Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2014    poetry    all issues


Cover Mia Funk

Bill Pippin

Chris Belden
The Finger

Amberle L. Husbands
Only Whistle Stops

Kyle A. Valenta
The Narrows

Robert Martin

Eileen Arthurs
Portrait of an Artist, After All

Gibson Monk
The Tenth Part of Desire

J. S. Simmons
Bodies In Motion and At Rest

Nancy Nguyen
Truck Stop

Melissa Ragsly
The Pigeons of Apartment 9C

KC Kirkley

B. Yvette Yun
Fire in the Sky

Katharine O’Flynn
The Island

Brent DeLanoy

Daniel C. Bryant
Out County Road

John Mort
Red Rock Valley

Zac Hill
Conversations With Dakota Fanning

Haley Norris
The Last Day

Winner of $1000 for 1st-place-voted Story

Bill Pippin


It was a little past noon when Connor drove up the curving asphalt lane through a stone archway and entered the sprawling grounds of the Sierra Vista Assisted Living Center. He’d motored from Taos the day before and spent the night in a motel—his monthly ritual. The overpriced center wasn’t what Connor would’ve chosen for himself, but of the five they’d checked out together this was the one Roy liked best, albeit reluctantly, having long resisted assisted living as a service for old people.

Roy had opted for Sierra Vista because it was outside the Phoenix sprawl, not too dandified, and offered a view of the mountains. He’d also heard through the geezer grapevine that the kitchen was run by a Mexican cook legendary for her top-shelf chile rellenos. Silhouetted on a rise in the desert against a cobalt blue sky, the imposing structure of brown stucco topped by a red-tiled roof, with its abundance of flowers and shrubbery, resembled a country club.

Connor parked in the visitors’ lot, tugged a small cooler from beneath the pickup cap, and trudged up the concrete walkway. Entering the reception area, he heard sounds of lunch being served in the dining room: chattering voices, laughter, clattering dishes. Something smelled good. He was halfway across the tiled floor, homing in on the men’s room, when Helga Young stepped out of the main office holding a brown paper bag.

“He’s not in his apartment,” she said. “You’ll find him in the courtyard.”

Connor could tell Helga wasn’t pleased. She was a tall, rawboned woman in her mid-fifties with short graying hair, a wide, oddly crooked mouth, and posture so erect that Connor suspected she wore a back brace. When he asked if Roy was behaving himself, she complained that he refused to attend the party they’d planned for his birthday, contending their diabolical intent was to capitalize on his age for the purpose of cheap publicity.

“And might he be right about that?” Connor asked with a wink.

Helga pushed out her lips in a feigned pout. “It’s not every day that one of our residents turns one hundred. We did invite a newspaper reporter and photographer—an invitation we’ve now rescinded. Angela baked him a lovely chocolate cake—”

“Whoa. She has to know how much he hates sweets.”

“Among other things.” Helga frowned. “Oh, someone called to wish him a happy birthday. A woman. Roy refused to speak to her.”

Connor hesitated. “A woman?”

“Claimed she was his daughter in Seattle?”

He was stunned to hear this. “I do have a younger sister named Marsha.”

“And yet Roy swears he doesn’t have a daughter. I was afraid dementia . . .”

“They don’t like each other,” Connor said. “Hard to explain.”

Helga was one of the few staff members who could tolerate Roy. In return he seemed to abuse her more than he did the others, especially after Connor made the mistake of telling Roy that Helga’s father had been a Nazi during World War II. Helga had divulged this fact to Connor innocently enough while they were discussing Roy’s wellness check over coffee. A low-level Nazi, she insisted. Her father had surrendered to the British at the end of World War II and later worked for them as an interpreter. Eventually he’d emigrated to England and married a Brit. Helga was born a year later. Although she assured Connor that he hadn’t betrayed her trust, he regretted the miscue.

Helga handed Connor the bag. “This is for our birthday boy. Tell him we’ll just have to party on without him.” She paused, tilting her head. “You know . . . I really wish we could record some of his stories. How do you think he’d feel about that?”

Connor shrugged. “Why don’t you ask him?”

“I was hoping you would.”

“I’d rather not. Roy might think I’m in cahoots with you.” Helga studied his smile uncertainly. Connor was only half joking. Roy guarded his privacy above all else.

“One more thing,” she said. “Care to join me for dinner this evening? My place?”

