The Gospel of the Deer Excerpt

The Gospel of the Deer Excerpt

This is a chapter from my work in progress “The Gospel of the Deer” — stay in touch to read more.

The first time Rod knocked the shit out of me was on a Tuesday afternoon. I remember it distinctly being a Tuesday afternoon because I can remember sitting in the ER bed waiting and thinking how stupid it was to have a fight with your husband so severe that you ended up with a dislocated shoulder and three broken ribs on a stupid Tuesday afternoon. Fights like that should be reserved for a stoned Friday night or midnight Saturday after an all day drunk; but never on a meaningless, sober Tuesday at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Of course I never told the ER staff what really happened. I let Rod tell them a spooked colt ran me over in the hallway of the barn, knocked me head over teakettle into the corner of the wash bay. They believed it. Probably because it was a Tuesday afternoon. Probably because I’d had a couple of previous horse-related incidents. Probably because by the time the explaining got done the creature that had really run me down in the hallway of the barn and slammed me into the wash rack wall had turned back into my caring husband.

He was now so concerned over his wife around “those big, dangerous animals.”

I wanted to yell “BULLSHIT” out from behind the curtain when I overheard him telling this to the doctor and my brother with almost practiced precision. And right there, I did almost tell, but the truth closed up my throat and I choked on it. I was too embarrassed because, irrational as it seems, at that moment in time, I honestly believed it was my fault.

I had come to this conclusion on the ride to the hospital. As I sat in the truck seat, gasping through every pothole on our lousy country roads, Rod promised he’d never do it again — he apologized, he groveled and none of it was working on me — until  he hit on the one thing I couldn’t deny: “You pushed me,” he finally said. “Why the hell did you have to push me!”

I could have answered his question right then and there — I wanted to answer him right then and there — but I didn’t. Being mouthy was now the second instinct I had when I wanted to express myself. If I would have answered, I would have said, “Because you pushed me first.” But I sat quietly, holding my shoulder,  trying to sneak my breath past my broken ribs and realizing with an even more painful certainty that I had, indeed, pushed him — no matter who started it, I had pushed back.

What really happened went like this: I had been working Cody in the round pen and we’d had a great day. He was coming along nicely and I was rejoicing in the idea that I’d soon be able to ride him. I was high on my success and I was no where near tired. It was my day off and I was enjoying it to the fullest so I got Rod’s yearling filly Cricket out and worked her a bit. Then I decided to clean the barn aisle. The horses I’d had tied in there all day had left several fresh piles of manure and I didn’t want to have to fight that the next day when chores would be more hectic. My mistake was this: I had lost complete track of time. I was supposed to meet Rod at his work at the car repair shop at three and then drive him home so he could take the farm truck in for a tune up the next day. I hadn’t forgotten but there are no clocks in the barn and everything all day had been so easy it never dawned on me how late it was really getting.

I guess he waited about an hour for me. Me, out there in the barn, thinking I’m working miracles and moving shit around and not thinking about the time and then here comes Rod, pissed beyond repair. He threw the barn door open and marched up to me with a determination I’d only seen him display once before — and that was the night his mother died. It took me so off guard, I took a step back from him. He reached forward and grabbed my arm and pulled me up to him and said, “Where the fuck were you?”

I was speechless. “What?” I finally managed to mutter, confused.

“Where the fuck have you been. I waited an hour. I’ve been calling and calling. The house, your cell, your mother. Nobody knows where you’ve been. Where the fuck have you been?” He shook me a little.

“Right here,” I said. “What time is it?” I pulled my cell out of my pocket with my free hand. I looked down at it as I pressed the button on the side that would bring it to life. It was dead.

“It’s four fucking fifteen.” And with that said, he pushed me away from him like I was a bad taste and I stumbled backward into the wheelbarrow and sat my ass right down into the fresh manure I’d just been picking up off the barn floor. I felt it seep warm and green into my jeans and the anger swelled up inside me like steam.

“You prick,” I said and flew up out of the wheelbarrow and with both hands pushed him hard against the chest just like he’d pushed me.

“Don’t do that kind of shit to me.” I started to wipe at my butt, but my hand never made it that far around.

He didn’t say a word and all I heard was the rush of air as his fist hit me square in the ribs. All I felt was the impact of breaking bone. I hadn’t been prepared for that and it whipped me around and put me on the ground in a blur. It also knocked  all the air out of my lungs. The pain flashed white hot with my next breath, but nothing had time to really register because Rod picked me up by the back of my shirt, whirled me around to face him and then threw me as hard as he could into the wash bay wall. I hit the wall hard with my right side and felt my shoulder give way. I cried out in panic more than pain. Rod wasn’t done. He came at me again, this time spinning me around by my shirt collar and slamming me backwards into the wash bay wall. I hit flat against my back that time. He got right up in my face, pinning me between himself and the solid wall. “You think you’re so smart, bitch? Learn this now, you don’t fuck with me. Ever.” He growled the words, low and mean through clenched teeth all while holding me by the collar of my shirt and all while staring directly into my eyes. I could smell his breath. I could feel the heat coming off his body. I could sense the anger pulsing through him with his every heartbeat.

