Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2020    poetry    all issues

Fiction Summer 2020 cover


Cover Vecteezy

Robert Maynor
The Intimidator

Jennifer Hanno
The Quickening

Daniel Gorman

Bethany Nuckolls
Hot Days Are For Listening

Audrey Kalman
Unobserved Absences

Benjamin Keyworth
The Ties That Bind

Peter Beynon
The Spirit of Sagaponack

Darius Degher
War Story

K. L. Perry
Like That

Lenore Gusch
The Rotation of Planets

Elizabeth Edelglass
First They Came for the Torahs

Robyn Blocker
The Crowned

Robert Maynor

The Intimidator

Memorial Day weekend, Daddy and me were floating the pond where Pop used to take us. Since he died, the land was sold, and a neighborhood built. They converted the pond to retain runoff. Installed a fountain and treated it with chlorine that killed all the fish. We were sitting in our john boat. Daddy shirtless, wearing his Earnhardt hat, black with a number three stitched on the front, salt stains around the edge from sweat. Me in my cutoff Wranglers. Just watching our corks bob and pretending we thought they might go under.

“Pass me one of them beers, Jacob,” Daddy said. I stood up off the cooler I was sitting on and the boat shifted slightly beneath me. I lifted the lid, pulled out a can, and handed it to him.

He grunted thanks and cracked it open. The weather was hot. Sweat welled in the creases of my knees, ran down the back of my neck. Behind us, the fountain was spitting up buckets of water, making a racket. Daddy paddled us real slow along the bank with one arm. I reeled in my line and checked the cricket. It was still hooked there, all soggy and still.

“Go ahead and put you a fresh one on,” Daddy said.

I pulled another cricket from the plastic cage and threaded it on my hook, little spindly legs kicking. Casted my line back out. As we came around the last pine trees on the corner, the bank cleared, and I could see the big colorful houses standing with their backs to us. Amazing how fast they slapped those things up. Pop had only been dead two years.

A prop plane buzzed overhead. I looked to the sky and saw it flying over the pond, trailing a banner with a glass bottle Coke painted on it, advertising the race, the Coca-Cola 600.

“Who’s going to win it?” Daddy asked.

“I don’t know. Labonte. Gordon maybe.”

Daddy snorted. “Wouldn’t bet on that. Earnhardt loves Charlotte.” He took up his paddle and eased us further down the bank.

Three hours and we hadn’t caught a thing. I didn’t even want to go, but Daddy insisted. So we packed up the gear and drove four hours to bake in a neighborhood pond, probably didn’t have a single fish in the whole thing. We must’ve passed two dozen just like it on our way.

The pond was different when Pop was alive. Just a little overgrown fishing hole in the woods. We’d catch bream until our stringer nearly popped, then drive back to the house and fry them on Pop’s stove, watching the race on his bunny-ear television sitting right there on the kitchen table. Every Memorial Day.

He was a pioneer of racing himself, Pop was. Ran on tracks from Kannapolis to Brunswick with Ralph Earnhardt and Cotton Owens. When he got older, he built hot-rods in his barn and grew cantaloupes big as outboard motors.

My cork popped the surface. I pulled on my rod and the line gave a little bit, like it might be a fish, so I hauled it up to the edge of the boat. Daddy reached over the side. “Sons-of-bitches,” he said. He lifted a water-logged skateboard out of the water, tape peeling of the deck. He unhooked it from my line, reared back, and slung it up on the hill. It skidded across somebody’s cement patio and banged against their back door. A man wearing glasses and bedroom shoes with tall white socks came shuffling out of the house. He looked down at the skateboard like it was a dead mole some cat had left there, then he looked at us. “What is this?”

“You tell me,” Daddy hollered back.

The man cupped his hands around his eyes. “You folks live here?”

“Sure don’t.”

The man dropped his hands and put them in his pockets. “Well, technically, only residents have access to the pond.”

Daddy stood up and the boat rocked. His hairy chest was sunburned almost purple, glistening with sweat. “Says who, exactly?”

“The covenant, sir.”

“Look here,” Daddy said. “I’ll come up there and you can try to make me leave.” He spat into the water. “See how that goes.”

The man made a kind of pitiful, resigned motion with his hand and went inside.

Daddy sat down. “How about another one of them beers, boy?”

