Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2013    poetry    all issues


Tristen Chang

John Shortino
Final Notice

Chris Belden
The Woodpecker Problem

Naima Lynch
And I Will Bring You Oranges

Daniel C. Bryant

Susannah Carlson
Killing Methuselah

Afia Atakora

Mackenzie E. Smith

Sabra Waldfogel

Lainey Bolen Burdge
Paper Thin

Erin Rodoni
Crossing the Street in Hanoi

Tim Weed
The Afternoon Client

Rick Kast
Of Wolves and Men

Andy Jameson

Thea Johnson
Baby Doll

Charles Alden
Holy Orders

Julie Zuckerman
Birthday Bash

Kathryn Shaver
The Fourth Monkey

Chip Houser
The Goatherd of Naxos

Andy Jameson


Kat admitted to Dave after the ultrasound that she had come from bad stock.

“What does that mean?”

“Degenerates, incompetents, criminals, downright evil some of them. That’s my family tree. A devil’s fork. Except my mother.”

“We should call her then,” Dave said. We should also call the Colonel and Llewellyn, he thought. What would they think of this mess? Only it wasn’t really a mess.

They were in Dave’s antique Corolla. The blank white face of the Women’s Hospital receded into miniature in the rearview mirror.

Kat didn’t speak. She smoothed the globe of her stomach, one of her new habits. Sometimes it felt reassuring, she admitted, like a pulsing emblem of accomplishment, or of golden potential. Other moments it was like the acknowledgement of a deformity, especially when she could feel the imprint of little feet or little ass, foothills popping out of her side and then receding. “She’s a kicker this one,” Kat said.

“Full of life,” said Dave. Even so, he felt a vague uncertainty as he glanced over at the graceful slope of her belly. He could still hear the tom-tom of his little girl’s amplified heartbeat, the throbbing insistency and concreteness of it all.

“A rebel, full of lip,” she replied. “We can’t call my mother, okay? We can’t call anyone.”

Kat had not met Dave’s parents yet. Colonel Brickley and his wife Llewellyn had retired to Long Beach, Mississippi, but that was right before Katrina swamped the whole town. A complete loss the Colonel determined, and they decided to get out. They lived in their RV for a few months at a park in Shreveport before the Colonel made the decidedly un-Colonel-like decision to light out for the territories. For seven months now Dave had hardly been in touch with them except for an occasional phone call out of the blue. To his great annoyance, they refused to buy a cell phone, even for emergencies. I’m a pretty resourceful SOB, the Colonel would say. Things usually work themselves out, was Llewellyn’s response.

“Things usually work themselves out,” Dave murmured to himself.

“Pardon?” Kat said.

He looked over at her face, partially hidden by her crow-black hair and awash in the pearly light of the coming sunset. “You’re an unexpected surprise,” he said, “everything about you.”

What’s the dossier? Where is she from? Who are her people? Who is she? The Colonel would ask. I don’t exactly know, Dave thought, but I don’t care.

“Why are you crying?” Kat said that first night they would spend together. This was at a dive Dave retreated to as a form of self-flagellation when he was feeling particularly miserable. It was appropriately called Nowhere Bar.

“Just the smoke. I have sensitive eyes.”

“Guess I’m quitting,” she said.

“Don’t do that on account of me. Keep your filthy habit by all means.” An ironic smile twisted his lips and he turned to look at her face. He was prepared for a chunky sorority girl wearing the usual uniform—cowboy boots and a too short baby doll dress; dangly earrings and heavy makeup just beginning to smear in the heat of a Georgia night—and was almost desperate enough to see where this was going. Instead, he found a townie, her pale, oval face lambent in the bar’s dimness, almost as though all the light had been drawn into her.

“Well, it’s settled. I’m quitting.” Kat stubbed her cigarette on the lacquered bar top and watched the ashes smolder. “We can’t have you crying all the time,” she said, as if she knew right then how easy it would be.

