Fiction: Waldo

Easy now. Pace the hundred and twenty three step perimeter. Say fifteen Hail Mary’s, check the beet plants. Beets—the perfect energy source, grown with the light of the sun, run down a fifteen foot cable to power miniature grow lights. Ambient energy, captured, refined, percolated, and repatriated as blood red nutrients. Waldo’s hamster died last night. He could see where this was going. The creature was less of a vermin—in fact, she was his only friend—than it was a canary in the mine, a harbinger of Waldo’s goose being shuffled gingerly into the oven.

How many days, how many months had it been? Shortwave radio lost reception almost at once, even the old Russian number station Waldo used to fall asleep to. The slavic woman’s voice, the last voice of the fairer sex, four, twenty-nine, eighty-six, silence. Transmission ended: world fucked. World fucked, beets, Mary-Lou the hamster, stacks and stacks of water bottles, piss filters, ambient collection tanks, soil, MRE’s, a small incinerator for absolute emergencies, shortwave radio, stacks of books, stacks of legal pads and pencils. One hundred and twenty three paces of a full grown human male.

Out of yellow legal paper, match sticks, the cardboard from a seeding planter, Waldo constructs a casket for little Mary-Lou. Hunched at his small desk, jeweler’s magnifier in one hand, paintbrush in the other, delicately embossing her name and a portrait of the America Flag, fifty-two stars individually drawn and colored white. The box fit just in the palm of his hand, but it was perfect. The design was similar to a puzzle box: one panel needed to be depressed with just the right pressure to allow the end to spring open and accept the little hamster body.

What to do with the wheel and the cage lined with sawdust? Perhaps it could be repurposed as some sort of recreation device? For now it was draped in black, the color of mourning, and red white and blue book covers (the best Waldo could do on short notice). Laying in state, Mary-Lou was the image of peace and dignity. Waldo found himself shedding the first tear of his unfortunate exile. A crowd has gathered. A few dozen Benjamin Franklins, some Ulysses Grants and a few sallow Andrew Jacksons. All the best men, the other heroes, come to pay respect to a fallen patriot.

Waldo’s eulogy was short. Nobody ever said he was particularly good with words. He thanked Mary-Lou for the time she had here on Earth and in this place specifically, and he released her soul to God’s grace. He pressed play on the Allman Bros cassette he had cued up for the moment. Mary-Lou’s favorite song. He could tell because she always ran faster when he put this tape on. She went into the puzzle box and Waldo carried her across to the small incinerator. The door closed, the gas flame lit up and lifted Mary-Lou’s earthly corpus to the heavens above. Rest in peace little one, Waldo said, feeling another few tears coming up.

Mary-Lou, in one of those coincidences life throws in the laps of superstitious people like Waldo McCarthy, shared a name with Waldo’s elementary school neighbor and first crush, Mary Wilkerson.

In the school yard one day, some time in the spring of fourth grade, Waldo put some thumbtacks (the silver ones with the flat round backs) point up in the dirt. The idea came to him earlier in the day after a particularly infuriating episode. Waldo, speed walking to biology, found himself followed by a maddening click click like a pebble falling down a flight of hardwood stairs. The culprit was found by a helpful someone who suggested, uh, maybe Waldo had a tack in his shoe. Embarrassed, Waldo claimed he knew that, stupid, and snuck off to the bathroom to take the villain out. This proved harder than anticipated, his mother having clipped his nails just the night before.

The idea grew from there. Place tacks upright in the dirt in the schoolyard, then five, maybe six if luck had it, clueless chumps would find themselves locked into unwilling partnership with their new silver tappers.

Things did not go as smoothly as planned as Mary Wilkerson ran by in her summer flats. Compared to Waldo’s chunky department store sneakers, her inscrutably feminine ballet shoes were an easy target to pierce and Waldo soon found himself explaining why exactly it was that Mary needed a round of tetanus shots to an unimpressed assembly of parents, teachers, administrators, and legal counsels.