The fear on my face must have been all penetrating because the next thing I knew a change came over him. His teeth unclenched and he let go of my shirt and took a step back. His face flashed red and his arms dropped limp at his sides. It was like he’d been possessed and now the demon had let go and let Rod step back behind the eyes that now looked out at me. “Oh, God. Ellie. I’m so sorry,” he said stepping forward a little and then hesitating. “Oh, God. Are you okay?” The change was so fast, so complete, I was stunned unblinking.
I didn’t answer. I only held my shoulder. He reached out to touch me and I flinched away from him. I wanted to run, but when I moved to step forward the pain in my ribs and the pain in my shoulder caught me and held me like a rope tied to a hitching post. Then my knees went weak and I let myself slide down the wash bay wall and onto the cold concrete beneath me.

“Please Ellie. Talk to me,” he said.  “Are you hurt?”

I tried to speak, but nothing came out so I simply nodded. He reached for me and I heard myself cry out — weakly, hesitantly. It was so strange because I heard myself make the silly little noise but it didn’t sound like me. I wanted to get up on my own, to get away from him, to hide — and I did try but I couldn’t pull away from him. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop the pain that was now coming in awful, nauseating waves. I couldn’t move my arm. I could barely see what was in front of me. Everything around me felt and sounded miles and miles away. I was fading out of the world.

“Let me help you,” he said. And as gently as if I were a newborn calf, he lifted me up off the ground and carried me to the truck. I felt like
I was floating, floating on a cloud of sharp panic. “I’m so sorry,” he said again. And then the begging started.

I didn’t speak all the way to the hospital. He never shut up.

When we pulled into the parking lot, he stopped the truck and put it in park. I looked toward the ER entrance which was still about an eighth of a mile away and wondered if he was going to make me walk all that way. I didn’t think I could make it. I looked over at him. His arms were crossed across the top of the steering wheel and his head was slumped forward.

“I’m sorry, Ellie. I’ve said that and I mean it,” he said. “I need to know now, before we get in there, what’s the story going to be? What are we gonna say happened?” His tone was subdued and he never looked up as he spoke; he only stared down, blinking at the dashboard of the truck. I had the impression I could say anything, even the truth, at that moment and he’d accept it, take his medicine like a man.

“Tell them I got run over by a colt,” I said. I looked away from him toward the entrance of the hospital. I’d never wanted to get inside a hospital so bad.

He put the truck in gear and drove me to the ER entrance. “Stay here,” he said when he put it in park. “They’ll bring out a wheelchair for you.” He got out of the truck and walked through the ER doors without ever looking back at me. The tears finally came. I couldn’t stop them even though it meant the nurses would probably think I was a sissy.

__________________________________________

We could lie to the hospital and to our families, but both Rod and I knew the truth and it was never more apparent than when I walked through our front door as Rod held it open for me.  When I walked into the house that first night, my arm wrapped tightly to my body and every breath stabbing me from the inside out, there was something new and dark in my home, hidden, but watching me all the same — and at the same time there was something missing. The feeling was so clear and concise that as I walked through the house on my way to the bedroom, I moved my eyes around looking to see if maybe a piece of furniture had been broken and then replaced or  if there was a stain on the carpet that had been created and then cleaned. I searched, but everything seemed an illusion now and I didn’t trust that I could believe my eyes even though everything looked exactly as it should.

I blamed it on the Vicodin.

In bed, I laid in the blackness next to Rod knowing he was awake and knowing he knew I was awake as well. And, there in the darkness, as he shifted uncomfortably in non-sleep, each time sending waves of ache the drugs couldn’t quite absorb through my body, I was thinking, of all things, of Red Riding Hood.  I wondered if, when she slipped into the woods that fictional night if she could feel the monster out there even before he showed himself. If she sensed him stalking her, shrouded by the shadows of the trees, hidden, unseen, unrealized — but a the same time so palpably real she had to consciously ignore him to walk on.

I wondered if Irene had felt him shift inside of Rod’s father before the first blow landed across her cheek or if that first contact had taken her by surprise like it did me. Had she seen the shadow move behind his eyes when she looked there with love as they took vows at the alter.

I wondered what lie they had told after their first time.

And then I let myself  wonder if I’d known the monster  was there, stalking Rod and I both from a distance. Had I seen him there in the shadows and then walked on consciously, waiting until it was too late — waiting until we were both too deep in the woods and there was no where to run.

When the pain in my ribs finally became too much and after I had felt Rod reluctantly drift into a restless sleep, I got up and went to the spare room. At first I locked the door because I knew no rest would come with it open to allow the shadow in at freewill, but then I second thought myself into unlocking it. It seems I had a sense now, a new sense, one that warned of illogical possible dangers that I would have never thought about yesterday — and this new sense told me something as simple as trying to lock the demon on the other side of a door was asking for trouble — that by shutting him out, I was shouting loudly at him to come in and get me. Before I downed another pill, I sat in bed and, in my mind, purposely dressed my lie in a pretty red cape so I knew, should Rod ask, that I could say without hesitation that I moved into the spare room because I didn’t want to disturb him with my painful ups and downs all night  – since he had to go to work in only a few hours and all.

