Author: Lucy Kiefert

A Dreadful Hospital Visit – Samantha Rejonis

A Dreadful Hospital Visit – Samantha Rejonis

A Dreadful Hospital Visit

Many people have events in their lives that can take a toll on them, where they do not know what to do or they are simply at a loss. Mine was when my best friend Emily was sent to the hospital for emergency surgery and had to stay overnight for two nights.  

The day started out normal; I went to class like I do every day.  

But after class, Emily said, “Will you go to the doctor’s office with me?” She had been in a great deal of pain and could not figure out why.  

Emily has Crohn’s disease, but she was not sure what this pain was because she had never felt it before. She described it to me as “feeling like someone was holding a hot plate in one spot that was burning her skin.”  

The doctor’s office was quiet and chilly, and the white walls made the lights as bright as the sun. 

When the doctor came out, she said, “Emily Morgan… I am ready to see you now.”   

The doctor was dressed in a long white jacket, and she had a stethoscope around her neck with her long brown hair covering most of it. Her fingernails were painted red and they were wrapped around a clipboard as she called Emily’s name to come back to the examination room.  

After a half-hour (which felt like forever), Emily finally returned and said, “I need to go to the emergency room, will you please take me?” 

When we got there, the emergency room was not very busy, but as we waited for her parents to arrive, it felt as though we had been sitting there for hours. She finally got called to the examination area and was taken back shortly after. 

The emergency room had light blue curtains shielding us from the outside hallway, and there were two black chairs that occupied me and her mother. There was a regular-looking hospital gurney that had extremely white sheets with fluffy cloud-like pillows on it, and there was sparkling clean medical equipment scattered throughout the room. It was nice to know that my best friend, someone that I cared about so much, was being taken care of.  

But before I left the hospital for the night, I expressed how upset I was at the situation. Emily had never had surgery before, and I was worried about her. Someone that I was used to seeing and talking to every night would not be around for at least a few days.  

The next morning, when I went to go see her, she was finally in a room and resting. However, the room was not the best and I was concerned that, since she had an open wound, it might get infected.  

When I got there, she had awoken to the sound of the door opening, and said, “Hi, it’s nice to see such a friendly face. Isn’t my room disgusting?”  

I agreed, “Yes, it is very disgusting, but at least you’re out of surgery.”  

The room smelled of old moldy air, the walls were all scratched up, and the paint was peeling from the corners of the ceiling. There was one tiny chair in the room that was wedged between her bed and the closet door, and the floor tiles looked as if black mold was growing on top of them. 

My best friend was not being taken care of as she had been in the emergency room. Her parents would only visit her after they got off work, so I stayed with her much throughout the day when I could. For two days, I never left her side, until they had to change her wound packing. 

I stepped out of the room, but I could smell the bitter smell of the gauze they were using to pack her wound. It smelled of iodine that had been sitting in a closet for years.  

I heard Emily say, “Wow, that hurts. Could you please hurry up so that I can go back to sleep?” 

Even in the hospital, she was her witty self.   

The day after her wound packing, she was able to go home. Emily had a very upbeat discharge nurse. Her voice was rather high-pitched, and she wore brown scrubs like the color of mud that had dried. 

I was glad to see Emily go home; not only was this tough for her, but it was tough for her friends and family. We did not like to see her suffering, and all we wanted to do was get her out of the hospital so she could heal in her own bed at home. 

I was able to cope with this traumatic experience by spending those days in the hospital with her, that helped a great deal because I was still able to see her and spend time with her. When you are used to something, such as being with your best friend every day, you never know how out of place you feel without them until they are back with you.

New Year’s Day 2020 – John Krieg

New Year’s Day 2020 – John Krieg

This nonfiction piece of John’s felt heartfelt and open to us in a way that perfectly captured the goal of our last theme, Return of the Roar. We’re about to embark on a new month, and despite the unsteadiness everyone is surely feeling right now, it is a beginning all the same. The hopeful yet hard honesty in John’s piece feels fitting. Enjoy.