He was stricken by a moment of panic. He liked Helga but he wasn’t attracted to her. It had been a while since he’d been attracted to any woman, an issue he was content with. What little he knew about Helga she had volunteered: her marriage to an American soldier that brought her to America; the subsequent divorce. Another divorce or two may have followed—he wasn’t sure. He tried not to sound brusque as he alibied, “Appreciate the invite, but I plan on starting back before dinner.”

Helga nodded stiffly and turned away.

In the men’s room, standing before the urinal at last, Connor sighed with relief. Almost every time this urgency struck—and his enlarged prostate made it happen with increasing frequency—he relived a scary night long ago when his parents left him outside a bar. “Stay in the car,” his dad instructed, “we won’t be gone long.”

On his knees in the driver’s seat, both hands gripping the steering wheel, Connor pretended to be racing down a highway in pursuit of bank robbers. The front of the car faced the bar’s door and every time it opened he heard the jukebox playing. He was steering madly when two angry men shoved a drunk out the door. Sprawled on the sidewalk, the man lay partly shielded by the car’s hood. Only the backs of his splayed legs, clad in jeans and cowboy boots, were visible. Then Connor saw one leathery hand reach up and grasp the chrome hood ornament. Bit by bit the man hauled himself up until his head appeared. Apparently he’d slammed into the lamp post: bright red blood seeped through his long black hair and streamed down his face.

The man had trouble focusing, until at last he pulled himself up to full height and focused on Connor. To Connor he looked like an Indian. His shirt was torn at the shoulder, buttons ripped off down to his navel. Groping clumsily, he felt his way along the side of the car. Each step he took drove Connor to slide lower in the seat. By the time the man reached the driver’s window, Connor had sunk to his knees on the floorboard.

The man flattened his broad nose against the glass and peered down past the steering wheel into Connor’s face. The car door was unlocked, Connor realized, but he was too terrified to reach up and lock it. At any moment he expected the man to open the door and grab him. His heart drumming inside his chest seemed to actually make his shirt pulsate. That wide brown oval face covered with blood was the scariest thing he’d ever seen.

Then the man did something that broke the tension—he crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out at Connor.

After the drunk moved on, Connor was left with an urgent need to pee. He was afraid to leave the car—he knew better than to disobey his dad. Peeing in his pants was unthinkable—big boys didn’t do that. He considered opening the door just enough to pee in the street, but the drunk might still be out there. In desperation he looked all around. The car was a big, black, early 1940s four-door sedan with large chrome ashtrays everywhere: in the dash, behind the front seat, in the arm rests. Rather than let his bladder burst, Connor filled the ashtrays one by one with steaming piss. He used his shirt sleeves to wipe up the overflow.

By the time his mom and dad emerged from the bar, his gut was cramped with anxiety. During the drive home he worried that his dad would light a cigarette. He agonized much of that night and throughout the next day. Would his dad come home from work and take off his belt, vowing, “I’m gonna wear your britches out, boy.”? For days Connor made himself sick with worry. Until at last it dawned on him that nothing was going to happen; the desecration had apparently gone unnoticed. Now, nearly seventy years later, he still wondered about the incident. Had it even happened? Or had he dreamed it?

Connor washed his hands, picked up the cooler and brown bag, and went looking for Roy.

Sierra Vista’s large inner courtyard was tastefully landscaped with native flora: a tall saguaro, Joshua trees, alligator juniper, agave, ocotillo, yucca, holly-leaf buckthorn. In place of grass, the courtyard’s main surface was covered with three different colors of gravel, intersected by curving flagstone paths. Near the center of the courtyard was a fish pond with a fountain, beyond this a gazebo. Connor spotted Roy inside the gazebo, slumped on a cushioned wooden bench that ringed the interior.

“Happy birthday!” Connor sang out.

Squinting behind thick glasses, Roy looked up at his son. He wore cowboy boots, navy blue trousers, a tan, short-sleeved shirt, red suspenders. His knotty hands lay motionless in his lap. Once he’d been a handsome, muscular man with a full head of black hair combed straight back from his forehead. His thinning hair had now turned pearl gray, his swarthy complexion had faded. He was smaller, both in height and weight, though his flat stomach and dearth of wrinkles made him appear younger than his age.

Connor set the cooler on the gazebo’s redwood floor. “How does it feel to have lived for a hundred years?”

“You don’t wanta know,” Roy said. “What’s in there? Beer I hope.”

