Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2016    poetry    all issues


Cover Joel Filipe

Casey Whitworth

Mike Beasley
Childish Things

Dan Timoskevich

Brandon Barrett
No Weapon Forged Against You Will Prevail

Martine Fournier Watson
The Box

Abby Sinnott

Kim Catanzarite
At the Light on 17 and King

Louise Hawes
Bend This Page

Mike Karpa
The Link

Sandra Wiley
Bullfrog Stew

Melanie Unruh

John Etcheverry
If God Were a Woman

Matthew Callan
I Need to Know If You Have the Mask

Shannon L. Bowring
Still Life

Shoshana Razel Gordon-Guedalia

Mike Beasley

Childish Things

When I was eight years old, our father tossed some clothes, his books, his fishing gear and a shotgun into the trunk of his old Firebird and lit out for Montana. He wrote a note for my brother and me on the back of an overdue notice from Lone Star Gas:

Boys. Don’t hold it against me I left. I was up to here with all the hollering. Look out for the mail. I’ll send you a surprise, Christmas.

Love, your daddy

PS I paid the gas bill.

The gas bill was $32.26. I still have it. Every now and then I retrieve it from a tin lock box and read the note, I guess to stir up old memories buried under the clutter of the past. But I get nothing. Even before he left us I had no substantial idea of my father—as if my mother’s angry noises blew him away long before he flew the coop. I see only flimsy pieces of a man—a dark thin voice, the laughter of a drunk, the sensation of embarrassment cleft from a fool staggering through the neighborhood. I squeeze my eyes shut as if to wring a memory from the stingy past, but it releases only a dark faceless head bouncing over the wheel of an old Pontiac Firebird the night he bought it off the parking lot of a saloon.

He drove the car home and stopped it, with minor damage to the right fender, against the sycamore tree in our front yard. We heard the crash. We heard Mother slam the door as she ran outside, propelled by fear and rage. From our bedroom window Frank and I watched her pull my father from the car. We watched the houses on Holly Street light up as our neighbors left their beds to witness yet another grotesque comedy in the Dollahites’ yard. My mother was not a cruel woman, but, her own admirable character having been shaped by her father’s belt, she placed great faith in the pedagogical returns on violence. She broke off the radio antenna and beat my father with it until he squeezed under the car to escape her fury. A week later he escaped for good.

I was the believer in the family. I attended Apostolic Baptist, a tiny assembly of the poor and ignorant who met in an old clapboard house a few blocks from our house. I walked to church each Sunday morning and evening, and most Wednesday nights. Mother and Frank rarely attended church, but even as I prayed fervently for their doomed souls I thrilled to the idea that against their pale infidelity the roaring flame of my own devotions shone all the more brightly. I prayed, too, my father would return to us. In this desperate hope I was encouraged by my mother, who insisted that one fine evening Roy Dollahite would show up on our porch, probably drunk. When it became obvious even to her that our father was gone for good, she changed her story, convincing herself she had given him the boot. “I’m done with Roy Dollahite,” she told the neighbors in the certain, stupid conviction they would admire her grit. “Now I’m free, I might just get me another man. The next one’s gotta be crazy about me.”

The Snowdens were sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Sampson in the steel lawn chairs in the Sampsons’ front yard. Mr. Sampson grinned. “That’s what you ought do,” he said. “Get yourself another man.”

“Next time get a rich one,” said Mrs. Snowden. “There’s plenty to be said for money.”

My mother had replaced her husband with an heroic idea of herself, which for all its absurdity offered the proprietary benefits of fiction. It was her idea. Nobody else could claim it or mess with it, and so it was her business she wanted to swap out the facts and pat herself on the back for giving Roy Dollahite the boot. My brother and I silently consented to the fiction. Mother was a stout woman who did not take lightly to a child (even Frank, her favorite) disputing her version of the truth.

There was no Christmas surprise that year except a rare snow fell on East Texas and stuck for a few days. My mother worked in a school cafeteria during the day and cleaned the building after school. Weekends and holidays she wrapped presents at a ladies’ store downtown to catch up on bills and buy our Christmas—a basketball for me and a Daisy BB-gun for Frank. After we opened our presents she fed us breakfast, put a chicken in the oven, and sat at the table to smoke. Frank and I went outside. As I closed the back door I looked through the tiny kitchen at her sitting at the table in the pale light of the window. She was smoking a cigarette, a coffee mug in front of her, a picture of JFK, cut from a Look Magazine cover, on the wall behind her. She was decidedly homely, even in my loving eyes.