New Year’s Day 2020

Almost every New Year’s Day, I try to get up early to write because the brand newness of the year conjures up fresh thoughts that I want to capture before they waft away with the usual distractions. 

Today was not one of those New Year’s Days.

The three grandkids who live with their parents were over last night and joined with their two little cousins to turn the house on its ear, and I would have felt guilty if I had left the mess to Nancy to clean up all by herself.  Usually, I go over there in the early afternoon to take down the Christmas decorations, get the tree out of the house, and return everything back to normal. 

Today, instead of writing, I went directly over there and immediately started taking down the red and green streamers along the ceiling, and then I worked my way down until it was time to vacuum the carpets and sweep the floors. The house looks eerily cold and barren without all the jovial, warm, gleaming colored lights and festive decorations. Like most everything else in my life, I didn’t realize how much I would miss them until they were gone.

We had had one of our best holiday seasons in years, and I was thankful for that, but the stark reality of our impending future set in fast and hard and left me with an overwhelming sadness that has been hard to shake. Even with a bright shiny Southern California day allowing the temperature to set in by midmorning at a balmy 65 degrees, I just couldn’t pull myself out of this funk.

We had gone over to Phoenix for Thanksgiving to spend three days with friends, and that had been an uplifting experience.  The two grandkids that live with us insisted on swimming in the outdoor heated pool at the downtown high-rise hotel even though the ambient temperature barely exceeded 40 degrees. We don’t have a swimming pool here on our property, so every time they have access to one, they are determined to take advantage of it no matter what.

Sitting to watch them in a deck chair poolside after sundown, I felt like I was freezing my ass off, but they were undeterred and ignored my pleas for them to come in. That we were even able to take this much needed mini-vacation was somewhat of a miracle considering that my marijuana grow operation was raided and completely chopped in early October one week ahead of harvesting what was promising to be a lucrative crop. We were gutted, but were fortunate that that was as bad as it got because no charges were filed. Money was really tight, but we had to come to Phoenix in what amounted to what could very well be a “now or never” scenario. My best friend had stage four bladder cancer, and my health has been somewhat touch and go as of late. Better to do whatever was in my wherewithal to see each other now, or perhaps we never would. 

The hotel was short on parking and didn’t advise me of that fact until we had arrived and checked in. I wasn’t going to pay the $35 a day valet fee, which necessitated parking in a church lot nearly a mile away. I would drop Nancy and the kids off, pick them up at the hotel, and then go do what needed to be done. 

Walking the streets of Phoenix, my old stomping grounds, caused the memories of my halcyon days to flood my stream of consciousness. In truth, I didn’t really want to ever leave Arizona or my entrenched friendships, but did it to appease my now deceased ex-wife who divorced me four tumultuous years after our departure. Then the years just peeled away like a cheap paint job, leaving me exposed and barren and not likely to be restored again. 

On our way back home to California, we stopped to pick up our modest Christmas tree and at home the next day, we decorated it and put up all of our lights. In deference to the fact that I’m not really sure how many Christmases the kids will continue to have with me, we decided to just leave the lights on night and day. We weren’t going to shut them off. We rationalized our decadence by feeling that it would help to build the excitement in all the grandkids, and I like to think it really did. Anyway, those light are off today, and I’m feeling sentimental, fearful, and downhearted.

We were blessed with a very pleasant Christmas Eve. I had splurged — prime rib for dinner — and all the guests were gracious and accommodating. The grandkids didn’t complain about their meager gifts, but perhaps Nancy and their parents had forewarned them that things would be different this year. They sure were different in that everyone got along and seemed to be considerate of everyone else. From my perspective, that was the best and rarest gift of all. So when I couple that fact with the success of last night, it’s difficult not to be imbued with a sense of hope. But, unfortunately, I’m not.

Earlier in the week, I had finished the afterword to A Landscape Architect’s Environmental Poems and had mentioned among my earlier books that Environmental Cognizance: Towards the Year 2020 (2005) left me crestfallen, because at the time of publication, I felt that 15 years was more than enough time for America to right her listing environmental ship. But in reality, nothing much of anything that I advised has been accomplished, and with our current leadership in the White House, we are regressing rather than progressing. 

