“Brick” by William Bradley

It took us close to an hour, but I managed to knock the bat to the floor with the broom, causing a slapping sound that made my stomach tighten. Emily covered the animal with an upside-down garbage bin, which I then pushed, slowly, out the door and onto the side porch. We heard the bat fluttering about for a few seconds, then it got quiet. I hoped we hadn’t killed it—Emily and I are both pretty squeamish about such things. This was at around 12:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday. We’d found it—our second bat in less than a week— sleeping in our dining room light fixture.

We let the cats out of the bedroom, where we had isolated them so that they wouldn’t get in our way as we got rid of the invasive creature. I regarded Leroy, who for the last day or so had been acting strangely—hiding under the bed, jumping at the slightest noise or unexpected movement. Not his usual purring, attention-seeking self. He also had a strange bump on his neck that I worried might have been a bite from a bat. He’d had his shots, but we were late getting the annual rabies booster. In fact, we hadn’t seen the need—neither of our cats had walked outside our home since their early kittenhood— until we saw the first bat.

Emily’s period was late, too, and though we knew the odds were against it, we were both afraid she might have been pregnant.

The guy who called me back from the emergency veterinary clinic told me Leroy should be quarantined for ten days, but he added that if I brought the bat in to the clinic, they could test it and get back to us the next day.

“How do I get it to you?” I asked.

“Just kill it with a tennis racket or something and bring it in,” he said with a nonchalance that puzzled me. “Don’t touch it with your bare hands, though.”

I don’t really know anything about rabies, but I thought I knew that you couldn’t just beat a bat to death and then test it. But this guy was the expert, and I was clearly out of my element. So.

“We have to kill the bat,” I said as I walked into the living room after I got off the phone. Emily inhaled sharply and stared at me, mouth and eyes opened wide. I realized she’d misunderstood my pronoun use. “I mean, I’m going to do it.”

We don’t play tennis. I thought we had a badminton racquet, but for the life of me I had no idea where it was. Though we both workout, neither of us is really into sports, to be honest. So with no other weapon at my disposal, I grabbed the broom again and walked towards the door.

I stood beside the overturned trashcan for several minutes, occasionally tapping it with the broom. No sound came from beneath it.

The screen door from the apartment next to ours slammed and a moment later our neighbor appeared in the driveway beside the porch. He was a young guy—just out of school, a fire fighter and sportsman. Country boy, 15 years my junior. I told him about the bat, thinking he might have advice. I needed someone with expertise to tell me I was doing this right. And though I have a PhD in creative writing and probably know more about literary theory and avant garde cinema than he does, I knew in this moment that he was smarter than I.

“How you gonna do it?” he asked.

“I’m going to beat him to death with this broom.”

He nodded. I could tell this plan didn’t impress him. “If he goes flying, you’ll probably miss him,” he said, which seemed obvious once the words were out of his mouth. “Bats are hard targets. Here.” He leaned over, picked up a huge brick left over from one of our landlord’s recent construction projects, and handed it to me. “I’ll lift the bin, you drop this on him.”

“Will that… work?” I knew a brick would kill a bat, of course, but it seemed to me there was a right way to do these sorts of things, and this wasn’t it. I’m not a hunter—I haven’t even caught a fish since I was a kid—so I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about these things. But this seemed wrong. Savage.

He laughed. “Let’s just get this done. You ready?”

Turned out Emily wasn’t pregnant. The cats didn’t contract rabies—in fact, apparently the one-year vaccine is effective for considerably longer than a year, and bat bites don’t tend to leave bumps. But I didn’t know these things then. All I knew was that the cats we had found in our backyard and nursed back to health when they were sickly kittens—holding them in the kitchen, feeding them with eye droppers– were in danger. That my possibly-pregnant wife could be at risk too. I wasn’t thinking about morality or the naturalist writers I read in graduate school or phrases like “hegemonic masculinity” or “what a man’s gotta do.” I wasn’t thinking about the time in the tenth grade that I declared to my parents that I would never fish again, that killing animals was immoral. I just knew that everything I loved was threatened, that the only way I could be sure we were all safe was with that brick.

