By Darrell Spencer
Featured Art: Twilight in the Wilderness by Frederic Edwin Church
Our joke was either Molly sells a kidney—under the radar, off the books, $40,000 cash up front in England we discovered online, no questions asked, wink-wink, and also, I came to this understanding in my bones, not really all that funny as an option—or reality was we hock our gold.
We hocked it.
Okay, Molly did. Her gold. Every last effing piece of it Molly’s. Earrings. Necklaces, long and dangly and three-tiered, one of them leaf-like, all the chains intertwined and hard to separate. You know how they get twisted up in their boxes like they have a secret life. None of the jewelry rolled or washed gold. Molly did her online research at the library. Brooches, one an open hand, palm out, standing for generosity and giving, one a butterfly whose catch was missing. It had been her mother’s. There was a heart Molly liked to wear on her sleeve. Only one ring. Her grandfather’s on her father’s side. It had a pair of serpents circling an in-set ruby. Brewster was his name, and he had been an M.D. The kind of G.P. parents named their newborns after. The man part of a long line of doctors stretching back to the Civil War. Molly had photos back home in Ohio. The old-timers a bunch of bearded hacksaws, grim butchers.
Molly wasn’t, no matter what, parting with her bracelet, one of those with charms hanging from it, the thing bedangled and heavy with memories. Each piece 14-carat, 18 carats being too soft to wear day after day all day long. There was a shamrock not so much for luck as for an incident she let you know you didn’t want to go into detail about. A coin stood for the time Molly flew across the Atlantic. A single ice skate for the afternoon she kissed her first boy. David. She called him Shem. Why? Their secret. Their lips came together on an ice rink in a mall in Portland, Oregon. You asked her, and she would tell you the story for each charm. She opened right up. Except the shamrock. Tick a lock and throw away the key on that story. The trio of palm trees, her first drunk. San Diego, California, and a beach. Dunes. Bougainvillea. She would hold the one of a skull and shake her head. It had to do with her daddy, with him being one of life’s mysteries to Molly. Half a beer in her and she started declaiming on how she was a virgin birth. Science backed her up. Fact of her life.
Not one item—she announced and stepped from the car—given to her by me. Not in the year and a half we had spent together. Not during all the traveling we had done, us spending a week roaming Shafer Basin in the Canyonlands, a month in Taos, three days in Barstow. We drove to North Dakota, had been told there was a boom. We had heard money fell from the sky and all you had to do was hold open a bag.
So Molly afoot in the Las Vegas heat soloed into Mojave Pawn, her handbag full of gold, and I sat parked facing Las Vegas Boulevard. Engine idling. Me, for no reason, feeling like the wheelman. Music in my ears. Trombone Shorty, a musician and menace I would cross borders to hear. A mix of jazz and swing and rump. Drums. Horns. A trumpet bawling, rippling, the chords and notes buzzed off and boosted. Shorty’s trombone. Yak and yatter. Some wha wha. Lots of strut. Runs. Phrases like doors opening and shutting. Much of the music sounded like it was being played on pots and pans and furniture. Drumsticks on a bar stool.
So, think of me as the wheelman out here. Nickname me Getaway. I was into all the cable shows on the History Channel and hung out at a garage off Charleston where they called me Magpie. One-eighties, three-sixties, j-turns, yaw and pitch and rear-end drift—I comprehended it all in theory. I sat in my 1965 Ford Mustang, candy-apple red paint job right out of the era, HiPo 289 V8, 4-barrel. Me daydreaming fast and furious through the streets of Las Vegas. In my head, cops on our tail, and the airport five minutes away.
Twenty minutes go by. I cut the air conditioning and turned the car off, put the top down, lit a cigarette. Lucky Strikes I ordered online. I was fixated on the rearview and working on a riddle. When, I thought, is a heist not a heist?