When Dave was a freshman in college, he had had a scare. The girl he was dating told him that she had missed her period, that she just knew she was pregnant. At eighteen, he had not thought about such a possibility. Some girl he barely knew and his life could be dissolving irrevocably into hers.

It was late, they were on the phone, and Dave could tell she—Cassie, was that her name?—was on the verge of hysterics. Just stay there, he told her and walked over to her dorm. He knew this was not something to be dealt with on the phone.

The campus was hushed, dead still after a weekend of debauchery. They walked out past the library, the empty fountain filled with leaves. Their breath entwined and she took his hand and pressed her nails hard into his palm, so hard he gritted his teeth. He was trying to imagine casting in his lot with this girl. They stopped at Roper’s Field where the ROTC marched. Then, magically, he found the words were in him, so noble and reassuring. He told her that it was amazing that they could have made a child, but they both knew this was the wrong time. If she was pregnant, well okay, they would figure something out, but maybe she wasn’t. They just had to take it one step at a time.

She felt better after that, cried a little, then wanted to give him a hand job. He wasn’t really in the mood. He was already dissociating himself. When he found out the next week that she had made up the whole thing, had needed, she said, to be sure of his commitment, Dave didn’t feel betrayed or angry, just relieved. After that, he kept his relationships at a distance, always a far second to school; he spent most of his time in the labs doing simulations, working on his professors’ projects. There was an impregnable logic to that work, the lines of code as real as mortar and concrete. He believed at the time he was building a fortress he could live in forever.

Now, he saw his little speech as terribly stupid and naïve. They would deal with it? A girl who turned out to be a complete psycho? But Kat wasn’t anything like Cassie, Dave told himself every time he thought about it. She was a completely different person.

Dave realized, though, even after almost six months living together, that he still knew nothing about Kat. She told stories which only hinted at her past, that gave glimpses, but were really just obfuscations, smoke screens. The truth was buried in them somewhere. He couldn’t ask for it. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to.

When she was a girl, Kat said, she was afraid that whenever she got the hiccups she might not ever stop, she might just spend the rest of her life a freak like those people in the Guinness Book of World Records. She remembered a picture of a man who had been hiccupping continuously for thirty years. He looked so unhappy he might blow his brains out at any minute. “I was a nervous child, I guess.”

“Where were you born?”

“Far away.” As though she were some disinherited princess. Or a witch in disguise. Wasn’t that how fairy tales went? She was smiling, Dave knew, but he could not see her face. He had seen this smile—it was like her true self was peering at him from a high window and he turned and there was only a motion, a gentle rustle, this ghost of a smile. Dave wondered exactly what it was he was seeing. “What are you afraid of?” she said.

Dave had to think a second. “What? Right now?”

“Just anything. In general.”

“Oh, then dying.”

“That’s too easy. Everyone’s afraid of dying.”

“Okay, of dying and no one caring. Like a stone dropping in the ocean. No ripples, no evidence I was here—just gone. I guess I’m afraid of disappearing. Of not having anyone who truly loved me. Who would gnash their teeth and wail. A little pathetic, right?”

“Not really. Me, I’m afraid of roaches. The way their little legs tickle your skin, it’s the grossest feeling. The way they crunch under your foot and still those legs, you can see them pedaling the air.” She shivered, and Dave hugged her. “If you could live your life over, go back in time and do things over, what would you fix?” Kat said.

“Oh lots of things. There were girls I never had the courage to talk to. I wouldn’t have stopped playing the violin in second grade.”

“You might not have even met me,” she said. “But that’s okay. Go on.”

“Well, you know, little things like saying something embarrassing. Having a better comeback when Deke Harder said I looked like the picture of Neanderthal man on the wall of Mrs. Frazee’s biology class. I played my worst game ever against Riverside in the state semis. I’d like another shot at that one. Just stuff like that.”