For Mary Wilkerson’s part, she began to take more seriously her mother’s warnings, between puffs of a Newport cigarette, that young men should not be trusted with sharp objects, or indeed, with almost anything. This event also spurred her to, several weeks later, sneak up on an otherwise occupied Waldo McCarthy and dump a handful of dirt and thumbtacks down the back of his t-shirt, an event which, in turn, caused Waldo to remember his own mother’s warning that nobody holds a grudge like a woman scorned. The word “scorned” meaning, young Waldo guessed, something along the lines of “stabbed in the foot with a thumb tack.”

Use your head, one exasperated instructor told him at the end of the meeting. And Waldo listened. He made plans, and contingency plans, and backup contingency plans. Some things, however, can’t be planned through before they happen. Such was Mary-Lou’s death. Waldo could not have planned, for instance, for the sudden auditory apparentness of the beet water dripping through recycling tubes. Without the hamster wheel and scuttling feet to listen to, the small shelter was suddenly much noisier. Waldo did not plan on what to do with Mary Lou’s ashes. He considered scattering them in the potting soil, but something about the idea that he would be consuming them in a few weeks’ time was unsettling. For now they remained inside the incinerator.

For Heaven’s sake, Waldo thought. So much work to do.

After the Funeral

After the funeral, a few guys in black suits with white gloves on came in through some secret door somewhere and wheeled the coffins out. One of them, the boss probably, took the blue and yellow hockey jerseys, numbers 11 and 16, which had been draped over the coffins, and handed them to Mr. Warner. He’s holding them sort of like a clothesline, draped over his arm held out a few inches from his body. Like he wants the wind to dry them out.

I’m one of the last in the room. A lot of people went outside after Mr. Warner thanked them for coming. I was still standing over the guest book with a pen in my hand, reading some of the memories other people shared. A lot of them were BS from kids that used to bully me and Brian in middle school and just ignored us now. I guess it’s easy for someone like that to just jot any old thing down, like it’s a yearbook: have a good summer!

I saw Jackie Arrentini come in a while ago and I ducked behind some old guys who must have been Mr Warner’s friends. She left pretty quick, but I found out she wasn’t actually gone, she was just standing outside the front door talking to some other kids from school. Last time Jackie Arrentini saw me she made me cry in front of Andrew Weissman and his little brother. Then she told everyone I had a crush on Andrew and he didn’t talk to me for two months. I wish she could stop turning up.

I stuck my head out of the room and looked down the hall at the exit. Yep, she was still out there. And nobody left to hide behind and sneak out. I look around and Mr. Warner is gone. His friends are gone too, it’s just me. I scribbled down the only thing I could think of in their book, just that I miss them both and some other stuff like that. Being alone with just their school photos and a table of flowers is giving me the creeps. I went out in the hallway and braced for Arrentini. Maybe there’s another way out? Instead of going straight out the front door, I went left. There were a few more rooms like the one I was just in and then a ninety degree turn in the hallway, and there hanging from the ceiling right at the bend there was a red and white glowing exit sign with an arrow pointing left. I can go out the back, grab my bike and be out of here before Jackie even sees anything. What the hell.

The other rooms, parlors—is that what the rooms are called? Or is that the whole building? The other parlors were all empty, just one funeral today I guess. Down the hall to the left, past some closed doors, and to the left again to a bigger hallway, split down the middle by a row of kind of tacky white plaster columns. Like at the Lincoln Memorial.

The exit was right at the end of the hall. But—shit. One of those morticians was holding the door open. Before he caught sight of me, a teenage kid without even a pair of good shoes on, definitely not kosher to be be back here, I ducked behind one of those pillars. There was a black car pulled up outside the door. On the right hand wall I could see a bunch of glass display cases now, full of photos it looked like, along with some newspapers and other printed pages framed up. I checked back around the other side of the column. The guy is still there, just holding the door. It looks heavy too, big brass handle, thick frosted glass panel in the middle. Some noises. Another door opens, on the left side of the hallway. Two more guys push and pull out one of the coffins and carefully maneuver it through the door. The door guy lets the door whoosh shut and I see their silhouettes through the frosted glass moving around the hearse. A trunk slams and the shadow of the car moves up a few feet; another moves up to its place.

