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

Kyle A. Valenta

The Narrows

Did you hear that?

A falcon.

He’s sure of it. They’re all over the place out here.

But overhead a flock of starlings skitters off and there are no wide-winged birds to be seen. Purple clouds march west to east and disappear behind the cliffs. Another hundred-degree day is gone and he considers driving out to where the desert swallows the road, laying down on the hood of his car, and letting the heat drain out of his body and into the big, bright night. He sips the back end of a beer instead, taps his heel against the hobbling barstool, and goes back to the motel.

The Zion Valley is a shiver in the morning. He shakes the tingle of leftover sleep out of his arms, drives into the park and hikes. In a sandy slot canyon wedged high in the cliffs, he eats a sandwich sitting on a large rock in the shade. Dwarf pines quake in the faint breeze. He is alone and wonders about mountain lions. The organs in his belly tighten, release, and tighten again. He reminds himself to breathe, puts everything back into his bag, and begins the long descent, looking for condors in the afternoon sun. But when he stops to think, he doesn’t have a clue as to whether they’d be out at this time of day, dipping and rising on thermals. He should have studied more. M would have known the answer.

At night he sits on his bed at the motel, his back propped against the wall. He looks down at his hairy, tanned thighs against the crisp white sheets. He takes a picture on his phone and considers what to do with it. Someone would admire this kind of picture, he thinks. He could upload it and in a few minutes someone—someone who looks just like everything he’s every dreamed—could be right at his motel door. It’s that easy, but he’s never had the stomach for that sort of thing. He throws his phone onto the other bed and chugs the rest of the beers that he’s bought for the night.

The following morning he splashes down into the Virgin River long before Zion Park has filled with people. The water is cold and so is the air because there’s no sun way down in here. The hike is called The Narrows and he thinks it sounds like a neighborhood in London. For a moment he considers what shape his life would have if he still lived abroad, but shakes the feeling because at some point you have to admit defeat, pack your things, and leave. That much, at least, he knows.

The river is sometimes ankle deep, sometimes hip deep, and at times he has to swim, holding his bag in front of him like a float. His fingers turn blue. The wind ripples the surface of the already roiling water. Around a tight bend he spots a small patch of dry gravel to the side. He steps out of the water and his skin prickles. A retired couple passes, waves, wishes him luck, and moves on quickly around the far side of the bend and out of sight. He clenches his chattering teeth shut and a sharp pain shoots up through his jaw. He wants to turn around. M would say that was classic, giving up like that. He steps back into the river and feels a deep ache in his groin, though if he could just understand that as time passes, as the canyon warms up, his body will adjust to the temperature, he wold be better off. Journeys like this demand patience. He is bad at patience.

A mile later he stops for lunch.

“We’re sleeping in the back of our jeep,” one half of a couple says while he chews, squatting on a wet, rocky strip of land a mile up river. “This is the first shower we’ve taken in a week.” They laugh. He crumples some aluminum foil with his hand and squints up at the sky. He isn’t ready for jokes.

“Yeah. That sounds about right,” he says after too long. He hasn’t heard his own voice in days, or weeks, and he thinks it might not be his own any more. He takes off before the couple is finished eating and before they feel as though they’re all friends. The wind makes a hollow noise through the canyon. After another mile the path becomes choked by piles of boulders guarding deep stretches of water. He climbs, descends, and climbs again until the human sounds are gone. When he is sure he is alone again, he thinks of where he will go tomorrow, as he passes out of southern Utah in any direction. He has a tent in his trunk, though he hasn’t had reason to use it yet. M showed him how to set it up, once. He thinks it would be nice, that it’d be just about picture perfect to set up that tent way out there somewhere and let the loud silence of the desert smother him, unbroken until the next morning and the next.

He hears a splash behind him and looks over his shoulder. He must have stopped walking. Three young men trudge briskly against the current. At the next boulder pile, he stands off to the side to let them climb over before him. They’re ragged in the way that you can tell they’re on some epic journey and just by watching the easy way they cut the river, he’s sure that they’re young and on the verge of some great thing. The one wearing work boots and a short red bathing suit goes first—he’s dark haired, dark eyed, and a brown that matches this part of the country. Twenty-one, twenty-two, he thinks—a kid, really. The kid scrambles up the rocks, the muscles along his torso tensing and easing, his legs pressing tight against the red fabric of his shorts. The friends follow. At the top, the kid drains the water out of his boots, mindlessly adjusts himself, and smiles back down at him.