“You’re so normal,” she said. “So perfectly normal.”

“This is good,” he replied, a little hurt in her assessment.

“Yes, absolutely. You are beautifully normal.”

It was July and the only air-conditioning unit in the apartment was in the kitchen; it strained and wheezed but never seemed to do much good unless you stood right up against it as Dave sometimes found Kat doing when he came in from the computer lab at the library. This was his only paycheck at the moment—$212 a week, a little more than $800 a month. It would be better in the fall when his assistantship kicked back in, but only a little. Of course, Kat didn’t have health insurance at her part-time waitressing gig. Despite his reluctance to ask, inspired by many years of the Colonel’s speeches about self-reliance, he would have to broach the subject next time the call came. The question remained—would he say why he needed the money?

Dave wondered too if they should go ahead and get married, just take a trip down to the courthouse. So many times at night as they bantered and played, the words had been about to spill out: Why don’t we make this proper? Let’s do it. But something held him back, and Kat wasn’t hinting around, either. She was decidedly closed-mouthed about marriage, seemed in fact to have a pretty negative opinion of the institution. “The first step on the road to unhappiness,” she’d said once as they were talking about one of the other grad students who was engaged and had invited them to a party. They were looking at the picture of the couple on the invitation. “See how nervous they look?” Kat said. “They already regret it.”

Spud was their pet name for the baby because they couldn’t decide on a real name.

“Not my mom’s,” Dave said, “though I’m sure she’d be pleased. Too hard to spell. What about yours?”

“My mom?” Kat hesitated. She had a look in her eyes, a frosting over. “You won’t like it,” she said finally.

“Come on. Maybe I will.”

“Okay, but I’m telling you that you won’t. It’s Elvira.”

“Oh, yeah.” Dave paused, trying to be politic. “That’s interesting, but I mean, I would always be thinking of that chick with the boobs. You know, the vampire?”

“Yeah, I know.”

So Kat took to sitting on the couch in the afternoons reading a baby names book as Dave worked on his dissertation. She would lob a name out occasionally, but none seemed to meet his approval.

“Caitlyn? Eunice? Wendy? Constance? Esther? Prunella?”

“You’re not even trying,” he said, shooting them down like clay pigeons.

“What about Hadley, then? That was Hemingway’s first wife’s name. The one he really loved.”

“Not enough, apparently.”

“He didn’t know what was good for him. Nora?”

Dave leaned back in his chair for a moment. He didn’t hate it. “Put that one on file for future consideration. You know if it was a boy this would be easy. We’d name him after the Colonel—Donald.”

Kat did not seem very interested in what ifs.

“Don’t you want to know the middle name?” Dave continued.

“Knock yourself out.”

“My mom’s maiden name was Brooke.”

Kat flicked her eyes up from her name book and began to smile. “So, Donald Brooke Brickley?”

“That’s right. But we’d call him Donnie.”

Kat spent her days at the university pool while Dave was working. Admission was cheap—just a dollar with Dave’s student card—and she would languidly float, her expanding belly making her buoyant. She told him that she devoured Orange Push-ups and Nutty Buddies and didn’t feel guilty at all.

Once, Dave went with her because it was inter-cession. No students were around to fuck up their computers or forget their passwords, so he had the day to himself. They walked to the pool, which was only a half mile down a steep hill from the apartment. “You can carry me back,” Kat said. “You think I’m kidding.”

They passed by bungalows that had been trashed by years of careless undergrads. From their vantage point, they could see Legion Pool, a gleaming blue as a robin’s egg. Again, Dave was on the verge of asking Kat to marry him. He could feel his daughter in his arms, giggling and excited.

At the pool, they walked by a tawny woman wearing a white terry cloth hat who surveyed them coolly. Kat whispered that last week the woman had asked when she was due and Kat had replied, “Oh, I’m just fat.”

“That was kind of mean,” Dave said.

“Served her right. She thought I was part of her little club of professors’ wives.”