As I sit here, hammering this piece out on the first day of the new millennium’s third decade, things are, in actuality, worse than they were when I originally published the book.  With California, the Amazon, and Southeastern Australia now constantly burning due to climate change, I find it hard to be upbeat, and all the energy and enthusiasm that I had then is gone now. I just don’t seem capable of dredging it up from the depths that I’ve allowed it to sink to. And then again, I’m entering the seventh decade of my life, and it occurs to me that almost all men in the same situation — those, at least, reflective enough to consider their past aspirations — probably feel that they have lived through the most important period of human history and lament that they didn’t impact it more positively (if they impacted it at all).

Self-deflating feelings of insignificance and unbearable bouts with anticipatory anxiety rob me of my everyday happiness, and there is precious, little contentment to speak of. Most of all, I’m tired of constantly being afraid, of not having the confidence that all will be all right.  Reflecting on my growing of marijuana, it’s now readily apparent that I was afraid because I was doing it and I’m now more afraid because I can’t continue to do it. Life is backing me into a corner, and cornered people can react in unpredictable and destructive ways. That it’s my personal reality that things could rapidly progress from bad to worse leaves me jaded, edgy, and the bitter old man that I don’t want the grandkids to see. Friends have been telling me recently that I come across as very angry, which makes me angry that they feel the need to tell me.

Considering all the people that I said “Happy New Year” to last night, how come I’m not happy? I do want them to be happy, and I want to be happy, also. I’ve come to realize that this is life’s greatest quest. To be comfortable in our own skins, and to actually like who we really are would be the greatest blessing of all as well as the first step toward being contented with what we do have as opposed to what we always want, which seems always just out of grasp or completely beyond our reach. 

This evening, I watched a rerun of The Country Music Association’s 53rd Awards Show just to become informed on who’s hot. Things have changed very little over the past decade in that human love and anguish are front and center in our collective national consciousness…  and the unwavering belief that cold beer provides the most reliable source of psychological comfort of all. With topics such as these sucking up all the air, is it any wonder that the challenge of basic human survival with any semblance of dignity, or the state of the world’s imminent environmental collapse, get pushed aside? Is it any wonder that I’m constantly afraid as I see my ability to cope becoming more compromised at the exact same time that my energy and health are failing me? Well… enough of all that, because even if I don’t occasionally like myself, I do like what I’m still capable of doing, if only I would get to doing it.

For 2020, I am determined to defeat fear by ignoring it. We are not bad people, and we do not deserve to have bad things happen to us, but when they do, we will somehow deal with them.  That we are hanging on by our fingernails only makes me glad that we still have our fingernails. I am determined to live well and allow the grandkids to see me setting a positive example by caring for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of Planet Earth. In other words, I will love those people and those things that benefit because of my love, and above all else, I will like myself for making that effort.

John C. Krieg is a retired landscape architect and land planner who formerly practiced in Arizona, California, and Nevada. He has written a college textbook entitled Desert Landscape Architecture (1999, CRC Press.)  John has had pieces published in A Gathering of the TribesAlternating CurrentBlue Mountain Review, Clark Street Review, ConceitHomestead ReviewOddball Magazine, Palm Springs Life, PegasusSaint Ann’s ReviewThe Courtship of WindsThe Mindful Word, The Writing Disorder, and Wilderness House Literary Review.  

Seventh Month – John Grey

Seventh Month – John Grey

Seventh Month

Heart swells

and yet something inside

feels like a cobra

slithering and biting.

A blessing.

So why do you have the chills?

You’re carrying around

a couple of pounds of fatback.

Your joints insist on telling you

the weight exactly.

Now for every licked finger,

there’s a gray ghost

wavering at the end of the bed.

For love hard as marble

there’s a limp wet feeling.

Night after night,

it’s one invisible kiss,

and then the world

lands its fist halfway up your teeth.

Oh, joyous, expectant mother.

The moon is painfully rocking your hips.

