Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2017    poetry    all issues

Cover of Fiction Winter 2017 Issue


Cover Thought-Forms

Derek Rose

H. Fry

Slater Welte
Our Last Summer at the Lake

G. Bernhard Smith
Bread and Water

Sarah Blanchard
The Bus Driver

Dalton James
Butter Teeth

Joshunda Sanders

T. B. O'Neill
The Court Martial of Darren Sweet

Faith Shearin
Island Ecology

Jess Greenwald

Eileen Arthurs
Limbo Babies

Rosy Tahan

Chris Brewer
Good People

Chris Brewer

Good People

We’d decided to go drinking. In that way, it wasn’t any different than most other days.

Wyatt had gotten himself laid off and sounded pretty down about it, so I felt that fraternal obligation to call in sick again and told him to pick me up whenever he got himself ready. That usually meant he’d be knocking on my door anywhere between ten and twelve minutes from the time our phones landed back on their cradles. Wyatt was always ready whenever a drink got mentioned, and I knew that as well as he did.

Certain circumstances had me staying at the old Easy Way Inn just off the interstate for nearly three weeks, but it wasn’t the type of place that a person would love to call home. Still yet, the chipped curls of yellowing white paint hanging loosely from the ragged wooden siding out front led me to believe that the owners of the place wouldn’t mind setting up a stranger for a potentially long stay without putting too much of a strain on his pocket. That notion turned out to be true, so I found myself sticking around longer than originally intended. There’s no telling what those people thought about Wyatt knocking on that door to room 14B at least once each day after my first night there, so I never bothered with thinking much about it myself. We just met up and went about the motions. Wyatt and I both had it bad for something, so we spent our evenings taking turns listening to each other talk sorrow and regret either in that motel room or on barstools, and we went about that process of remembering, forgetting, and remembering again in a way that had become more of a habit than a relief of any kind. But from what we’d seen during all those late night and early morning binges, our way of forgetting was about the same as everyone else’s in town. The only choice we saw was to drink it all down until the memories were gone or the bottles ran empty.

I heard his truck pull into the lot and the engine shut off before he could get his door open, so I saved him the trouble of climbing the steps and knocking by coming outside onto the balcony. We’d been told more than once that Wyatt drove the loudest damn truck in the county, and I believed it more than he did. He’d just shrug it off and laugh about it, start calling people assholes. Truth be told, I probably could’ve heard him coming from five miles down the road if I’d kept my ear to the door and listened hard enough.

When he saw me standing up there looking down at him, he cranked his window open and waved a silver flask out the window. Then he tipped it back and took a long pull, smiled up at me, yelled, “Let’s roll.”

That’s how it always started.

Wyatt had been through the shit. You could see it on his face when he was sober. He never would talk much about it though. But just like with every other type of personal matter, other people did the talking for him, and I’d been around long enough to hear a tale or two. Part of this reminded me that people weren’t much different out here in Kansas than they’d been back home in Kentucky. And the other part of it made me wonder sometimes what those types of people had found out and told one another about me.

I hadn’t been in town long when I first met Wyatt, saw him slouched over some bar, hammered, his ass hanging half off the stool. I don’t even remember the name of the bar we were in that night, but the way Wyatt kept hitting on the girl behind the counter had all the regulars wanting to get at him, to put him in his place, which most thought was out the door with his head on the curb.

More than one time that night, he came up to me dangling the keys to his truck, looked at the bottle in my hand, said he had colder beer at his place if I didn’t mind driving him there. I kept telling him, “Just let me finish this one,” and then I’d turn around and order another when his cloudy eyes drifted elsewhere. I guessed from looking at him that the girl working that night had already turned him down, cut him off, and that he could tell by looking at me that I wasn’t a regular, that I didn’t belong in that crowd either.

For whatever reason, I ended up driving him home later that night. Maybe starting over in a new place had me feeling like I needed a friend or at least something close to it. On our way there, we talked about the wives we’d had and all the women we’d lost, the typical topics of conversation for drunk and lonely men. Then he got real quiet and passed out in the passenger seat just as I pulled the truck up to the curb, so I got out and slept in an old wicker chair on the porch of the house he’d said was his. It wasn’t much to look at, like everything else I’d seen around, just some run-down rental with boards covering a few of the windows in the most indigent-looking part of town.

