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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Lonely Larry, poem by Frank Reardon

LONELY LARRY

Every­day Larry walks into the lum­ber yard
with his head down due to years of bad pos­ture.
His hair, fake or not, looks like a blond toupee,
and he twid­dles his fin­gers in mad cir­cles
when he speaks. Mona, the cashier,
calls him "Lonely Larry." She says it when­ever
he leaves the room. "Lonely Larry, poor-poor,
Lonely Larry." Dur­ing the day Larry is a lum­ber
mer­chan­diser and he takes his job very seri­ously
even if his cor­duroy pants are pulled up over
his belly but­ton. He looks like a giant Wee­ble
most days, and he's a mas­sive bil­low­ing shit-talker
from years of love lost, every­day. While fas­ten­ing the Vel­cro
straps on his gray sneak­ers, Larry likes to remind
me of his youth, how in his 20s he was a ladies' man,
a sure-fire chick mag­net. He says it was
all due to his over-use of cologne and gold chains.
I find it hard to believe, espe­cially since his work apron
has his name painted on it with large pur­ple let­ters
and bedaz­zled sil­ver rhine­stones, though he's done
a great job con­vinc­ing him­self of his prowess. When­ever Kayla,
the woman with the per­fect ass, the woman who can
speak per­fect French, says "hi," Larry's
fake deep voice turns high-pitched and nasally.
He's 60, but when­ever that French paint­ing
struts by with her big black boots he turns
into him­self:  quiet, ner­vous, per­verted, the shy lit­tle boy.
At night Larry is a quiz show genius, a Game Show Net­work
lunatic. Sit­ting in his father's old leather recliner,
he tries to solve puz­zles on The Wheel of For­tune
while suck­ing root beer from a straw. "Buy a vowel!"
he shouts as he twists off the top of an Oreo
so he can lick the cream fill­ing.
"Why won't she buy a fuck­ing vowel!?" he asks
his pur­ple and yel­low canary sit­ting in its brass cage,
but the bird never replies, it just sits
on a perch rapidly mov­ing its head and chirp­ing a song.
Poor-poor Lonely Larry, the game shows are over
and the sym­phony has got­ten so cruel
with night songs that Larry must go under his bed
and pull out the old box with the frayed card­board cover.
Inside: ancient comic books that he had saved since
he was a child. And with teeth clenched upon bot­tom lip,
he savors each action packed square,
each crime fighter's heroic action, each word float­ing
inside its car­toon bub­ble. The hands are weak, the sweat
is real, the fore­bod­ing feel­ing in the dark pulls
at lost eyes and sur­rounds him with panic.
Soon Larry will climb into bed. "Gotta get up at 4 a.m.
and do it all over again," he'll whis­per to him­self.
It's the same thing each day and night, the per­fect
hell on earth, relived day after day and night after night.
The per­fect assas­sin with the per­fect bul­let,
inch­ing closer and closer by the sec­ond until it bur­rows in us all
and plants the great seed of denial.

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Meth Labs in West Virginia?! You're Kidding.

meth-labBy Nick Kepler

Usu­ally, when Jen­nifer McQuer­rey Rhyne's truck pulls up to a prop­erty, it's the first time neigh­bors have seen any activ­ity there in weeks.

Even though the decals on her hulk­ing Tacoma read "www​.wvmeth​cleanup​.com"—lit­er­ally spelling out why she is there—she becomes a mag­net for any­one look­ing for infor­ma­tion about the for­mer pro­pri­etors of the meth cook sites she cleans for a liv­ing. Along with a bevy of shady char­ac­ters, the busi­ness offers a win­dow into the chang­ing drug habits of rural, white America.

