Once they sprung you loose from the war, why go to a no-name Oklahoma town, among strangers? Why hole up in a boarding house with a freckled girl who has no idea the shine and purpose you held in 1932? Why, Sam, do you prefer flat plain to the glory mountain? Why not come home to the sister who wrote you when writing seemed the least effective means of relaying devotion? Come back to your people, who would lavish love and forgiveness in equal measure for all you sacrificed over there. We’d bind your wounds, every one. I would.
The preacher would pour praise from the Sunday pulpit like Saul anointing David, and those praying in the pews would sing your heroics. You were our chosen one, Daddy’s chosen one, first born son, and he never got over you leaving.
While you’ve been gone, Daddy’s told stories we never imagined we’d hear. Darren, he only half understands. To him it’s another way of Daddy soothing him to rock-a-bye-land. The harelipped midwife, once Mama expired, Daddy said, she snapped the pelvis easy as a chicken’s wishbone to get that baby free. Woman said, “She never should have had more than one.” The one being me, and believe me, I wear that mark of being “the one” like a birthmark. Thus, the baby stuck in the canal, our little Darren, got deprived of some oxygen. At least the way he is he’ll never be going in the mine.
Oh, Sam, no reason now not to come home to this West Virginia holler, where I know your heart is, where works a daddy who loves you like a worshipper his God. He took and tried burying that deep affection, but every day Daddy comes up from there more rock and less man. All this time we’re supposing you’re part of the marriage ‘tween him and a first wife. But the woman, he revealed in a fit of drink, took off to be a singer, “or mostly a whore, while I gave my name to another man’s son.” His secret wiped the world black a minute, then the stars came out, twinkling so bright they hurt my ears. My mind clanged like a piston so I hardly heard him add: “Chose my first wife for vices, chose the second on her virtue.”
I know what I’m telling you here is all background, all edge of story because to tunnel to the truth, to write it on paper any clearer would be like greeting the dark mouth of the mine and the decision to take each new day down into it. Like the locomotive you stared at til you realized staring wasn’t going to stop it, til you realized in that contest it was you or flying steel and it was never gonna be you.
Me and Darren, we make the home now. Mothers gone. Yes, two mothers AND two fathers. Sam, I loved you, I love you still. Don’t you see we aren’t blood kin after all? And it would be all right. It would. Even the preacher would say so.
You have my heart.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Donna feels very nearly southern, what with that Ohio River and Kentucky practically part of her back yard. On her mother’s side of the family every uncle and male cousin has been a truck driver. Before trucks they drove wagons, mostly ice deliveries to the bars in Over-the-Rhine, an inner city neighborhood in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.
Donna’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in dozens of print and online publications, including Natural Bridge, Hawaii Review, Meridian, Gargoyle, Broad River Review, Hurricane Review, Front Porch Journal, Beloit Fiction Journal, Storyglossia, Insolent Rudder, Turnrow, Night Train, Juked, Smokelong Quarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, and Ginosko.