I walked through the kitchen. “Let’s go see Granny and Uncle Bubba,” I said.

“Why would I want to see them?” she said.

We had not visited Granny and Uncle Bubba since Mother and Granny had a cuss-fight the previous summer. Mother swore she had seen the old woman for the last time. “I’ll go to her funeral,” she’d say. “Just to make sure the old fool is dead.”

“I bet Granny’s lonesome,” I said.

“If she is, it’s her own damn fault. She’s too mean and selfish to have any friends. Besides, that damned old car probably won’t start.” The damned old car was the old Chevy my father had left us.

I went outside and bounced the basketball in the street and prayed. Despite a miserable record for answered prayers, I prayed about everything with the stubborn optimism of an addicted gambler, convinced that eventually I’d hit the jackpot. Once again, I prayed my father would return but I was willing to bargain. I prayed that if he didn’t return he would send the Christmas surprise he promised Frank and me.

Frank had disappeared. Probably down the street showing off his BB-gun to Charlotte Snowden. A few minutes later Mother hollered out the front door for me to find him and bring him back. She had decided to visit Granny and Uncle Bubba. Would I ask Mrs. Gibson please to come turn off the chicken in about an hour? Be sure to say thank-you.

My Grandmother Cuthbert lived in the country in a house with a tin roof and great hickory trees in the front yard on what used to be a forty-acre farm. Nobody had farmed the land since my grandfather’s death thirty years ago. Granny Cuthbert kept a small garden, raised chickens, and milked a cow.

Uncle Bubba did nothing. After his release from the psychiatric ward at the VA hospital in Shreveport, Bubba had worked a few weeks as a janitor at the high school. One day he stripped off his clothes in the custodians’ closet, waited for the bell to release students into the hall, and emerged naked with his mop and bucket. Mother claimed he had pulled a fast one. “He knew what he was doing,” she said. “He wanted to be fired. Bubba Cuthbert is the laziest man ever to walk God’s green earth.”

“He was never quite right,” she said as she drove up the hill to the house. “We was all surprised the army took him. I guess they was hard up for volunteers.”

“Were,” said Frank, sitting in the backseat with his air rifle and the Ring Magazine he had stolen from Mr. Mitchell’s mailbox.

“What?” Mother said.

He grinned his smart-aleck grin. “Nothing,” he said. “I didn’t say a damn thing.”

“Don’t you be cussin,” Mother said. But she thought it was cute. Everything Frank did she thought it was cute.

We parked in the yard under a hickory tree. Granny was sitting in the living room watching a Gunsmoke re-run, a dip pouching her lip. On the wall above the mantel she had hung a framed picture of President Reagan. Her father, a yellow-dog Democrat, had reared Granny in the true faith, but, after she and Mother fell out, Granny sent off for the picture of the president and announced that henceforth she was voting Republican.

“That’s my mama,” Mother would say. “It’s just like her to bring down the whole damn country to get a dig at me.”

Granny tongued the quid under her lip and frowned suspiciously. “What do you want?”

Mother grinned bravely. “It’s Christmas, Mama. We come to visit.”

“We done ate,” Granny said. She retrieved a coffee can from the linoleum floor beside her and spat into it. “It’s too late if you come to make a meal.”

“We didn’t come to make a meal, Mama. We ate, too. Didn’t we, boys?”

“I’m hungry,” Frank said.

“See? We only come to visit. Where’s Bubba?”

“Bubba’s out back drinking his wine I bought him.” Granny relaxed at the idea of Bubba, her love child. “I told him I’d buy him a Christmas bottle but he had to drink it outside.”

Granny eyed Frank and me. “There’s mincemeat pie on the table, boys.”

“Go hug your granny first, boys.”

Granny stiffened as if for a flu shot. She smelled of snuff.

“Look at my BB-gun I got for Christmas,” Frank said.

“Be careful. You could shoot somebody’s eye out with that thing,” said Granny.

“I got a basketball,” I said.

“Is that all?” Granny cut her eyes at Mother. “I bet that BB-gun cost more than a little old basketball.”

“Mama, please,” Mother said.

Frank cut the pie with the new jackknife he claimed to have found at school, but which I figured he had stolen. We wolfed down the pie and went outside looking for Bubba. We found our uncle sitting on a stump in the backyard, drinking the Christmas wine. He wore khaki pants and a red wool underwear top. He scratched himself.