“Throw your bag up,” the kid says. “It’ll be easier.” He blinks, and without speaking does as he’s told. He climbs over the rocks slowly, so he can think about each handhold and foothold—this should look both effortless and meticulous. It should look like he’s a pro. As he nears the top, the kid reaches out a hand. Thanks. He catches his breath and can’t think of what else he’s supposed to say so he asks them where they’re from.


Nice. Never been.

The small talk is mostly silence. “I’m Tommy, by the way. That’s Mike. Rob,” the one in red shorts says. “You?”

He tells them that his name is Dekker. It is a lie.

“Shouldn’t be any more of these the rest of the way,” Tommy says, pointing down at the rocks like he’s been here before. Then, like that, the three friends turn and jump into the pool below. “You coming?” Yes, yes. Just a minute. They swim away and he immediately regrets his hesitation. As they paddle into the distance, he opens his mouth to say, “Wait up,” but no sound comes out. He’s too rusty. They make their way upstream, their laughs bouncing off the canyon walls. He looks down at his own shirtless body and wishes he knew what it looked like as he climbs on these boulders. Do his muscles swell and strain and contract like that kid’s? Did they ever? He pinches his stomach, wishing he didn’t think about these things.

He’s alone in the canyon again—but this time he feels it in his chest and shoulders. It’s as if he’s twelve years old, abandoned by friends who never wanted him around in the first place. The path between solitude and loneliness has always been too slippery for him; he’s never sure on which side he’ll end up. For so many weeks he’s been skimming the periphery out here, following a jagged line from one ocean to the other, keeping his distance from as much humanity as possible. Most people out this way hide from the sun until it disappears for the day, so he can pass through wherever he found himself like a ghost. But when he found himself hurtling across the bottom of Utah in a filthy Grand Am, all he could hear was M saying how much he loved Zion. He knew Zion would be filled with the Americans he’d been dodging for weeks, that there would be too many chances to talk. And now here he is, in a valley, chasing a boy he’s seen for two minutes and running from everyone else.

The canyon keeps going forever, as far as he knows, but the trail officially ends at a thin waterfall and a shallow pool. He puts out his boots and everything to dry on the wide, rocky shore and lays down on his back, letting his body warm through in the sun. There should be herons here, or egrets dipping their long heads into the shallows. Do they have those birds out here? Or just soaring raptors? He hasn’t seen either this whole time. M would know the answers. From the forest upstream he hears splashing again and sees the three boys emerging from the shadows. They drop their backpacks on the shore and wave. They’re all shirtless now and Tommy stretches his lithe, tan body backwards, arced towards the sun. It is impossible not to stare. They walk over to him and he searches for the right thing to say.

“What’s that way?” he comes up with, careful to lower his voice, to sound relaxed and deliberate.

“More canyon, pretty much. All the big cliffs are done already,” Tommy says, shaking water out of his shaggy hair.

“How long have you been out here?” one of them asks.

“A few days,” Dekker answers. It is a lie. “You?”

“Same. We’ve been all over. Drove out in a hatchback. Circled up through Yellowstone and Glacier and Grand Teton then down here. We’re camping down on the river just inside the park.” It’s clear that Tommy’s in charge, that he’s making their decisions as they speed across country.

“I wish I had time for that. I have to head back in two days,” Dekker says, lying again. His heart is way up in his throat by now and he point at the small cliff over the shallow pool. “Too bad you can’t jump in from up there. You’d break your legs, though, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh man. We were cliff diving yesterday,” Tommy blurts excitedly. “There’s a spot right next to our campsite.” He whistles the sound that cartoons make when bombs are dropped. “Right at sunset. It’s perfect.”

They are quiet for a few moments. Did Tommy say you should see it? Dekker’s sure that his face is turning red, though it isn’t. His mind is trying to convince him that things are happening that aren’t. He shakes his head hard and imagines the boys cliff diving yesterday—everyone watching Tommy scramble up the rocks, his body plunging down and wading out of the river, hard bodied and wet. But that’s stupid. So stupid. No one in this little group is looking at anyone else. None of these boys are wishing they were inside the skin of the other.

“Yeah. Maybe I’ll find a site for tomorrow. All the hotels in town are booked up,” Dekker lies a fourth time, though he isn’t keeping count.

“Well, you can share our site,” Tommy offers. “You got a tent?”

“No.” That makes five lies. He thinks for a second that he should stop. But no, no, he won’t.

“You can sleep in mine, or in your car. Whatever. It’d only be a few bucks. We’ve got an extra sleeping bag, anyway.”