 

What Comes Around

What Comes Around

Bella’s paws touched the edge of her driveway, where the gravel turned from the small rock of the main road to the larger stones of her lane. The line here was clear and left no questions. What was hers was behind the culvert and lined up neatly inside the white three rail fence. What was not hers stretched out in front of her, never-ending and lit up by soft November sunshine.

She drew a deep sampling of air through her moist, black nose. A raw scent had drawn her here. She now separated that scent from all others — parting out the odor of fall leaves and cow shit; piecing away the burnt oil smell of the tractor a half mile to the east and the sour smell of the squirrel that was watching her from the oak tree.

The air that remained hinted at torn flesh and gunpowder.

She closed her eyes and her nose twitched rhythmically back and forth, focusing on each molecule as the breeze offered it up until she had narrowed the scent into two distinct smells — the musky, heavy odor of a buck deer and the lighter, neutral smell of the neighbor man, Sidney.

She opened her eyes and her gaze traveled across the road and down a narrow lane to where it led past a massive walnut tree and arrived at a small white house with a wrap around porch. Under the winter bare limbs of the tree she saw a man at the bed of a pickup truck move back and forth with steady determined motions. A chain-on-metal sound perked her ears as she watched him hoist the deer from the bed of the truck into the branches.

She stood up. Over there was forbidden. She looked back over her shoulder at her house — up to the window which looked out over the yard from the kitchen. There she saw Madeline watching her.

—————————————————————–

Madeline shot the black dog a look that left Bella no options. She laid down obediently at the edge of the driveway and rested her head on her paws with a sigh. Madeline looked back down into the sink of dishes and picked up a coffee cup. She ran a crocheted dish cloth over and inside the cup by feel as she looked back out the window just in time to see Sidney pulling his truck away from the deer, leaving it hanging in the tree.

As Sidney’s truck disappeared behind the house, his wife, Arlene, stepped through the front door with her little dog in her arms. “Damn thing never walks anywhere,” Madeline said aloud. Arlene placed the dog gently on its feet in the front yard. It was wearing a red sweater vest. Arlene looked up in the direction of Madeline.

—————————————————————–

Arlene could see the shape of Madeline through the window at her kitchen sink. Get a dishwasher, Arlene thought, they were invented in the fucking 50s! Why her neighbor even had dishes to do was an amazement. Madeline’s husband had drank himself into a stupor and drowned in his own pond over 15 years ago.

Not that you did much better, she thought. She looked back around at her house. Small, plain, and dull just like Sid. He didn’t make much money and she’d had more enlightening conversations with her hens. Plus he was a dead fuck — never could get her pregnant.

Arlene looked down at Chester. He was finishing his business and blinking up at her with his little brown eyes. “Hurry up,” she said to him. “It’s fucking cold.” The little pomeranian gave a long blink followed by a big squeeze of his hips. He then bounced to an upright position and kicked the ground with his hind feet until Arlene grabbed him, still kicking, and tucked him under her arm.

Inside the house, Sid was at the kitchen sink washing his hands. “Damn it, Sid, don’t wash that deer shit off in my kitchen sink. For craps sake that’s where we eat. Use the hydrant outside.”

—————————————————————–
The only thing Sid noticed as Arlene ranted was that her hair seemed to be redder than he remembered it being this morning when he’d rolled off the couch and walked by her on his way to the bathroom. Did she have it done today? He shook the water off his hands, reached for the towel hanging from the cabinet handle, stopped mid-motion, feeling her eyes on him, and grabbed instead for a paper towel to the left of the sink.

“It won’t happen again,” he said. It was a lie. It happened all the time. He was always washing up where he shouldn’t, not washing up where he should, using some towel that shouldn’t be used or not using some towel he was supposed to be using. “I put your chicken feed in the tub,” he said. “I picked it up after I got my deer. Did you see him? A nice buck for the freezer.”

“Didn’t you feed them?” Arlene said.

“Last time, I gave them too much, remember,” he said.

Sid opened the back door and stepped out onto the porch. The autumn air greeted him with a cool kiss and he smiled. He walked down the stairs and around the side of the house to admire his kill. The buck he’d taken this morning was really trophy worthy — not that Arlene would let him hang a deer mount in the house.  A gentle whining noise at his side caught his attention and he looked down to see Bella.

—————————————————————–

“You’re not supposed to be here, Bella,” Sid said. She looked up at him and wagged her tail in the dirt.

As soon as she’d heard Madeline turn off the water and leave the kitchen, Bella had trotted across the road to investigate the deer. But, when she saw Sid, she’d gone to his side instead. He’d been known to let her slide on trespasses with a treat — usually a goody from his hunting or an egg from Arlene’s chickens.

“I can’t give you anything right now,” he said showing her his empty hands.
Bella tilted her head to the left.

“I’ll bet any minute she looks out the window and we’ll both be in trouble.” He motioned back across the road and Bella’s eyes followed his hand, but she didn’t move.

“I mean it, com’on,” he said and started walking toward her house.