“And a Subway foot-long. Peppers and onions, black olives.”

“No cake.”

“I know better than that. They were just trying to be nice, Roy.” He sat down on the curving bench and faced his dad. Though he still spoke with vigor his voice had turned gravelly. Connor opened the brown bag and pulled out a brightly wrapped present with a big blue bow. “From Helga.” He passed the gift to Roy. “Open it first, then we’ll eat.”

“Little Miss Nazi? No thanks.”

“Looks like a book. And she’s not a Nazi. Shouldn’t call her that. Helga wasn’t even born till after the war. Her father was the Nazi.”

“Blood’s thicker than water.”

“Yeah? Some people say you’re an asshole but that doesn’t make me one.”

Roy chuckled. “I been called worse.”

Connor took a deep breath. “Why’d you tell Helga you don’t have a daughter? Why wouldn’t you talk to Marsha? Why do you treat your own daughter like crap?”

“I don’t treat her any way. I never see her. So she’s not my daughter.”

“Of course she’s your daughter.”

Roy sniffed. “A real daughter would come visit.”

“After you told her to stay away?”

“She should come anyhow, same as you do.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Does to me.”

Connor snatched the gift back and tore off the wrapping. “Looky there,” he said. “The Spell of the Yukon. Boy oh boy. How’d Helga know you love Robert Service?”

“You told her, that’s how. How big’s the print?”

Connor opened the book. “Not big enough. I can read it to you, though. How about The Shooting of Dan McGrew? You used to read me that one.”

“First give me a beer, some of that sub.”

Connor laid the book aside and used the bottle-opener on his pocket knife to pop the cap on a Corona. He handed the bottle to Roy. After wiping the largest blade on his pants leg, he sliced the sub across the middle. He placed each half on a paper plate, along with a napkin, and passed one plate to Roy. He tore open a jumbo bag of Fritos and propped it on the bench between them.

“Forget the lime?” Roy asked.

“No way.” Connor fished a lime out of the cooler. He cut two angular slices and handed one to Roy. He opened a second Corona and they tapped bottles. “Here’s to a century of hard living,” he said.

Roy took a long swig and gasped, teary-eyed. “Good golly Miss Molly, that is good.”

“Make it last, Roy. One’s your limit.”

“Bullshit. Couple more down there—one for you, one for me. Seeing it’s my birthday, maybe both for me.”

“Want Helga to skin my ass?”

“That kraut’ll do more to your ass than skin it.”

Connor laughed. “Too young for me. Is she making sure you take your medication and drops?”

“Those eye drops aren’t worth a hill of beans.” Roy bit into his sub and Connor marveled at the whiteness of his teeth. He still had nearly every one.

For a time they ate in silence. Connor had grown accustomed to these quiet periods. Their conversations were generally mundane anyway—What’ve you been up to? Same old, same old.—both of them halfheartedly going through the motions. But on Roy’s hundredth birthday maybe he should try to spark a more meaningful discourse. He was considering how to go about this when Roy helped him out: “Tell me something,” he said. “How come you haven’t remarried?”

Connor shrugged his shoulders. “Too much trouble, I guess.”

“Hard to find women like we had, huh? Sheila made the best damned tamales. She was a lot like your mom.”

Connor nodded. “I’d have to agree.”

“But Marsha, that damned girl—she as much as accused me of killing your mom.”

Connor gave this some thought. In her own way Marsha could be as unyielding as her dad, but Roy was exaggerating. “I don’t think she went that far. She’s told me how she feels. She thinks the life we lived was too hard. She thinks it shortened Mom’s life.”

“And she hates me for that.”

“Marsha doesn’t hate you. She’s just cautious . . . overly cautious. You want her to come see you and yet you told her not to. If she did come you’d be all over her, like when she was a girl. She’s a grown woman now, an engineer. She was in charge of her department when she retired, for Christ sake. Why should she expose herself to your verbal abuse?”

“I never once whipped her like I did you.”

“That’s not the issue.”

“Was it really that hard?”

Hard was relative, Connor supposed. Their mom had pampered his sister to a fault. Her baby girl, Little Princess, Angel Puss. As a grown woman, Marsha expected—demanded—the same treatment from Roy. She wanted Roy to somehow become their mom: sweet, affectionate, charming. That was never going to happen.

“It was hard on Mom,” Connor said. “Raising two kids. Her health wasn’t always good, and yet she toughed it out. How much of her intestine did they take that time?”