And you’re flaunting a faint smile.

Nothing here caused it.

Looks like it strayed.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dalhousie Review and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Chronogram and Clade Song.

Circumstance – John Grey

Circumstance – John Grey

The vivid scenes created in the poems John submitted to us were powerful for all of us to read. We will be sharing a total of two poems from him, the first today and the second tomorrow. We hope you feel just as transported as we did. Enjoy.

Circumstance

When her son was conceived,

the lake wore its starry sparklers,

the moon was pancake shaped, 

and a cool breeze blew in through

the open windows of her boyfriend’s car.

She was seventeen, naïve,

and sprawled across the lumpy backseat 

of a second-hand Chevy,

cramped, uncomfortable,

but not complaining,

not when so much talk of love

had preceded the spreading of her legs.

Her life was going nowhere anyhow.

Her grades didn’t cry out, “College bound!”

The town was small.

And the night seemed as anxious to get on with it

as her boyfriend’s probing hands,

his amateurish thrusting.

When the son was born,

it was like there no longer was a lake

or a moon or a breeze.

And no sign of her boyfriend’s car.

Nor of him either.

She was stuck at home

under her father’s glare

and her mother’s distressed happiness –

the lovely grandchild,

the daughter no better than a whore.

But such a smile that baby had.

Until it caught up with its own circumstance.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dalhousie Review and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Chronogram and Clade Song.

The Hobby Cowboy – Will Brooks

The Hobby Cowboy – Will Brooks

Our first work of fiction for your reading pleasure thus far. We enjoyed the humor present in this story’s dialogue sections and in the unique characterization of Bessie. We have a feeling you’ll come to agree.

The Hobby Cowboy

About three years ago, my wife, Pinky, talked me into moving. I say she talked me into moving because I was content where I was. Regardless, she had found a place she liked better and was moving with or without me. Not seeing any other choice, I moved. 

Pinky picked a good place, forty acres with a spacious farmhouse that was older than both of our ages combined. Fortunately, the fella who had it before us didn’t waste any time hunting or fishing. The house had been totally gutted and redone. New plumbing, heating and air, cabinets, and paint; even the house inspector found little to write up about the place. Having been a sucker most of my life, I knew it was too good to be true.

“The previous owner, did he die or something?” I asked attentively of the realtor. 

“William?” Pinky snapped. Pinky, having never attended the school of screw-overs as I have, finds that kind of questioning offensive. I couldn’t imagine a guy spending all this time on a house and then selling it. I kept my mouth shut.

It wasn’t until we were signing the papers that the scam was brought to light. Under property description were the words “hobby farm.” I broke into a cold sweat. Unable to speak, I meekly pointed with a trembling hand. 

“What is it, sweetie? Did you find a grammar error? I know how you love a good grammar error.” 

“There,” I managed to say, afraid to repeat the words rattling around in my head.

“Yes, hobby farm. I don’t see the error.”

“Hobby doesn’t bother me—it’s that second word.”

“Farm?” said Pinky. I unconsciously started grinding my teeth. Flashbacks of endless chores, broken equipment, and animal dung broke like a dam from some suppressed area of my brain, rushing into my conscious mind like floodwater. I swear I heard a rooster crow. 

“But you grew up on a farm?”

“Actually,” the realtor piped in, “it’s more of a hobby ranch. This reminds me that I need to tell you about Bessie.” 

“Please tell me she’s a ghost that haunts the house,” I said. 

“No, she’s actually a cow. An Irish Dexter that the previous owner left with the property.”

“This is a nightmare,” I said, putting my head in my hands.

“An Irish Dexter?” Pinky asked. 

“Yes, they’re a smaller breed of cattle. Really cute.” 

“Cute? Oh god, I think I’m hyperventilating.”

“Oh, calm down, William. You knew this place had acreage. What did you think we were gonna do with it, hunt?”

“Yes! I thought that was the deal. You get the house and I get ground to play on, not work on.”

“Oh, it will be fun. You grew up on a farm. You’ve told me dozens of times about those hilarious mishaps.” 