Not one cloud in the sky. A few contrails vaporizing, playing at tit-tat-toe-ing up there in the heavens. Probably F-16 Fighting Falcons out of Nellis. Was a day—me lean and fit and mind-boggled by speed—I thought I’d fly. Join a squadron. Scare the bejesus out of existential thinking itself.
On the sidewalk in front of the flower shop across the street was one of those signs you roll out in the morning and back in at night. It said TAKE A ROSE HOME TODAY. Yellow light bulbs outlined the edges and blinked in sequence. Pointless in the killer sunshine. The homeless drifted by, one dude guided by a dog on a rope, a going-to-the-ground Jack Russell, brown on its muzzle. You knew the dog’s name was Jack. The man pulled a stroller overflowing with plastic bags. The Little Cupid Wedding Chapel was next door. I had my hand on the door handle, was getting set to sprint across the Boulevard, throw our last twenty on the counter for one yellow rose, hustle back and be sitting here with it, but Molly exited Mojave Pawn like she had swallowed the day whole and hot and was chewing on its radiance. She shut down my music. “How,” she said, buckling in, “is the tango to be danced? Standing up or lying down?” Joy on her. The lady juiced. She wore a sheer black blouse and a skirt, contemporary and asymmetric. Butter yellow and white and polka-dotted. It looked like it had been sewn together from grab-bag fabrics. You knew Molly was thinking she was Bonnie and Clyde. The girl watched too many DVDs. One week she spent one week twenty-four-seven streaming Netflix. Ate only what I delivered and placed within a three-foot circle of where she sat. Hour after hour, I tooled around town, lonesome, a hurt in me like a coyote feeding on my brains.
Beside me here in the Mustang, Molly lifted her hair and let it fall around her face. She said, “No contest. A shellacking.” Her fine body did its magic under her blouse. It made you want to keep your promises.
“How much you get?” I said.
“You have to guess.” She boosted herself high in the seat against the belts and folded her legs under her.
“A thousand?” I fired up the engine, snapped the brake off and put the car in gear.
“You’re on the wrong planet.”
She shook me off.
She held her bracelet up so it jangled on her wrist and said, “Like I said, and no heirlooms.” She described the lump of a man behind one of the shop’s counters. He sat in a wheelchair and announced upfront he wasn’t getting on his feet for anybody but he was not a cripple. He had a moon face. Clumps of hair. Not enough to comb. He said, “It’s just that standing is too much effort.” Bert W. was Mr. Pawnshop’s name. He told Molly he gave up being a rabbi in the Eighties. World, he said, didn’t need God anymore. He talked while he studied on her gold, diddled and huffed, mounted her grandfather’s ring in a circle of light. The ruby was real. He had her check out its silk. He said, “Not quite blood-red. A touch of secondary pink you can see.” He showed Molly. He set the ring aside and said, “It’s Gott who shods us,” and he offered fifteen hundred. Molly bagged up her gold and turned to leave. She told me she twirled and she aimed for the door. Mr. Pawnshop rocked back on his wheels. Negotiations ended at thirty-nine hundred bucks. Cash money. One hundred dollar bills.
I said, “Gott shods us? Like puts our shoes on?”
She said, “Bert W. can talk the talk.” She made her hands speak. She said, “The man is a rabbi. Once a rabbi always a rabbi.”
“You say that about horses, don’t you? Shod. You shod horses.”
“You shoe a horse.”
I was turning onto Main and headed for the Strip. Up ahead, Stupak’s Tower. One man’s wet dream in this wide flat valley.
“Where now?” I said.
Molly hunkered down in her seat. “Home,” she said.
I said, “You okay?”
“None of it was mine,” she said. “I borrowed it cleaning houses.”
“All of it.”
“You stole it?”
“I found it.”
“You never got caught?”
“I thought of it as tips.”