The next morning, he seemed confused, kind of embarrassed. He let on like he didn’t remember much about the night before, spent a lot of time rubbing his forehead. And I’d been there too, knew that feeling pretty good and well. We reintroduced ourselves while he walked around the small patch of dead grass between the front porch and the sidewalk, stopping at times to stretch the kinks out of his back from sleeping in the cab of the truck all night. For a while after that, we sat on the porch and chain-smoked cigarettes, no words to say that could counter the throbbing ache between our temples. He just looked around the porch for a while, at the nails coming up out of the weathered boards, that torn screen door, the brown glass of broken and empty bottles scattered around the small front yard. Then he told me his situation was only temporary.

“Mine too,” I’d told him. “Mine is too.”

I knew where we were headed before I even climbed into the truck. I knew it as soon as the phone rang in that cheap motel room I’d been staying in. Wyatt was the only person who ever called, and though the day might’ve been different according to someone’s calendar, what we made of each twenty-four-hour period had stayed as regular as clockwork since the night we accidentally came across one another.

“You know what we’ve got to do first,” Wyatt said. “It’ll only take a minute.”

I nodded while he tipped the flask back one more time before tucking it under the seat. The smell of whiskey filled the cab, made my stomach turn a little, the way it always did after the first shot of the night got taken. A few tenants on the bottom floor of the Easy Way pulled back their curtains to see what all the noise was about whenever Wyatt started the truck back up. He noticed them around the same time I did.

“Look at them assholes,” he said. “Probably just a bunch of old women. I’ll give them something to gawk at.” Then he burned a trail of rubber from the parking lot to the main road, shifted gears with an unsteady hand, and cut the wheels back toward the on-ramp to the interstate.

Wyatt’s ex-wife only lived three miles up the road, right off the next exit. That was the single guarantee of any given day, that we would always stop by her place before we got into anything else at all. Wyatt called her Angel, but I never knew for sure if that was her real name. I never even knew for sure if they’d been married, but Wyatt had made it clear a while back that these kinds of things were unimportant, that the actualities always got outweighed by whichever feelings we could attach to them. To me, that meant it didn’t matter whether or not her name was Angel or even if they’d actually been down that trail of holy matrimony. She was an Angel to Wyatt, and he felt married to her in his soul. That seemed like enough for him, which made it enough for me too.

“We’ve got it made,” he said as he pulled up and put the truck in park beside Angel’s rusted chain-link fence. “Not too long ago, people used to ride around on elephants. Maybe still do. Can you believe that shit?”

“Seems like I’ve heard it somewhere before,” I said. “Might’ve seen it in the circus.”

“They say those things got the best memories of any creature, too,” he said. Then he reached for the flask beneath the seat, uncapped it, took another long pull. “Imagine that, always remembering every bit of ass you ever had riding your back.”

“That’d be something,” I said.

“You got that right,” he said.

“Most of mine are worth forgetting,” I told him, but his mind had already left and gone elsewhere.

Angel’s car wasn’t there, the same way it never was. Wyatt still sat there quietly with the flask in his hand for a long while. I could tell he had some thought or another rattling around in his head, but I knew better than to ask what it might be. He’d bring it up himself if he had something he intended to talk about it. Like always, he came out of it after a few minutes, that stone-cold daze of his, and then he laid on the horn for three long seconds. He took another quick sip from the flask, winked, and handed it across the seat to me.

The sound of the horn brought Angel’s mutt of a dog darting out from the backyard and along the side of the house, then had it running up and down the length of the fence out front barking its mangy brown head off at the two of us and the truck that brought us there. It didn’t take long for the old man across the street to walk over and lean his head into Wyatt’s open window. Just like the times before, Wyatt pulled a wadded-up five-dollar bill from his front pocket and handed it to the man, told him, “Not a word.”