Frank pointed the air rifle at him. “I could shoot your eye out.”

Bubba scratched and giggled. “You wouldn’t hurt old Bubba, would you?”

“I just said I could. Didn’t say I would.”

I said piously, “You ain’t supposed to point guns at people.”

Bubba hugged the bottle of wine to his chest. “You can’t have Bubba’s wine. Mama give it to me.”

Frank curled his lip, an exaggerated look of disgust. “Nobody wants your damned old wine. Let’s go shoot some cans.”

I pitched my voice higher, like sweet-talking a puppy: “You come too, Bubba.”

Bubba stumbled to his feet. He was a pig-eyed, pussle-gutted little man with narrow shoulders and a sunken face. We followed Frank toward the dump where fifty years ago a drilling crew had dug a sludge pit. They never struck oil. They left a salt water pit Granny and the neighbors used as a dump.

We passed a dilapidated barn and marched single file into the frosty pasture, a thin crust of snow crunching under our feet. A killdeer flew out of a clump of bushes. Bubba stuck out his finger and shot it. “Pow!” he said, blowing out a cloud of vapor. He pulled up his shirt and scratched his hairy belly. “I got medals from the war. I hide them under my bed so I can take them out and look at them.”

“Boy, I’d like to see them!” I said.

“You dummy!” Frank said. “He don’t have any medals.”

“Don’t call me dummy,” I said.

Frank’s lip curled in disgust. “You believe anything.”

Bubba cocked his mouth left-wise, a sly grin. “Bubba’s got medals, all right. I take them out and look at them any time I feel like it.”

Frank said, “Jesus, you’re hairy as a bear.”

Bubba pulled down his shirt. “I love Jesus,” he said.

“Me, too!” I said.

Bubba said, “I bet I love him more than you.”

“I bet you don’t!”

“The question is,” Frank said, “Does our lord and savior love you?”

“You talk funny,” Bubba said.

“You’re a moron,” Frank said.

“Bubba ain’t no moron,” said Bubba. He held one nostril with his thumb and blew out a clot of snot. “Mama says I’m smart, only I’m screwy.” He crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue, spinning a finger around his ear.

“Frank’s the smart one,” I said. “He makes all As when he wants to.”

Frank grinned. “This much is true. I can fight, too. I whupped Jalen Simms.”

“This much is true,” I said. “Frank whupped Jalen Simms.”

“Who’s Jalen Simms?” asked Bubba.

“Used to be the baddest dude in school,” said Frank.

We stood on the dam above the sludge pit, a skein of ice floating on the surface, supporting shallow islands of snow. Frank fired the air rifle. “Pow! Bull’s eye!” he hollered. A sizable collection of tin cans and bottles were strewn on our side of the pit; on the other side somebody had dumped a mattress and tires. Frank shot again and missed. We moved down for a closer shot.

“Where’s Roy?” Bubba asked. “How come you didn’t bring Roy?”

“He ran off,” Frank said, shooting and missing again. “You know that.”

I said, “He’s fixin to send me and Frank some Christmas.”

“He didn’t send nothing,” Frank said.

“It ain’t got here yet is all.” I reached for the BB-gun. “Let me shoot.”

Frank jerked the gun from my hand. “Our dear father is in Montana,” he said. “No doubt inebriated. He married a rich woman. Owns a big ranch.”

I was suspicious. “How do you know?”

Frank look worried. He was not yet the smooth liar he would become. “He wrote me a letter but I threw it away.”

“How come he didn’t write me?” I said.

“I was always his favorite. Here. Want to shoot?” He shoved the air rifle at me. “You can’t hit nothing.”

“You missed every time.”

“I hit once. Didn’t I, Bubba?”

Bubba giggled and stuck out his tongue. “Wooee! Bubba likes old Roy. He used to bring me beer when y’all come over.”

“Look at my knife,” said Frank. He pulled the knife from his pocket, opened it, and showed the blade to Bubba.

“Where’d you get that?”

“I traded a boy at school.”

“You told me you found it,” I said.

“Same difference.”

I shot at a bottle; the BB pinged. “Got it! See?”

“Lucky shot!” Frank said.

“Bubba’s got to pee,” Bubba said. “Woo-damn!” He commenced jerking at his pants, already spotted below the zipper. “Woo-damn!” he cackled. “I’m peeing in my shoe!”