We had stopped at Sahara and Main. I shrugged and gave her big hands that said, “Where’s home?” We had given up our apartment. The big losing streak on us for the past month like a wildfire. My suitcase rode behind us on the back seat. Hers too. And her handbag the size of a saddle. We’d filled the trunk full of boxes. I saw the future out there in front of us. Yogi Berra, right? The future is behind us. Me back in prison at a machine, me stitching upholstery. The state rehabilitating Jacob Smith. Five years ago I spent twenty-seven months at the High Desert Correction facility. I was taught a trade that earned me nine seventy-five an hour the two weeks I practiced my craft at a shop in North Las Vegas.
Molly said, “Jasmine’s?”
Jasmine’s meant Ohio.
I said it out loud. I said, “Christ.” It was a prayer. The word, a curse. Resignation. A plea. In vain.
Molly had told me about her thirteen-year-old boy in Southeastern Ohio. He was being raised by three women, all redheads. She claimed that in old photos—someday she would show them to me—you noticed first and foremost the ladies’ hillsides of entangled and weedy hair. In life, Molly told me, all of them walked like scarecrows would if they could. A sight worth seeing as some kind of remedy. In theory they were aunts. Jasmine somehow the head of it all. Rita and Milly the other two. Molly’s roots having drifted from the long line of medical folk and into the Appalachian foothills and a clustering of hilljacks.
The Bellagio. I split a pair of aces. Fifty-dollar chips on the table. To my left, thirty feet away across a baroque carpet, in a roped-off area, Molly leaned over her cards. She was playing Texas Hold’em. By the way she had set her splendid shoulders she was going all in. We had split the money, two thousand five hundred for her, thirteen hundred for me. Only fair. The gold—highlight this fact, let me remind you—was hers. We had spent a hundred on food.
For luck I tapped three times the tattoo on my wrist. Forefinger, bird finger, ring finger. The tattoo a homemade job, me doing my time at High Desert, me bored and in possession of a staple, a paperclip, a ballpoint and some newspaper ink. The face on my wrist was a self-portrait. X’s for eyes. I got the nose right. Lips, too.
Always split aces, the pros say. I watch videos. I read books. I make my way in the world. Am not afraid of wisdom earned by others.
I don’t hide behind sunglasses ever.
The dealer attached a four to my first ace. A six to my second one. Her upcard was a nine. She rolled over her own ace.
Fuck the movies. Fuck the books. Fuck the pros.
The drought continued.
Tapped me out. Thirteen hundred gone. Took me all of forty minutes.
Molly wasn’t at the Hold’em table. I found her by the entrance to the Bellagio’s Art Gallery—our rendezvous point—and she showed me empty hands. Two thousand five hundred gone. I shrugged. What a vanishing act the two of us were. Behind Molly a sign advertised Warhol Out West. The casino’s art gallery.
Did she want to have a look?
The man was New York famous.
Thirteen hundred gone. Two thousand five hundred gone.
Do the math.
We had mistaken our tango for a change in fortune.
If one fool loses thirteen hundred dollars and another fool loses two thousand five hundred dollars—what happened to the gold?
When is a heist not a heist? When you stick yourself up.
Paul loaned us one of his places, a condo in Henderson near Rodeo Park. Me and Paul, we had been brothers of a sort. He belonged to my dad’s third wife, the one who fell off planet earth three years into the marriage. Paul had done good. Was a tax attorney. Was a CPA. The s.o.b. talked the philosophy of economics and wrote a book. He owned a home in Spanish Trail and one outside Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers in Colorado. We long ago got past his loaning me money. I think the words rat hole were used. Jamming sand down one. But a drop of blood is a drop of blood, brotherhood is brotherhood, and he helps when and if he can.
Molly and me could stay a week—recoup I said to Paul, and there was some food in the refrigerator and a Fresh Food Mart a short journey up the street. Paul returns and finds one item missing—even a matchstick—and he will go medieval on us. Off with our hands, our heads, our toes. We will be living testaments. No questions asked. Paul had torture genes in him.
