On this morning the lake was absolutely silent and there was a thin fog that hung above as though a heavy breath had been whispered over the water that spread like glass save for the thin ripples of Walter Vassar’s oars that kissed the glass like water and shattered it instantaneously. This morning was not unlike any other April morning. At this hour the neighbors slept quietly with their occasional lovers and their distant spouses. They would not wake for another hour. The fires from the stone chimneys had died to smolders and the soft scent clung to the shores of the lake. All the while Walter pulled the oars faster and closer to his muscular chest, wrapped in wool, he rowed.
It had been so long since he had known the briskness of the morning air. He had become accustomed to it, yet this morning he was very aware of the nature of the lake and it’s soft skin and its ripples like cold eyes that watched him and resented him for disturbing its silent rest. He knew he was waking it up.
The ripples of his rested oars stared at him as he let them rest just above the water. It was at this moment he thought of who may be behind the lake and the cold and the glass eyes that stared at him, just as he had each day for the last four days. He wondered if it was that breather who had left the heavy breath that hung above the water. He wondered if it was that same breath that had blown up his own lungs and Davi’s and if had been that same breath that had let Davi’s lungs not fill and that same breath that let Rosie bleed out, and that same breath that had taken the last of Walters courage to not follow them.
Walter pulled the oars toward himself harder again. He knew it best not to think to long. Nothing good would come from thinking too long.
From the perspective of a Yellow-rumped warbler.
The promises of a colorful autumn and colorless winter would have kept me north, but the lipless whispers of my mother disenchanted the majesty of such a notion.
I had envisioned myself sitting before some branch, midday, looking on the stubborn maple as it lost the last of its leaves. I would watch while the last of its fellows departed the rough skin, then ponder the metaphysical world that filled my mind.
I would wonder if God were present, or just a pleasant ideal put on a shelf until tragedy struck or confidence waned. I would think of my father’s unchallenged conviction, while he fluttered in a fury for us to leave at first frost.
Perhaps below I could listen to the murmuring questions of Sara’s daughter, as the man and child would rake the fallen blades of the mighty maple, standing above , now devoid its former glory, nonetheless present.
It is just the same I should keep pondering such, fall is coming and with it the first frost. I will fly south for winter and along the way I too will curse my branches for not letting us decide when we should fall.
At three in the morning I hear him coughing. I get up and go to the other room. He is lying on the bed I used to sleep in. A white sheet thrown over top of him are a swill of white arcs that crumple with his legs. The sheet is transparent almost, soaked in the sweat that delicately covers his brow. He coughs again and again and I go to him. He’s asleep still.
His face is unshaven. White stubble covers his chin with bits of black and dark brown thrown haphazardly from spot to spot. His eyes are closed tight and make the deep wrinkles at the corner. I take the mask from the side table and lift his head to slide it on. I turn the oxygen on. His chest clams to a smoother rhythm and I get up to leave the room.
“Thank you David,” he says as I leave.
I go back to my grandfathers bedroom and look at Sara who is also asleep. She’s pregnant and sleeping on her left side in the middle of the bed. I go to the window and look out of it.
It’s December in Washington State. We’re an hour from Grand Coulee, past the mountains where the hills roll for miles toward Reardan and then Spokane. The flatland on nights like tonight, when a soft wind comes up and the last of the moon is being covered by the delicate lace of the clouds, I feel at ease. It’s quite, and it makes me glad we moved out West.
After the season finished and the crops were done and his father had paid him his share Arthur moved west with Cathy to work on the Grand Coulee dam in Washington state. They lived in Grand Coulee initially in a house that looked over the gully of the dam.
Arthur liked to look out at the dam. It was a simple gray wall that plunged into the sky and at it’s lip held back an ocean. Across the brim were lights that dotted the roadway that ran over the top of the structure. Gulls and the occasional hawk would swing across the gray wall like brushstrokes across a canvas. Every hundred or so feet a stream would erupt and throw a thin trail of water into the meager Columbia river. Before the dam it had been mighty and relentless, but now it had slowed to a meager remnant of its former self.
Arthur found meaning in his work running the night shift maintenance of the turbines that turned inside the manmade mountain. He liked feeling as thought he was a part of something larger than himself like he had in Duluth. He also liked the constant roar of the water that became a silent comfort the longer he lingered in the dam. He liked that Cathy was happy as well.