She joined along, right at his knee. They were half way up the lane when, over the sound of Sid’s footfalls on the gravel and the rustle of the breeze through fallen leaves, Bella heard the click of her front door. “BELLA,” Madeline screamed.

“Told you,” Sid said.

She gazed guiltily back up at him before she faced forward and picked up a trot heading home.

—————————————————————–

“Damn it, dog,” Madeline said as the retriever folded herself into the ground at her feet, exposing her belly in apology. “Why can’t you just stay in our yard?” She reached down and rubbed the warm bare spot behind Bella’s rib cage. Inside the house, the phone rang.

Madeline ushered Bella through the open door and then grabbed the wall phone from its cradle. “Hello?”

“Your dog is in my yard again,” Arlene said.

“No she’s not, she’s right here.”

“She just got there then. Took a big shit over here. Sid stepped in it.”

“I don’t think it was Bella,” Madeline said. She walked to the kitchen window and looked out. Sid was walking down the lane toward home. She smiled.

“It was Bella,” Arlene said. “And if she comes back over here again I’ll call the law.”

—————————————————————–

Arlene pressed the off button of the cordless phone with as much venom as a pushed button would allow. She missed the old heavy phones that you could slam down with a point.
“Bitch,” she said and then smiled at to Chester. “Let’s go feed the chickies, shall we?”
Arlene stopped at the back door to put on her chore coat and then tucked Chester under her left arm and stepped through the door. To her left, she could see Sid’s deer swinging in the tree. She started down the steps and by the time she reached the bottom, Sid appeared around the corner of the house.

“Going to feed your chicks?” he said.

—————————————————————–

“Of course, what the hell else would I be doing outside in the fucking cold ass weather?”
Maybe leaving me for another man. Please, God, leave me for another man.

Sid watched her as she walked down the slight hill to the chicken house where he could hear the hens softly singing. At least her backside was still appealing, he thought. He walked to his truck and opened the driver’s side door. Here he folded up the jacket he’d worn while hunting and piled his ammo and a bottle of doe urine on top of it. He then reached into the back seat for his rifle.

Down the hill, the chicken coop door slammed open. “Damn it, Sidney you got the wrong chicken feed. Layena! For crapsake, all you have to remember is one word!”

Sid felt the rifle in his hands, ready, able — almost begging to be aimed and fired. One shot, it seemed to say to him. He lifted the gun and let the barrel point toward the chicken house, but he kept his gaze down, focused on the truck’s seat. If I look up, I’ll shoot her. But his thumb moved over to the safety and pushed at the small knob of metal it found there until it clicked. The rifle bucked in his hand and the sound of shattering glass filled the air.

—————————————————————–

The gunshot was loud and caused Bella to go from flat to on her feet in a heartbeat. She went to the door and scratched, hoping it would open. When it didn’t, she looked at Madeline who was cleaning the entryway.

“Really?” Madeline said to her. “It’s just hunters and they won’t share.”

Bella wagged her tail and let her mouth fall open just a little. Madeline walked toward her and pulled the door open. “Stay in the yard,” she said.

At the road, Bella hesitated, but the gunpowder and blood scent was too tempting. She loped across the road, down the lane and rounded the corner of the white house. There she saw Sidney standing at the rear of his truck, drumming the fingers of his left hand on the tailgate. He held his rifle with the butt supported on his right hip and his gaze was fixed down the hill toward the chicken house.

Bella slowed. The scent of blood was so overwhelming she could barely sort out the smells she associated with Sidney himself, the transmission leak under his truck, and the odor of Chester wearing his sweater. Sidney didn’t move when she came up beside him, so she sat down quietly at his feet. She then followed his gaze.

Arlene was there, lying flat on the ground with a spreading pond of blood surrounding her. Chester sat a few feet away, licking at his sweater. Bella looked up at Sidney and he stopped drumming his fingers on the tailgate.

“Well,” he said transferring his rifle to his left hand and reaching down to rub Bella behind the ears. “I guess that, is that.” He cocked his head to the left and looked back at Arlene.

Several minutes passed before Sidney walked around to the open door of the truck, where he put his rifle in the seat. Bella watched as he walked down to Arlene, picked up her feet and dragged her to the truck, where he wrestled her body into the bed.

Bella then followed him to the garden hydrant and watched as he hooked up the hose, turned on the water and sprayed at Arlene’s blood until it mixed with the earth and became indistinguishable from mud.

Sidney put up the hose, returned to the truck, closed the tailgate and got in the cab. Bella noticed a small trail of Arlene’s blood leak out through the closed tailgate and drip down the bumper, mixing with the dried blood of the buck. Beside her, Chester sat down and pulled at his sweater with his teeth. Sidney started the truck and drove out into the pasture past a group black heifers.

Bella waited, but when Sidney didn’t readily reappear, she went to the open chicken coop and helped herself to two eggs. Then she trotted home followed by Chester. Once on her porch, she laid down and curled herself in a circle. Chester curled up at her side.

—————————————————————–

Madeline heard a soft whimpering sound outside the screen door and when she went to see what was wrong with Bella, she found her curled up in her bed with Arlene’s ugly little dog. “Oh shit, there’s gonna be hell to pay now,” she said.