Sunday, a week after the Bellagio, Molly and me sat on the condo’s second- story pocket-sized balcony, a bottle of Trefethen balanced on a coffee crate between us, the crate an antique worth more than my Mustang. I was filling out a form I had picked up at an M.D.’s office over on Tropicana near UNLV. Our plan was to get us some oxy we could sell. The Doc had a reputation. Sixty bucks a pop was the street price. This clinic—you drove by, you saw lines of people out by the door, others sitting on asphalt, on planters. I was on page three. I said to Molly, “It’s asking me if I have had a change in hat or glove size.” She took the form from me and I tapped the question. She said, “What could that mean?” The place advertised itself as pain management. How did hat or glove size fit in? Molly said, “It must tell them something. Your answer, I mean.”
I said, “Uncle Stuck used to say, ‘Put a hat on it,’ when he agreed with what you said. He’d say, ‘I’ll put a hat on what Max said.’”
“That’s different from a change.”
I was thinking it had to do with bloating. With people swelling up. Arthritis, maybe. Heart problems. With not peeing enough.
She said, “At the dentist once, they asked, ‘How would you feel if you lost a tooth?’ I read it to my boy, and he said, ‘Bad. I’d feel real bad.’”
I said, “Your boy’s how old—ten, twelve?”
“Anywhere from seven to thirteen, depending on what I need.”
“What you need?”
She didn’t answer.
I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever worn a hat of any kind or size. I know I never had gloves on. Maybe work gloves to rake leaves once.”
“How about a baseball cap?” Molly said.
Never, and I told her so. A small matter of principle.
She said, “Everybody’s worn a baseball cap.”
“They’re one size fits all.”
“Now they are. They weren’t once.”
Across the street, in the park, the dancing people, a couple with California plates on their van, fox-trotted. They had been here since before we moved in, and they hadn’t said a word to each other we had seen.
Molly argued they were circus people.
I thought ballroom dancers.
She said, “Nutcases no matter what.”
“I’m still betting on a love story,” I said. My account was they met when they were five and had been dancing together since then. Like ice skaters. The pair of them exiled souls from birth. I said, “They know heartache.”
She said, “They’re skinny as nails.”
Three a.m. and I felt Molly touch my shoulder. She shoved me. She said, “You didn’t say my name, did you?”
I hadn’t. Had been deep into a marvelous sex dream, the details of which vanished the second I woke up. Body parts flying around.
She said, “Did you say Dolly?”
“Family calls me Dolly,” she said.
“All the time?”
“Not all the time.”
I told her I wouldn’t know to call her Dolly.
The saying of her name Molly had heard was not at all like a dream. It was somebody in the bedroom talking to her. She didn’t make it up in her head. She wasn’t, and said, nuts. A man stood right next to her ear had said, “Dolly.” The name was not a question. Was not, Dolly? But was, instead, how you say a name when you want to talk directly to another person. The way you get somebody’s attention when what you have to say matters. Molly hadn’t recognized the voice.
Next morning, I borrowed Paul’s fine duds. Slacks, a white shirt, European collar. A rich-brown jacket and darker slacks. Me and Molly pulled into the strip mall where the clinic stood between one of those mail-it-yourself places on one side and a Check Fast on the other. The parking lot was mostly empty of cars, and more than the usual number of deadbeats loafed around. Wrappers and sand swirled in the wind. A lady in a bathing suit sat in a lounge chair, one of those made out of aluminum pipe and plastic, light as an empty box if you’ve ever picked one up. Her bathing suit had a short skirt attached to it. Five or six ragged dudes, one in a captain’s hat, one in sleepwear, took turns peering through the office doors. They gyrated. Yelled. I counted three shopping carts full of clothing and junk. One had an open umbrella duct-taped to its handle.
An old guy wandered toward us.
Molly said to me, “Let’s go. We can come back.”