“Too much,” Roy said. “She always had spirit but her gut was weak. Gangrene—she waited too long to complain. ”

She did at that. For Connor, their nomadic life had been exciting: always moving, never knowing what the next place, the next school would be like. Hardscrabble oilfield towns in Louisiana, Texas, Colorado, California, New Mexico—whenever and wherever Roy’s itchy feet took him. Living in tarpaper shacks, duplexes, one-bedroom trailers, drafty old farmhouses. One shabby little oilfield town in Wyoming—if you could call it a town—had been so far out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by miles of sagebrush, it lacked electricity. The general store, gas station, café and bar were hooked to generators. All the rental houses—shanties really—received free natural gas from the oil company to fuel space heaters and mantles. Behind every house stood an outhouse. But Connor had been adaptable. Only when he reached his teens and had to leave his girlfriend in California did he come to view their lifestyle as problematic.

“Mom didn’t like to complain,” Connor said, with an edge to his voice, “because she knew you’d see it as weakness.”

“One thing she wasn’t was weak,” Roy said.

Connor remained silent for a minute, recalling that his mom had had more than one miscarriage. That blocked intestine that resulted in gangrene nearly killed her. A couple of years later adhesions from the first operation nearly killed her again. He remembered her straining to hand-pump water into buckets and pans to heat on a gas cookstove, bending over a galvanized tub—the same tub he bathed in every Sunday night—scrubbing their clothes on a rub-board. Bundling up to venture outside in freezing wind to hang starched khakis and blue jeans on a line, where they quickly froze. Why the hell hadn’t he helped her out more? Why hadn’t he been more thoughtful instead of being just like his dad? Because his mom let him get away with it—just like his dad.

“God only knows why she put up with you,” Connor said at last. “You’d come home from work and sit down to a good supper every evening, then like as not you’d mosey down to the nearest bar and blow your paycheck playing poker or shooting craps. You never worried, not about anything. Mom worried. Your irresponsibility, your recklessness, your philandering. The life she lived was harsh. It wore her out. Wore her heart out, not her gut. Forty-seven. That’s too young to die.”

Roy kept staring straight ahead. “She put up with me because she loved me,” he said. “And what was I doing besides that other stuff? Making a living, that’s what.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that, but—”

“Had to go where the construction was, boy. Where they were drilling for oil. Where somebody would pay me a living wage to roughneck or skin a Cat.” He grinned at Connor. “I even won at poker now and then.”

Connor couldn’t resist grinning back. “Guess I wasn’t aware of it.”

“Life was hard, sure. But not that hard. Not compared to the Great Depression. Jesus. Read The Grapes of Wrath. You don’t remember any of it. Your mom and I experienced it. We were more afraid of fear itself than a hard life. She never complained—not to me she didn’t. Saw it as some romantic adventure. Marsha doesn’t know what hard is. I thought we had a pretty good life.”

“Mom should’ve complained,” Connor said. “Should’ve given you an earful.”

“What about you?” Roy said. “You were a handful, yourself. When you started driving, your mom and I worried you wouldn’t make it through your teens. Drag racing, speeding tickets, that time you rolled my Ford. Your mom couldn’t handle you, she gave up trying. Somebody had to make you toe the line.”

All true, Connor had to admit.

It was hot in the gazebo, but not unbearably so. An intermittent breeze wafted through. Roy kept staring at the fountain until it drew Connor’s attention. It looked antique: intertwined cupids supporting a top basin, surmounted by another winged cupid in bronze. The cascading water made Connor think of the Rio Grande Gorge, not far from Taos. He’d driven out there more than once this past year to stand on the long bridge that spanned the gorge, lean over the railing and stare down at the rapid-splotched river over five hundred feet below. Trying to work up his nerve to jump, like many others had before him.

Then he’d remember Roy and back away.

The glass door leading into the courtyard opened and a stooped, white-haired woman toddled out. Tapping her cane on the flagstone, she shielded her eyes with the other hand to peer at the gazebo. In a croaking tremolo she sang a few lines of “Happy Birthday,” before ducking back inside.

“Mildred Bell,” Roy said. “Babe’s got the hots for me.”

“I can see that,” Connor said.

“Well, I’m done now. You can tell Marsha. She’ll be glad to hear it.”

Connor set his beer down on the bench. “Done?”

“Hit my mark.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Wanted to live to a hundred. Time to hang her up.”