The old man nodded, kept his lips shut tight, and made his way back across the street. Wyatt watched as the old man climbed the steps of his own porch, then he opened the truck’s door, stepped down into the road. When he got to the gate at the front of the house, the dog stopped all the barking, started beating its tail against the cracked concrete sidewalk. Wyatt bent down and let the dog lick at his hand through a link in the fence. I lit a cigarette then and took a long drag before blowing blue smoke through the cracked passenger window.

“You can be a pretty good son of a bitch sometimes,” I heard him say, “even if that woman who keeps you ain’t worth a damn.” Then he unlatched Angel’s gate and let the dog out onto the sidewalk. This was all part of the routine, and I’d seen it well over a dozen times. Wyatt shut the gate back and latched it while the dog ran around his legs, pissing circles all across the concrete from excitement or some sort of pent-up expectation. Then Wyatt came over, climbed back into the truck, and laid on the horn for another three long seconds. The dog took off down the street like it’d been shot in the ass, and Wyatt started the truck back up and headed off in the same direction.

“I hope to hell she doesn’t find him this time,” he said.

“Me too,” I said, even though I’d never met the woman, had nothing against her or that dog of hers. That’s just the way our alliance had worked itself out. We’d chosen our sides, or more likely, the sides had chosen us.

By the way he dealt with the matter of Angel’s dog, I figured Wyatt only needed to make someone or something feel as lost as he was.

Some people just talked for the sake of talking. That was one of the reasons Wyatt paid off that old neighbor of Angel’s, for him to keep his mouth shut about Wyatt letting her dog loose every day. Each man had his price, after all. And like I said, I’d heard from strangers about some of the other bad things Wyatt had done in his life before I showed up and started doing bad right along with him.

One thing I heard involved Wyatt, some woman, and another man who’d recently came into a decent deal of money. They said Wyatt and this woman knew about the man’s new fortune somehow, something to do with insurance and a death in the man’s family, so they came up with a plan of sorts that started by taking the man out drinking with them. The woman was a looker by this town’s standards, and from what I gathered, she served as the bait.

So Wyatt and this woman took the poor guy down to one of the local bars, started talking what they called good business for good people. After a few rounds of beer and whiskey shots, Wyatt told the man that the woman was an interested investor, that she knew a way the man could double his money quick and easy. Of course, the woman started in with the touching and teasing, rubbing up and down the man’s arm and eventually his leg. The man, drunk and excited by that point, said it all sounded like a good idea.

No matter what happened, the man supposedly ended up writing a check by the end of the night, and by the next morning, Wyatt had procured that old truck of his and a new lease on that run-down house he was staying in when I met him. They said the woman skipped out of town, never came back but maybe once to collect the things she’d left behind. But of course, I wouldn’t have known her if I’d seen her walking down the street. From the looks of it, Wyatt was no elephant, which led me to believe he wouldn’t recognize her either.

They said the man didn’t go to the police or anything about the whole deal, probably figured he would’ve been laughed out of town for entering into a situation that looked as shady as the one he’d gotten himself in. He just up and left town too after a while, the same way the woman did. Wyatt though, he stuck around, calling people assholes and ignoring all the tales that kept getting told about him.

“That crooked old bastard said he’d get me the license plate numbers of all the men Angel has over there if I’d bring him a fifth of gin each week,” Wyatt said. “But I don’t have time for that shit.”

“Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth,” I told him.

The light in front of us turned red, and Wyatt let the truck roll to a stop, just kept staring straight ahead. I imagined he was wondering about what kind of trouble I had in mind when I’d said it. But he wasn’t.

“That dog don’t know any better,” he said, “probably goes right back to the house all on his own just as soon as we leave.”

“Probably,” I said. “Some animals never exactly know what’s best for them.”

“A drink right now is what’s best for me,” he said, and with that, he started driving down the street that led out of town, connected to one of the county roads which went out to where the big empty cornfields were, where Lucky’s Bar sat in the middle of an equally empty gravel parking lot, the Open sign flashing like a beacon at two in the afternoon under a mess of dark clouds that had already began gathering up most of the light above, keeping it from getting anywhere close to either of us.