I shot another can. “Looky there! See that? I hit ever time!”

Frank grabbed the barrel. “Give me the gun, dummy. You’re wasting BBs.”

Bubba leaned back against the incline of the dam, biting his tongue as he pissed a stream that steamed in the frigid air. “Wooee! Woo-damn!” he hollered. He tipped the bottle to his lips, drawing hard, and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and grunted. “Mama bought me the wine. Mama loves her Bubba.”

“She certainly doesn’t love our mother,” Frank said.

“That’s cause Sister’s mean.”

“Who’s mean? Granny’s mean—that’s who’s mean. Put your thing up.”

We all looked. It had stiffened, the glans gone purple in the cold air. Bubba pointed it at us and giggled, his little red eyes beaming.

Frank scrambled up the side of the dam. I started after him but stumbled. I reached up clawing at the frosty earth. Bubba grabbed my foot. “Lemme hep you,” he said.

Frank pointed the BB-gun at Bubba’s head. “Leave him alone!”

Bubba moaned, his little red eyes glowing through the bursts of vapor discharging from his mouth and nostrils. “Come on, now,” he pleaded. “Bubba ain’t never hurt nobody.”

I heard a noise like a slap. Bubba’s head snapped back. A bubble of blood appeared on the bridge of his nose. He pawed at the wound and howled: “Aowoh! Aowoh!”

Frank hollered, his eyes wild and triumphant: “Come on, Junior!”

I scrambled on all-fours up the side of the dam. Frank grabbed my jacket, tugging. We ran. I stumbled. Bubba hollered after us. I looked back as he staggered over the top of the dam. Frank sprinted ahead of me, laughing wildly.

I chased after him. Frank stopped and faced me, gasping. His eyes were wild. “See it? Kapow! Right between the eyes!”

“He’s coming,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Frank pulled the jackknife from his pocket, exposing the blade, and fiercely slashed the air. “I’ll cut him!”

Bubba reeled aimlessly toward us, dangling the wine bottle by his side. He stopped and held the lip of the bottle to his eye, his knees folding until his body conceded the superior force of gravity. He dropped heavily to the frozen ground.

Frank handed me the air rifle and pointed the knife, his face flushed, a fiery madness in his eyes. “Let’s get him!”

“No! He’ll tell Granny!”

“So what? Come on, Junior. You know you want to.”

I followed him closer. Bubba rolled on his back and groaned. Frank gripped my shoulder, his wild eyes flashing. “Shoot him! Shoot him, Junior!”

My uncle wrapped his hands around his shoulders, hugging himself, and rolled away. I shouldered the air rifle and with pure untutored malice aimed at his head and pulled the trigger. The BB hit him above the ear. He slapped at the bleeding wound, a ringing wail lifting from his throat, and in that terrible moment I was certain I had killed him.

“Aaow!” Bubba’s wretched squeal knocked the pale hard sky and seemed to echo.

“Hear it?” Frank cupped his hand to his ear. “Shit!” A tinny rattle like a furious curse collided mid-air with my uncle’s pathetic shriek. “Hear it?”

I couldn’t breathe. God had seen all, and now had spoken, his voice the shriek of an old car horn, worn and raspy. I was doomed. A single moment of cruelty had canceled all my good deeds and fervent prayers. God’s wrath was upon me. He would hold me by the toes and drop me into the fiery pit of hell!

Our uncle clawed at his wounds, wailing in chorus to the old Chevy’s tinny shriek. “How come you hurt old Bubba?” he cried.

The horn sounded again. Frank pocketed the knife and took the air rifle from me and stood over him. “It was Junior shot you, Bubba.”

“No! No!” I screamed. “You shot him first!”

Frank said, “Listen here. I took the gun from Junior. You saw it. Tell Granny. Okay?”

Bubba clawed at his bloody ear. The horn shrieked, a furious curse. I looked up at the glaucous sky, hard and cold.

Frank tugged my shirt. He was grinning. “Let’s go. I bet our dear mother and our sweet old Granny had another cuss fight.”

Mother was pounding the horn as we approached the car. She had been crying. “Hurry up!” she shouted. Frank crawled into the back seat. I foolishly sat in front with her. A cigarette bobbed from the corner of her mouth. She stomped the accelerator. The engine groaned but did not start.

“Take a good look, boys! Last time you’ll see this place if I have to bring you back!” Her eyes brimmed with fresh tears. “God help me for saying this about my own mother, but that’s the meanest woman alive! Start, goddammit!” She pounded the accelerator. The odor of gasoline filled the car.