I certainly didn’t know that the animal’s head needs to be intact to test it for rabies—that what I was about to do was going to make it impossible for me to get the definitive answer I wanted, wasting my time and the life of a bat who hadn’t actually intended us any harm.

My neighbor lifted the bin and I saw the bat, on the ground, unmoving.

“Do it,” he said.

“Wait…” I said weakly. I very much wanted for this to not be happening.

He raised his voice. “You’ve got to do it now.”

And I did. I let the brick go—“Fuck that rodent,” I might have thought— and it landed with a loud thud. The brick was big enough that it covered the entire crushed body. That was a blessing. I was already feeling nauseous.

BradleyWilliam_photoWilliam Bradley is the author of the essay collection Fractals, recently released by Lavender Ink.

 

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This entry was posted in Nonfiction on July 20, 2016

“He Didn’t Shoot” by E.K. Gordon

Why Didn’t He?

The suspect was a black male running from the parking lot of a liquor store. He looked to my police sergeant father like a teenager. Maybe all he was fleeing was the screeching police car, or maybe he had been involved in a crime. Either way, when my father yelled “Halt, police” the teen didn’t halt; he scrambled up a high chain-link fence, spilled over it, and disappeared into his future.

Apparently police policy even back then was that running in a high(ish) crime area is a crime. My father was suspended for two weeks without pay–not nothing since our family of seven lived week to week and my mother didn’t yet work outside the home.

I can’t say I’m proud he didn’t shoot, because I don’t know why he didn’t shoot. Was it hesitation, fear, compassion, the ten commandments? Something else? As I watch the terrible video indictments of police officers, I wonder what stayed my father’s hand.

Maybe because he died at 41 and because he talked so little about himself, I’ve thought a lot about my father’s youth. His own father died when he was a small boy, and his widowed mother moved her large Scottish-American family from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Queens, New York–a very multicultural place, as it still is. My dad loved sports, was crazy for football. In Queens he played quarterback in a pick-up league and from what I’ve heard (from my albeit not necessarily objective mother) he was a sandlot star. He made friends with some of the African-American boys who also played. He spent time in their homes and they spent time in his. They knew each others’ mothers by name, ate at each others’ tables.

When he was 17 my father enlisted in the navy along with a football buddy, his go-to wide receiver. They boarded the bus together for the trip south to Quantico training base. At the Mason Dixon Line the driver told the blacks to get back and the whites to move up (this is early 1950’s). My father refused to move away from his friend and was put off the bus.

I had this just a few years back from a cousin who had it from a letter my father mailed from Quantico. Unfortunately for this story, the letter didn’t give the friend’s name or else my cousin didn’t remember it to tell me. Still, I cherish the image of my dad on the side of the road, duffel bag slumped against his leg, thumb out. I cherish it almost as much as I do the photo, one of a very few from his whole life that he saved, of him and this friend whose name I don’t know standing front to back in their service dress blues. Sailor boys. Crazy thin and goofy happy.

Here’s my theory, or maybe it’s just a hope: when his police training told him Shoot, when the system that fed and housed his family expected, no required, bullets, the fleeing suspect, the running teenager, looked a little to my father like a receiver going long for a pass.

Our experiences and friendships change us; they repair and right us. We can’t retroactively desegregate American history or give police officers memories that would humanize their policing (unless story telling counts, which I think it does), but we can change policies that are racist in intent or practice. One policy my story seems to point to, and which has been much discussed regarding Baltimore, is the requirement, or lack of a requirement, that police officers live and pay taxes in the cities they serve. West Baltimore sure isn’t policed by people who grew up in West Baltimore, or any place like it. When my father became a policeman, we were required to move into the South Florida town (Lauderhill) that had hired him. Although its police force was all white then, the neighborhood and schools were not. I thereby began a valuable multicultural education that left me willing and able to live in North Philadelphia, where the education continued. Too many white police officers in America are just plain illiterate. And the ones who aren’t need to step up big time. Yes it will be hard, but so is stopping blood flow from a punctured artery, or reconnecting a severed spine.