That’s where we usually went on days like that, those early ones that always turned into much longer nights. Wyatt liked the bartender there at Lucky’s. Her name was Tina, maybe Trina, from what we could remember, and Wyatt and I both knew what to do and what to say to get her pouring heavy. She was one of the few bartenders around who mixed the business with pleasure, and we knew to buy her just enough doubles to get that glazed-over look in her eyes, that same look that always meant neither of us would be in any shape to drive home whenever it came time to get ourselves there.

Wyatt and I took a couple more hits from the flask, drained it dry before heading inside, and from all the empty stools and tables in that place, and the way we caught Tina leaning over the bar with her hair hanging down over the drip mats, I could tell it was already shaping up to be a long one. Wyatt shot me a quick look that meant he was thinking the same thing, but we went on into it anyway, partly because we were already there and had nowhere else to be, and the rest because the clock on the wall told us that Tina wouldn’t be going anywhere for at least a few hours either.

She raised her head up when the bell on the back of the door announced our arrival, and she shot us one of her typical exaggerated, imperfect smiles. Some people said that big, tattooed husband of hers was responsible for the three bottom teeth she was missing, but I’d seen the way Tina smoked and the way she drank, and that made it easy for me to assume that the darkened row behind her lower lip had more or less something to do with the natural consequences of her own reckless lifestyle. But I wasn’t in any shape to be passing judgment on her or anyone else. I’d been living with about the same amount of recklessness, like leaving my old life behind and starting up something new in an unfamiliar place with what seemed like little responsibilities, rules, or expectations. Besides, Tina was only there because she had to be. Wyatt and I were there because, at that time of day, we had no other choice.

“I had a feeling I’d be seeing you two,” she called across the bar.

We walked over and took our usual seats right in front of her.

“It’s easier to be predictable sometimes,” Wyatt said.

He was already half-drunk from the flask, and I had a lot of catching up to do. We started buying round after round without letting much time pass between them, all three of us getting there in a hurry. Pretty soon, we’d been there for over an hour without another customer walking in.

“Tell her about the elephants,” I told Wyatt.

“That shit ain’t important right now,” he said. “We’re having a good time, right?”

“What about them?” she said.

“You’re damn right,” I said. “I’ll get the next round.”

So I did, and after that round of shots got poured and drank, Tina started getting that look in her eyes. Wyatt kept looking over at me, either smiling or winking each time she slurred one of her words.

“What’s with all these men not knowing how to treat a woman?” she said.

“It’s not hard,” Wyatt said. “You meet one and you make her your wife. The hard part is keeping her once all the bad starts coming out.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” she said.

“Sounds like you should just get a dog,” I said.

Wyatt laughed, almost spilled his beer.

“Fuck dogs,” he said. “They don’t know any better than to love whichever random asshole keeps them fed.”

“You know something?” Tina said. She took the time to flash that broken smile of hers at both of us, which let us know she hadn’t paid any bit of attention to about what we’d been talking. “I’d give either of you boys a go if you ever let on like you wanted one.”

Wyatt looked over at me again and winked, and then we both got to laughing a little.

“I’m telling it true,” she said. “I can’t take you home, but I’d find somewhere to take you. I can tell you that.”

“Well, you’re no Angel,” Wyatt said, “but I’m sure you can get the job done.”

And when he said that, I knew exactly what he meant, even if Tina didn’t. She was more than likely too busy picturing wings and halos, heavenly creatures descending from the sky with a radiant light surrounding their white-robed bodies, but that’s not what Wyatt had in mind at all. It never mattered either way. I sat there drunk, watching as she slipped off her shoes, reached across the bar for Wyatt’s hand, and started dancing all the way down to the opening where he could meet her.

She looked over at me then, her eyelids looking pretty heavy, said, “Sweetie, would you mind locking that door behind you?”