Dave almost said, “You might be one too someday,” but didn’t. Instead they found a shady corner, applied sunscreen to each other’s backs. For a while they were quite happy, fooling around, playing silly games. Dave held his breath, circled around Kat and nipped at her legs like a minnow. He tried to do a back flip off the diving board and ended up with water up his nose. They didn’t even see the yellow busses pulling into the parking lot, or the odd assembly making its way in.

Kat first noticed the pale girl with ginger hair; she would have been pretty but her eyes were a little too far apart, and her mouth was curled into what seemed like a leering grin. She swam for Kat and grabbed hold of her. The child was wearing swimmies. Kat realized, though, now that they were face to face, she wasn’t a child at all—she had to be at least fourteen. “Push,” the girl slurred. “Push. Push.” Suddenly, they were surrounded. A porcine black woman shaped like a Russian nesting doll waddled by and then dove and came up spewing water all over them. Another man wore a life jacket and paddled ineffectively with his diminutive, atrophied legs. Dave noticed that he had a splotchy mustache; he could have been thirty or more.

The ginger-haired girl gripped Kat tighter, repeating, “Push, Push, Push.” It felt like bedlam. Dave saw the panic dawning in Kat’s face, her revulsion and fear.

“Get her,” Kat said. “Get her off me.”

Just then a teenager in a red one-piece appeared. “Come here, Jaycie,” she said. “I’ve got you. I’ll push you.” Jaycie let go of Kat. “Sorry,” the teenager called as she began to swim away with Jaycie now gripping her neck. “They just get so excited.”

The afternoon was shot. “Let’s go back home,” Dave suggested. Kat nodded, her face blank now. As they gathered their towels, two boys walked by. They had golden tans and the long wavy hair that seemed to be the new style. Dave heard one say, “God I hate it when these freaks show up.”

Later that night, they lay in bed with sweaty sheets tangled around their feet. The disaster at the pool seemed long forgotten and Dave was relieved.

“Would you love me . . .” Kat said and paused. This was a game she sometimes played. Would you love me, she always began. Would you love me if a shark bit off my leg? Would you love me if I had cancer and lost all my hair? Would you love me if I had green skin like the Wicked Witch of the West? Tonight it was: “Would you love me if I had a tail?”

“You don’t. I can verify that.” He slapped her ass, ran his index finger slowly up her arching spine. Her body was a hair trigger under his touch. It made him feel powerful.

“No fooling around,” she said, shifting away from him, “until you answer.”

“So you have a tail, and I don’t know it.”

“Yes, we’ve been chaste, proper lovers—it’s our wedding night. You have swept me up over the threshold of some motel room with blue shag carpet and a neon sign with the last letter burnt out so it says ‘Mote.’ You are fumbling with my garter, trying to unhook it. You are licking my thigh.”

“I can do that right now.”

She held up her hand. Wait. “That’s when I say, ‘Dave, there’s something important I have to tell you. It might be shocking. It might scare you.’ How are you feeling right then? What are you thinking?”

“With a preface like that, how am I supposed to feel? Why couldn’t you have told me about this—whatever this shocking thing is, the tail presumably—before we get married?”

“Maybe I’m scared you’ll just run off. You’ll see me as tainted.”

“A tail, then?”

“A tail and not a nice fluffy cat tail. It’s a scaly horny toad tail.”

Dave pretended to think. “That’s not so bad. There’s always surgery.”

“You’re terrible,” she said, nipping his chin.

The Colonel called. They were in Miami, or rather an RV park near Homewood, but they had driven into the city a few times and weren’t impressed. “I swear,” the Colonel said, “you could walk from one end of that town to the other without hearing a word of English. This isn’t the US of A as far as I can tell.”

“I bet the food’s good,” Dave said.

“Yeah, we found a Brazilian place we like. Got a buffet. We’re thinking about going to Miami Beach tomorrow.”