Madeline stepped through the door and started to pick up the little dog but hesitated when she saw he was covered in something brown and sticky. “Great, Bella, what the hell’d you do, roll him in the deer parts? I’ll have to pay his grooming bill.” She went back inside the house, grabbed an old towel and came back out. She wrapped him in the towel and started down the lane. Bella followed.

—————————————————————–
Sidney had just finished washing his hands in the kitchen sink and was drying them on the towel hanging from the kitchen cabinet when the doorbell rang. He took a moment to shed his hunting coveralls and toss them in the hamper. “Just a minute,” he shouted and hustled across the living room floor in his socks.

Through the window he could see it was Madeline. She looked so pretty in a dark green sweater that showed off her curvy breasts. He smiled until he saw, in the crook of her right arm, Chester wrapped in a towel.

“Oh no,” he said opening the door. “I hope he wasn’t over there bothering you.”
“Ah, no,” Madeline cocked her head.  “I just figured Bella came over here and he followed her home.”

Sidney smiled at her. “As long as neither of them are hurt, it’s all good.”
“Except he’s covered in something nasty,” she said.

Sidney reached out for Chester, “Why yes he is,” he said examining the little dog. “I’ll give him a bath later.”

“Where’s Arelene?”

“Oh, she went to her sister’s for a visit,” he said. He’d rehearsed this as he’d dumped her body into the burn pile. First she was going to be gone to her sister’s, then to her cousin’s, then she was going to leave him. And that, was, well that. “You want to come in for a cup of coffee? It’s been a chilly morning.”

“Sure,” Madeline said. “Bella, stay.” She looked down into the retriever’s dark eyes.

“No,” Sid said. “Bring Bella, come in.” He swung the door wide to admit them both.

Crazy is a Human Condition – Chapter 1

Crazy is a Human Condition – Chapter 1

by Kimberly Beer

The Ford flatbed and the rusty trailer it pulled behind it fit the exact description — and sound — of rattletrap. The rig descended the graveled drive on my Grandma Lou’s farm interrupting an otherwise quiet Friday morning in June. As I watched it get closer, I came to a full appreciation of the trailer. It had been almost completely covered in plywood — and that plywood was held on by baling wire and orange bale string. It looked as if an orange-spewing spider had attacked a wooden shipping crate and someone had put it on wheels.

When the commotion came to a full stop at the end of the driveway, a tall, skinny and very dusty old cowboy emerged. He exited the truck slowly, every movement purposeful and every step premeditated. He looked over me and the series of dogs who had come to greet him with a glance of topical consideration. “Is Lou around?” he said. His voice was deep set, just like his eyes.

I started to explain she was working in the lower barns, but before I could get my mouth fully in gear, the trailer started quaking. What was inside shook the whole of the outfit making my heart pick up and my mind started churning wondering what, exactly, he had in there and if plywood and baling wire could truly contain it.  “I need to see her,” he said addressing my inaction and ignoring the sounds of desperation behind him.

“She’s in the lower barn,” I said. “Doing chores.” Behind him, the trailer quieted but the tension coming from within could be felt. Even the dogs had stopped scratching and nipping at flies and stood with ears at attention. “I’ll go get her,” I said and turned to walk away.

“Tell her it’s Grover Cleveland,” he said to my back.

I stopped because the name sounded familiar but didn’t quite connect in my 14 year old brain to the place I was in at the moment. No, that named belonged elsewhere. Somewhere musty and filled with books and facts and dates. Wasn’t Grover Cleveland a president? I turned around and looked a wordless question at the old cowboy.

“No relation,” he said.
Grandma Lou was in the barn wiring up some new feeders. My grandmother was always wiring, nailing, sawing, clipping or pruning something. Rarely was she caught without some type of tool in her hands with which she was, was preparing to, or had just finished using.

“A Grover Cleveland is here with something in a trailer,” I said loudly as I came down the hallway of the barn.

“Doesn’t look a damn thing like the president, does he?” she said as she stood up from where she had been hunched over a feeder and stretched out her back.

“Yes,” I said under my breath. I thought, I had that right! “Nope,” I said and then added, “whatever he’s got in that trailer sure can put up a commotion.”

“Well, then we probably better go see what it is.”

“Whatcha got there, Grover,” she said.

“A mare,” he said. “She’s plumb crazy.” He spat a stream of tobacco out onto the ground. It puddled warm and brown in the soft dirt at his feet.

“Crazy is a human condition,” my grandmother said.
Grover dipped his head in thought at this drop of wisdom, his yellow-white hat covering his eyes. My grandmother, whose patience with horses and cowboys is the stuff of legend, just waited for him to respond, or for the point to sink in, whichever came first. She used the time in between to rub the black and white shepherd at her feet behind the ears. I spied a space between two sheets of plywood and approached the trailer since it was presently quiet.