So that’s what I did, just walked over there and locked it. As early as it was and with those big clouds outside growing darker, I hadn’t really expected any other patron to be blessing Lucky’s with their presence, but I tended to the door anyway because that’s what she wanted. Maybe she was just worried about that big husband of hers walking in. By the time I turned back around, her and Wyatt had disappeared into the back room where they kept the extra bottles. I didn’t mind much though about being alone, felt good enough to just get back to my seat where I could pour myself shots from all those unguarded spirits they’d left me with.

As I said before, people talked. And seeing how Tina didn’t seem to hold any sort of sour opinions about Wyatt, I took that to mean that she hadn’t been well-travelled in the same kind of circles as the ones in which I’d heard some of the following tales being told.

During my time in town, I’d heard all sorts of stories about Wyatt and what had happened between him and Angel, about how she’d tried her best to make things work and stuck it out time and time again. The most unpleasant story though involved Angel carrying around a baby for a few months that ended up not finding itself born. There had been talk that it could’ve been either a miscarriage—the natural kind of loss—or the other route which kept the kid’s name off of its future birth record. There were varying accounts, of course, just as there were different opinions about Wyatt as a result of these stories. In both versions of it though, people said that Angel couldn’t stand to look at him afterward, that she just never saw him the way she had seen him before.

Other stories blamed their separation on Wyatt’s tendency to bury himself in the bottle. They talked of how Angel got tired of worrying about him being out all night, about where he was, who he was with, and if he’d make it back home by morning. Even worse, they said, was her having to deal with him when he finally did make it there, sometimes finding him passed out on the front porch with the dog by his feet, not a single hint at how he’d gotten himself there. Those long, fretful nights had tortured the poor girl, people had said, and part of me kind of believed them.

But it never interested me much to take a stranger’s word about any other person’s situation. I tended to see their separation as a combination of both accounts. The second tale was well-evidenced from all the nights Wyatt and I had spent trying to forget something about ourselves. That first account though, I just had a strong feeling about some kind of truth being behind it. It might’ve been how Wyatt’s sober eyes held a sorrow in them that I was never able to account for. There was a reason for all the things he’d been doing, even if I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. But no matter what his true situation was, I could well understand how a thing turning bad could lead a man to the bottle, even if that bottle was found in a direction opposite of everything he’d ever caught himself caring about.

When I first left my wife back home in Kentucky and moved out to the Midwest, people told me to watch out for the tornados, said they’d sound just like a train coming down on top of you without any tracks in sight. And that’s pretty much exactly what it ended up sounding like. Wyatt and Tina must’ve been in the back for a good half an hour when I first started hearing it, felt the ground trembling beneath the weight of that big, heavy cloud reaching down out of the sky.

It sounded like some kind of giant roar that kept getting closer, and Wyatt made it out of the back room first once the lights in that place started flickering. He was shirtless and breathing heavy, drunk and cursing, working at getting his pants pulled back up around his waist when all the lights went dark and the electricity kicked out for good.

“What in the hell did you do?” he yelled at me, and then I saw it on his face that he realized nothing about our current situation had been my doing.

He stumbled over and looked out the window, almost immediately ran back and started pushing the tables and chairs up against the door like it’d be the only thing to save us. It was then that Tina came out, crying and shaking all over, but with most of her clothes back where they belonged. She paced back and forth a bit, mumbling incoherently to herself beneath that constant roaring, and then she just hunkered down behind the bar with her arms wrapped up tight around her knees. I sat there on my stool not really knowing what else to do, just spun around and watched Wyatt slide the furniture across the floor, listening to Tina back there sobbing and slurring what she probably thought to be her last prayer, crying out, “The Lord is my shepherd,” over and over again like she was begging for the salvation of all of God’s creatures.

But it turned out we didn’t need saving. A few windows in Lucky’s got broken out and sent shards of glass spinning arcs across the sticky linoleum flooring, but the giant roaring died down after that, headed off somewhere further to the east. Tina rose up and wiped her face with the palm of her hand while I poured a shot from the bottle of whiskey she’d left for me on the bar. Wyatt stood there in the middle of the room, had his hands gripped on the edge of the only table he hadn’t managed to get pushed against the door yet. None of us knew what to say at the time, so after a while we just started in with moving things back where they were when we first got there, trying to make as little noise as possible, listening closely in case that darkness outside decided to turn around and come back for us. After that, Wyatt and I took our usual seats back at the bar, him pulling out the pourer of the whiskey bottle and putting it straight to his lips, draining what was left of it, while Tina trembled along and clumsily made her way outside to assess the damages.