When we got home that night, Momma was gone. She and Daddy had gotten in one of their big fights before we left, cussing and screaming. She said she was leaving, but I didn’t think she really would. She always said that. But that time she meant it. Packed up everything. The TV, the pictures, the plates. Took it all and hauled ass. I couldn’t believe it, that she’d finally manned up.

Daddy came behind me into the house. When he saw everything missing, he just laughed. It made my whole body hurt.

Mister Paul came over with a case of Miller Light and a short-neck bottle of Evan Williams. He was Daddy’s oldest and only friend. They stood in the yard all night, listening to the race on the truck radio. Kenseth won. I stayed inside. Thought about crying but didn’t really need to.

With Momma gone, our old house changed. It withered up and croaked. The rugs went unbeaten, the sink filled with mold, the counters disappeared beneath fried chicken boxes and beer cans and gas station soda cups. I tried to straighten up, but it didn’t do any good. It was like Daddy was dirtying it on purpose, and he sank right into the filth. He didn’t even seem real anymore, didn’t seem human. Like there wasn’t even no skin on his bones but leather. And no heart and no blood and no guts, just rubber hoses and motor oil and steel.

He started working later at the factory, coming home after dark every night. The house stayed shady, just a lamp on where I was doing homework. One night, Daddy found his old stereo and a shoebox of cassettes in the back of his closet. Tom Petty, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd. We set it up in the living room and he told me about all the albums, when he’d gotten them, which songs were best.

Every night after work, he’d come in and sit down on the hearth and struggle out of his boots like they were glued to his feet. Undo the straps of his overalls. Drink Miller Light and dip snuff. We’d just sit there and listen to the music together, tapping our feet on the dusty rug.

In August, me and Daddy hauled a flatbed trailer up to Pop’s old house. Didn’t even drive by the pond. We had to be sneaky about the whole operation. Apparently, Pop had gotten backed up on his loans and taxes. The bank wouldn’t let us touch any of his stuff when he died.

He’d been working on a ’55 Ford. Sanding the body, replacing the drivetrain. He took things slow. Made sure everything was perfect. Daddy parked the truck and trailer behind the barn so nobody could see it from the road and we went inside. It smelled like sulfur, rotten wood. Daddy flicked on his flashlight. The car didn’t look too fancy. No paint, rust holes patched with Bondo. But you could tell Pop had put a lot of work into it, sanding the fenders, straightening the bumper, cleaning the eggcrate grille. Just the being of it was impressive, the lasting through everything, old and wore-out as it was. Daddy turned his Earnhardt hat backwards and popped the hood. He didn’t care about the looks, only the way it ran.

“Gonna need a new motor,” he said. “Pop didn’t make it that far. I can’t build them like him. Might know where I can find an old Y-block, though.” He let the hood fall shut. “I’ll need help. You up for it?”

“I’ll try.”

He cuffed me on the shoulder. We pushed the car out of the barn and onto the trailer. Waited until dark to leave.

We didn’t talk much on the way home, just listened to the race. They were running in Indianapolis. Labonte won, but it seemed for a while that Earnhardt had a chance. That was part of his magic, why Daddy and so many other people loved him. You could never count him out. Even when his car wasn’t as good as the others, or he got caught up in the back of the pack, there was always the chance he would muscle his way to the front, bumping and bruising. Sometimes just threatening. His Goodwrench Chevy was painted black, seemed to always have scrapes down the side, rubber marks across the numbers. He wore dark, mirrored sunglasses behind his helmet. They called him the Intimidator.

We spent most of the late summer and early fall tearing the old motor out of the Ford in the shed behind our house, just piddling on nights and weekends. I helped how I could, handing Daddy tools and stuff, but mostly I was useless, and mostly it was boring, but I did it anyway because it felt good to work together, pass things back and forth between our hands.

In October, Daddy found a new motor at a junk yard in Bowman. Brought it home in a wooden crate one night after work. Mister Paul was in the passenger seat. I guess he helped Daddy load it.

Mister Paul started coming over more regular, always wearing his nasty Mossy Oak jacket, his eyes all beady and red. He didn’t know much about cars, not like Daddy, so mostly he just drank Miller Light and talked shit and did the jobs that used to be mine.

I quit helping so much and started doing my homework out there on a folding chair, not paying them much attention. One night I had a bunch of math problems I was trying to finish. My teacher told me she thought I might be a good fit for honors the next year, so I was trying real hard, but they kept interrupting me.