“I think you flooded it.” Frank spoke soothingly, as if to a sorrowful child. “Don’t tell me you and Granny got in another fight.”

I knew from the sound of his voice Frank was grinning. I hunkered down. He was safe in the back seat, but I was an arm’s length from Mother’s backhand. My only hope was to shape an alliance. “Granny’s always mean to you,” I told her, and added, paraphrasing one of Mother’s lamentations, “She never loved you.”

Mother slapped me. “Shut up!” I felt the sting on my cheek and covered my face. I smelled dirt on my hands. My chest seized. A moan forced its way through my aching throat, but I did not cry. I had wept for the last time years ago.

Mother hollered, “How do you know she don’t love me? The goddamn car won’t start!” She leaned over the steering wheel, sobbing. “I hate this car! I hate it!”

In a hot blur I glimpsed Frank’s slender hand float across the space over the back seat and rest on Mother’s shoulder. “What’d she do this time?” he asked.

“She willed the farm to Bubba.”

“All of it?”

“Every last cow patty. Ain’t that a kick? All the times I worked to help pay for the place and take care of Daddy and little sister till they died . . .”

Frank spoke soothingly, as if to a child. “We love you, Mama. You know we love you. What you do, you hold down the pedal without pumping it. That way you don’t flood the engine. I read it in Popular Mechanics.

Mother pushed away from the steering wheel. “I know that,” she snapped.

She eyed me shyly. “Watch what you say, sugar. That little mouth can get you in trouble.” She held the pedal to the floor. The engine sputtered. “What I ought to do, I ought to get a lawyer and sue the old bitty.” The engine started; she grinned fiercely, gap-toothed and homely. “Next man I marry has gotta be crazy about me.”

That evening the radio warned of icy roads. We had been home only a few minutes when a hard sleet fell. “We was lucky we left when we did,” Mother said.

Frank grinning slyly at me said, “You were smart to leave.”

I knew it was not luck, or Mother’s wit, that had saved us from the perilous roads. I saw God’s hand guiding us home, releasing the deadly sleet only after we were deposited safely in our little house. I thanked the Lord but congratulated myself. Our safety, I knew, was our reward for my faith.

That night, Frank and I alone in our room, my itchy conscience kept me awake. I asked my brother to pray with me. “It says it works better when two pray together,” I told him.

“I don’t care what it says.” Frank lay next to me flexing his biceps as he read a muscle magazine he had stolen from the Baileys’ mailbox. He had scattered a dozen or more stolen books and magazines under the bed.

“We hurt Bubba,” I said.

Frank stroked his biceps. “It was his own damn fault.”

“We could’ve hurt him bad. You wanted to stick him.”

“There is a difference, little brother, between saying and doing. I said I would stick him. You shot him.”

“You told me to. You don’t even feel bad about it.”

Frank flashed the killer grin Mother said could charm a snake. “So what? What’s the difference? I don’t feel bad what I do. You pray and you don’t feel bad.”

He stuffed the magazine under his pillow and crawled out of bed fully dressed and pulled his jacket from the closet.

“Where’re you going?”

“That’s for me to know.”

“You’re going to see Charlotte Snowden.”

Frank reached under the mattress and retrieved a pack of cigarettes and the Zippo lighter he had stolen from Mrs. Sampson.

I didn’t want him to go. For all that I judged him, I loved my brother. When he left at night, I was lonely. I heard noises, and I was afraid. “You can’t go out this late. What if Mama finds out?”

“You gonna tell her?” He twisted my ear. “Know what you’ll get, you little turd?”

After Frank left, I lay in the bed watching the blue-yellow flame of the space heater flicker in the dark and light a shine on the hardwood floor. I had closed my eyes and begun drowsily to say my prayers when Mother came into the room.

“Where is Frank?” A cigarette hung from the corner of her mouth, the punk glowing dully under the ash.

“I don’t know.” I added a feeble lie: “I been asleep.”

Mother stood in the doorway, tall and dark and grim against the dim light in the hall. She said, “Snuck out again. What am I gonna do with that boy?” And smiled as if his mischief were a cute prank.

She said, “Mama called. Did you shoot Bubba with the BB-gun?”

“Frank shot first. Then he made me shoot Bubba.”

“Now, now. What’s done is done. Don’t go blaming your brother.”