It was true I’d wasted half my youth laboring on farm duties. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized not everyone farmed and that was okay. Pinky, on the other hand, always seemed delighted by my tales of farming as a youth. I think the idea intrigued her urban logic.

“Fortunately,” the realtor piped in again, “it’s more of a ranch than a farm.” 

“See, it’s not even a farm. It’s a ranch, Will.” 

“A hobby ranch,” the realtor said, smiling. 

“No, it isn’t true. It isn’t,” I muttered. I was in denial, the first stage of farm-purchase grief.

Then I got angry. Not the scream-and-shout kind of angry. The bitter kind of angry where I quietly seethed through the whole moving process, followed by me making a bargain with myself that if I got rid of the cow it wouldn’t be a farm anymore. Then I got depressed reflecting on bitter memories of kicks and stomps I received as a youth. Then I accepted the fact that I now lived on a farm. All this took about three-and-a-half days. I understand that the larger the spread, the longer the grieving period.

“Forty acres with one cow,” I told my wife as we were placing dishes in the kitchen cabinet three nights after moving in. “That’s chump change. Heck, as a half-grown kid I was in charge of whole milk-barn of Jersey cattle.”

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re feeling better, dear. Say, we’ve been working on this house all day. Let’s go for a walk around the forty.” 

“Sounds great, dear. Have you seen my boots while we’ve been unpacking? All I’ve got are these tennis shoes to wear.” 

Looking back, my limited selection of footwear may have been the only thing that saved me on that first encounter with Bessie. Who knew I’d be running? 

We had just made it to the very back of the property when my wife elbowed me and whispered, “Look over there.” 

I thought she’d spotted something important like a ten-point buck, only to look over in disappointment: a mini black cow.

“That must be Bessie,” said my wife. 

“Sure, or her sister.” I said. 

“Isn’t she cute? Oh, William, can we keep her?” 

“You keep kittens because they’re cute. It doesn’t work that way with cows.”

The whole time we had been talking, Bessie had been eyeing us with suspicion while chewing her cud. A nonthreatening glare meant to keep our alarm down. The top of her back came to about my waist and the two horns on her head didn’t look long enough to cause a flesh wound. Bessie looked like an overgrown toy.

“Do you think she’ll let me pet her?” Pinky said, taking a step toward Bessie. 

All at once Bessie’s potential energy exploded into kinetic. Bessie grew three times her size with horns as long as pool sticks. I heard my wife scream (or it could have been me) as I turned tail in the direction of the house. After a few hundred yards I noticed my wife wasn’t with me. 

I pushed the image of Bessie stomping the mutilated body of my spouse out of my head long enough to yell, “Pinky?” 

To my great relief, there was a response of, “Over here, you stupid blank-of-a-blank.” 

Carefully, I eased through the brush until I came to Pinky thrashing in the waters of a mudhole pond, Bessie on the other side condensed to her original size and resuming the chewing of her cud. 

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“What do you mean? You left me!” 

My wife, unschooled and unconditioned in farm life, didn’t understand that when cows attack, heroic gestures only cause bodily harm and it’s better if every man accounts for himself. I was trying to think of how to break this to my wife when she intruded on my train of thought. 

“She chased me into this pond. And you just left me!” 

“She chased you into the pond?” I asked, making a mental note of Bessie’s behavior. She doesn’t like water.

“No, it just looked so inviting I couldn’t restrain myself from taking a swim. Now help me out of here.”

Finding a long stick, I gave Pinky a hand, doing my best to keep my sneakers dry. Covered in bright green duck grass from head to toe, she looked like Swamp Thing. 

“What are you smiling at? I could have been killed.” 

“You know those hilarious mishaps? I think this makes the top of my list.”

Pinky stomped off, muttering. The only two words I made out were “horses” and “ass.” I didn’t think it a good time to school her on the fact that horses and donkeys are different animals. Left alone, I turned to look at Bessie—who wasn’t there. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I knew she was still watching me. I hurried after Pinky to the safety of the house. 