Cathy had enjoyed their marriage. Arthur doted on her more than her father had doted on her mother which Cathy perceived as one of her few successes. She was happy to have a man like her father, who paid the bills and spoke to her when he came home, but at the same time contained a masculine reserve to not indulge in the pettiness of her day to day quarrels with the other wives on the street.
Cathy had managed to make a name for herself early on when they first arrived in October. Arthur had received a photo of the company house that they would stay in before they took the train from Fargo to Spokane and Cathy had been busy making arrangements for the place before they arrived. When they finally did make it to Grand Coulee she met with a seamstress that she had already been in contact with, and had new drapes put in the house. Arthur had given her an allowance to keep her busy over the winter.
It was the seamstress, Muriel Andersen that introduced Cathy to the other women of Grand Coulee. Muriel was the wife of Hank Andersen a company foreman and had marginal power in the group, but enough standing to take part. As the wife of one of the engineers Cathy was given a sort of priority many of the hourly laborers wives were not. The wives of the executives and the men with educations met at the Blatchford Hotel conference room every Thursday and played cards and planned the social calendar for the utility company as well as indulged in a healthy amount of gossip.
Helen Jackson was originally from Texas and had moved with her husband and two young sons to the dam when her husband took began to run the utility companies interests in Washington from a small office in town. They were from Houston and she possessed an instantaneous air of superiority that most of the Midwestern middle-class women could not comprehend beyond the fact that it seemed to make her the best leader of the social group. She liked Cathy.
“Where are you and your husband from?” asked Helen, in a soft drawl that was both refined and rural and seemed almost put on. Cathy had not encountered many southerners in Fargo and was pleased to be speaking with such a character.
“Fargo, North Dakota,” said Cathy. Helen was taller than her with long blond hair that seemed to have a natural curl and hung halfway down her back. Cathy could not quite place her age, she would have been in her mid-twenties or mid-thirties but didn’t look a day over twenty-four. Cathy would have been more accustomed to seeing her in a beauty pageant in a gown rather than in a sundress with a gimlet in her hand.
“You, know I’ve never been to North Dakota. I’ve seen Chicago, is it at all similar?” asked Helen.
“Not really, it’s mostly farms,” said Cathy.
“Ah, well my husband had mentioned you were from the Chicago area but he must have been wrong.”
“Arthur studied there at the University,” said Cathy wishing she had been to Chicago so Helen would find her interesting. She wanted to tell a joke or a story but had none. She wanted to keep Helen next to her so she wouldn’t seem so alone in the room.
“Ah, that must be it.” Helen paused a moment then thought of a new conversation to have that Cathy would be able to contribute to.
“Your husband is quite the charmer I hear. And handsome too, have you two been married long?” asked Helen.
“A few months only, though we’ve known each other for years. Have you met him?”
Muriel came up to them and nudged Cathy.
“Cath, we gotta go, the babysitter says my kids actin’ up.”
“Okay,” said Cathy looking at Helen again for a sort of reaffirmation.
“We I’ll need to have you and your husband over for dinner sometime,” said Helen.
“Yes, we’d like that. Or for you to come to our house, Muriel just made us drapes,” said Cathy.
“That sounds wonderful,” said Helen turning and commanding another conversation.
In the car ride back to Muriel’s Cathy talked about the day.
“I really like that Helen Jackson. She’s so nice and kind, like a movie star.”
“She’s alright,” said Muriel. “I’ve never had a run in with her though.”
“What do you mean?”
“She likes to get what she wants. Let’s put it that way.”
By: Dylan Lenz
They built an empire. They bought our legs then sold them back to us. Before our eyes they took what thousands of years had given us – our right to stand and in their shadow, on our knees, we fell.
Nine years ago they called it the miracle protein; the discovery to save the world. Within five months they had run out. The protein H78-J was harvested from the muscle tissue of the legs of distance-runners; they called it Marathara. Micron Inc. a Russian based pharmaceutical had found out how to activate the protein and patented the concept giving them exclusive rights to distribution. Russia blossomed as they began to produce the only product that could rival the energy trade.
They would remove the hamstrings and the quadriceps in surgery and then synthesized the proteins into a capsule that sold for $2500 a pill and gave those who could afford it perfection. After a week those who took the pill had white-blood cells with incomparable capacities. The cells battled cancer and eradicated tumors. Spinal cords and bones were healed. Joints and ligaments were strengthened. Skin was thicker and more illustrious. Cuts healed in hours. Cardiovascular health and circularly conditions were like that of young athletes. Joints, ligaments, muscle and organs, all cured. As long as you took the pill each day.