She sat on the edge of the bed and doused the cigarette on the sole of her shoe and laid her cold rough hand on my forehead. She whispered, “I love you, Junior. You know how much I love you?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Her hand was cool on my skin, her eyes bright and weary. “I ain’t gonna hit you no more.”

“It’s all right. I deserve it.”

“No, you don’t. You’re a good boy.” A wiry moan lifted from her throat, a sorrowful noise seeking shape and meaning in a word she did not know. She pulled me to her and held me. “I wish I could do more for you boys,” she said. “It ain’t easy all alone.”

I thought what Frank would say. He would say, I love you, Mama. I grunted, but, like my mother, I did not have the word.

I dozed off with a prayer on my lips, waking only briefly when my brother returned and shoved me out of the warm spot in the center of the bed into the cold air seeping through the window sill. I entered a dream and descended, releasing my scattered day in a deeper sleep, but woke again hours later to the warmth of my brother’s body beside me. I sat up rubbing my face, at first unaware of the chill creeping under my skin like a shame. My mind resisted as the chill seeped into my legs from the wet pajamas. My body settled into a gelid palsy. I folded the blankets back and leaned out of bed as the ammoniac stench filled my nostrils. I touched my bare feet to the cold floor, gasping and shivering as I stumbled across the room. Frank would tease me mercilessly. He would tell Charlotte Snowden, and the Sampsons, and Ralph Gibson. He’d tell Mother. I prayed: Oh, Lord! Please! I didn’t! I won’t never again!

As I crept into the dark hall I felt the cold wet PJs plastered to my butt and legs; a cold stream of urine trickled down one ankle. In the bathroom I stripped naked and dropped to my knees before the toilet seat and washed the urine from the PJs in the toilet and wrung them out and flushed. I lowered the cover over the toilet seat and propped my elbows on the painted wood and prayed. I prayed for my mother and father and Frank and to forgive my father for leaving us and Frank for sneaking out. I prayed for Ralph Gibson, who with Frank stole from mailboxes in the neighborhood, and Charlotte Snowden, who was 14 and who sometimes sat on her porch with her dress hiked up and her panties showing. I prayed for my grandmother, that the Lord might work a miracle on her mean and spiteful ways, and for Bubba that his wounds from the air rifle would heal without pain or memory. Finally I prayed for myself, coming down hard on the forgiveness angle.

As I stood from the toilet, delivered of shame and fear, I was rewarded with a giddy lightheadedness, as if levitating on my own pious nature. I retrieved a towel from the bathroom closet and crept naked into the chilly hall carrying the PJs and underwear in a wet wad which I hid under the bed. Frank slept. Tomorrow, I would strip the bed of the wet sheets, and wash and dry them after he left. I felt wonderfully giddy and clever as I searched through the underwear drawer for a pair of long johns. In the dark my hand burrowed through the underwear like some half-blind and famished rodent seeking a morsel of food. I felt a cold, hard lump in the bottom of the drawer. I had withdrawn the long johns and stepped into the bottoms before realizing what Frank had hidden there.

“Oh!” I said. And then again, whispering, “Oh,” as if the whisper would muffle the noise of my first exclamation. The logic of the revelation was an exquisite pleasure, soothing the sting of betrayal. I knew before holding it up to the dim blue light of the gas heater that the knife was a duplicate of Frank’s new knife. I knew also, and before I discovered the Christmas card, our father had sent us the knives. I exposed the blade and watched the flame of the gas heater light the tempered steel. I smiled sleepily, blinking against a pleasant fatigue, then closed the blade and moved to my side of the bed, where I spread the towel over the wet spot and crawled into bed still clutching the knife. My knife, I thought. Mine! I watched my brother sleep, contemplating his pretty face, the smooth brow and girlish lips that so easily shaped a lie or masked a petty larceny. I scooted under the covers, moving closer until I could feel the heat from my brother’s body, his breath on my shoulder. I turned the knife (my knife!) in my palm, teasing my fingertips with the smooth indentures of the bone handle, my lips silently moving as I entered the pure and spiteless sleep of a happy child.

Mike Beasley In my youth I worked as a Teamster, ditch digger, ranch hand, and rag salesman. I published in some now-defunct literary magazines and The Atlantic. I quit writing for many years and started again after I retired from teaching. Recently, I published fiction in On the Premises. I have a novel and several short stories in the works. Hope I’m getting the hang of it.

Dotted Line