Though there was very little light getting through the multilayered mess, I could make out the shape of a horse. She was average in size and weight and appeared to be a plain chestnut or sorrel with a narrow blaze, and even in the dimness, I could tell she bore some pretty ugly marks from her trip. She was as curled up in the nose of the trailer, as far from the gate as she could possible get. She had her hindquarters tight up underneath her and her back coiled like a spring. Her head was down between her front feet and she was shaking within her skin. She flexed her nostrils and then looked up at me. The look in her eyes was pure terror. She lunged forward toward me and hit the side of the trailer with her whole body. I flew backward partly from the hit, partly from my own volition, and partly because Grover had grabbed me at the shirt collar and pulled.

“I think you better stay back,” he said matter of factly.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Let’s get her down to the solid roundpen,” my grandmother said.

“She can get out just about anything,” Grover said. He didn’t move.

“It’s got six foot solid panels, I think she’ll stay in it.”

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Grover said.

“It’ll be 25 board for the two weeks, that doesn’t …”

“Does that include training,” he said interrupting Grandma Lou.

“No. As I was about to say that will be $100 per week. Extra.”

“Hmph.” Grover retrieved his wallet from his back pocket and produced a 20 and a 5 and handed them to my grandmother. He hesitated a moment and then reached in his front pocket and pulled out a quarter and offered it to her as well. “For the bullet,” he said. “If she ain’t fixed at the end of the two weeks, just go ahead an shoot her. Keep the change.”

Twisted – Chapter 1

Twisted – Chapter 1

Chapter 1 In Progress

I didn’t wake up this morning thinking I would take someone’s life. I woke up thinking about the smudge on the kitchen linoleum.

But that was before the tornado. Tornados change things.

I look up into the tree nearest me, the tree in my front yard, the tree I parked my truck under every day, the tree a truck now appears to be attempting to climb and failing, the tree that now creaked with every sway breeze. It’s limbs were splintered, odd looking now with unnatural lengths and bizarre angles.

This can not be real, I think. I feel utterly detached from my body as if I’m ether or vapor.

I stand up and approach a truck that looks like mine. It is mine, I realize. I know that inside of the truck is my best friend. I know she is dead because her head is gone. I can see that a limb from the tree has erased her face. Her name was Sunny.

The glide up to the truck in the tree. I float myself up the pile of limbs and debris the truck is resting on to reach through the shattered back seat window. Sunny’s purse upside down on the seat. I take it. In its place I shove my purse. I lean forward toward the front window which is also shattered out. I take off my ring, the ring my husband gave me 18 years ago and pick up Sunny’s lifeless hand. I try not to notice the blue tint of her skin or the blood that is drying on her arm. I look away as I slide the ring over her knuckle. I then let myself slide down from the truck and float back to the curb and sit down with Sunny’s purse.

Rain begins to fall. I can feel it cool and wet against my face. It is light and pleasant in an odd way. I pull the purse a little closer to me.

A flapping noise catches my attention, drawing it away from the sad sound of the water line behind me and the worried calls of a woman down the street looking for Henry. I looked up to see a piece of linoleum caught in the broken branches of the tree across the street. The tree that once hid the house of my neighbors the Heshers. The house that I had always wished we would have bought because of the charming front porch and the big deck in the rear.

That was all gone now. The house and the deck.

I stand up, feeling my body for the first time in what seemed hours. I look down. My shoes are stained with drops of blood. My jeans are ripped above the knee on my right leg and the open seam oozes a bloody dark color. I feel no pain. That seems wrong somehow. It doesn’t matter, I tell myself. I reach down and pick up the purse beside me, put it over my shoulder and walk toward the flapping linoleum.

“Henry!” The voice is loud now.

I look up into the open sky and the openness comes crashing in on top of me as I feel the absence of the houses and trees in what once was my neighborhood. The world seems so huge in this moment, as if it the sky expanded, ran wild past its boundaries and swallowed up all the houses and trees and people into its dimension.

I reach up to grab the linoleum shred out of the tree, but it is beyond my fingertips even when stretch to the limit of my tiptoes. As I reach, the purse slides down my arm and catches in the crock of my elbow. I hike it back up again and fall back onto my heels still looking up. The breeze moves the linoleum just enough so I can see the smudge nestled neatly where two lines in the pattern merge. “Damn it,” I say. The spot mocks me as though I were Lady MacBeth. I jump up, reaching with everything I have. I miss. “Fuck,” I say.

“Hennnnrrrry!” The voice is breathless now.

“Henry’s dead,” I yell back. “The fucking tornado ate him!”

The fucking tornado ate my life, I think.

And then I smile.

Junk

Junk

by Kimberly Beer

A trail of dust whips up from the drive, momentarily obscuring the sun.  Within the brown cloud I see Claire’s red sedan moving rapidly toward me.

The car stops in front of the house and she steps out.  “Hey, Bill,” she says smoothing her skirt. She brings the cigarette in her hand up to her mouth and takes a long inhale followed by a smoke filled exhale.

“Morning, Claire,” I say watching the cloud of dust, still lingering, as it floats over the rows of cars in the yard.

“Have you eaten breakfast?”

“Yep.”

“Did my father eat?”

“Yep.” I then add,  “Have you eaten?” The question comes out smug and full of poison. I mean it that way.

With a jerk of her head, she swishes her blond hair behind her shoulders and looks out toward the yard.  She stares trancelike for a long moment at a black cow grazing between the fence and a ‘52 Chevy pickup with three flat tires.  “I thought you sold all the cows.”