When Micron ran out of flesh they sponsored races hoping for donors. They met with former athletes who had hit hard times. They convinced college athletes to trade it for full ride scholarships and cash. They offered $250,000 per kilo of lean muscle. They cured obesity in the mean time. Men and women from every country and every culture began to run to produce H78-J. The problem was that it took 10 years of cultivation before the protein was self synthesized enough for harvest, so in the mean time men began to hunt the old runners. Poachers, who would catch those they could and remove our legs in hotel rooms to be sold to Micron.
I don’t know how they found me.
By: Dylan Lenz
Arthur Lancaster raised his daughter Colleen alone. His wife Dorthy had died in 1978. Dorthy had cancer. Arthur had loved Dorthy. He missed her.
Colleen was fourteen when her mother died. It hadn’t been sudden. For the year and a half prior to Dorthy’s death Colleen watched her mother slowly grow more haggard and frail. Colleen had begun to stay away from home more often. At first she would stay at friends houses for dinner and then make her way home, typically the long way. Arthur would ask why she was late but often Colleen would not reply and simply head upstairs for bed. As Dorthy progressively got worse and the doctors sent her home to slowly but surly die over the next four months, Colleen began to find things to do after she left her friends houses.
Arthur Lancaster had moved to Reardan, WA after the war. He had been hired by the government to oversee the night shift at the Grand Coulee Dam an hour northwest, and moved himself and Dorthy from Ohio in the middle of winter. They bought a small house on small farm and raised cattle and alfalfa. Arthur chose Reardan because it was far enough away from the restless men who worked on the dam that barricaded the Columbia River.
The town was quaint and experienced typical growth for a farming community near the exit for Lake Roosevelt. By 1978 when Colleen began to stray farther and farther from her dying mother the town was perhaps five hundred people, but in the summer it experienced a surge in visitors making their way to the lake. Around this time Colleen met Frank Booth who was seventeen with a truck, he would take her to the parties that often occurred at vacationers cabins in the summer time. It was at these parties that Colleen would escape home and find her self, or at least get ideas on how she could.
As Dorothy died Arthur did not ask where Colleen strayed to. In a way he knew what she was doing, he found himself trying to stay longer hours at work, finding extra jobs and other excuses that kept him at the dam late. Many nights he would not know if Colleen was even home, he would simply come to bed and lay next to Dorothy as she slept on the bed they had brought into the living room.
When Dorothy finally did go it was Colleen who found her.
“Mom?” she asked from the hallway.
There was no answer. Colleen walked next to the bed and looked at her mother. She was not herself any longer. Once her hair had been soft brown and her thin face had been full with colored cheeks. They were hollow now. Her hair was pulled back and looked gray, thought it was still brown. Even before Colleen knew the state of her mother, there was a lifelessness about her.
Colleen reached out her hand and squeezed her mothers. Dorthy had Arhtur or Colleen paint her finger nails, not that she could not. They were still the same hunter green that Colleen had painted a few days earlier.
“Mom?” Colleen asked louder this time shaking her mothers arm. For a moment she stopped and looked at Dorthy. Her chest did not rise or fall, there was something strange about her. Colleen touched her neck. Then stepped abck as her held her chin so she would not cry. She rushed to the phone and tried to recall the number for Arthurs office. There was no answer so she tried again, then again, and again for fifteen minutes and she decided that she would call Frank instead.
His mother answered on first ring. Frank agreed to come over and get her. She did not tell him what had happened.
Frank picked her up a little while later. They said little and instead drove out to the lake and got drunk on the awful homemade wine Frank’s father made every fall. Later Colleen agreed to let Frank fuck her for the first time. Colleen did not cry.
By: Dylan Lenz
In three minutes everything could change. Lutz stood up, barely. His eyes were swollen. There was a small cut under his right eye brow, so he kept his glove glued to his forehead. He was tired. They both were.
In the previous hour Lutz had left the locker room. He had made his way into the ring. He had lasted eleven rounds with Arcemdes Fletcher. Fletcher was a bit of a wash-up. A good fighter none the less, but for the most part a wash up who had had a chance at his title shot against Povetkin but wasn’t able to make the grade Lutz just needed this win, this win and the chance would be his.