The man signaled for me to roll down the car window. “Bounce?” the guy said. He made what sounded like quick kisses. Three of them. He looked like he was made out of play dough, was the color of oatmeal, face and hands. On his neck, two punctures, a vampire bite, red and inflamed. And pus. He wore long sleeves in the Las Vegas heat. Clearly here was a man well acquainted with the word misdemeanor. He was born under its sign. He unwadded a fiver and held it out for me to take. He did it so in his mind no one saw him. Then he made like he was taking a hit. He said, “Hoochieman.”
“Looking for a vet,” I said. “Her office is at this address. She’s in the strip mall somewhere.” I acted like I was hunting for a piece of paper. Like I could affirm my point.
“Spliff,” he said. He pretended to toke.
I cupped a hand to my ear.
“Dressed like you’re dealing,” he said. He adjusted the bag slung over one shoulder. He leaned in. Put himself at eyelevel. He said, “You driving a car like the one you’re sitting in tells me you a man can roll grass.” He made like he was onstage and said, “A joint, man.” He said, “Supersize me.”
I said, “You’ve got me wrong, man.”
“To the contrary,” he said.
Molly said to him, “What’s going on?” Her look led him to the clinic’s door. “Police presence,” he said. He pointed out a car. It had bling hanging from its rearview and three-thousand-dollar wheels.
I said, “Police what?”
“Piece of paper taped to the door,” he said. “It says, Blah blah blah.” He walked a circle readying himself to stomp out a fire. Then he came right up to the door of the Mustang, and he said, “In conclusion, the place is closed.”
I said, “What’s everyone doing then?”
“Hope,” the guy said. “Hope in Jesus, man.” He backed up again, then returned. He said, “You got a smoke since you’re just looking for your vet?”
A guy lying flat out on the asphalt kept yelling. “Jug-fuck.” Then again, “Jug- fuck.” Like some kind of bird. He stood, dipped in his knees, said, “Jug-fuck.”
Molly knocked free a Kool and lit it for the guy who had approached us. She had gotten out of the car and gone around the front. She towered over him. He looked like one of those short movie stars gone to seed, the type that look big on screen. He would have to stand on a box to kiss Molly. She said to him, before she handed the cigarette over, “The police closed the clinic?”
He said, “Like I said,” and he took the cigarette. He said, “Blah blah blah.”
I said to Molly, “We don’t need proof.”
She gave the guy her pack of Kools, got back in the Mustang and said to me, “I’d like to go see my boy.”
“Jug-fuck.” The guy dipped, shouted. He knelt and rolled on his side. “Jug-fuck.”
“Money?” I said to Molly.
She nodded at the Check Fast. Pay Day loans. Title loans. Get the Cash. Keep the car. She said, “Place gave me the idea.”
I said, “My car?”
Her look said why not?
“It’s a Mustang,” I said. “It’s a classic.”
She bit her lip. She unclasped her bracelet and hung it in the air.
“Worth your heirloom?” I said.
“We’ll get good money?”
She said, “Not mine. I borrowed it one day.”
I said, “All the way to Ohio?”
And she said, “Here we come.”
Count the states. Utah. Colorado. Nebraska. Then they bunch up. Iowa. Illinois. We took turns driving, ate fast food and made our pit stops at convenience stores. No motels or hotels. Molly drove days. I drove nights. A.M. pancakes and eggs at McDonald’s. Four days we drove through the night. No one expected us. We hadn’t phoned ahead, Molly saying there wasn’t anybody to call who gave a hoot.
I said, “Your boy?”
She said, “It’s a long story.”
Diverting south, circling St. Louis she saw a shelf cloud and then the rain flushed from the sky and the big black wedge of cloud thumped down on the earth, thunder, lightning, and we ended up weaving through semis knocked onto their sides on the freeway. We exited into the neighborhoods, risked crossing downed power lines, found an old highway, and seven hours later drove into Effingham, Illinois, a detour that cost us half a day on mostly narrow two-lanes and gave us a story to tell.