“Bring me that seven-sixteenths socket,” Daddy said from under the hood of the Ford.

I was only half-listening. I got up and grabbed a wrench and took it to him.

He shook his head. “The socket son. The fucking socket.”

I put the wrench in my pocket and went back to the toolbox for the socket. I gave it to Daddy and went back to my homework.

Little while later, Mister Paul started hollering for me, only he was calling me Nancy instead of Jacob to aggravate me. “Nancy,” he said. “Put your book down for a minute, smooth out your dress, and come hold this flashlight for me.”

I couldn’t stand when he talked to me like that. I didn’t like him much anyway. But I got up and took the flashlight so he would shut up. He showed me where to point it and crawled under the car.

“Hold it still, would you?” He fiddled with something, then got up and took the flashlight. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said.

I went back to my homework. Couple minutes later, he was calling again. I ignored him. He kept on.

“Nancy. Nancy, I’m talking to you.”

I acted like I couldn’t hear him, like I was real focused, but I couldn’t pay attention at all. It felt like my ass was on fire. I saw something shiny and looked up. It was a beer can flying. It hit me in the face, on the bone right over my eye. I jumped off the chair and rubbed where it hurt. My notebook flew off my lap and landed in a pan of oil. The pages soaked up the grease and faded straight to black. Mister Paul stood there, laughing out of his stupid drunken face.

I pulled the wrench from my pocket and threw it at him as hard as I could. I didn’t even think about it, just did it. As soon as it left my hand, I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but it was too late, and I didn’t really care.

He ducked out of the way and the wrench banged against the wall of the shed. He started laughing even harder. “Jesus Christ, that would’ve knocked me cold.”

“Fucking asshole,” I said.

Daddy came up beside me, gritting his teeth. He grabbed me by the nap of my shirt and pushed me out from the shed. Once we’d walked completely out of the light, he slung me face-first onto the ground. I turned over onto my back and he jumped on top of me, pressing his forearms into the notches of my shoulders, pinning me down. He put his face right up close to mine, the bill of his Earnhardt hat almost touching my forehead. His breath smelled like stale beer and wintergreen snuff.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Me? It was him.”

He head-butted me so hard my eyes jarred with white light. He sat up and spat to the right of me. I started crying a little bit. “Candy-ass,” he said. “You ain’t a man, so don’t act like one.” He stood up and straightened his hat. “And don’t make me speak to you again.”

I stayed in the yard until my head quit hurting and I felt like my face wouldn’t show I’d been crying. Went back to the shed and Mister Paul sneered at me. Daddy cut his eyes at him and he quit real quick. I picked up my notebook and tried to wipe off some of the oil with a rag, but it was ruined.

The next morning at school, the teacher came around and checked our homework. I showed her my notebook and tried to explain. She just wrote down a zero and kept on down the line.

After that, I quit helping with the Ford altogether. I stayed inside and studied, listened to the old cassettes by myself. Him and Mister Paul could have it.

On Sundays, me and Daddy went down to Henry’s Grocery, ate cheeseburgers and watched the race, but even that, it was like we were watching against each other, not with. Daddy only cared about Earnhardt, and a little bit about his son. Junior was running his first full season in the Winston Cup Series, but he didn’t have the same aggressive style as his dad. None of the young drivers did, there was too much money invested in the cars, too much danger.

The worst, in Daddy’s mind, was Gordon. He drove the rainbow-colored Dupont Chevrolet. He’d won two or three championships and wasn’t even thirty years old. Gordon was my favorite.

“I don’t know how you can pull for him,” Daddy said, sitting at a narrow wooden table in Henry’s behind an empty burger basket and a can of Miller Light. “From California, look at him. Won’t even use his bumper. You just like the pretty colors on his car.”

“Pop said he was good.”

“Pop hated that faggot.”

“Still said he was good.”

Racing was the only thing Daddy let me argue with him about, so I just saved it all up till Sunday. The truth was I didn’t care. I thought it was kind of pointless. I only kept up with it at all because he did.

Labonte won the championship and Earnhardt came in second. Daddy said NASCAR cheated. Momma still wasn’t home. I only talked to her a couple times on the phone, and mostly I couldn’t understand her because she was crying, and I’d just get irritated and say I had to go. I mean, why was she crying? She was the one that left.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were the worst. Daddy and me tried to cook turkeys. The first one was raw and the second so dry you couldn’t swallow. Him and Mister Paul finished putting the new motor in the Ford. He came in and asked me if I wanted to ride with them the first time they took it for a drive, but I said no.