Fletcher feinted right and came at his body. His hooked wrapped hard into Lutz’s ribs. He shook it off and backed up taking a step to the left as he did. Frankie was in the corner shouting at him.
“Jim, One-Two! One-Two,” Frank repeats.
James Lutz nodded as Fletcher hit him again in the mouth. Then he returned it. One Two. His jab hard into fletchers forehead snapping his neck back, then his right hard and fast right on top. Fletcher stumbled. Lutz didn’t give him a second to find his footing. He was on him. One-two. One-two. Simple. Basic. Fletchers left foot rolls and the Ref steps in between the two men.
He starts to count, “One. Two. Three.”
The crowd stands up.
“Four. Five. Six.”
Fletcher is on his hands and knees trying to put his left foot into the canvas and lift himself up. He stumbles.
“Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.”
Lutz throws his arms in the air. Fletcher stays on his knees as people flood the ring as the final bell sounds. One hundred and eighty seconds.
By: Dylan Lenz
He assumed Abilene would save him, but those novice notions left with his footing. There was no grandiose gesture, she did not rush in at the last moment just before the chair stumbled on palsied legs, leaving his own to shake and grasp at nothing. Instead the whole precession was matter-of-fact. He was left suspended a few feet above the cracked wooden planks that lay like crooked teeth across the hotel room floor. Below his lifeless body that still swayed slightly as the rope groaned under his weight, lay the wooden chair who’s casters held fast now that their work was done.
He had wondered if the soles of his feet would fell the same pain they did when he would climb absent stairs, or let them hover over the edge of his roof. The pain that is more a frustrated fear of falling, that leaves when you don’t think about it. His feet did have that same pain, but it was quickly gone as his fear of the emptiness of God was realized.
David had chosen that hotel for two reasons: first, it was there that David had first seen Abilene, and second, because he did not want to tarnish his mothers home with this…thing. David had planned the event carefully. He had made the appropriate arrangements incase Abilene did not come, saving his mother the trouble of distributing his limited estate, and arranging burial. He bought a double plot so Abilene could be buried next him if she wished. The graveyard was where her father was buried, which David had found out during their time together.
They would drive out of Guthrie to visit her father’s grave, then stop at a cousin’s house for lunch, and then return to her apartment. David loved those trips, just him, her and the open road. He had forgotten the cousins name, it had been painted on the side of her mailbox, but he could not see it anymore.
By: Dylan Lenz
Eyelids frozen, knees fall, He waits.
By Dylan Lenz
It’s like Carl wanted me to prove something. That there was something in me, a latent aspect of my self that I was yet to meet, something hidden that needed to get out. Sometimes I think that if I look down at the rug on my mothers kitchen floor long enough, the pattern will change and this will be a different house. It doesn’t change. My eyes get tired from looking. Still I can’t find that part of myself that Carl wanted me to find, that part that will forgive.
My mother, Barb, seems to think that Carl has changed. She tells me that he even quit smoking, he’s been taking classes, trying to find some sort of salvation for what he did. I don’t figure that she is lying, but Carl hasn’t changed. Maybe to her he has, but not to me. I know that other side, that darkness that sits just behind the smile he throws her, the way he used to when he would take me out to the garage.
Carl used to tell her he was making me into a man. That he was going to show me how to use tools and how to fix things. He never showed me any of that. He just pulled my pants down and then his, and then after told me to wait a few minutes before I went back in so he could look at me.
When Barb finally figured it out she didn’t take me away. Instead she asked Carl about it and let him dissuade her for the reality of what was happening in the garage. The next time he brought me out there he slapped my head as hard as he could before he dropped his pants and made me kneel in front of him. Then he pushed his cigarette into my shoulder three times until it went out.
By: Dylan Lenz
A Guide to Loving Your Neighbors
I will wake up early, before the alarm. I will go there in silence; my purposeful steps will not move the loose gravel and weeds across the drive. I will see her there, working away, her slight figure hunched over some complication in her hands. Again I will be quiet and quiet I will remain. I will have rubbed dirt on my arms so I will smell like the garage and the yard, then I will wait and watch without worry. I will stand behind her, hidden by the car.
She will turn at some point and see me. She will jump, but not scream. She knows me; she will smile politely and show me the true depth of those wrinkles. She will ask what I want, the smile never leaving, and I will move closer. Once in reach I will shove her head against the concrete floor, hard. When she fights I will over power her. She will lie on the cool ground, still breathing. I will start that ’79 Cutlass and return to my house.