Tina’s husband ended up being just as big as we’d heard he was. Wyatt and I watched through the truck’s side mirrors as the giant, tattooed man climbed out of a vehicle that neither of us felt he should’ve even been able to fit into. Then we watched him run across the gravel parking lot in front of Lucky’s to wrap up Tina in such a way that there was no sign at all of her smaller frame peeking out from the sides of his massive arms.

After he’d seen the man go off toward Tina and not swivel back around to check out his truck, Wyatt got back to that far-staring look again as we sat idling at the edge of the parking lot facing the two-lane county road that brought us there. His left hand sat there resting at the bottom of the cracked steering wheel. In his right hand, he just kept spinning the aluminum can we’d found in the front seat along with all the bits of broken glass it had smashed out of his driver’s side window. In the cornfield across the road, a tractor trailer had been laid down with a tremendous amount of force, splitting it open across the top and mangling the bottommost portion upon a graveyard of flattened cornstalks. Aluminum cans similar to the one in Wyatt’s hand were strewn all across the road, while some could be seen glinting around the cornfield where an impartial sun had already begun setting through light cracks in the dark clouds that kept moving off to the west.

“Ain’t that some shit?” he said, leaving an unfeeling sort of tone hanging there between us in the truck’s cab.

“Sure is,” I said. “It’d be even more shit if there was dog food in that can.”

Wyatt let off a short laugh then that I could tell was forced, sounding exhausted.

“No. Not the can,” he said. “Not the can, not the window. Not the booze, not Tina, not that big man out there, not whatever is in the fucking can, not even whatever the fuck that was that just happened back there. Not nothing. Fuck the can, fuck the truck.”

He began shaking the unlabeled aluminum can in his right hand, pounding out his syllables hard on the steering wheel with his left.

“It was my fault,” he said, softer than before. “All mine. I fucked it up, all of it.”

I started to speak up then but stopped myself. He’d said what he needed to say, as if to himself, and it didn’t matter that I was around to hear it. Wyatt continued staring far out through the windshield into a different world, maybe one made of memories that I was unable to see or even make guesses about. We sat there in silence for a long while after that, caught in that thick twilight hour of a substantial drunken haze, the kind which left every movement and every word feeling weighted down by a lifetime of long-buried regrets.

“She came and left twice before she got the leaving part right,” Wyatt finally said. “At least I guess that’s how it worked itself out. Did I ever tell you about all that?”

“You hadn’t yet,” I told him, though I’d already heard it from others.

“It’d be just as well to save it for another time then,” he said, rubbing his forehead.

There was another period of that long, drawn-out silence after that, and it lasted for what could’ve been ten, fifteen minutes. Wyatt just kept looking off through the windshield while I locked my eyes on the rearview mirror, watching as Tina’s husband put his arm around her waist and led her back inside the bar.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said eventually, not knowing what else there was to say.

Then Wyatt dropped the aluminum can of whatever-it-was and let it rest there on the bench seat between us.

“Let’s roll,” he said. So we rolled.

We were still pretty well drunk, but I could remember our surprise at the lack of damage we saw during our short drive back down that old county road. And I could also remember the look on Wyatt’s face, partly ashamed and full of guilt, when he pulled the truck back up to the curb in front of Angel’s house later that evening. Her car was still gone, the gate to the fence was still latched shut, and there was no sign at all of the dog we’d sent scurrying and pissing down the cracked sidewalk earlier that afternoon.

The sun was all but gone from the late day’s sky when Wyatt got out of the truck and started pacing back and forth, rubbing his temples, lighting a cigarette and blowing the smoke out in quick, exaggerated puffs.

“I have to wait for them,” he said. “One of them has to come home. Either her or that dog. One of the two, either one. I have to be sure.”