Just before New Year’s, Daddy came home from work with a twenty-four-inch TV he got used from the pawn shop. I was on the floor, doing homework and listening to the Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette. The Ballad of Curtis Loew was my favorite song. He propped the TV up on the bureau right where our old one had been before Momma left.

“Turn that damn noise off,” he said. “I’m tired of hearing the same song over and over again.”

“Do what?” I didn’t understand. He loved Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Turn it off. I’m tired of hearing it.”

I pushed the stop button. He tuned the TV to the news and sat down in his recliner. “What you think?”

I didn’t answer him. I sat there for a minute, pretending to watch until my chest swelled up so tight I couldn’t take it. I loved listening to those old cassettes together. I unplugged the stereo and carried it to my bedroom without saying anything. He laughed one of his low, growling alligator laughs that made the hair on my neck stand up. Stayed there sprawled out on his recliner, staring at the box, spitting dark tobacco juice into an empty Miller Light can until he finally wore down and fell asleep.

The next night was the same thing, and again after. It became his habit. News at six, some stupid sitcom reruns, supper, news again at ten, then asleep before twelve. Every now and then I’d try to sneak a few songs out of the stereo, think maybe I could lure him into listening, but he’d always holler about turning it off before long.

I started calling Momma more often. One time I asked her what it would take for her to come home and she said that wasn’t her home anymore. I stopped calling very much at all after that.

In late January, it snowed. Started early in the afternoon, while me and Daddy were out chopping wood. The forecasters all said it was coming, we wanted to be ready. It was just flurries at first, then harder and harder as the night wore on. I’d never seen snow stick before. But when I woke up the next morning, the ground was thick with it, the trees all sagging. Ice hung from the eaves of the roof, the power lines. The electricity was out for two days, no work and no school.

Daddy was so happy. I’d never seen him like that. We bundled up in zoot suits, knit hats and gloves. We went outside and played for hours. Built two huge snowmen in the yard must’ve been six feet tall, the bodies and heads so big we had to heft them together. We used snuff cans for eyes and old shotgun shells for mouths and Daddy even found a hickory branch and gave his snowman a dick. We made angels and traipsed through the woods, just looking. It was like a dream, like everything was different.

When it got dark, we went inside and built a fire in the hearth. Heated snow in a pot and made hot-chocolate with some old packs we found in the back of the kitchen cabinet. Slept beside each other atop a pallet by the fireplace, covered with every blanket we could find.

The snow melted, and the power came back on. The school reopened and Daddy went back to work. But even then, things weren’t the same as they were before. We’d caught a glimpse of our world made different.

By the Daytona 500, the first and biggest race of the new season, the weather was starting to warm. The purple coneflowers were blooming on the roadsides and in the fields.

I was truly excited about racing for the first time. Not so much for the sport itself but to spend Sundays with Daddy again, watching and talking. Some kind of normal, at least for us.

Instead of going to Henry’s, we went to Food Lion and got the stuff to make our own burgers with thick slices of onion and chili from a can. We watched at home on our new-old TV with a freshness and intensity I’d never had before and haven’t since. Every lap was a building of momentum, every pit-stop its own little drama.

With ten laps left, the Intimidator was running third. His son, Junior, was one spot ahead of him. Waltrip was in the lead.

“Earnhardt’s going to do it again,” Daddy said. “Just biding his time.”

“What about Junior?”

“What about him?”

“You think Earnhardt will beat his own son? Put him in the wall?”

Daddy didn’t say anything. We watched silently, him in his recliner and me on the floor, propped up on my elbow. Five laps left and the leaders were the same. Marlin was behind Earnhardt in his silver Dodge, trying to pass. He went inside, but Earnhardt cut him off. Went to the high side, but Earnhardt slammed the door. Waltrip and Junior pulled away.

“You’re right,” Daddy said. “You see him? He’s blocking. He don’t want to win. He wants Junior to take it home.”

I tried to think about how that must feel, driving two-hundred miles-per-hour on an asphalt track. Fighting for a lead in front of thousands of people, screaming. Looking in the rearview mirror and seeing your father, fending off a pack of cars. The sound of the souped-up engine, the sweat sticking to your spine.