She will not wake but I will watch. I will sip my tea and kiss my husband goodbye. He will walk to the train and drink the coffee from his thermos. I will call the children to wake as I cook breakfast. They will rise and dress in silence. Their voices will be horse as they greet me at the table. We will say a prayer and I will clean my plate, ravished from my earlier deeds. I will drive them to the bus stop and hug them tight. They will wish me a good day, and I will smile, knowing it will be.
I will watch the bus depart then return home. I will clear the plates from the table and wash their place-mats, covered with peanut butter smudges and toast crumbs. I will load the dishwasher and wipe the counter. I will look outside across the back alley and see her garage door ajar.
I will walk over to her house and knock at the back door for appearances only, and then go to the garage and rattle the knob. It will be locked to look as though she intended to leave. I will go to the big door that she would pull open each morning, and force the rusted pulleys to let me in. I will smell the exhaust and rush to the car to turn the key. I will touch her throat, then her wrist, then dial 911. I will wait twenty-seven minutes for the ambulance and another twelve for the police officer. He will seal the garage and take my statement. I will be the good neighbor. I will be comforted and have my arm rubbed by the crowd that will have gathered. I will keep a hand on my heart when they load her in the back.
When home, I will make another cup of tea and treat myself to the extra tablespoon of sugar. I will watch television. I will warm up leftovers, roast beef with turnips and asparagus. I will call my mother and tell her what happened. She will be shocked and amazed, then call all of my sisters to gossip.
The children will come home and do their homework, then go and play in the yard. My husband will come home and tell me about his day. I will mention mine, and he will hug me tight. We will sit at the table and my husband will say Grace, my children won’t peek. Later I will tuck them in and kiss their heads.
“Goodnight mom.” They will say from their beds.
“Sweet dreams.” I will reply from the door.
In bed I will make love with my husband. He will kiss me deeply and I him. I will go to sleep soon after and not wake once.
Then again I could go back to sleep and wait for the alarm, then wake and cross the alley. She will be in her garden and will greet me with the same genuine smile and show me the true depth of those wrinkles. I will apologize for my son stealing all of her roses. She will tell me not to worry and tell me some story of her own son, now in his sixties, doing the same years ago. She will be the good neighbor. She will comfort me and invite me in for tea. I will go home and send my husband and children off to their days. Later I will return and we will go out for lunch in that ’79 Cutlass. It will be her treat, and I will smile and again apologize.
She will drive us back, then rush to the house for something. I will look out at her garden absent of the flowers that are now in a vase in my dining room. She will return and load my arms with potatoes and jams. I will hesitate but she will insist. I will return home and make a cup of tea, treating myself to the extra tablespoon of sugar.
When we take out our trash we will wave. She will wish me a goodnight, and I will smile, knowing it will be.
So you have just finished your fiction workshop, or submitted an article, or just let someone read your stuff. Perhaps they liked it, perhaps they told you all the things they liked about it. Perhaps they misunderstood the beginning, the middle, the end. They make suggestions. Some understandable, some redundant. One suggestions suggests you rewrite the entire thing from another perspective and start using “I” statements. You cringe because you don’t really want to spend six more hours rewriting. This is your child, a direct creation of you, a manifestation of self. My advice is don’t fret, relax! Literally & Figuratively. Give it a few days then look at the suggestions again. If you still don’t like what they have to say - screw ‘em. It’s your story, though you may want to fix the grammer errors you missed, either way.
By: Dylan Lenz
In those fleeting moments before the sun would rise and set the eastern wood on fire and cast long thin shadows over the field of the birch trees that lined the back edge of the farm, I would smile at my mother. She would see me to the door, kiss my forehead, and then turn my shoulders to pack a few odds and ends she had found around the house into my canvas backpack. Today it was two pears from the tree in our wood, a spool of wire I had left on the table, and my pocketknife that I had spent the previous hour trying to find. She would pull the drawstring of the bag and close the clasp then lean against the back door until I had my boots tied. I would stand up to kiss her cheek, swing my rifle over my shoulder, and then move to leave without a word. Quietly my mother would open the door a moment and let me out without letting the autumn air in.