Her three aunts lived in southeast Ohio, not really as part of but near a place called Amesville, home to the Coonskin Library, a hilly slippery-looking town swallowed by floods year after year. Biblical event after biblical event. Vegetation surrounded us. You drove through Amesville and dropped south onto Sand Rock Road where you turned left short of the cemetery near the Wilson Chapel at the spot where Sand Rock forked into Felton. The aunts’ Victorian was set at the backside of some flatland and off the road a hundred yards, sort of off-set and shoved in between two hillsides and into the woods. It looked like the house would get one hour of sunlight a day and then only during certain times of the year. Trees pretty much hid it. It was bordered by fields. No fences. But posts. Just no wire. No rails. A mud-red creek traced the road’s path. Near the garden on the front lawn was a satellite dish that would seat twenty if you turned it into a dinner table. A few outbuildings had hunkered down on their backsides. Molly asked me not to turn up the lane. We could see one of the aunts studying on a patch of tilled earth. No crops growing in it. She leaned on a hoe. Rita, Molly thought. She had the red hair Molly had told me about. Looked like a bush of it had jumped her.
Another aunt rocked on the porch. She lit a cigarette and stared at us. Smoke swirled in the air. She was aiming distrust our way. This was Jasmine.
I said, “You think your boy might be in school?”
Molly shook me off.
“We could drive right up to the house,” I said. “You ashamed of me?”
“I don’t have a boy,” Molly said.
I said, “How’s that?”
“Not quite like he’s a fact.”
I said, “These really your aunts?”
“They are. But in ways I’m not sure of. The family tree’s a crooked one and expanded into disarray thanks to marriages and other acts of betrayal.”
“So let’s say hello.”
“He’s buried out back,” Molly said. The story, as she told it, was she had the boy when she was sixteen. Then, almost twenty, she went into nearby Athens to a movie one night. Summer, and a film festival. Artsy stuff. Molly pretending like she cared about serious shit, going with one of the kids from the university. She met him at the Albertsons. A young man out of Akron. She jumped in whole hog. Fell for the guy and spent three days in his apartment above Blue Eagle Music on Court Street. She got home around three in the morning and her boy was already underground. So she was told. Three years old. She was shown a grave. Fresh dirt. A cross, shoelaced-together sticks. Molly said, “It’s what you did around here. He was born in the house, and he was buried out back.”
The woman on the porch stood, and her red hair rose like god-almighty’s handmaiden. She squinted at us. She called to the aunt out by the garden and the third aunt came to the door. Milly.
“Later that summer, one of my uncles, his own six-pack of Rolling Rock and a pint of something else polished off, ” Molly said, “the family together on the Fourth of July at a camp ground near Hockingport, right on the river, I heard him tell a neighbor my boy committed suicide.”
I said, “He was making a joke?”
“Claims he was just making shit up,” she said.
“He got a laugh. That’s what he wanted.”
The aunt by the garden had come over and she spoke to the aunt on the porch. She stood below her. Then she headed across the yard toward the lane, and the other aunt went inside.
“Where we camped,” Molly said, “Monday Creek ran through the park grounds.”
I told her I didn’t need to meet her aunts, that I could stay in the town we passed through. Spend a night. Wait for her call. I had never been this far east before. It would be an education.
Molly said to me, “You better get going. You’ve got a long drive ahead of you.”
“You don’t have to stay here,” I said. “Your boy’s gone, right?” I refused her eye contact. Sensed her cock her head. I said, “This is one humongus and various country. It’s got highways and byways so shocking and beautiful you can’t believe it, and we’ve got gas money. There are tourist attractions every fifteen miles. Giant this, giant that. Sights to see. We could continue east. We could turn around. Our luck has to change sometime.”
Molly touched my shoulder.
“Where haven’t you been?” I said.
She stared through me.
“We could go,” I said. “Wherever you haven’t been, we could go. Put the pedal to the metal. Road trip.”
She said, “Jacob, pay attention.” She put more than a handful of sorrow in my name. “I need you to focus,” she said. I might as well have been eight years old and sitting at one of those grade-school desks. She said, “Jacob, look at the roof.”