Dekker holds his breath for three, two, one and then agrees. Way down deep, though, he doesn’t believe that they’re sincere about their offer and is sure that over night they will disappear. Dekker sends up too many wishes too quickly to count. In one of those wishes, Mike and Rob were never born.

They hike out of the canyon together, tell Dekker where to meet tomorrow night, and say their goodbyes.

That night Dekker sobs in the parking lot of the only grocery store in town.

He wakes and stretches. His legs are sore. Dekker spends the day in a bookshop, drinking coffees, walking from one end of town to the other, looking at the trinkets he would have bought for M. As the afternoon turns colors he drives to the agreed upon bar near the park’s entrance and sits at a high table outside. His hands are shaky. The waitress is chatty. After two quick beers his head slips in several directions. The waitress has a brother out in St. George—Anthony.

“You should meet him,” she blurts out. “He’s gay, but you wouldn’t know it. Like, he’s gay, but not, like, gay. Kind of like you.” Anthony has an online account through which he sets up dates with men. Once the tryst is agreed upon, Anthony and his sister park within seeing distance of the hotel or wherever and watch the guy show up. The guy will stand around expectantly, nervously, all upset and waiting for someone that’s never coming. She says they laugh and laugh. Dekker thinks this is sad and would like to hurt Anthony. He’d like to stab this stupid fucking girl right in the throat, too. Dekker curls his mouth into a smile and asks for another beer.

“Sure, hon. Oh! You’re reading On the Road?” she says, pointing at the table. “Is that what you are? On the road?” She laughs like a hyena through a horse mouth.

“No,” Dekker says. He looks up and sees a flock of starlings squeak away into the warm evening. These damned little birds are everywhere, he mutters to himself. The landscape looks like it’s on fire and when he squints down the road he sees the three friends walking towards him. Dekker’s stomach flips. They stroll up to the table all smiles and antics and jokes. They sit. They eat. Everything is coming easy and the four of them are lit up by beer and tequila. These boys all have girlfriends. Or they did. Mike and Rob broke up with theirs before leaving on their cross-country trip, but pretty little Tommy still has his, though he hasn’t talked to her since he crossed the Mississippi, which is fine because he’s been talking to this girl out in San Francisco instead, where they will arrive in three days. They decide to go to another bar. Word is, they have karaoke. Dekker hates karaoke but lies and says it sounds good. Real fucking good. His forehead sweats. As they walk down the middle of the road, Dekker imagines that they are flames burning furrows into the asphalt. He dares any car to even try coming close to them.

The bar is crowded and everyone there is sunburned—except Tommy. Tommy is a glowing, sunkissed gold. There’s a small dance floor and the four of them jump around, rhythmless, for a few songs. Tommy, Mike, and Rob chat up girls, pull them close, and let them go. Dekker fakes it too, staying as close to Tommy as possible, trying to absorb him. There are tit jokes and arms around shoulders and bonhomie. Hips grind into various other hips of the opposite sex. Dekker thinks: if M could see me now.

Tommy moves so easily among the crowd, starting up little conversations with everyone within his arms’ radius. It’s like he’s magic or some solar body with gravity. Dekker’s temples are too hot and he tells the boys that he’s going to the bathroom. The room is a humid blur and after asking around he finds the door at the end of a narrow, wood-paneled hallway. Are there small antlers on the walls? Are there arrowhead-shaped plaques with the names of bowling teams carved into mica? He bolts the door and the pit in his stomach opens wide and threatens to swallow him whole. A cold feeling—the certainty of desperation—settles into his bones and crackles off of his skin. He knows that he should leave these boys alone. Their adventure is not his to have. That time is long gone and he is dead weight. He decides to leave the bar immediately, find his car, and swerve way out into the desert. Maybe he’ll go to St. George. Maybe he’ll find Anthony and fuck him in the backseat until he bleeds or says stop, stop, stop, whichever comes last. But when Dekker opens the door, Tommy is standing directly in front of him—a warm, damp smell wafts off of that perfect, young body. His eyes are hot and red and look right back into Dekker’s. Tommy’s lips part; Dekker sees Tommy’s tongue between his teeth. Tommy looks down, grabs Dekker’s wrist and turns it over. They both stare at the spot where Dekker has a small tattoo of an anchor and Tommy softly rubs his thumb over the ink, back and forth, as if to wipe it away, then lets go, says nothing and slips past Dekker into the bathroom. The lock slides in place.