We lived northeast of Ketchum, twenty minutes past the sprawl of the city where the farms lined the westbound highway that would take us to Boise in a few hours to see my brother who was studying agriculture, if we chose to drive out that way. We lived in the middle of the state, just under Sawtooth - but if you stood tall on the top of Berger’s Hill, and if the sky were clear enough from the July heat, you could make out the Teton’s to the east and see Yellowstone. At least that’s what my father had told me, he was gone, and I had never climbed to the top of Berger’s Hill to see the Rocky Mountains.
At the edge of the field a creek greeted the tree line and hawthorns formed a thicket at the base of the white trunks of the birch trees. In warmer months their leaves would hide the inch-long thorns that would scrap arms and could take an eye if unwatched. The frosts of November stole away the last of their cover and left the forest floor covered in the fallen leaves. Without them you could see perhaps twenty feet into the woods if you stood at its edge, though the hawthorns still kept most intruders out. Two summers previous I had spent the better part of a week cutting a thin path into the woods. A path of narrow width and low overhang, a path that could not bee seen unless you knew exactly where you left it, a path for a boy.
It was at the mouth of the path that Jesse met me. As I walked toward him from the house I saw him wave impatiently. I had turned twelve in September and Jesse was roughly two years older. He had a good foot on me, and was strong. He had a sturdy jaw and thick wrists just like his father and his father’s father. Jesse’s family had come west and settled the valley over a hundred years ago. His father farmed the same strip of land across the road from my family’s farm that Jesse’s grandfather had farmed, and his father before him. Jesse was the only son.
“About time,” said Jesse. He slung his own rifle over his shoulder and began to walk towards the entrance of the woods.
I quickened my pace and took off after him. “I’m sorry, you know my mom, always trying to kiss me goodbye and stuff,” I said, looking up a moment as Jesse paused at the creek. He looked down at me with a strange expression.
The autumn had taken most of the remaining water from the creek until it left it with a shallow flow in the deepest parts of the bed. Jesse stood at the edge of it and looked up at the line of birch and cottonwoods that flanked the water. We walked along the bank until we found the bend we usually crossed at where the water narrowed to only a few feet wide. The edges of the creek had already frozen and ice formed an elegant lace tying the stones of the creek bed together. The creek would freeze altogether in a few weeks until February when the runoff made it so we couldn’t cross the creek on our own any longer.
I handed Jesse my rifle and he jumped across the water with ease, his long legs almost allowing him to simply step across. I threw my backpack to him and he placed it on the ground next to the rifles then looked back at me. He braced his legs and opened his arms incase he needed to catch me. I took a few steps back then ran forward and jumped. Jesse grabbed me as I started to stumble on the other side and kept me from losing my footing and stepping into the cold water. He handed me my rifle and bag and then walked beside me as we walked deeper into the woods.
He was quiet for some time. We crossed a small meadow and decided to stop. I found a good tree to sit in and wait for an animal to wander close to us. Jesse took a branch a few feet above me, one I could not yet climb to, while I sat lower in the tree and dangled my legs underneath. I tossed Jesse one of the pears my mother packed as I ate the other and looked around for signs of movement.
“My mom moved to Boise,” said Jesse.
“When is she coming back?” I asked looking up at him.
“She isn’t.” Jesse said. “She got a job and an apartment. They said that I’m supposed to visit her on the weekends.”
“What’s your dad going to do?” I asked, still looking up.
“Don’t know. I don’t know why he doesn’t just go and get her. They’re still married,” Jesse said. He hopped to a lower branch and waited a moment before jumping to the ground. I followed.
I stood still a moment and looked at Jesse and then stared off into the meadow. I had nothing to say. Jesse was my closest friend, both by choice and by circumstance. There were no other boys my age within two miles but I was his friend for reasons besides that. I am confident I could have hated him if I chose to or if we did not see eye to eye. I had no affection for Andrew Briggs the boy who used to live at the farm next to ours – his house was closer than Jesse’s house and I had hated Andrew even though Jesse was his friend. Jesse and I were friends simply because we were. It was never a question of why or what the other had to offer. We would spend our free evenings in one another’s company, talking about girls at school, about our plans, about our families. I wanted to live by the ocean and Jesse never once mentioned that I needed to learn to swim. On the weekends we would go camping or exploring, or we would watch television at my house.