I would like to say my father stepped up big time, that his experiences made him a civil rights activist or at least a force for change at work, but I don’t know that. He may have had some good conversations, may have thrown the wrench into some back stage racism. He may even have served and protected all the citizens of Lauderhill. But I have no evidence. I have only that two-week suspension. It’s my inheritance. I receive it not with pride so much as relief, relief and gratitude that the question troubling me today is why didn’t he shoot, and not why did he?

GordonEK_picE. K. Gordon is an English adjunct at Northampton Community College. She represented New York City’s Urbana Slam Team at the 2014 Women of the World poetry slam and continues to read as a performance poet. Her work has appeared at Moonshot, PANK, Salon, SlamFind and elsewhere. She is the author of Love Cohoes and Walk with Us, Triplet Boys, their Teen Parents and Two White Women who Tagged Along, which won an Indie Book Award. Find her online at ekg3.com.

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This entry was posted in Nonfiction on July 13, 2016

“Time Space: Places They’ve Never Met” by Janet Dale

“Is it e’en so?—Then I deny you, stars!”
—Romeo and Juliet (5.1.25)

According to The Astrology Book: The Encyclopedia of Heavenly Influences by James R. Lewis, a birth chart (or astrological chart) calculates the position of various celestial bodies throughout the heavens as viewed from the Earth at the moment of an individual’s birth. And even though the legitimacy of astrology has changed since the discovery of physics and astronomy, many still believe that the position of the sun, moon, stars, and planets have heavy influence on an individual. These positions are calculated and charted both symbolically and in actuality similar to how longitude and latitude is measured.

In a simplified version of astrology often found in newspapers or magazines, it is the Sun’s location at the time of birth that is directly related to a “sign.” 

Sun in Scorpio at 26° 06′ | Sun in Taurus at 18° 27′

Positive characteristics often associated with Scorpio (his sun sign): focused, brave, balanced, faithful, ambitious, and intuitive. Negatives include: jealous, resentful, secretive, and manipulative.

Positive characteristics often associated with Taurus (her sun sign): generous, dependable, down-to-earth, patient, independent, and persistent. Negatives include: stubborn, self-indulgent, materialistic, lazy, and possessive.

Moon in Capricorn at 22° 07′ | Moon in Gemini at 13° 45′

It takes the Earth’s only natural satellite 27.3 days to complete one orbit, waxing and waning along its elliptical path. As it moves, the moon pulls at anything to bring it closer; the Earth is able to hold on to most things—except water. No matter where one is located in the world, together or apart, looking upward into the night sky the moon is shared.

Mercury in Scorpio at 09° 26′ | Mercury in Aries at 22° 13′

He was born in the top left hand corner of the United States, the lush verdant Pacific Northwest near the Canadian border not far from Vancouver. Her only trip to Canada happened nine years after that—visiting family near Toronto—more than 4,300 miles east. She was born closer to our neighbors to the south, in the Lone Star State, on the Army base he’d be stationed at when he turned 21.

Venus in Scorpio at 29° 10′ | Venus in Gemini at 14° 44′

Celestial navigators—such as mariners travelling by water—rely upon chronometers, sextants, almanacs, and other tools to traverse by stars and planets. They learn constellations then draw imaginary lines, calculating degrees, and angles in order to know where they are in the world.

In the Northern hemisphere Polaris (above the North Pole) is the most important point, while in the Southern hemisphere it is the Crux (above the South Pole). Only cloud cover can get in the way.

Mars in Scorpio at 14° 40′ | Mars in Leo at 11° 48′

Scorpius (Sco) is part of the family of constellations named for the zodiac. Antares—the brightest star within the pattern—is located near the scorpion’s “heart” and glows reddish. It lies within the Southern hemisphere and occupies an area of 497 square degrees. Apollo sent a scorpion to attack Orion for claiming to be a better hunter than his sister. To show displeasure at the quarrel, Zeus cast both the hunter and the scorpion into the heavens. 