The door opens and the morticians come back in. One of them laughs quietly and slaps another on the back, they are making a new guy holds the door this time as the other two go back for the second coffin. They bring it out into the hallway, but the angle is wrong or something so they have to realign it to the door. They are pushing and pulling it sort of like someone trying to turn around their car in a tight alley. I hear another car door slam outside and some footsteps and a woman comes running in. The guy on the door lets go of it and it whooshes shut, he looks like he isn’t sure what to do. The woman—the woman is Mrs. Warner. I remember she ran out of the room when her husband started tearing up thanking everyone for coming, like he was cutting his Christmas party short or something. Alright, the kids have to be off to bed, so thanks for coming, enjoy your holiday. She started this whispered conversation with one of the two guys pushing the casket. She grabbed him by the shoulder and her voice broke. Alright, alright I can hear him say, trying to calm her down a little. He tells the other guy something, the young guy. Maybe a few years older than me, looks like he could be the door guy’s son.

This poor kid is bright red. He looks between the two morticians, and at Mrs. Warner like he isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do. One of them nods and he reaches down and unhooks some latches on the casket. My head stuck out the side of the pillar, frozen with my eyes locked on that box. Together the kid and the other guy pull open half the lid. Inside the form of Brian or Luke. It strikes me now that maybe nobody knows which one is which. He’s wearing a suit, hands folded across his chest. The hands are swollen, blue. His face as well. Where his eyes were it looks like gauze or bandages wrapped around his head. His hair is messy and thin, the lower half of his face is distorted. Everything is pulled forward from the neck, probably from where the rope held him up. His skin is the texture of fresh cut halibut, but dark, almost purple.

Everyone’s eyes are locked on the boy, everyone except the door attendant, who is staring into space, bored looking, waiting for a cue to do something. Mrs. Warner has stopped crying. She reaches out one hand; the kid tries to stop her, but is himself stopped by the older man. She reaches out one hand and takes the hand of her son, my friend. I imagine how cold it must feel. Then in an instant, I almost miss the movement, she is down there on top of him. She’s kissing his face and neck, stroking his hair, crying again. Nobody tries to stop her, but the spell is broken and we all look away from the body. I can hear her wet sobs and the kisses hitting cold flesh. In the silence of the empty building, there isn’t much else to hear.

I walk out the front door several minutes later. I snuck away when they started moving the casket outside again. The parade, the motorcade is starting. Everyone in line has the little flags on their hoods and they all follow the two hearses. Mrs. and Mr. Warner must be in the first car behind the second hearse, bringing the boys to their resting place. Jackie is gone, thank God, I think if I saw her I would have pushed her over and ruined her nice dress.

Fiction: A Double Date

Carrey is alone in her bedroom. “I want something I’ve felt before but can’t feel now” she wrote this on a post-it note and stuck it to her computer monitor. It’s warm for February. So warm she had to open a window and take off her sweater. So warm that moths or beetles or whatever they are have flown in from outside. Her cat is staring at them flying around the bedroom light with a hungry look in his eyes. His head twitches as they move, his pupils get bigger and bigger.

Earlier that day Carrey was in her therapist’s office. The receptionist spoke too quietly. Carrey had to ask her to repeat every thing she said and it made her feel a little crazy. “I feel like I’m always off somewhere,” she says in her appointment. “What kind of person am I that basic interaction is so awkward for me,” she asks. “Am I just not paying enough attention?” When she talks for too long, she’s gets scared of the way her therapist clicks her pen. She’s got something bad on her mind, Carrey thinks. “Tell me what you’re struggling with,” the woman says. Carrey doesn’t know what to say.

Carrey looks at the sticky note again. She wrote it last night right after she turned off one of her favorite albums. She tried to remember what she was thinking. It felt like it came from somewhere in her mind she couldn’t reach right now.

Carrey was up late picking an outfit for her double date tomorrow. That was something she talked about with her therapist: she took forever to pick an outfit. She needed the significance of her appearance to be obvious. It needed to do most of the work expressing how she felt about what she was doing.