Dekker walks to the bar, holding the wall the entire way, and orders two shots of tequila and a beer. With his nondrinking hand, he picks at the bar’s rough plywood underside and when he rests his hand back on top of the bar, his fingertip is bloody. He drops it into his remaining tequila, pulls it out, and sucks. After throwing back the second shot, he holds the glass under his nose, hoping to burn Tommy’s scent from inside his nostrils. After three deep, reeking breaths, Dekker feels a tap on his shoulder and hears the words, “Let’s go.” Nodding his head without turning around, Dekker forces a shallow smile and follows the three boys out the door. Nobody is leaving anyone alone. Keeping his body as upright and loose as he can, Dekker acts like this has been the plan all along—like they are just old friends walking around a passed-through town. Overhead, bats dip and flit in tight curves and arcs. Dekker considers pointing this out to Tommy, but is sure that Tommy always already knows.

It’s dark. The night is filled with whoops and shouts and the sounds of a burning propane lamp. An endless stream of cheap canned beer finds its way out of the cooler and into their dirty hands. The campsite’s on a sandy riverbank and Dekker digs his toes into the loose earth. He’s a vapor; a mimic hovering on the edge of their triangle, reflecting their careless joy back at them. It’s all he knows how to do. M hated that, hated how Dekker was always becoming someone else. M couldn’t gauge it day to day and tried to shake it out of Dekker. Fucking punk. Fucking liar punk. Lost in thought, Dekker doesn’t notice that Tommy, Mike, and Rob have stripped to their underwear and run off up a path to the left. He sees a white body disappear into thick shrubs and hears wild human yipping. The cliff, Dekker remembers, and so he strips too and runs off into the darkness, into somewhere that he’s never been.

It’s all moon and stars up there. The earth becomes the sky in an endless loop. Don’t move, Dekker thinks, but everyone does. One by one they scream and jump and then he is alone with Tommy and the sky and the shimmering water below and he wants to hold onto Tommy’s body as they both plummet into the cold water below. But Tommy turns and says, “Don’t stay up here too long, all right?” and disappears. A moment later, Dekker lets go of an old cottonwood and splashes down, holding his breath under water until his lungs burn. Maybe they play chicken in the shallows. Maybe everyone is drunkenly falling and laughing and tossing one another back into the deep. Dekker doesn’t know any more.

Back on shore they change and hang their underwear on branches to dry. Tommy tells Dekker to just sleep in the tent with him—it’s big enough for them both and when they’re inside they lay down on separate sides. A cool breeze plays with the open flaps and Tommy’s left toes touch Dekker’s right toes—neither of them correct the intrusion. Dekker can’t catch his breath and doesn’t know what Tommy wants or if he is reading too deeply into these small moments. It’s been so long.

Tommy starts reading a book, oblivious to the silent weight under which Dekker is being crushed. Dekker presses his eyelids together hard. Purple and red blotches appear. The author’s name is familiar to Dekker because M used to talk about him all the time, a fact that led Dekker to avoid any books with the author’s name on the spine. The author is dead, he knows, and used too many footnotes. M called it genius. At the moment, Dekker curses M, as if this coincidence has been orchestrated by a fate that M controls. Because right now, M would know exactly what to say to this boy. M would have something to talk about. Instead, Dekker is now watching his chance at saying something, anything, drift off into oblivion. Soon Tommy will be asleep. Soon it will be tomorrow. Soon they will part ways and Dekker will never see Tommy again. His eyes feel hot. M always said that Dekker’s passions rose and waned without a tether to logic and reason. M told him that he’d be miserable like this—moving too fast and spitting out lies. M said he’d die alone. Just watch me now.

“I’m actually going to wash up proper in the river,” Tommy says, stripping off his shorts. “I feel fucking grimy.”

Dekker tells himself to look away but doesn’t—he knows that Tommy feels his eyes passing over every crease and curve of his naked body, but this fucking kid makes no gesture to cover himself or disappear. They stay this way—Tommy on one knee and Dekker splayed on his back—for an instant like forever. Nobody reaches out across the divide. They are frozen.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be quick,” Tommy says before he throws his shorts at Dekker. “Those can keep you company.” Tommy grins and crawls out through the opening, looking back and smiling before wading off into the darkness. Dekker cannot move. The flutter in his abdomen reaches out into his joints and limbs and retracts; his body is an imploding star, consuming everything within its reach. He hears Tommy splashing in the water, soaping his body, dunking himself under to rinse. These are the situations Dekker has been told to avoid so many times—the ambiguous ones, the ones with strangers and alcohol and unclear motives. He should have kept driving west, out past the hordes that throng to Zion. People are only trouble. Not enough time had passed. But M always said, didn’t he? M always said.