“Bastard’s got a heart after all,” Daddy said. “Watch him.”

Waltrip and Junior pulled further away. Earnhardt was all over the track, choking the drivers behind him. The flagman dropped the white flag. One to go. The camera locked in on Waltrip and Junior.

“Do it if you’re gonna do it, Junior,” Daddy said. He was leaned forward in his recliner, his Earnhardt hat pulled down low over his eyes. “Do it, boy.” His voice got steadily louder. “Don’t waste your old man’s driving.” He was screaming. “Do it.”

Waltrip and Junior rounded the last turn and went down the backstretch in single file, so close together and synchronized they could’ve been connected by a short link of chain.

“Awwwh!” the commentator shouted. “Big wreck behind them.” The camera cut to the collision. Earnhardt had gotten bumped from behind. He shot up the track and ran straight into the concrete barrier, then skidded back down through the pack of cars to the green grass of the infield.

“Holy shit,” Daddy said.

The camera cut back to the leaders. Waltrip drove on, crossed the finish line, won without a hitch. Junior finished right behind him. He never even tried to pass. The camera cut to Waltrip’s pit-crew, slapping hands and celebrating.

“I hope Earnhardt’s okay,” the commentator said. “I guess he’s alright, isn’t he?”

The screen cut to a replay of the wreck and nobody spoke.

“Christ,” Daddy said. “That’s ugly.” He got up and turned off the TV. Pulled on his boots. “He’s going to be sore in the morning.”

“You think he’s okay, though?”

“Shit, he’s been in twenty wrecks worse than that. Come on. Let’s ride down to Henry’s and get me some beer.”

We went outside and I had to squint because the sun was so bright and I’d been inside so long, looking at the screen. I walked toward Daddy’s truck, but he went to the shed, where the Ford was parked. “We’ll take the hot-rod,” he said.

I still hadn’t forgiven him for all that with Mister Paul. “I’m good.”

“Come on,” he said. “Please. Just let me show you how it runs.”

I went over and climbed reluctantly in the passenger seat, all the cloth just about rotted out. Daddy turned the key and the motor growled a little but didn’t start.

“That’s not good,” I said.

Daddy cut his eyes at me and grinned. He tried it again, easing on the throttle, and the engine cranked. I could smell the gasoline burning. Daddy put it in gear and pulled out of the shed. I rolled my window down and felt the breeze on my neck. When we got to the end of the driveway, he cut the wheel toward Henry’s and stood on the gas. The tires spun on the gravel till they caught on the pavement. The car lunged forward on the highway. Picked up speed. The trees blurred as we passed them. I tightened up my legs and clung to the bottom of my seat. It was the fastest I’d ever been and I could still feel the car accelerating. I looked at Daddy and he was just staring straight ahead, one hand on the wheel, teeth gritted like he was studying the road. “Fast enough for you?”


“Think Pop would be proud?”


Daddy turned from the road and looked at me. I was sitting stiff as a mannequin, holding on for life. He let off the accelerator. “I do too.”

I loosened my grip on the seat.

At Henry’s, Daddy bought a twelve-pack of Miller Light and two cans of snuff. I got a glass bottle Coke. He drove home slow, both of us sipping.

At the house, he backed the Ford under the shed and we went inside. He put the case of beer in the fridge, took the last swig from his open can, and left the empty on the counter.

I turned on the TV. It was the same channel we left it on. The screen showed a press conference, a fat man in a gray suit talking from behind a podium. “This is one of the hardest announcements I have ever had to make,” the man said. “We’ve lost maybe the best racecar driver of all time.”

“Daddy,” I said. “Come in here.”

“We’ve lost a dear friend. We’ve lost a father. We’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.”

I heard something behind me, so I turned around. Daddy was standing with an unopened can of Miller Light in one hand. In the other, he held his Earnhardt hat over his heart. His face was red and tears were running down it. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen him cry. Not when Pop died, not when Momma left. Never hardly saw him feel anything at all but angry. It made me sick. After everything, that was what hurt him.

“You got to be shitting me,” I said.

“He was my hero, son.”

I turned around and went to my room. Put the Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette in the stereo and turned it up as loud as it would go.

The next evening, Momma came over with an aluminum pan of red rice and sausage, like it was someone we knew who died. I was in the yard, rigging a minnow trap to set in the ditch. It was the first time I’d seen her since she left. I probably should have been glad to see her, but I didn’t feel that way exactly.