I must’ve fallen asleep in the cab of Wyatt’s truck not long after that, because the last thing I could remember from that moment until waking was watching him finally unlatch the gate of that rusted fence and climb the weathered steps upward before taking a seat in the plastic lawn chair to wait, as if for an act of God, on his Angel’s front porch.

In my dream that evening, sleeping in the cab of Wyatt’s old truck, I found myself riding an elephant along empty roads from the Easy Way Inn all the way back to the home I’d shared with my wife for eleven years in Kentucky. The elephant was adorned with a glittering violet-colored headpiece and a matching drape with golden trim over its back, like the ones I’d seen in the circus years and years ago, with the words good business stitched across the drape in gold lettering right where my left foot hung down. On the right side of the drape, I looked and saw the words good people sewn down there in the same kind of bright, cursive lettering.

It must’ve been early morning when I arrived home on the back of that elephant and saw my wife standing out there in the driveway like she’d been waiting almost all night, wearing the same blue dress she’d worn on the day I’d left, her blonde hair draped across her perfect set of bare shoulders, with our two daughters standing on either side of her, dressed up and matching, all three of them wearing the same exact outfit, same shoes, with their hair all done up the same way like they could’ve been posing for a family photograph that would’ve sat to one side of an imaginary office desk or maybe at the center of our mantle. Dew had settled on the grass around our mailbox, and it seemed so real and fine that I could feel its dampness collecting along the shirt collar at the back of my neck.

“They’re not real, you know,” she said, nodding toward our suddenly not-real daughters.

“You’re not sad about that?” I asked her.

“What would be the point?” she asked in return. “Sadness is just all of our happiness in reverse.”

Our little girls were gone then—the two perfect daughters, just like my wife had always wanted for us—but she still stood there waiting for me in the misty, dew-laden driveway. I’d nearly lost track of the elephant beneath me when it made a shrill trumpeting sound, turning its violet-crowned head around toward me and lifting its trunk up over a set of long ivory tusks. The end of its trunk was curled around a bottle of whiskey, which it then reached out toward my open right hand, and for the first time in a long while, I wondered whether or not the bottle was worth taking. I grabbed the bottle and turned it over in my hand, examining the labels and thinking back about the life I’d left behind, thinking about Wyatt—about Angel and that dog who kept getting lost somewhere between them—and about all the bad we’d done in our short time together. And finally, if only briefly, I thought about how I’d been using the old Easy Way Inn, in its purest form, as an easy way out. In that moment, I remembered all there was that I’d been trying to forget, and I thought about how finding a thing was sometimes nothing more than a simple act of un-losing.

The stiffness in my back when I woke up in the cab of Wyatt’s truck later that night called back my first memories of Wyatt, of him pacing back and forth in the front yard of that run-down rental home, trying his damnedest to stretch himself far enough to get the last bit of kinks worked out. When I looked out the passenger side window though and saw him asleep there on Angel’s front porch in that chair with the fence gate open and their lost dog resting at his feet, he never looked more peaceful. I wondered what his first thought might be when his eyes finally worked themselves open, if he’d take a half-squint to be sure that half of what he’d been waiting there for had finally came back to him, or if he’d simply wonder if maybe it had been there in that yard somewhere all along.

I picked up the aluminum can from the middle of the bench seat, brushed away the last few pieces of broken glass, and dropped it to the floorboard before sliding myself over behind the steering wheel. For a long while after that, I just looked out through the truck’s windshield, at something far off down the road, and kept staring at nothing in particular while my plan took shape. I knew for sure where it was that I’d be heading—first to the Easy Way to pick up the things I’d left behind, and then the long and lonely drive back to my wife and home in Kentucky, deciding to let my apologies and explanations somehow work themselves out somewhere along those roads. The only problem I could see was going to be getting that loud-as-hell truck started up without waking and drawing Wyatt from the only place he ever wanted to be.

Chris Brewer is a fiction writer currently living in Huntington, West Virginia. His previous work has been published in Beecher’s Magazine, Issue 3.

Dotted Line