After two showers and a glass of wine, Pinky finally spoke a direct full sentence to me as we climbed into bed. 

“Get rid of Bessie.” 

Evidently, Bessie’s cuteness had worn off quickly. 

“It’s not that easy,” I stammered.

“I don’t care. I’m afraid she’ll hurt someone.”

“Yeah, me too. Mostly me.” 

“Just get rid of her.” 

The next morning I searched the Internet for a cattle hauler. After a few phone calls, I had a gentleman who agreed to come out that day and take a look. An hour later, he turned in the drive, pulling a long aluminum trailer behind his Ford Dually truck. He stepped out donning a palm-leaf cowboy hat, a pearl-snap, long-sleeve shirt, Wrangler jeans, and boots. A thick mustache covered his upper lip, the tips of the hairs stained by Copenhagen. A real cowboy, I thought—he’ll know what to do. He introduced himself as Buck Thompson. Even his name sounded heroic to me. I’d found my man.   

“You been cowboyin’ long?” I asked. It was such a stupid question to ask; a real cowboy is born in the saddle. 

“You bet.” 

“Oh, well, what’s your horse’s name?” I asked. 

“Taco. Won the team-roping event off her last weekend.” 

“Fascinating,” I said. 

It’s a little-known fact Missouri ranks number two in cattle production in the United States. However, it never had the rich cowboyin’ history of Texas. Growing up, we never had a horse. Our cowboyin’ was done on foot with buckets of grain, willow branches cut for swatting sticks, and—if things got bad—rocks. For this reason I’d never considered myself a real cowboy growing up. I mean, when was the last time you saw John Wayne rope a milk cow?

Buck disappeared to the end of the trailer and there were a few thuds as he unloaded Taco, a tall chestnut roan. Taco was already saddled and Buck climbed onto her back with the ease of most people stepping into a warm bath. Adjusting the saddle a bit, he took a can of Copenhagen out of his shirt’s chest pocket, tapped it on the saddle horn, and pinched a bit of the snuff into his gums.

“Alright, where is this pygmy cow?” Buck asked. 

“Right back that way.” I pointed in Bessie’s direction. “Say, uh, you don’t… I mean, I can if you want… Need help?” 

“Probably not this time, Bud.” 

“Right. Okay, well, I’ll be in the house doing some work. So, yeah, if you need me,” I said, trying not to sound too excited that I didn’t have to help.

“I’ll let you know when I’ve got her all loaded up,” Buck said, leading Taco into the pasture. I watched him start to take the trail Pinky and I had taken the night before. Immediately, Buck met his first adversity to Ozark Cowboyin’: tree limbs. Not able to take the direct path Pinky and I had followed, he maneuvered Taco around some buckbrush and disappeared. I retreated to the safety of the house. 

Watching through the back window, I counted the minutes waiting for Buck’s triumphant return. Around minute sixteen I heard the first sounds of a fierce struggle. Pinky came along about this time and asked what was going on. 

“Hush,” I said.

“Don’t hush me. What’s going on?” 

As she stood glaring at me, Bessie burst from the brush. She didn’t look as intense as I remembered during the attack, but she didn’t look happy. One end of a rope was looped around one of her stumpy horns and she jerked and bucked as if being stung by bees. She was shortly followed by a disheveled looking Buck holding the other end of the rope. 

“What’s he trying to do?” asked Pinky. 

“What I hired him to do.” 

“Maybe you should help him.” 

“He’s a professional. He made it very clear he didn’t want my help.”

Even though I could see Buck was flustered, I was confident he would come out on top.

Boy, was I wrong. He’d played right into Bessie’s plan. 

Now in the open, Bessie rushed around a lone blackjack tree, then shot back toward the woods. Taco was doing her best to take up the slack in the rope as Bessie disappeared back into the woods, dragging Buck and Taco into the low limbs of the blackjack. Buck’s hat flew off as a tree branch whipped off Taco’s neck and into his face, bloodying his nose. A few expletives were released as Buck and Taco disappeared back into the woods. We heard Buck yell, “Get back! Get back!” 