The date was with her boyfriend and his friend who happened to be dating a girl Carrey went to high school with. She just found out who the girl was today. She didn’t really remember her. She remembered the name, someone who had been in a few classes with Carrey, maybe they hung out in the same group a few times, went to a party together. She couldn’t pick her out of a crowd, but she probably signed her yearbook with something like “have a great time at college!”

Carrey wondered what her boyfriend was going to think of the girl. She was pretty, right? And she was probably normal too. She could probably remember someone’s name five minutes after being introduced to them. She probably didn’t write things down on post-it notes that she didn’t understand. She probably didn’t cry at commercials on Food Network.

The next night, Carrey and Ethan arrived early at the King street bar. Ethan decided to wear a down vest over his long sleeve shirt, as well as a teal baseball cap. Carrey wore a black skirt and a gray sweater. “We’re really early,” Ethan pointed out when they found a parking space. Carrey shrugged, “it’s hard to find a table once karaoke starts.” The other couple wasn’t there yet. Ethan and Carrey found table near the stage and ordered drinks.

` They finished their drinks, and a couple more rounds before the other couple showed up. A few people had sung already, but the night hadn’t really started. Carrey examined the other couple. The guy hugged Ethan and introduced the girl. Carrey smiled at them both. She was prettier than Carrey remembered. Maybe she didn’t wear makeup in high school or something. She was wearing a dress too. Carrey never wore dresses. She suddenly felt self conscious. She looked a lot like another boy. She imagined a stranger looking over at their table and seeing three dudes with one pretty girl. Ethan’s friend was giving her a weird look. She didn’t know him too well. Ethan was always over at his place playing video games, but she hadn’t met him that many times.

They ordered some more drinks. Some drunk girl went up on stage and sang “Love is a Battlefield.” She was doing well until the second verse when she forgot the words and started to look like she was going to cry.

The other couple went up next. The girl sort of dragged the guy up. They sang a duet that Carrey didn’t know. The guy got really into it, doing these cheesy hand gestures and putting on a Frank Sinatra voice. During the girl’s parts he made serious faces and added in harmonies. When they came back to the table, he had a huge smile on his face. “You should go guys,” he told Carrey and Ethan, “sing something dancey.”

Ethan shook his head. His friend shoved him a little bit “come on. It’s funny!” Ethan didn’t say anything, but he shook his head again and got busy checking his phone.

“I want to get another drink,” he mumbled, “want one Carrey?” He got up.

“Yeah,” she said. “Whatever looks good.” The other couple were laughing about something across the table. The date looks like it’s going well, Carrey thought.

The girl turned and looked at her, “you should sing something Carrey. You were in choir in school right?”

“For a couple weeks,” Carrey replied. She felt her face turn red.

She went up to the stage anyway. The guy running the show was telling some jokes about his life in the 1970’s, but he stopped when he saw Carrey walking over. “Looks like we’ve got another superstar, what track do you want dear?”

She hadn’t thought about this yet. She said the first one that came to her, ”You’re so Vain, please.” She couldn’t remember who sang it but he didn’t ask, thank God. The man got behind his computer and found the track. It started and Carrey waited for the lyrics to appear on the screen. Back at her table, she could see Ethan had come back with a fresh drink for her. He was saying something to his friend and laughing. The first line of the song came up and she started to sing. Ethan looked up and made eye contact with her for a second. She thought he looked confused.

Carrey listened to herself signing. Being up here on stage wasn’t like singing in the shower at home. It really wasn’t like singing at all. She felt like she was standing next to herself watching herself perform. The voice she heard was strange and alien. It was too deep for starters, and more than a little off key. Her throat was seizing up; she felt like she had to swallow but there was no time between lines to do it.

The audience clapped, she went back to the table and Ethan’s friend high-fiver her. Ethan smiled and told her she was great, and the girl agreed. She felt like she was going to throw up. She picked up the drink Ethan got her and took a big sip. Alright, she thought, I’m here. I’m back. 

 

 

Ethan drove her home of course. His car smelled like cigarettes and there were often bags of books or papers or trash stuffed in the back seat, but the passenger side seat was always clean enough for her to get comfortable. At first he forgot to turn his headlights on and Carrey was surprised at how fast everything was coming up to the car. When he realized, he swore and turned them on. Carrey could suddenly see a hundred yards down the road. The world seemed to slow down.