When I join her for a day on the job in Decem­ber, Jen­nifer is stand­ing out­side a ground-floor apart­ment in Clarks­burg, West Vir­ginia. Though she hasn't suited up yet, her two asso­ciates, Heath Bar­nett and Joe MuQuerrey—her father—are already dressed head-to-toe in white chem­i­cal haz­ard suits, their faces buried in gas masks. They haul fur­ni­ture from the apart­ment into the bed of Jennifer's truck. The door is ajar to reveal the checker­board tile in the kitchen. Jen­nifer waits for the mother of the build­ing owner to arrive with pay­ment for the job. More.

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The World Made Straight

ronrashpic

FCAC is still kick­ing. Lots of con­tent com­ing, but for right now there's this review by Tir­dad Der­akhshani of the film The World Made Straight based on the superla­tive novel by Ron Rash.

'Geog­ra­phy is des­tiny," Leonard Shuler (Noah Wyle) says in a voice-over at the start of the somber Appalachian tragedy The World Made Straight. As he speaks, the cam­era takes us across an over­grown piece of moun­tain in Madi­son County, N.C., cut along one side by a two-lane road, the other by a dirt-colored river.

For Mid­west­ern­ers, that means wide spaces; open vis­tas; pos­si­bil­ity, says Leonard. For his neigh­bors, who live their lives in the over­grown fields, muddy streams, and rough back roads of Appalachia, the world is lim­ited, stifling.

More?

While you're at it, check out the review of Rash's latest in the NYT.

Ron Rash occu­pies an odd place in the pan­theon of great Amer­i­can writ­ers, and you’d bet­ter believe he belongs there. He gets rap­tur­ous reviews that don’t mean to con­de­scend but almost always call him a South­ern or Appalachian writer, and Mr. Rash has said he can hear the silent, dis­mis­sive “just” in those descrip­tions. He also baf­fles any­one who thinks that great tal­ent ought to be accom­pa­nied by great ambi­tion. Mr. Rash has planted him­self at West­ern Car­olina Uni­ver­sity and eluded the lime­light that his work absolutely warrants.

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Final Girl on Appalachia

H/t to Pank.

Why I Stay

Final Girl

Three brown tires are on the bank of the river, like shells would be on the beach of another place. This is not that place.

It is hard to deny some of the beauty of Appalachia: rolling roads, haze on the fields, morning-green hills, horses. Other beauty is tricky. You have to train your eye—or, you have to have a cer­tain eye already.

I don’t believe the broken-down bus mars the sun­set. I think it makes it, morn­ing glory twist­ing around the rims. Poke­ber­ries stain the farm­house pur­ple; we threw them against its side. There is a kind of beauty in giv­ing up. There is a sort of joy in why the hell not.

After all, there are cans in the weeds. Bones in the woods. Burned-out sheds in the shad­ows. So: low to the ground, by cig­a­rette butts, I glue on the wall hand-painted leaves.

Read on:

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Moving Mountains Tragedy 2014: Stunning Court Denial of Appalachian Health Crisis

acheThe only thing stun­ning about this is the years-long denial. From Huff­in­g­ton Post's Jeff Big­gers.

In a breath­tak­ing but largely over­looked rul­ing this week, a fed­eral judge agreed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers may dis­re­gard stud­ies on the health impacts of moun­tain­top removal min­ing in its per­mit­ting process, only two weeks after Gold­man Prize Award-winning activist Maria Gun­noe wrote an impas­sioned plea to Pres­i­dent Obama to renew with­drawn fund­ing for US Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey research on strip min­ing oper­a­tions and redou­ble fed­eral action to address the decades-old human­i­tar­ian disaster.

The prophetic call for imme­di­ate fed­eral action by Gun­noe, a com­mu­nity orga­nizer for the West Virginia-based Ohio Val­ley Envi­ron­men­tal Coali­tion and a long-time wit­ness to the tragedy of moun­tain­top removal, has never been so timely. "Appalachian cit­i­zens are the casu­al­ties of a silent "war on peo­ple" who live where coal is extracted," Gun­noe wrote the pres­i­dent. "Cit­i­zens of all ages are dying for the coal industry's bot­tom line."

More.

 

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