“That might not be your scene.”

“What, because of the gays? At least they’ll speak American. And I’ll tell you what: I’ve never had a problem with a lesbian. They make good soldiers.”

Dave could think of no good way to broach the subjects that were on his mind. He kept up the chit chat, tried to ignore his father’s more outrageous comments and find some subtle way to steer the conversation around to the real issue at hand. Finally, after ten minutes, it turned out the Volvo was acting up. “German engineering, my ass,” the Colonel said. Kat sat down on the leather couch, which was unusual because she did not find it very comfortable in the heat. She fanned herself with a magazine and tried to look like she wasn’t listening in.

“That sucks,” Dave said as casually as he could manage. “I’ve had to have some work done recently on the Corolla. Couldn’t run forever.”

“Oh yeah, what was wrong?”

“Transmission. It was pricy. I’m kind of tapped.”

After they had worked out the terms of the loan (the Colonel would never simply give him the money), Dave felt how easy it would be to sow the seeds of a future conversation. I met a girl. We’re going out. I could be onto something. But he was beginning to feel that Kat was his secret—that he was going to hold onto her this way as long as he could. She looked at him now as he hung up his phone. Her gray, cloudy eyes remained on him.

Three weeks later, they were in the hospital. After a particularly grueling contraction, Kat said, “I think this was a mistake. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“It’s a little late now,” Dave said. “Spud is coming into the station whether you like it or not.” They still hadn’t picked out a name.

“I’ll be a horrible mother. She’ll write a scathing memoir.”


“You’ll hate my body. It’ll be lumpy. You’ll sign up for internet dating sites and trawl for women all night long while I’m stuck home breast-feeding. And what if she won’t latch? That’s what the lactation consultant said, that sometime they won’t latch. It’s like a sign right away that you were not meant to be a mother.”

Dave could do nothing but give her another ice chip. “Hey,” he said. “Did you notice that there’s a whirlpool in the bathroom? Wish I’d brought my bathing suit.”

“Where’s the fucking anesthesiologist?” Kat said. Dave went to look for him. It turned out they had misunderstood about the epidural—they thought that all they had to do was send the word, but the nurse had meant they needed to put in a request, that the anesthesiologist could be scheduled to come in an hour. Dave went back to break the news.

“Remember: pain is just weakness leaving the body. At least that’s what the Colonel believes.”

“What do you know about pain?” Kat snarled. Another contraction took hold of her.

Dave smoothed her drenched brow and tucked a wisp of dewy hair behind her ears. He thought about how unprepared they were. They had found a crib at a yard sale, but just the other day he read an article that said all cribs made before 1990 were probably death traps. A few friends got together and bought diapers and onesies, as well as dresses with frogs and butterflies on them. At the party, Dave held a munchkin dress up against his chest, as if it were for him. Ooo, so cute and someone snapped a picture. That was it. They had very little else, not even a stroller. No money. No space. His hopeful words came back to him. We’ll deal with it. That had been his mantra—the same thing he’d told Cassie when he was eighteen. The Colonel was talking in his ear now. Son, how stupid are you? There are some things you think through. There are some decisions, you don’t just spit and let the wind carry you in whatever direction it chooses.

After it was all over, Dave was elated. He needed to talk with someone, to spread the news. However, he still had no way to get in touch with the Colonel and Llewellyn. And that would be a long conversation, probably not joyous.

Kat was looking exhausted, barely there. The nurses had just wheeled her over from the recovery room.

“Honey,” Dave said. “I really want us to call your mom. She’d like to know.”

Kat stirred, and suddenly her eyes were like those of a spooked animal. She was trapped, the maw of something terrible had her, and she let out a long groan. “We can’t,” she said.

“I don’t understand. Of all you family, you said your mom . . .”

“It’s impossible.”

“Why is it impossible? Stop being so obscure for once.”

Kat looked at him, a cold stare. “Because she’s dead.”