She looked younger climbing out of her car, somehow healthier. She sat the pan of rice on her hood and came over to me. I wanted her to hug me, but when she did, it made my skin itchy. Her hair smelled like I remembered.

“I missed you, baby.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Daddy’s inside.”

She got the pan off her hood and went in the house. I walked down the driveway to the deep part of the ditch and set my trap. I sat above the hole and tore pieces of grass from the ground. Tossed them in the water. When I checked the trap, I had a few minnows, all silvery and flipping, but I just dumped them back in the water and went home.

Momma was sitting on the front steps, smoking a cigarette. Her face looked shiny. I sat down next to her.

“I talked to your Daddy,” she said.


“We needed to figure some things out.”


“I’m sorry I left you,” she said. “But I didn’t know how else to do it. I should’ve told you. I probably should’ve brung you with me. If I was to do it again now, I’d do it differently. But I had no idea, baby.” She took one last drag of her cigarette and put it out on the wood of the steps. “I just knew I had to get away. And I knew that no matter how he was to me, your Daddy loved you, and he would take care of you.”

“Okay,” I said.

“But I’ve got some things straight now. I got a job, a little trailer.”

“That’s nice,” I said. Though truthfully, I didn’t like the thought of it, my Momma living in some place I hadn’t even seen, that she might not ever be coming back home.

“It is,” she said. “I never had nothing of my very own my whole life. Except for you.”

“I’m not yours,” I said. “I’m mine.”

“You know what I mean. It’s something I earned. Not something your Daddy gave me. But that ain’t what I want to say. I just don’t know how to start.”

The door creaked open and Daddy came out on the porch with his Earnhardt hat on. He stood behind us and didn’t say anything. Momma looked up at him, grinned strangely, and looked back at me.

“What I want to say is, now that I’m getting things straight, a steady place and a steady job and all that, I think you could come live with me.” She looked down at the steps. “If you want to.”

I studied her for a second, then looked at Daddy. He was staring across the yard. “This what you want?” I asked.

“No hard feelings either way,” he said. “I promise.” It was his voice, but the words seemed wrong.

“We just want you to be happy,” Momma said. “We all three deserve to be happy.”

I felt something small but strong welling inside of me. “You expect me to tell you now?”

“Well, I kind of figured you would,” Momma said.

I got so mad my eyes couldn’t focus. “Ain’t ever had a choice before. It’s been nine months. I’m sure it’s been hard on you, but not only you. Just come in here with some food and expect me to come live with you, like a stray dog?”

Momma looked at me with her mouth open a little bit, like she was surprised, like she didn’t know me.

“That ain’t how it works.”

“Forget it,” Daddy said.

“Yeah. Seems like that’s always what y’all want. Me to forget. But I don’t.”

Daddy touched Momma’s shoulder. “We’re all just kind of shook up. Why don’t you go home. We’ll call you when we’re ready.”

She nodded. I didn’t mean to upset her, but it didn’t bother me that I did, because what I said was true and they needed to hear it, both of them. Momma stood and walked shakily to her car, pulling another cigarette from her pack. She got in and cranked the engine. Daddy sat down beside me.

“You going to sling me down the stairs when she leaves?” I asked. “Climb on top of me and head-butt me, tell me I ain’t a man?”

“No,” Daddy said real quiet.

“I didn’t choose none of this. Y’all did. So don’t act like I got a say now. This is my home. It just is.”

“I told her that.”

We were quiet and the only sound in the world was the grinding of Momma’s tires on the gravel as she drove away. I looked at Daddy sitting there beside me, slumped over like he was tired. He was gritting his teeth, working the muscles in his jaw. The salt ring on his Earnhardt hat was clear in the dim evening light, that circle made from sweat, from wearing the same hat every day—summer and winter, working at the factory, fishing, tinkering with the hot-rod—it didn’t matter.

“I’m not choosing you,” I said. “So don’t get confused.”

“I understand.”

“But I’m sorry about Earnhardt anyway.”

“Yeah,” Daddy said. “I’m sorry too.” He put his hand on my knee and patted it almost gently.

Robert Maynor is from Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. His stories have previously appeared in Blood Orange Review, The Carolina Quarterly, BULL, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of the 2018 Larry Brown Short Story Award and the 2018 Coker Fellowship in Fiction from the South Carolina Academy of Authors.

Dotted Line