yeah.” He hung up the phone, then called work. “I’m sick as a mangy street dog. I’m gonna be laid up a while.” When he got off the phone, he opened a beer and took a gulp, then took a shower.

Wayne didn’t get to see Mandy or Feather with­out Mandy’s new boyfriend, Rick, being around, but he and Rick got to be pretty good bud­dies. Every night when Rick got off work deliv­er­ing chicken, he’d get a bot­tle of whiskey or a case of beer and go over to the Motel 6 and he and Wayne would stay up drink­ing till morning.

Since nei­ther of them could be with Mandy at night, they fig­ured they might as well keep each other com­pany. New Year’s morn­ing, they sat out­side the hotel room with bed­spreads wrapped around them, smok­ing cig­a­rettes. They watched the sun come up over the gas station.

Hey man, you love her?” Wayne asked.

Aw, hell, I don’t know. Yeah, I guess,” Rick said. “I don’t know. Look, I got to be going.” He got up and headed toward his ‘70 Challenger.

You got the coolest fuck­ing car, man, the coolest,” Wayne said, then lie back on the side­walk and fell asleep.

That morn­ing Mandy showed up and woke Wayne up from out­side his room. “Don’t tell me you done spent the night out here.” She helped him up and over to the bed. “Look Wayne, we have to talk. There’s some­thing I gotta to tell you.”

Wayne got off the bed and walked over to the sink. He gri­maced when he saw his reflec­tion. He looked like hell. He turned on the tap and filled a plas­tic cup with water, swished some in his mouth and spit, then poured the rest of the water over his head. “Shoot.”

Okay. Well, it ain’t good news.”

You’re preg­nant and the baby’s mine.” He tilted his head back and laughed. When Mandy didn’t make any noise, he looked at her. “Sorry. It’s a joke. I’m glad we have Feather.” He wanted to touch her, put his hand on her shoul­der, but she sat abruptly in one of the vinyl chairs near the window.

Well it’s about her. You know how I said L.J. and me wasn’t mak­ing love back in the days when you and me was?” She got up, paced for a minute, then sat on the edge of the dresser.

But you were.” He took his shirt off to get ready for a shower. He knew what was com­ing next and he’d be damned if he would spend New Year’s Day in Alabama.

Yeah,” she said. “Look, I didn’t lie about Feather. I think she’s yours. It’s just that, well, I’m not for sure.”

Wayne walked into the bath­room, got in the shower, and felt the hot water sting his skin that was still rosy cold from sleep­ing outside.

Mandy fol­lowed him. “Wayne, I loved you. I didn’t want to go off to some other state and never see you again. I knew what you’d do if we had a baby. I knew I’d see you.”

Wayne stood in the shower and thought about the ravine where he and Mandy used to go and won­dered if he should have jumped when he had the chance.

He could see Mandy sit­ting on the sink counter pat­terned into a thou­sand pieces by the cloudy frag­mented glass of the shower door. He wished he had made her stay in Ken­tucky, that they’d raised Feather together. He wanted to make her move back with him, or at least have Feather with him. He barely knew Feather, but every­thing he did for the past four years cen­tered around her. “Can we have tests done?”

Pater­nity tests?” Mandy asked.

Yeah, do you know a doc­tor around here that’d do them?”

Well, Feather’s doc could, I guess.”

Wayne paused. He let the sham­poo fall into his open eyes, sting­ing them before he rinsed it out. He’d hitch­hiked down with hardly any money. He didn’t have enough to pay for expen­sive testing.

He stuck his head through the glass. “I guess we’ll have to do it next time. I don’t have the money, and it’s not like you can go up to L.J. and ask him for it.”

She was quiet for a long time. “You sure you want to know?”

Yeah.”