Connor snorted. “You’re gonna live a lot longer, Roy.”

“What’s the point?” Roy asked. “Realistically? You think it’s fun being this old?”

“Better than the alternative,” Connor said.

“Hell it is. I’m going blind, boy.”

Connor took time to open Roy another Corona. He’d never heard his dad talk this way. He reached for his beer and nearly knocked it over. “What do you—what do you miss most?”

“Miss most?” Roy repeated.

“In your life.”

Roy squeezed both eyes shut. “Driving, I guess. I miss being out on the road like that Willie Nelson song. Getting up before dawn, heading out to someplace different, the sun coming up on a new day, my woman there beside me. You in the backseat, gawking at everything over my shoulder, asking all those questions. That and tobacco. I dearly miss my smokes.”

“And Mom? Do you miss Mom?”

“You know damn well I do.”

Connor studied his profile. He’d often done this as a boy, lying on his belly on top of blankets spread over their worldly possessions piled high in the backseat of whatever car they owned at the time, the smoke from his dad’s Camel veiling the narrow mottled highway, stretching all the way to the horizon, with a mystical haze. Once he even felt compelled to reach out and touch his dad’s cheek, before quickly withdrawing his hand. So quickly that his dad didn’t appear to notice, and Connor went back to looking for Burma Shave signs.

Early on, his love for his dad had blossomed into hero worship. This despite his paradoxical fear of Roy’s volcanic anger. He dreaded the sting of his dad’s double-tongued embossed leather belt; feared the disappointment that could cloud those emerald eyes whenever Connor made some misstep, usually in emulation of his dad’s transgressions, transgressions that Connor had, in boyish dreaminess, endowed with quixotic radiance. Once grown, he’d come to see those same transgressions for the character flaws they were and swap them for faults truer to his own nature, while recognizing he was no better off for this exchange.

If Roy said he was ready to die, Connor decided, he likely would die, and this awareness riled him. Had Roy even considered his feelings? Had he ever? Suicide was such a self-centered act. Not that Roy would consider killing himself—Connor was certain of this—he’d simply will himself to die. And then he would die.

“Hard to believe now,” Connor said, “how we used to pile everything we owned in the trunk and backseat of some car.”

“We did travel light,” Roy said. “After Marsha came along, we needed a U-Haul. She had all this stuff that made things more complicated. Girls need more stuff. Girls are more complicated than boys. A lot more.”

“She’s asked me more than once,” Connor said, “how come you made us start calling you Roy. I wasn’t really sure.”

Roy tossed a piece of bread into the pond and watched a big fish rise up to grab it. “Because,” he said, “ you weren’t kids anymore. Somehow it didn’t sound natural hearing grown people call me ‘Daddy.

Connor rolled his eyes. “You don’t think people think it’s strange hearing me call my dad by his first name? Helga thinks it’s weird.”

Roy poked what remained of his sub into his mouth and didn’t bother to reply.

“What should we do now?” Connor asked. “Go for a ride?”

Roy shook his head.

“Play checkers? Cards? Dominoes?”

Again Roy shook his head.

“It’s your birthday. We can do whatever you like.”

“This is fine.”

“I wish you hadn’t told me that.”

Roy turned to him. “Told you what?”

“You’d decided to die.”

“Hell, you ought to be expecting it . . . after a hundred years.”

Connor chewed his lower lip. “If it happens, it happens. But you’re gonna make it happen, you said.”

“When I die, I die. ”

“You bailing out on me, Roy?”

Roy kept staring at him. “How much does it cost you, helping with my rent?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I’m a liability.”

“You never heard me complain.”

“You should.”

“I can afford it.”

Roy winked. “Yeah, you did all right for yourself.”

“You were my model.”


Connor smiled. “I learned to manage my money from watching you piss yours away.”

Roy drank some beer and squinted down at the bottle like it tasted flat.

“About ready to go inside and join the party?” Connor asked.

“You’re an old man yourself,” Roy said. “What do you miss most?”

Connor pretended to ponder this question, though he knew the answer. “Sheila,” he said at last. “I miss my wife. I miss her smile. I miss her touch. I miss watching her fingers wrap those tamales. I regret taking her for granted. You took Mom for granted, I did the same with Sheila.”