Jupiter in Pisces at 08° 23′ | Jupiter in Cancer at 04° 26′

Taurus (Tau) is also part of the family of constellations named for the zodiac. Its brightest star—Aldebaran—functions as the “eye” of the bull, seemingly glaring at Orion who is located to the southwest. It lies within the Northern hemisphere and occupies an area 797 square degrees. After falling in love with Europa, Zeus transformed himself into a magnificent white bull with golden horns to take her away with him across the sea.

Saturn in Cancer at 18° 38′ | Saturn in Leo at 23° 49′

He intersected the muddy river at the Hernando-Desoto Bridge while driving a Cavalier cross country. Two years later after missing an exit on the Tennessee side, she would accidently drive a different Cavalier across the same bridge.

Cutting the country in half, the 2,340-mile Mississippi river begins at a glacier lake in Minnesota then runs south before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans.

Uranus in Libra at 29° 51′ | Uranus in Scorpio at 14° 12′

The Rhine is one-third the length of the Mississippi and begins in a glacier lake in Switzerland before running through five more countries emptying into the North Sea.

When visiting Germany, he boarded a sightseeing boat somewhere around Rudesheim to explore the river. She had taken the tour seven years earlier while living in Germany. They rounded the same rock on the eastern bank where the legendary Lorelei sat murmuring to sailors; throwing them off course.

Neptune in Sagittarius at 08° 51′ | Neptune in Sagittarius at 17° 42′

His first experience with ghosts occurred while driving one summer night north of downtown New Orleans. He said the absence of light made the sudden circus music playing among abandoned industrial building that much more eerie.

The next year after visiting the French Quarter, she wandered through a maze of above ground tombs and mausoleums inside both St. Louis No. 1 and Lafayette No. 1. Looking to connect to spirits, knowingly she experienced none.

Pluto in Libra at 08° 27′ | Pluto in Libra at 14° 28′

Her last experience with ghosts occurred while visiting a now mostly abandoned mental hospital located in the town where she attended graduate school. Despite the soaring summer heat that day, all she felt was freezing air when sliding a camera inside broken windows to take pictures.

He was in Georgia the year before, taking advanced training classes at the home of the Signal Corps about 83 miles away; another missed point of intersection.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 3.07.28 PM

 

DaleJanet_pic

Janet Dale’s work can be found in Zone 3, Really System, Atticus
Review, among others. She holds a BA in English from the University of Memphis and an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia College. She has been a pharmacy technician, a reading teacher, and has worked on journals such as the Flannery O’Connor Review, Arts & Letters, and Wraparound South. Currently, she teaches first year writing at Georgia Southern University.

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This entry was posted in Nonfiction on May 11, 2016

“Adaptation” by Rori Leigh Hoatlin

For twelve years we attended chapel at the little rectangular school on Oak Street. We sang songs about God carrying us. We prayed for our enemies. We joined hands in unity.

There, we were taught that evolution didn’t exist. In a beautiful garden, humanity breathed life from the dust of the earth. Our DNA mirrored the image of God. We were designed, not at random, but through His inspiration.

Yet in science class, Mr. Reef knew we must learn about evolution. But he played it smart. He didn’t talk about Darwin or try to convince us we came from apes. He didn’t use the word “evolve” at all; he used the word “adapt.” We never learned adaptation didn’t exist.

He talked about the peppered moth. “Originally light in color, the peppered moth hid from predators on the bark of light-colored trees. But as the air filled with soot during the Industrial Revolution, the peppered moth had to adapt. The darker ones had a better chance for survival and thus had a better chance to procreate. This meant the light-colored moths died out, while the darker moths lived on.”

Mr. Reef showed us pictures of the moths on the projector. The stout bodies of wide-winged creatures looked like carved-up pieces of the birch trees in our school courtyard.

I think we knew he was teaching us evolution, but we didn’t protest because he proved small, incremental changes could occur in nature, and over time those small changes could add up to something bigger. We were just talking about moths after all.

I don’t know if Mr. Reef was trying to confound our faith. Or if he just wanted us to see the world from another angle. He probably figured we just needed this information to be functioning adults. There must come a point as a teacher where you learn there are indirect avenues that will lead you to the same spot.

I got an A on the test covering the peppered moth material. It was the first time since elementary school I received an A in science class. Here it was, proof that I too could evolve.