Yet I had no words of comfort for my friend. My own parents had been happily married, they had argued on occasion, but neither ever intended to leave. As my mother often told my sister and I, my father had been the love of her life. She insisted my sister find this for herself, and that I, now a young man, watch for it carefully and be weary of the lusts of youth. I had found love already, or at least I thought I had. I loved Jesse’s sister Sarah and would marry her if I got the chance.
Sarah was eighteen and heading to Lewis & Clark Community College for the spring semester. She also had a boyfriend, Jason Baldwin, who was going to Boise State on a football scholarship. Yet there were times Sarah would smile at me when she would see me, and there was the one time she had stayed in my bedroom with Jesse and I after their parents had a particularly nasty fight. I think it was then that I loved her – while I slept on the floor with Jesse and she slept in my bed.
Looking back that night had been nothing extraordinary. My father had been sick then still, but had walked with my mother across the street to Jesse’s house. They had heard the fight across the road and down the street and decided that Jesse and Sarah would come over for a while. They stayed the night and we brought the television into my bedroom. Sarah fell asleep on the bed as Jesse and I stayed up and read comics. She seemed happy then, but that was before everything else, I suppose. Still, I thought of her most days.
We left the meadow and headed deeper into the woods. Jesse did not tell me anymore nor ask my opinion on the course of action he should take and I was grateful.
“Let’s try trapping,” he suggested. I agreed and pulled the spool of wire from my bag. He began to look for sticks and twigs to rig the traps.
We had never caught anything this way before and had little patience for the monotony of the task. I looked around and found some game trails that ran away toward the creek in the low growth of the woods. We set them there, both trying to figure how something may catch themselves in our novice snares.
In the early afternoon after the traps were set we stopped and ate on a fallen log. We talked about Jane Field from town and how Jesse was convinced she wanted him. She had on numerous occasions spoke to him at length, in private, with no regard for her friends waiting to walk home with her. This assured Jesse he would be the first to have her.
In these conversations I held my tongue, I had no interests in the girls our age and having no personal experience to share, kept quiet to ensure I would not make some falsehood that Jesse could easily reveal as untrue. I loved Sarah though I would not tell Jesse that, not then. Jesse had a different approach to his feelings about women. He was vulgar and the other boys of Ketchum as well as myself liked to hear his stories. I knew of sex only from Jesse and the other young men I knew. My parents hid the subject with the quite reserve they held over politics and religion – two things they would not disclose in mixed company. We were Democrats, that I knew but wasn’t allowed to tell the neighbors.
I pulled out my piece of cake from dinner the previous night. I had eaten some of it, but saved the rest for today. Jesse looked over at me.
“Did you pack any cake for me?” he asked.
“No, this was the last piece,” I said, eating it and staring up at the treetops. We were quiet a moment.
“You know Sarah’s pregnant,” he said, eating the sandwich I’d packed for him. He looked back at me with a knowing glance. My face turned red but I hid it by burrowing a little deeper into my coat. Jesse continued. “That’s why she moved up to Boise early, she’s living with Jason because my parents kicked her out.”
Again I had nothing to say so I left Jesse and walked back to the snares he had set. They were empty but I untied them anyway and rewound the wire onto the spool. I returned to Jesse once my face had stopped burning and my stomach calmed.
“Anything?” he asked, tossing the paper wrappings of his sandwich on the ground.
“Nothing.” I said.
The sun was beginning to fall when we climbed a hill to look out over the woods. Our breaths were deep by the summit, the cold air ripped into our throats and our ragged breaths made us stop. We looked out. I could see our farm and the highway, I could see Jesse’s father driving home down the narrow strip of road.
“Look there,” said Jesse; he stole a glance at me and knocked my arm with his elbow signaling me to watch his eye. I followed his gaze until I saw what he saw, a pair of rabbits under the cover of the hawthorns a few yards from where we stood. They were fat, their fur long and full with the soft down that would keep them warm for the season. They did not know we were watching.
Jesse knelt to his boot and pulled out a rolled plastic bag. He unraveled it and shook out four .22 shells into his palm. I looked in his eyes and he motioned for me to take them.
“Take one,” he said. I picked up the bullet and ran it between my thumb and index finger. They were hot from being kept in his boot. Jesse loaded three into his own gun and brought his rifle to his shoulder. We were not supposed to have these without our fathers present, and I wondered how Jesse had them. The rifles were only for fun, for our adventures.
I loaded mine into my rifle and brought the gun to my cheek. Jesse tapped my arm and pointed left. I nodded and took aim at my rabbit; they still did not know we were there.