They were more than partners, more than lovers, they were a team. In the early seventies, after selling their home in Houston and quitting good jobs, they moved to Taos and invested their savings in a bed and breakfast. They were childless, though not from lack of trying. Twenty-five years later they sold the much-improved business for a sizable profit and moved into a chalet nearer the ski area. Living the good life. Until some out-of-control yahoo, skiing above Sheila on a black diamond, went airborne off a mogul just as she was bending down to adjust her bindings. The yahoo’s skis scissored her neck, nearly decapitating her. Connor, skiing farther down the slope, didn’t know about the accident until the ski patrol came looking for him. The gaudy insurance settlement he received only left him feeling worse.

“Everybody does that,” Roy said. “Sheila took you for granted, take my word for it. That’s how marriage works.” He reached into the bag for another handful of Fritos. “You think Marsha will miss me?”

Connor cocked his head. “To be honest . . . I’m not sure.”

“I’m real proud of how you both turned out. You can tell her.”

“Mom had something to do with that.”

“Your mom was a saint.”

Connor looked over at him. “Not exactly.”

Roy sat up straight. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Hard to believe she’d leave her kid out in the car while you and her went in a bar.” When Roy broke into laughter, Connor asked, “Why is that funny?”

“I can’t believe you remember it. You were only . . . four, five? We didn’t mean to stay in that bar long.”

“Why did you then?”

“This drunk Indian got rowdy when the bartender stopped serving him. This was in Lander, Wyoming. He was likely from the Wind River Reservation. He grabbed a bottle and was halfway across the bar before me and two other guys dragged him back. After they tossed him out, the bartender insisted on setting us all up. Your mom and I couldn’t just leave. When we did come out, you’d pissed in all the ashtrays. Every damned ashtray in the car—and then some.”

Connor made a show of laughing. “I guess you wore my britches out.”

Roy shook his head. “Your mom nearly divorced me, that’s what happened. She’d pleaded with me to let her go check on you, but I didn’t like her babying you. I felt like a bastard when I saw how desperate you must’ve been. Your mom raked me over the coals, said things I wouldn’t’ve normally stood for. Shamed me. I deserved it.”

Connor remained silent, until Roy added, “Wish it was still like that.”

“Like what?”

“You could leave your kid out in the car, not worry about some weirdo grabbing him. That sort of thing didn’t happen back then. Hardly ever anyhow.”

“It’s a different world,” Connor said.

“That’s the problem with being a hundred. You see so much change. You see how things are better in some ways, worse in others. Mostly worse and that’s depressing.”

“Nothing stays the same.”

“I felt kinda sorry for that Indian.”

“I’m glad you told me about it,” Connor said. “It helps.”

Roy used his thumb to push his glasses higher on his nose. “Helps with what?”

“Helps me understand you better.”

“Christ, good luck with that.” Roy chuckled. “I have trouble understanding myself.”

“Even after a hundred years?”

Roy appeared to weigh this question, until with a flutter of eyelids he lost focus. At last he blinked and nodded at the book. “I’m ready now. Read me that Dan McGrew poem. Then the one about Sam McGee.”

Connor opened the book to The Shooting of Dan McGrew, cleared his throat, and began to read. Occasionally he looked up to steal a peek at Roy, leaning back with arms crossed, eyes closed, head nodding slightly, settled deep in some rapturous trance, intoxicated by the rhythm of those sparse tough sentences. When Connor read the poem’s last line, about the lady that’s known as Lou, he raised his eyes and saw Roy sitting motionless, slumped in a peculiar way, his eyes half closed. He didn’t appear to be breathing. Connor stopped breathing as well.

He reached over and placed the knuckles of his right hand against Roy’s jaw, letting the backs of his fingers trail lightly across the warm emery-cloth skin. When Roy shuddered and drew a long breath, Connor released his own breath. Then Roy smiled. Connor smiled too. He was about to say something, but the words caught in his throat. It wasn’t easy speaking words of love to Roy, just as it wasn’t easy for Roy to tolerate them. Connor decided not to risk it.

Instead, he turned to the next poem and began to read, “There are strange things done in the midnight sun . . .”

Bill Pippin is a writing instructor with Long Ridge Writers Group and the author of Wood Hick, Pigs-Ear & Murphy. His short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in the literary anthology Tattoos, The MacGuffin, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Newsweek, Field & Stream, Writer’s Digest, Philadelphia Magazine, Delaware Today, New Mexico Magazine, and many other publications. He lives near Silver City, NM, with his wife Zona.

Dotted Line