“What was up with you tonight?” Ethan asked.

“What do you mean?” Carrey replied. “I had fun.”

“Are you mad I didn’t sing with you? I didn’t feel like getting up on stage tonight. You sounded really good though. But you didn’t have to sing if you didn’t want to.”

“I liked it. It’s different seeing everyone from up there. But I just, I guess it was weird being on someone else’s first date. Do you ever feel weird around new couples?”

Ethan thought about it for a second. “Yeah, I guess so.”

 

 

Ethan dropped her off right at her building’s front door. She stumbled to the stairs and ran up them quicker than she needed to. She liked the feeling of her legs moving in a blur. The door was unlocked for some reason. She usually locks it. Oh well, she thought, everything looks like it’s in its place inside. The dishes are still there in the sink. Carrey laughed out loud; why wouldn’t they be in the sink? It’s not like a serial killer would do her dishes.

When they started dating, Ethan used to stay parked outside until he saw the light of her apartment come on. Tonight, he drove off as soon as he let her out on the curb. When Carrey was a kid, she saw a TV report about a girl who went missing right outside her house after being dropped off by the school bus. The girl was Carrey’s age then: maybe seven or eight. Her bicycle was found behind some bushes a few days later which was strange because she didn’t have time to ride it anywhere before she went missing. A police man on TV said he thought someone moved it to make it look like she went out on her own after she got home.

Carrey wasn’t supposed to be watching TV after dinner. Her mom had found her crying with the report on. She remembered asking what the girl did wrong, and whether she would disappear too if she was a bad girl. “Of course not honey.” her mom told her, “the angels are here to keep you safe.”

“Even when I’m alone?””

“You are never alone, Care. Even when you are walking by yourself, there’s an angel there looking out for you. They won’t let you get hurt.”

But sometimes she felt so alone. When her mom died, Carrey felt really alone for the first time. The loneliness went deeper than feeling like nobody liked her or understood her. It felt like there was nobody else on the planet. She felt alone as a human being. She never really got over it.

She put he kettle on. It took forever to heat up on this stove. Everything in her apartment was a little bit broken. The fridge hummed so loud on hot days that she couldn’t fall asleep, the windows whistled with cold air in winter forcing her to sleep in her clothes. Only half the burner worked. The water boiled eventually. Carrey stood next to the stove the entire time. She was paranoid that she would forget the kettle was on one day and wake up to the smell of smoke and find herself trapped. She imagined the firemen finding the melted metal of the kettle dripping down to the floor and tracing the fire from there to the curtains or the trashcan.

Was this the life her dad imagined her having when he worked weekends and nights to pay for her to take piano lessons? Carrey couldn’t even play Chopsticks. If tonight was any indication, she couldn’t even sing. The tea was ready. She poured herself a big mug and took it with her into the bedroom. She pulled off her bra and changed into shorts. The bed was the same as it had been in the morning: a mess of layers in all different states. She was a restless sleeper and would frequently push all but one sheet off the bed along with all the pillows. The blanket would become her pillow.

The silence in the house felt like a colony of tiny insects crawling over Carrey’s skin. The idea of music or a podcast was revolting. The idea of someone else’s voice in her head. I wonder what Connor and Jamie are doing right now, Carrey thought. She imagined where they lived. She imagined them taking an elevator up to their apartment and holding hands as they looked out over the city. She looked out her own window at the brick wall of a Chinese laundromat. She could see steam coming out of a vent which meant someone was in there working late.

“I want something I’ve felt before but can’t feel now.” The note on her computer was still there. Carrey tried to remember when she wrote it. She must have been drunk. She was drunk a lot these days. It wasn’t doing a lot for her though. She would write a lot when she was drunk, but most of it was crap. When she read over it, it seemed like someone else must have written it. Like that note. What did she mean? What state was she in when she wrote it? She couldn’t remember. What was the feeling?