I’ve moved at least half a dozen times since high school and I still have that test. A memento from the small cracks that lead me away from that small town.

When I page through that test, I see I misspelled the word “evolve” a few times; I kept forgetting to put the “e” on the end. I suppose because he never said it, I didn’t know how to infuse it into my vocabulary. It’s interesting that I wrote it even though he never vocalized it. Somehow, on the day I took the test, in lead pencil, in penmanship somewhere between cursive and print, I wrote: “It is a great benefit for any organism to evolve.”

Hoatlin_Rori_Leigh_PhotoRori Leigh Hoatlin is a 2014 MFA graduate of Georgia College & State University. She is the summer director of the Writing Center at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where she also teaches. She is also a 2013 Lake Michigan Writing Project Fellow and the 2015 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer for the Story Catcher Conference in Nebraska. Rori has published essays in Prick of the Spindle, Superstition Review, and Tampa Review Online, among others.

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This entry was posted in Nonfiction on October 21, 2015

“My Father’s Lesson” by Cheryl Smart

 

Smart Cheryl Photo Accompanying

“Hey,” Sissy said, “do you remember the time when you were little and dad followed you through the woods to grandmother’s house?”

It’s June ’78, and I’m in a panic-driven sprint behind my older sister. I feel the cool splash of linoleum hit the soles of my feet as we race into our farmhouse kitchen, one final lunge to stop her before—

“Daddy, Cheryl’s afraid of the dark!”

“Am not!”

I mouth ‘I hate you’ to my sister behind my father’s back.

Daddy turns to me and I see his brow furrow, etching deeper marks onto his weathered skin. I’m ten years old, attempting to lie my way out of a bad situation.

“Is this true?”

I lower my eyes and study my bare feet, splotchy with the dust of the day’s adventures. No eye contact will give me the best chance of lying with conviction. I trace figure eight patterns onto the green speckled flooring with my big toe, and ready myself for a persuasive denial.

“No, Daddy.”

“So, you’re not afraid of the dark?”

The words bring shame. Up to this point, the only thing I’d been taught to fear was the prospect of an eternity in hell for lying. Fear was unacceptable; especially fear of the dark because it’s unreasonable. My lie is weakening but I’m fully invested in it, so I continue to deny the truth and shake my head no, I’m not afraid of the dark.  My father bends down to my level.

Eye to eye now, the lie slides off me.  Daddy catches it.

“See, Daddy. I told you. She’s afraid of the dark,” my sister says.

I plan to disown her and never speak to her again.

For the most part, she’s a loving sister. Just two years apart, we share a bedroom. She is patient and comforting at bedtime as I will not sleep until she completes ‘the routine’.  If the routine is neglected at lights-out, I whine or cry until she complies. If I can’t sleep, why should she?

“Closet! Check the closet.”

“I’m checking the closet. See? There’s nothing in here.”

“You have to turn the light on so I can see!”

“Fine. The light’s on. Look. No monsters. No boogeymen.”

“Look under my bed!”

“I’m looking.”

“Look under your bed, too! It could be hiding under your bed, crawl out from under there when you turn out the light, and get us both!”

“Both beds. I’m looking under both beds. There is nothing under either one of them.”

“Behind the door?”

“Nothing behind the door.”

“Okay.”

She tucks the covers around me all the way up to my neck.

“See? You’re safe.”

“Thank you, Sissy.”

Lastly, Sissy must make a run for it once she hits the lights because any creeping thing can materialize under our beds if our feet are on the floor longer than a few seconds in the dark.  Bed is the safe zone sort of like home base during hide-and-seek.

Sissy tells Daddy the whole routine. My cheeks burn red.

There is a lesson coming, I know, but I could never have guessed the lengths to which my father would go to toughen me up against the night.

“Daddy, No.  Please.”

There on our Tennessee family farm, there are no homes visible without a lengthy stroll.  This is the lesson. I am to walk around the lake, through the woods to my grandmother’s house, and back. Alone. In the dark.  An exercise meant to prove to me there is nothing in the darkness that can hurt me. There is no way I’m getting out of it.