“On my mark,” said Jesse, pulling the stock of his barrel closer to his shoulder. I looked forward.
Jesse let out a low exhale, his breath came in a thin white cloud and fogged the steel on the back of his rifle. We fired simultaneously and the report cracked the November cold as our faces flushed. The sound rang for a second longer in the greater woods and then faded just as fast. The two rabbits did not move.
Jesse dropped his rifle to the ground and began to look for a way to reach the rabbits. The hawthorns that had kept them safe still did, and in a frenzy Jesse fell to his hands and knees and began to crawl into the brier. He let out ragged breaths through clenched teeth as the hawthorns dug into him. He wormed his way to where his rabbit fell and grabbed it by the ears and started to pull back out.
“Get mine too,” I said looking to my friend.
“Leave it. It’s too far,” said Jesse slowly making his way out.
When he was free of the thorns Jesse stood before me and held the dead rabbit by the back legs. It was grotesque; the rabbits face was covered in blood. Jesse had shot it through the neck. Jesse’s own face was also covered in blood along with his hands – the hawthorns had cut him just under his eye and stabbed deep into his knuckle.
“Give me your knife,” Jesse said.
I slid my pack off and handed it to him. “What are going to do?” I asked.
“Skin it,” said Jesse, taking the knife and opening the blade.
“Do you know how?” I asked.
“Sure, I’ve seen my dad do this a dozen times. It’s not that hard.”
I left him a moment and began to circle the trees looking for a way in to get the rabbit I shot, but there was no way to reach it without tearing apart my own skin. I looked for a long stick so I might reach the rabbit but couldn’t fine anything long enough. If I had brought a hatchet I might have been able to cut a long branch or a sapling, but even then I don’t think I could have pulled the rabbit out. I sat at the edge of the brier a minute and tried to think of how I could get to it. It was no use.
I returned to see what was becoming of his rabbit and found it in pieces. He had no idea what he was doing and had ill-butchered the creature by cutting off its head and legs. They were strewn across the ground along with the guts of the animal. The meat was covered in stray strands of the down fur and Jesse was kneeling, pulling the pieces from the carcass. I leaned against a nearby tree and stood watching him, waiting for him to look at me.
He let out a cry of frustration and threw the rabbit aside. He grabbed a fist of fallen leaves and rubbed them between his hands, cleaning off the blood of the rabbit. He stood, looked at me, picked up the knife and slid it back into my pack that was leaning against the tree. He picked up his own rifle and began down the hill towards the creek.
“What are you doing?” I asked, catching up with his long strides.
“It’s getting late,” he said.
“You can’t just leave it,” I said. “We have to take them with us.”
“No we don’t, a coyote will probably eat it.”
“We should at least bury it,” I said, looking down the hill at Jesse. I stopped walking.
“David, just leave it. It’s fine,” he said, turning back to look up at me. I said nothing and began to walk back to the rabbits.
Jesse rolled his eyes and turned back towards the creek.
“I’m going,” he called.
“Fine,” I said.
I found the rabbit where he had left it and used a broken branch to help dig up the frozen soil; I kicked the parts of the rabbit in to the hole with my toe and covered it. I found a young birch tree that was about fifteen feet tall and pushed it over until the thin trunk cracked near the base. I began to cut away at the sinews of young wood that held it together, spending the better part of an hour until it fell. Taking the last of the wire my mother had packed me I made a noose at the end of the sapling and returned to the brier for my rabbit. I hooked its neck after only a few tries and pulled it towards me. It was still warm. I packed it into my bag, slung my rifle over my shoulder and headed home.
When I got to the creek I threw my bag and gun across first and then stood back to make my jump over the creek. Perhaps it was Sarah that made me halfhearted about the leap, or perhaps it was Jesse not being there to catch me, then again perhaps it was the fear of explaining the dead rabbit to my mother. In any case I did not leap with the same vigor I had earlier that day when the sun was still rising. Now it had fallen over into eastern wood until the shadows fell in on the trees themselves leaving only a dark pathway to greet me if I did make it past the creek. Despite my footing I jumped and to my surprise I landed with ease and good balance.
I picked up my things and shouldered them then rushed to the pathway through the hawthorns towards my mother, who would be waiting and worrying all alone. I noticed the overhang seemed lower than it had that morning and I made note to come back and cut the archway taller the next day.