“What—you never told me. Why?”

“There is no why,” Kat said. “The son of a bitch killed her.”

At that moment, some woman in a peach pantsuit came in with a clipboard full of forms to sign. Kat was sobbing.

“Is this a bad time?” the woman said, as if this scene was a typical occurrence.

“Maybe so,” Dave said.

“Okey-dokey, not a problem. We have a lot to go over, but it can wait. One thing, though. Have you settled on a name?”

“No,” Dave said. “I guess we haven’t.”

This was more unusual and the woman gave them a critical glance before turning to leave.

Kat was crying now, a flood, an unclenching of grief. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,” she said. “I wouldn’t blame you . . .”

Another nurse—one more of the succession of nosy strangers they were now surrounded by—poked her head in, gauged the climate and stood half-way outside of the door. “Hey ya’ll, I’m Tammie. I’ve got this shift. Does Daddy want to give the first bath, because they’re waiting.”

Kat motioned her head toward Tammie. “You should go on,” she said.

“But I want to talk about this,” Dave said.

“We can’t. Go see your daughter.”

Dave gave in and let himself be led by Tammie down the hall. There were, he noticed, arrows running along the center of the floor. They were leading away from the room.

“Isn’t this so exciting?” Tammie said.

In the glaring lights there were no shadows. This was a tableau of sorts, thought Dave: father and child. He should have been happy.

She was slippery, terrifyingly delicate. A nurse in taupe scrubs was giving him helpful advice, but he wasn’t really listening. Dave was concentrating on his daughter’s face, yellowish as though swabbed with mercurochrome. This was from a touch of jaundice, the doctor explained. “Why is she that color?” Kat had asked. “Is something wrong with her?” Dave could hear the rising panic in her voice. Nothing unusual, the doctor said. She’s was just about perfect otherwise.

Dave supported her head with his palm. The hair was dark as Kat’s, dark as loam, or a deep hole you could fall into. Her eyes were creases and he couldn’t determine the color yet. She yawned, and then looked up at him. Blue, a stunning blue.

“So sweet,” the nurse said. “What’s her name?”

“Elle,” Dave said, surprising himself.

After the bath, he walked down to the atrium to get a cup of coffee. A few people sat at tables staring blankly around them. This was the place for introspection, the quiet limbo before your life starts unraveling again. Dave found a machine, plunked in some quarters. He held the Styrofoam cup to his nose, felt the lick of steam. He walked out the front entrance, through the revolving doors.

An old man was sitting on a bench, smoking; a green oxygen tank on wheels was beside him. Dave nodded and then stepped out of the potential blast zone. For a few minutes, they shared a view of the setting August sun, mottled purple and orange as it slipped below the staggered line of pines bordering the highway. Embers of light caught in the branches, briefly making a row of Christmas trees all bedecked, bedazzling.

“Purdy,” the old man said.

“Yeah,” Dave said. “Hey. Who gave you that cigarette?”

“I got ways,” the old man said and tried to laugh. What came out was a series of strangled inhalations, as though he was trying to suck air through cheesecloth. “You’re crying,” the old man observed after he caught his wind.

“No, just the smoke.” Dave paused. Inside the hospital, he knew, were people hanging by a thread. There were families just trying to hold it together. There were babies crying.

“Ah, hell.” The old man flicked the smoldering butt out past the curb, wheeled back toward the revolving door. “They’re all in there waiting for me to die. Seems like they half wish it upon me.” He was at a loss for a moment. “You coming back in?”

Andy Jameson has worked a variety of jobs: bookstore clerk, construction worker, delivery driver, mover, and the person who rolls up rugs in a rug factory. He currently lives in bucolic Greenwood, South Carolina, with his wife Misty and teaches writing at Lander University. His stories have appeared in many literary magazines, including Harpur Palate and The Chaffin Journal, with one forthcoming in Blue Lake Review.

Dotted Line