Well, I have some­thing for you any­way. If you want to know, just use it.” She dis­ap­peared, leav­ing Wayne in the cool­ing water. After a minute, she came back with an enve­lope in her hands. “This is for you. It isn’t all there, but most of it. I was sav­ing it for Feather to go to col­lege because L.J. doesn’t believe in it, says he’s done just fine with­out it, and how can you argue with that because he has.” She stopped and bit her lip. “I want you to have it back. There’s a lot there, def­i­nitely enough for a test.”

When do you think the doc can do it?” Wayne asked. He rinsed the soap from his tattoo.

The test was a few days later. Wayne had to use part of the money Mandy gave him—Feather’s money—to stay on at the motel. It was the only way he could afford it. When he saw Feather in the doctor’s office, he couldn’t imag­ine she wasn’t his. Look at her hair, he thought, it’s my color. And her eyes, they’re shaped just like mine. He stared at her, then abruptly walked over and picked her up and squeezed her.

Mama!” she hollered. Wayne set her down, and walked across the room where he wouldn’t frighten her, but could watch her through the water of a large aquarium.

After they got the test results, he took enough money from the enve­lope to get a bus back home, then handed the enve­lope back to Mandy. “Keep it for her. It’s her money really.”

No, Wayne, I can’t.”

It’s hers.” He walked off through the sleet headed for the bus that would take him back to Kentucky.

He kept send­ing money, and every now and then found him­self in Alabama in the Motel 6. Some­times he called Mandy’s num­ber, but no one ever answered. Even­tu­ally the num­ber was dis­con­nected. He went back to Ken­tucky, feel­ing stu­pid to be in a state where Feather and Mandy may not even live.

One day Wayne got back, a new guy—Del—started work at the track. Wayne taught him how to cut meat in ways least likely to slice his hands on the bones. New guys always cut them­selves a lot more than Wayne, who’d been around the longest except his boss.

When they got off work, Wayne asked if Del wanted to go get a beer.

Sure, bud.”

On the way out of the track, they took off their sweat-soaked shirts.

Del nod­ded at Wayne’s chest, “So who’s Feather? Your girlfriend?”

No.” Wayne looked down at the hay they walked over to get out to the gravel lot where their cars were.

Oh, ex-girlfriend.”

No,” Wayne answered, kick­ing gravel and hay with the toe of his boot. “I guess I’d rather not talk about it.”

All right man, that’s cool. Painful break up?”

Wayne nod­ded, and picked a piece of straw out of his boot.

Yeah, those suck.” Del said. “Thought it wasn’t an ex-girlfriend. Oh man, ex-wife?”

No.” Wayne paused at his car, and looked around. “Hey man, let’s get that beer tomor­row. I don’t feel like it right now.”

All right.”

Wayne got into his car, and slowly rolled down the win­dow, rolling each half turn as if the roller were hard to turn, though he had just taken apart the door and oiled it so it glided down eas­ily. He looked at Del, and then said, “Ex-daughter,” rolled up his win­dow and drove away.

Eliz­a­beth Glass holds Mas­ters degrees in Cre­ative Writ­ing and Coun­sel­ing Psy­chol­ogy. She has received grants from the Ken­tucky Foun­da­tion for Women and the Ken­tucky Arts Coun­cil, and won the 2013 Emma Bell Miles Prize. Her writ­ing has appeared in Still: The Jour­nal; New Plains Review; Writer's Digest; The Chat­ta­hoochee Review; and other jour­nals. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

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The Failure of Love and Everything, poem by William Taylor, Jr.

The Fail­ure of Love and Everything

Baby, we are every ticket that didn't win.
We are the the defeated armies of the ages,
the view from every win­dow of every shitty hotel
in every shitty town you can imag­ine.
We are the need for one more drink
after 2 a.m.
as the heart­less bar­tender says
it's too late, too late,
go home.
We're the wreck on the free­way
the peo­ple drive past
and for­get,
we're the poster chil­dren
for the fail­ure of love
and every­thing.
Yet even now,
on nights like this,
I can still get drunk enough
to miss you.

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