Flicker, her black cat, came out from somewhere. He liked to stay under the bed for most of the day. When Carrey first brought him home, she opened his carrier and off he went. She couldn’t find him for a bit before she noticed the open window. Carrey panicked. She lived on the fourth floor. Even a cat would be seriously injured jumping out of there. But as she searched the apartment over and over she became more and more convinced that that is exactly what happened. The shelter was going to check in next week and she was going to have to tell them Flicker had run away, or worse. She slammed the window shut and reopened it, wondering if the cat was out on the fire escape. She didn’t want to lock him out. She thought again and shut it. Maybe he was inside after all. She was paralyzed with anxiety. She collapsed on the bed and cried. Everything came up at once. Her parents, her ex boyfriend, Flicker. She was face down in a pillow that was getting wetter and wetter. Then she felt the small furry weight on her back and knew that Flicker, at least, was okay. She lay there dry sobbing for another hour before she could find him a bowl of food and a dish of water.

She learned that he loved to hide. His favorite place was under the bed, but he would hide in the closet as well as the pantry and underneath the couch. Sometimes he would hide under the covers of the bed only to leap out and into a different room when she sat down to read.

Carrey invited him up to the bed and he accepted. He fit right in between her arm and her body. He curled up and began to purr, asking to be petted.

Fiction: The Breakdown

Toni’s car broke down about a quarter mile back. There was a sign that read “Gas Station Ten Miles” so she started walking. The sun was just starting to set. It was September still, so it wasn’t too cold yet. Toni was thankful for that.

A blue Chevrolet pickup drove by, the first vehicle she’d seen in while. Ahead, its brake lights lit up and the driver pulled over to the shoulder. “Hey there!” comes a man’s voice from the driver’s side. She sees his head leaning out the window. “You need a ride?” he asks. She’s still a way away and can’t make out his face. She sees he has a cap on, and a blue coat just like his truck.

Toni speeds up a little bit and comes up on the pickup. She can see the man now. He’s younger than she thought. The kind of guy you would see in line at the store and smile at if the line was moving slow. The bed of his truck is full of sandbags. “That your car a ways back?” the man asks. Toni said it was. “Dangerous to be out here alone at night,” he says. Toni agrees. He offers her a ride to the Mobil station. Toni gets in the passenger side. She has to push some magazines off the seat, but apart from that the cab is spotless. He has a coffee cup in the cupholder and the coffee is still fresh. The steam from it rises to the cab’s ceiling and then rolls along in all directions until it disappears.

“I’m Glenn”, the man says, holding out his hand.

“Toni.”

He starts the truck and pulls off the shoulder. She can see the bags under his eyes now. He looks barely thirty, yet his hair is visibly thinning underneath the baseball cap.

“What brings you out here?” he asks.

Toni tells him she was out at one of the farms back a bit. She saw an ad for a babysitter wanted on weekends for a family with five kids. The parents needed someone around while they went into the city to sell at the farmers’ market. It was a drive, but work’s hard to find for someone Toni’s age, she tells him. And she has a new baby sister coming as well, so money’s tight.

The man nods. “That’d be the Johnson farm?” he asks. “They got five kids.”

Toni tells him yes, it is the Johnson’s.

“I deliver feed over there on Mondays,” he continues. Toni nods.

“Nice folks.”

He falls silent for a minute.

“They tell you about the horse they had?”

“I saw some pigs running around. And a dog. They didn’t mention any horse.”

“Well, a couple years back they bought the Clappers’ spare draft horse,” he explained “I hauled the thing over there myself in a big trailer. Horse was taller an’ any I’d seen, and strong too. Good workhorse. Willful though. When I’d come round on Mondays, bringing the grain and hay and pellets for the animals, Mrs. Johnson would tell me all the trouble they’d been having with the big thing. He’d break tethers, or scare the pigs, and one time he got on the other side of this little creek they got out there on the property and wouldn’t come back over for anything. Like he realized he was scared of water.

When winter came, they would keep him in their barn. Only he would push open the bar holding the door closed and wander around outdoors. Would have died of cold many times over if Mister Johnson didn’t always notice and lead him back in. They started to keep a truck parked outside the barn door after that so he couldn’t open it. They kept the truck parked there and Mister Johnson would go in this small door in the back that was too small for the horse to fit through.” He paused and corrected himself, “Well, it wasn’t really a small door, but that horse was real big.