I need shoes. I choose super-fast ones, knock-off royal blue sneakers with white stripes on the sides like the ones Starsky wears on Starsky & Hutch.  Daddy calls for me from the front porch.

“Go on now.”

“Will you leave the porch light on for me?”

“I sure will. It’ll be on the whole time. Your grandmother’s porch light will be on, too.”

I step off the porch, most certainly to end my young life, turn back, and look as pitiful as I can.

“Daddy, can I please, please have a flashlight?”

“Your grandmother will give you one for your walk back. Go on now. You’ll be fine. There is nothing out there that can hurt you.”

I don’t believe him.

I walk toward the lake, as slowly as a June bride saunters toward her groom, heightening anticipation, only I’m not anticipating—I’m scared as hell.  I hesitate at the place where the light from our porch goes dark.  It’s a clean line in the grass.  Here is light, I am safe here.  One more step, and the night will take me. I force one foot across that protective line, one foot in the safety zone, one foot touching down into nightmares. It’s just a dream. Nothing can hurt you in a dream.  It’s just a dream. I squeeze my eyes shut. When I open them, I’m still between good and bad, light and dark. I snatch my foot back out of the darkness, better not to straddle this place and that one. I force myself across.

I walk very quickly, as quickly as my small legs will take me.  I’m almost running when I hear something behind me.  I knew it!   I stop and listen but I’m too afraid to turn around.  Maybe it’s an animal.  I will my feet to move forward.  I creep along at first and then quicken my pace once more.  I hear it again. There is something following me.  I glimpse a shape not animal-like moving behind the trees. I knew it!  I run! It runs, too! I hear the thing moving faster to track me better. I yell into the night.

“You were wrong, Dad! There is something out here!”

There is something. I hear it through the woods and all the way around the lake. It’s only when I near my grandmother’s house the rustling stops. My grandmother is a Godly woman. Whatever is back there is from hell and wouldn’t dare go near my grandmother’s house. It’s a holy place.   Jesus is everywhere in that house. Her bible will be at her bedside table, the pages loosened from their binding because it’s been opened and closed so much, mostly opened, it’s hardly ever closed. There is a picture of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in the living room above the couch. There are enough crosses to fend off a large coven of vampires if necessary.  Or witches. And there are handwritten scriptures tacked to the walls, refrigerator, mirrors – anywhere you need them. Psalm 23 is on the bathroom mirror so you can read it while you’re washing your hands. I don’t even have to look anymore…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.

I’m sobbing when I make it to grandmother’s. I throw myself into her arms.  I tell her there’s something out there, something straight from hell.  She comforts me and assures me it’s just my imagination.  I know she believes in the devil. Satan, Satan.  She talks about him nearly as much as she talks about Jesus. She’s a believer. She can believe in whatever followed me, too.  It’s then I learn about the limits to my grandmother’s supernatural belief system.  She hands me a flashlight.  My loving grandmother, as wicked as any hell-creature my mind could conjure up.

“You can’t send me back out there!”

Sadly, she says there’s no other way. She reminds me of my imagination once more, and then firmly sends me to my death. My own grandmother, with Jesus right there watching.  I’m flooded with righteous indignation. I tell her she is a child abuser, and child abusers go to hell.  She tells me she will be praying for me the whole way and that God will protect me. I don’t believe her.

“I don’t want you coming to my funeral because it’s gonna be your fault I died!”

I decide to put her on my list of family members to disown should I make it through this alive.  Disown:  Sissy because she did this to me, Daddy since he lied about there not being anything out here that could hurt me, and my grandmother—the child abuser.  I make sure she sees me stomping toward the lake.

When the glow of her porch light no longer holds me, I soften my steps. But now, Sweet Jesus!  I click on the flashlight and exhale a long and grateful sigh.  I walk fast again. I hear the same sounds from before behind me, but this time, I’m protected by the light.  I whip around and aim the beam into the woods.

“I know you’re out there!  Leave me alone!”

This is how it goes. I move faster, the thing behind me moves faster, I shout my bluff—You better leave me alone!  It works. The thing in the woods finally leaves me. Moments before I make it home, I hear it scurry off through the trees.