“Kept ten.”

“Where is my father?”

“Inside watching one of his stories.”

She sits down on the porch facing the yard and lights a cigarette.  “Has there been any change?”

“He’s better.  He  tried to take the spoon out of my hand this morning.”  I leave out that he spilled the cereal all over the floor in the process.

“Oh, really?”  She gets up, drops the cigarette on the ground and grinds it under her black pump .  “I’m going in now.”  She starts toward the door.  I get up and open it for her.  “Has Kristen been by?”

I shake my head.  “Is she supposed to be here?”  Claire bites her upper lip and fidgets with her necklace.

A suspicious sensation begins to run through my body as I wonder what my daughter and Jim’s daughter are up to.  “Do you two have plans?” I ask hoping that the answer will be a shopping trip or some such equally mundane thing.

“You want me to bring you something from the kitchen?” Claire says walking into the house.

“I’m fine.”  I sit back down and run my hands through the bib of my overalls. Through the window screen I hear banging cabinet doors. Another trail of dust begins to rise from the drive.  I watch it float out over the cars  and add yet another layer of grime to already dulling paint.

I shift my gaze toward a Model A rotting under a walnut tree.  Stalks of Jimpson weeds grow out through the open engine compartment, their white flowers contrasting with the rust.  Forty years ago Jim and I bought her at a farm auction for two dollars.  We were young friends then and felt it our duty to reincarnate such bargains. Life has a way of interrupting such duties with wives and children and crops to plant. We parked her in Jim’s heifer pasture with a promise of someday getting back to her and having no idea what we had started. Turns out she was just the first. Slowly a garden of cars grew out of the pasture fertilized by the Model A’s decay.  Twenty years after we stood in the rain bidding against old man Furr to win her for our own, we opened Packwood and Burns Salavage Yard.  And then two months ago Jim had a stroke.
“Hello, Daddy,” Krissy calls to me through the open window of her car as she pulls in behind Claire’s sedan.  My youngest daughter pulls off her sunglasses and tosses them haphazardly in the passenger seat.  “How’s it going?”  she says as she gets out of the car.

“All right, I guess.”

“Good.”  She comes toward me and kisses my forehead. “How’s Jim today?”

“Better. Claire’s inside with him now.”

“I know.”  She turns her eyes down to the pealing boards beneath her sandaled feet.  “Opps, I almost forgot,” she says looking up. “I brought you something.” She pats me on the knee and then jogs back to the car.  She begins to dig around in the back seat.

The screen door bangs and Claire steps out onto the porch.   “I thought I heard a car.”

“The calvary has arrived,” I say.

Claire walks across the porch and sits on the railing.  “Hi, Kristen,” she calls waving a slender hand in the air.

Krissy pulls a brown paper sack from out of the backseat and slams the car door shut, putting her whole body into the motion  “Hey, Claire.”  She bounds back onto the porch and for a moment I see the little girl that used to beg me to take her for a ride in anything with a motor. She places the bag on my lap.  I look at the bag and then at her.  “Open it,” she says flopping down in Jim’s rocker.  I open the bag.  Inside there is a model 55 Chevy, paints, glue and sandpaper.  “Just like the one you rebuilt for Jim’s sixtieth birthday.  Well, except smaller. Remember?”

“I remember,” I say.   I look at Claire.  She fingers the cross around her neck and looks away.

“Remember, Claire?  Daddy painted it red and white. . .”

“I remember, Krissy.”  Claire gets up from the railing and moves to the porch swing.

“Thank you, honey.” I say to Krissy as I roll the top of the bag down and set it next to my chair.

Claire gets up again.  “Kristen, come help me finish the dishes.”

Krissy gets up and dutifully follows her.  She stops momentarily by my chair and picks up the bag.  “I’ll put this in your bedroom.”  She looks into my eyes and her brows close in on her forehead.  “I love you, Daddy,” she says stepping through the door which  Claire is holding open for her. Whispering pours through the screen behind me. It must be worse than I thought.

I take my pocket watch out.  One o’clock.  Jim’s show is over.  I get up and go inside.  The whispering stops momentarily and Claire appears in the kitchen doorway.  “Time for some fresh air,” I say to Jim as I grab the wheelchair handles.  Claire disappears back into the kitchen.

I push Jim out onto the front porch and park him next to my rocker.  “The baldy heifer calved this morning.  I sat right here and watched it. I almost woke you up to come watch, too,” I tell him.  “Look,” I say pointing to the far corner of the field, “She’s up there by the Ford trucks.”  I reach over, grip his hand and I feel a tightening around my fingers. I adjust the blanket covering his legs.

Claire and Krissy come back out onto the porch.  “Bill, we need to talk,” Claire says walking behind Jim’s chair and releasing the brake.  “I’m gonna take him back in now.”

“No,” I say putting my hand on the near wheel. Claire stops but does not take her hands off the wheelchair.  “He has a right to hear what you have to say.”

Krissy sits on the porch swing. “Really, Dad, I don’t think he can understand anything we’re saying anyway.  But just in case. . .”