Well, one morning the family heard some strange noises coming from over at the barn. That horse had pulled down a rope from the loft and the rope had dragged a bale of hay down with it. Of course, he had spent the whole night chewing on that hay. This was some hay that I hauled over as part of a big load a few months ago. It was good hay, I check all my hay myself. Thing is, they left it up there and it must have got wet, because it was covered in mold and everything. That stupid horse ate near to the whole bale.”

Glenn looked over to Toni, his eyes searching her face for a reaction. She looked away. “Poor thing,” she said under her breath, loud enough she was sure Glenn heard.

“When Mister Johnson went over to investigate and he found that horse in a state of fright he had never seen before. It was like there was a ghost in that barn. The poor thing was swinging his head around nearly in a circle, his eyes bulging out of his head. As soon as Mister Johnson opened that little door the horse made a break for it, charging at that door full speed. He was too big of course, but it didn’t stop him. He had such a fear in him. He knocked Mr. Johnson right over and broke both of his front legs right there trying to force his way out. There was snow on the ground and there that poor animal was, thrashing around half in and half out of the barn, head in the snow, eyes still bulging out of his head, legs broken to pieces, blood starting to pool.

Poor Mister Johnson was in a state as well, I’ll tell you. Here was his only horse, sick to death on bad hay and injured as well. And he wasn’t in great shape himself either. He fell on his arm and twisted it pretty bad. Mrs. Johnson heard the commotion and was calling down from the house to see if everything was okay. When she headed down there and saw her husband nursing his arm and the draft horse flailing around in its own blood, she went into a panic. She was running back and forth between the house and the barn trying to help Mister Johnson put his arm right, asking him who she should call, asking to drive him to the hospital.”

Glenn chuckled and fell silent for a moment. “Picture that scene, won’t you. Imagine your father or your brother is screaming outside and you come out to see what that woman saw.”

“Was he alright?” Toni asked.

“They managed to pop his arm back in somehow, but he wasn’t able to use it very well for a few weeks after.

Lucky thing is, because it snowed, I was coming over the farm to plow and put down salt and sand on the driveway. I pulled up and saw the scene. Mrs. Johnson was in hysterics, Mister Johnson was crying in pain, and there was the horse bloody all over by now. I stood back a bit and looked in that animal’s eyes and I saw nothing but fear. I had never seen anything like it before. There was nothing there, no sadness, no want, nothing except fear. The thing would have been running on its own shattered legs if it hadn’t been wedged right in that door. It was trying even as it was. The creature would have run through a forest of barbed wire if it meant getting away from whatever it felt in that barn.

I went around back of the barn and found the shotgun in Mister Johnson’s truck and put the big creature out of its misery. Can’t fix broken legs on an old horse. Not if you want it to do work again anyway. We were all three quiet for a minute after that. Then I put the salt down and finished plowing a little bit, I moved Mister Johnson’s truck and opened the big barn door. I saw the hay lying strewn about, and the back end of the horse. I tied a chain to its back legs and put the other end on my trailer hitch, and we dragged him out the big door. The thing wasn’t even stuck, as far as I could tell. If he had tried to back up, he could of. He was only stuck as long as he was pushing forwards through that little door.”

Toni sat looking straight ahead as he talked, watching the lines on the road get eaten up by the pickup’s hood. There on the right was the Mobil station. Glenn slowed the truck and turned into the parking lot. There were no other cars there, but the light was on inside the station, and she thought she could see a man’s shape through a window.

“Well, thank you for the company miss”, Glenn says, “I hope you have a safe journey.” Toni turned to look at him one last time. Maybe he is older than she thought, after all, Toni thinks to herself. She sees a scar across his upper chest, in the opening of his plaid shirt. “And say hi to Mister Johnson for me if you see him again”

Without saying a word, she opens the door and steps out onto the concrete. The man reaches over and pulls her door closed. He turns away from her and starts the truck, slowly easing it back out onto the road.