Kirby Wright’s work appeared in three prior issues of The Conium Review, and he has been published in numerous other literary magazines, including Pithead Chapel, Calliope, Drunken Boat, Monkey Puzzle, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and others. He is the author of several books, most recently Hong Kong Man (Lemon Shark Press, 2015).
First of the month, sirens startle and scare. Even though he says, one of them drills, that’s all, her eyes go black with worry. Then the wailing. That old familiar dread. He runs for the hatchet. Sturdy, sure where wood dips into blade. He hacks and hacks until the plywood comes free. Look, baby, nothing but bluesky.
How long has it been? The rescue teams have cleared out. All manner of debris sorted and carried off. Signs for free counseling folded and stowed away.
Still, she’s on her hands and knees. Shaking. Shivering. Crawling to the closet.
Matches in her mouth.
Down at the diner, talk’s turned to runningbacks. Linemen. A different kind of safety.
He stands in the drive, squinting. Downright mesmerizing, how the sun sparks up the roof. That terrible tarp gone. He pushes the door, ears still screaming, thinking on new beginnings. Of everything hammered down.
And there she is. Ghost of the girl he gave his heart to. In the kitchen floor. Nails bitten to bleeding. Wrapped in that blue plastic nightmare.
Somewhere the grass greens. Birds chirp. Spiders knit webs lopsided and mean.
But here, days stretch and bend, motheaten with memory. Not even a dog left to yap.
A full day put down, he lays out for bbq he don’t even like. But he does his part. He tries.
Inside smells like sadness. Like sawdust. Like everything else. The walls hurried into place. Makeshift and bald.
Grayhair at the counter, her hand over his trying to melt calluses, asks, Shug, how you holding up?
He stares at the sack. Hard to talk on holes that don’t show.
In the night, an empty rut on her side of bed. He trips over boots. Fumbles, room to room, flipping all the lights.
Finds her pressed in the shallow of the bathtub, under a mess of dirty clothes, clinging to sleep.
He watches, missing her heat. The way their hands would meet in the dark. Seeking. The pulse of that memory nearly dead.
That wind been going all damn day. Pushing everything about. Impossible to work.
Huddled on barstools, everyone inside thankful for thick smoke and woodpaneling. No windows to be scraped by limbs. To be blown out. To remind him to get home. To her. Where she’ll be crouched in some corner. Crying into the hem of her dress. Waiting for sheetrock to pull away.
He orders another beer. Ready to drain the day.
Dark creeps earlier and earlier. A day’s work slipped between.
His headlights sweep the yard. A flash of silver where she stabs her shovel. Clots of red dirt at her feet. Finally had her fill of that neighbor dog.
He slides from the truck, slow to remember how that dog’s been gone. How everything is.
Leaves, brown and wet, stick to the shovel. Like skin.
April’s coming, she says, smudges on her cheeks. Hair all a tangle. Frantic for a stormshelter.
Across the street, pitch black. Nothing but mud anyhow. Far as the wind goes.
Thinking on that trailer out at the county line, he scares up the courage to call his cousin.
He snorts. Says, That old thing. Some tweakers blew it straight to Jesus. Everybody wanting to get sideways, I reckon. Why you asking?
Thought you was stronger than all that.
That damn sky darkens, colored with smite. Her eyes feral at the tumble of thunder.
All the world ready to rage.
Girl, don’t you do it, he says, sweeping behind, pinning her arms. A terrible noise deep in her gut. Barking. Bucking, going for his shins, trying to yank away, until her shirt rips. He clamps tighter and tighter, a snake around dinner.
Raindrops fat as eggs against the roof. Slide down the window. Witness.
He kicks the door open, slinging them both onto the porch.
Beyond the mangled treeline, lightning opens the sky like a shiv.
Drops fall on their bare feet. Cold as nails. Nails ripped from floorboards. Nails licked by the first frost. Snowed upon. Left to rust.
He hauls her down the steps, into the yard, to that spot where grass is afraid to grow.
Look. See. He lifts her chin to the sky. That weird light they both know. Growing greener.
Still here. We’re still here. His voice slick with wanting.
The rain runs down, onto their skin, trying to wash them both clean.
Image Credit: ©/ Dollar Photo Club
Patrick’s work has also appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal, Parcel, and the Writing That Risks anthology. Congrats on the publication, Patrick!
In the news today was an article about a dog in Yuba City who dug up human bones in the backyard. There was a jaw bone and a skull. The police suspected religious rituals. My dog too has been digging. There is a spot up against the fence that is shady, where the grass never grew in thick, and he has been worrying at this for a week now. After he has loosened the dirt and cleared away the weeds, he will lie down for a minute or two, so maybe he is only trying to make a cool spot for himself, like flipping from one side of a pillow to another. But there is something frantic and mindless in the way he digs, and I don’t like it. He’s four years old, and he’s never done this before.
He woke up last night, growling and barking into the darkness. There was laughter out in the alley. Ryan got up and went through the house, flipping on lights and checking locks. He took a long time to return to bed, and the noises from the street sounded like they were coming from the kitchen. Really, it wasn’t the dog that woke me at all, but Ryan standing there beside the bed, looking and listening for something.
The owner of that dog in Yuba City was named Mr. Kind. In the quotes he gave to reporters, he said the word “kind” again and again. “It went from kind of cool to kind of serious,” he said, and I wondered what it must feel like, to say your own name so often. I had a boyfriend once named Rich. He was an asshole, and we wouldn’t be friends if I met him today, but sometimes I still see him on Facebook, and he lives in Yuba City, and he always has the same nice-teeth smirk, and he’s almost never wearing a shirt, and he always looks like he owns the place, wherever he is.
It occurs to me that the dog has been sticking close lately, subtly insinuating himself into my space. At night he jumps between Ryan and I, settles in slightly to one side. Ryan says, “Why does he only love you?”
Sometimes, when I take the dog for his walk in the evening, I will feel him shrinking away from some object or another that seems strange to him—bending into a c shape, crab-walking into my legs. Usually, I do not understand what it is that scares him, and I pull him along. Sometimes he will growl at the men who approach, and he does not show his teeth then, but his lips are pulled back tight. It is the same look he wears when he is digging: a look that says, “I don’t know what else I could do.”
Image Credit: © asmakar / Dollar Photo Club
Ashley Hutson (recent contributor with her story “The Hen of God“) was recently published at r.kv.r.y., a quarterly literary journal dedicated to the theme of recovery. Read Ashley’s poem, “Hot Bones,” and check out her interview with r.kv.r.y. where she discusses the piece.