Miracle of miracles, I am home.  I walk in and hand the flashlight over to my father as proof I made it to grandmother’s. I say not one word to him. I’m tired anyway, and I know the less I say, the worse he’ll feel.  I go to my room and crawl into bed. My sister comes in not long after.  Happy to be alive, I decide I don’t hate her anymore. I probably won’t disown my father or grandmother either, although I won’t soon forget their betrayal. Sissy goes to the closet, opens the door, and switches on the light.

“Nothing in the closet.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I tell her. “Even if there is something in the closet or under our beds, I think it’s more afraid of us than we are of it.  So you don’t have to check anymore.”

“Okay.”

“You can tuck me in though.”

Sissy pulls the covers snugly around my body all the way up to my neck, and I push my arms back through the cocoon.  She smiles down at me, and then suddenly falls to the floor as if something has grabbed her from underneath my bed.  She makes loud strangling sounds and cries for help.

We die laughing.

§

Dad was killed chopping wood two days after Christmas ‘93.  A massive coronary at the age of fifty-six.  He was buried in the family cemetery there alongside the farm.  It was the coldest day of our lives.

It was raining.  Freezing, sleeting, and raining. I sat beside Sissy in front of daddy’s casket. Our friends and family gathered around us, more people than I’d ever seen at any graveside service.  On the way to the cemetery, I looked behind us at the procession. Vehicle after vehicle, I could not see the end.  Cars lined up on both sides of the road, and just kept coming. They hugged the cold off us the best they could. I see all those faces still.

Family and close friends went back to the farmhouse with us.  The Christmas tree was still up, graced with all the decorations mom had collected over the years.  Dad was a quiet man.  It was easy to imagine he was there in a corner of the farmhouse with his stein of coffee and a warm smile to let us know he was content.

We soothed ourselves in the remembering of tender moments. There was the time Sissy and I had a snowball fight and it seemed that snowballs began to fall on us from the sky. It took a while to wise up, but once we did, we snuck around the farmhouse to discover dad had been tossing snowballs over the roof onto us.  The three of us burst into a snow-brawl. There were other times even working the farm and another job away from home that Dad made time to play a little softball with us. Sometimes we fished the lake for bass. I like to think he enjoyed the life he had, although I know Daddy worked himself to death.

“Hey,” Sissy said, “do you remember the time when you were little, and Dad followed you through the woods to grandmother’s house to cure your fear of the dark?”

“Wait…what?”

“You know. That time I was mad at you for some stupid thing, and told Dad how afraid you were of the dark? Then he made you walk all the way around the lake to grandmother’s house, and back, while he crept through the woods behind you.”

That was him??  I knew something was behind me, I just didn’t think…of Dad.”

“I’m sure you imagined all sorts of monsters. Your crazy head.”  Sissy rolled her eyes.  “But no, it was Dad.”

“I’m glad I didn’t know that. The lesson wouldn’t have taught me anything if I had known he was behind me the whole time. I wouldn’t have been forced to face my fears.”

“Well, you faced them alright. I never had to check inside the closet or under our beds for boogeymen anymore after that.”

“I know. That part I remember.”

I took a moment to myself later that night.  I went out onto the front porch, turned off the light, and watched a half-moon glow shimmer across the lake. My eyes traced the route Daddy and I walked as we headed out for grandmother’s house that fateful night.

I could see him out there in the dark. Ducking behind trees, trying not to be seen, grinning at my false bravado.

My father’s lesson. It was a good lesson. I’m fearless in the dark now.

Smart Cheryl Photo SmallCheryl Smart is a second-year MFA candidate at the University of Memphis studying creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. She is nonfiction editor of the literary journal The Pinch. She has publications appearing or forthcoming in The Little Patuxent Review, Appalachian Heritage, Cleaver Magazine, Word Riot, Apeiron Review, Crack the Spine, and others. Cheryl is currently working on a collection of short stories and vignettes about her restless rural upbringing entitled, Homespun.

 

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This entry was posted in Nonfiction on September 16, 2015