“Watch it, missy,” I say to her.  Her head tilts down and she scoots quietly back into the swing.

“Just in case, I’m taking him back in,” Claire says.  She pushes on the chair, but I hold firm.  “Oh, forget it.” She lets go and walks over in front of me.  “We’re . . . Melissa and I, have decided to take father to a nursing home.  We just can’t be here all the time.  And Kristen and I think the strain is too much for you. . .”

“I don’t think so,” I say.

“He will get the best of care. . .”

“I will not allow you to do  this to your father. I made a promise.”

Krissy shifts around in her chair.  “Daddy, please.  It’s really for the best.  You can come live with Bob and me.  You won’t be lonely, I promise.  Charlie would love to get to know his grandaddy better and Bob could use your know how at the garage. When I told them, they both got all excited.  Bob fixed up the. . .”

“Krissy, I lived under the same roof with you for twenty years.  I served my time.”

“I have Power of Attorney,” Claire says  fixing her gaze on my eyes.  “And I’ve sold the farm.”

“You did what?”

“You have no choice.  The Windwood van will be here to pick him up in the morning.”  Claire turns toward the door and opens it.  “I’m going to pack for him,” she says and slams the door shut.  I look to Krissy.

“They needed the money really bad and Clyde Mitchell’s been on her case since Jim’s stroke.  Really, Daddy, he can’t get no more use out of this farm.  I’m not sure he even knows where he is.”

“He knows where he is. Do you?”

She stands up and walks to the door.  “You know this wasn’t easy for Claire.  She has agonized over it for two months now.”  She opens the door.  “I’m gonna go help her pack for him.”  The door shuts quietly behind her.

I look over to Jim and take his hand again.  “Don’t worry.  I won’t let them break our pact. You remember the pact, don’t you?”  Jim squeezes my hand.  I take the handkerchief out of his bib pocket and wipe the trail of saliva off his chin. “It’s lunch time.  Bologna sound good?” I get up.  “Cheese and mustard, right?”  I smile at him.  “I’ll be right back.”

From the kitchen I hear Claire and Krissy in the bedroom opening and shutting drawers.  Claire makes short, hiccuping sounds and Krissy cooes in response.  I make two bologna sandwiches.  I cut the one with cheese and mustard into tiny pieces.

As I come out from the kitchen, Claire whips past me.  She deposits a small suitcase by the door as she exits.  Krissy follows close behind with a Model A hood ornament in her hand.  “I’ll bring over some boxes in the morning for your stuff.  I’ll be here at eight.  Claire has to work.”   She holds up the ornament.  “I thought Jim might like to have this to look at in his new room.”  Outside, Claire revs the engine of her car.  “I’m parked behind her.” She points toward the door.  “I love you.”

While Jim is watching the 10 o’clock news I go to the yard.  I walk down every row, carefully looking over each car.  I stop at a 66 Impala in the far west corner and climb up on the hood.  I look out at the hundreds of shadows and wonder what Clyde Mitchell intends to do with them.  I sit down on the hood, lean back against the windshield and look off toward the east.  Just over the hill is the house I shared for fifty years with my family.  I imagine Krissy there, getting ready for bed and telling Bob all about her day.

“I’m sorry, Kristen,” I say as I get down off the hood and walk back to the barn.

Inside the barn, I pull the cover off the 55 Chevy.  I open the hood and check the oil.  Full and fresh.  I close the hood gently and then walk to the driver’s door.  I wonder whether Clyde will  be more upset when he finds the 55 gone than Claire at the disappearance of her father.  I open the door and slide into the seat.  Okay, girl.  Time to fulfill that promise.  I turn the key and the engine sputters to life.  I shift the transmission into reverse.  The car jerks beneath me and I back her out into the drive. The sound of her engine is deep and full of promise — restored.

I leave the engine on as I go in the house.  I take a piece of paper out of the desk in my room and write Krissy a note.  On the dresser is the brown paper bag with the model car inside.  I cram a few clothes in on top of the model and go back to the living room where Jim is watching TV.  “Are you ready?”  I say putting my hand on Jim’s shoulder.  His head moves slightly.  “Let’s get out of here then.”  I set the paper bag in his lap and push him toward the door, stopping momentarily to pick up his bag.  “It was very thoughtful of Claire to pack for you,” I say as we go through the door.  On the other side, I stop and impale the note on the nail to the left of the door.

I pick Jim up and place him in the passenger’s seat.  “Where do you want to go,” I ask, flipping open the glove compartment.  Bills tumble out onto the floorboard.  “Somewhere with warm winters, I hope.”  I close the glove box and buckle Jim’s seat belt.  After putting his wheelchair in the trunk, I get in the driver’s seat.  I look out over the yard one last time.

“Any regrets?” I ask putting my hand on Jim’s arm.

Jim draws in his cheeks and then shakily moves his hand toward the gear shift and pushes it into first.  The transmission grinds and then locks in.  “No regre’ss,” he says and then lets his body relax into the seat. I put my foot on the gas.  As we begin to pick up speed, I look in the rearview mirror.  A cloud of dust rises from behind us, swallowing the rows of cars and then the moon.