I did. Occurred to me what a marvel it was, a small miracle of hydraulics and metal and human need for the wind and the sun on you.
She touched the convertible top of the Mustang and said, “Touch it.”
She said, “Now look at your knees.”
I obeyed. There they were, side by side. Could you have seen the left one through my Levi’s you would have noticed two short belly-white scars, the signs of ACL reconstruction, arthroscopy, a rebuilt ligament, tissue taken from my hamstring, the end of an unpromising basketball career and a high-schooler’s dream of playing point guard for the Celtics.
She said, “Now.” She took my hand. She said, “Jacob, look at me.”
She had pulled me in. Refocused me. She said, “I need you to hear me.”
“You have my undivided attention,” I said.
Molly said, “This is home. I’m home.” She let go of my hand, and she said, “You’re not part of home.
Not in any way, and I need to be home.”
Neither of us talked for a minute.
Then Molly said, “Just follow your nose along the way we came. The secret in this part of the country is when in doubt turn left. Visit the Coonskin Library in Amesville. It’s on your way. Go north. Visit Roseville. They’ll show you the finest clay in the country, and you can buy some pottery.” Molly handed me about five hundred bucks. Money from the bracelet. She climbed out of the car, and she said, “Just turn around and, first chance, turn left.” She backed away a few feet and said, “Then left again. If you get lost, don’t forget the breadcrumb trick. It works.”
She met two of her aunts—one of them Jasmine, I felt sure—half-way down the lane, and the three of them got into one of those hugs that is all arm and neck and clumsy. I U-turned and saw the third aunt coming out of the house, her red hair like a backfire. What should have happened here was Molly’s boy was supposed to be at her side, holding the aunt’s hand until he sees his mother who has stooped low and spread her arms wide for him to run into. She is in the shade of a tree and set to catch him. He probably hesitates at the top of the steps until he can’t see my car. Who doesn’t know about stranger danger? I turn the corner, and he breaks free and runs so fast and hard he stumbles but catches himself like a plastic bag in the wind and he sails into Molly’s arms.
A few miles the other side of Amesville—I skipped the library—the I-33 overpass up ahead, signs telling me where to go, after the bottom of the road seemed to drop out from under me, and I almost lost control coming into a sweeping turn—had seen grasses hanging on phone lines, debris from what had to have been the remains of last year’s floods, Molly had told me—I turned left for Athens where I would hook up with the highway to Cincinnati.
There are laws already on the books. People don’t bury family out back. Certainly not a child. Not a toddler. It’s against all the rules public and private.
You don’t toss a three-year-old boy out like he’s trash.
I have placed my phone on the passenger’s seat so I can snag it in case Molly needs to talk. Maybe she will send a video. Title—The Reunion. Maybe one of her boy. Of him coming out of the house and joining the third aunt hand in hand. Then he charges toward Molly, alive, full of a young child’s energy.
I’ll play the video, and I’ll think of the dancing couple in the park. We should have filmed them. Our getting up each morning is an act worthy of applause. No matter what you accept as the end there has to be an accounting. Those two dancers back in Las Vegas, they moved like mercury when they romped under the sky.
You can imagine Molly’s boy. The boy bites his lower lip. He must be ten by now. Maybe eleven. Older? He reaches the edge of the porch. The aunt says it’s okay. Off he goes. He pounds down the steps. From around the side of the house, a dog joins him. It’s white. It’s a pit bull.
The boy is flying. He is streamlined.
He has to be alive. So much so he puts the rest of us to shame. He can’t actually be dead. His speed and joy outrun his legs, and he stumbles, catches a toe, flails and windmills, and gathers himself and continues on. Like it’s all a game.
You don’t bury kids in the back yard. It’s not done.
Darrell Spencer has published five books of fiction, four short story collections and one novel. Caution: Men in Trees won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and Bring Your Legs with You won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. He is currently working on a novel titled The Deflowering of Christian Frei.
Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015