A feeling swells up in Dekker’s chest and he knows he is about to burst into tears. At the end of this, when their separate drives west are finished, Tommy will have his girls and his boys and whoever he wants scattered across the country, waiting for him, in an endless stretch of body after body and heart after heart longing for the moment when this beautiful thing enters back into their basic, yearning orbits. Tommy will always be satisfied, will always be loved and will always be fulfilled. There is no one to notice whether Dekker is present or gone; he’s a shadow that passes across the people he meets without them feeling a thing. Dekker knows that this is his condition. It is permanent until he dies.

Unsure of what to do any more, Dekker stares at the peak of the tent as hot streams drop down the sides of his face. With his eyes, he follows the seams of the tent until he returns to the apex once more. The sound of splashing has stopped, he realizes, and he looks out through the flaps, his heart in his throat. He doesn’t see Tommy, but realizes that they’re set up right next to some shrubs and small logs. Rattlesnakes. Large-toothed rodents. Burrowing spiders. The possible inhabitants are endless. That’s stupid, he tells himself. That’s really fucking stupid.

“Tommy?” he whisper-yells toward the river. There’s no reply. On the other side of the woodpile he hears a rustling sound. “Tommy,” he says again, louder, his voice cracking.

“What?” he hears from behind the tent as Tommy finally appears. “I wanted to get this from my car. You alright?”

Dekker sees a small notebook in Tommy’s hand.

“Yeah. I heard something, that’s all.” Dekker tries to laugh, but his pulse hammers behind his eyes. “You’re set up right next to these bushes. There’s a million things that can fucking kill you living in there.”

“You think too much, don’t you?” Tommy asks, smiling, and Dekker is sure that Tommy’s voice has changed. He sounds just like M, standing there with his hand on his hip the way M always did. Dekker feels transparent and limp. Tommy drops the notebook down onto his sleeping bag and lays down naked, his skin perfectly holding his body together, muscle and bone—every fiber tightening and releasing in perfect synchrony.

“I have to piss,” Dekker mutters. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Outside the tent Dekker feels a sting in his eyes and a lump way down inside. He has stayed in this place too long.

Tommy opens the notebook and starts listing the things that he’s seen over the last few days: the cottonwood trees, the California condors, the big-horn sheep, Angel’s Landing and The Three Patriarchs. And a peregrine falcon—a pair—right? He notes the temperature each day, the various songs played at the bar the night before, the name of this man that he’s just met—Dekker. Tommy thinks back on the hike out of the canyon, how Dekker seemed to throw himself at the rocks, like he was forcing them to submit. He’s always wanted a body like that—solid and purposeful. He’d like to see Dekker again. In fact, he can’t imagine what it would feel like to never see him again. These compulsions come hurtling at Tommy from nowhere. He gets attached so fast. Tommy writes all of these things down and realizes how long Dekker has been gone.

Outside the tent, Tommy hears a loud rustle. It stops. He looks back at his notebook and hears the sound again.

“That you?” Tommy says. But nothing answers. Maybe Dekker was right about the bushes after all. Tommy chuckles to himself. Of course there’s animals out there. It’s the desert. He sticks his head out of the flaps and sees someone, or something, on four legs, or hands and knees, bobbing up and down at the edge of the water. He rubs his eyes, trying to force them to adjust. Something is the matter. He loses his breath. Catches it. A twig snaps to his right and Tommy looks up, wide-eyed, and filled with all the sadness in the world as a log comes down on him once, again, and again, harder each time. The log lifts once more and drops on Tommy’s head with a wet sound, before it rolls down the bank and into the river.

Did you hear that?

An owl.

He’s sure of it. But when Dekker looks up in the sky, the trees, he sees nothing. M would have something to say. That much is clear. He gets in his car and points it in the direction of St. George—in the direction of a million other elsewheres—and drives.

Kyle Valenta received his MFA from Columbia University in 2013. He was a finalist for the 2013 Arts & Letters prize and his work can be seen at and forthcoming in Secret Behavior. He’s an avid traveler who works in publishing and is currently completing his first manuscript: a story of travels in Argentina and India, chronicling encounters with Brazilian escorts, false holy men, wayward musicians, drug addicts, and Tibetan lamas in the Himalayas.

Dotted Line