Then all went eerily mute. 

“You know, maybe I should call 911,” I said. 

“Maybe you should go out there and help?”

“You want to be a widow?” 

As I said this Bessie came marching victoriously from the brush, the rope and Buck having disappeared. She paraded up to the fence, her tail arched defiantly, eyes blazing, looking for her next victim.

I’ve heard of elephants using low-level bellows to communicate with other elephants several miles away, of whales having a vocabulary of calls and songs that scientists have yet to decipher, and of the amazing chemical communication of ants. But I have never sensed a connection with an animal like I did as Bessie eyed me in the window, stopped dead in her tracks, and stared into my soul. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I must have blacked out, for when I finally felt my eyes blink, Bessie was gone. 

“Where’d she go?” 

“Back in the brush, but more importantly, where’s your cowboy?” 

An image of Buck’s mangled body hanging from a tree limb was just starting to form in my mind as Taco and Buck limped out of the woods. I hurried to the back door. Buck was bloody. Taco had no visible flesh wound but seemed to be favoring her right hind leg. I asked what any reasonable, non-medically trained person would ask. 

“You alright?” 

Buck didn’t answer. He just laid Taco at the back of the trailer. I’d never seen a horse load so fast. 

Again applying my most sympathetic voice, I asked, “Anything broken?” 

Buck still didn’t answer, only limped to the front of his truck and climbed in the cab. He fired up the engine and rolled down the window. 

“When will you be back to try again?” I asked. 

“Don’t call me. I’ll call you.” 

A few days went by and I hadn’t heard from Buck. I dialed his number, feeling that same tight-gut feeling I’d had calling up some girl I had a crush on in my juvenile years. I could feel myself swallow with every ring on the line, dreading the moment when he might answer, and wishing to God he would. He didn’t. 

I hung up the phone and wrote him off. I thought I’d reward myself for the effort with a stroll into town for a visit to the gun shop. Heck, maybe I’d buy a new gun to hunt down Bessie. 

My friend Frank runs a hunting and fishing/knickknack shop in town. He attracts a variety of weirdos that make a weekly stop to visit, me being one of his favorites.

“Hello, Will, what’s new with you?” he asked as I walked through the door. 

“What’s a good caliber for cow?” 

“Cow elk?” 

“No, cow cow.” 

He gave me a puzzled look and I explained my situation.

“You need to call my cousin Carl,” he said when I finished. 

“Is he a good cowboy?”

“I wouldn’t call him a cowboy, but he knows how to handle cattle—that is, he did until he got locked up.” 

“Locked up? Listen, thanks, but I don’t want some tweaker on my property.” 

“No, he got locked up for cattle rustling.” 

“Like stealing cattle? That’s a thing?” I asked ignorantly. I thought they only existed in Western movies. 

“Oh yeah. If he can’t catch ’em, no one can. I’m gonna see him later. I’ll give him your number.” 

“Great, thanks,” I said, figuring I’d never get that call. 

That night, at about eleven, I was awakened from a sound sleep to my phone ringing. Thinking it might be Buck, I answered on the third ring.

“Hello?” 

“Is this Will?” 

“Yes.” 

“This is Carl. When do you want to catch that cow?”

“As soon as possible.” 

“I can come over tonight, but it will cost more.” 

“Tomorrow will work.” 

“I’ll be there at sunup.”

“Sure.” And then the phone went dead. 

“Who was that, dear?” Pinky asked from under a night mask on her side of the bed.

“Carl.” 

“That’s nice dear, and who is Carl?” 

“Some cousin of Frank’s that catches cattle.” Leaving out the part about Carl being a convicted felon, I lay back, wondering what time sunup was and how Carl knew where I lived. But I guessed rustlers have their ways. 

I didn’t sleep much after the phone call and was awake by 5 a.m. The sun wasn’t up yet so I figured I wasn’t late. I was going for my second cup of coffee, just as the first signs of daylight were emerging from the window, when I noticed a rusty pickup sitting in the drive with an even rustier stock trailer connected to the bumper. Shocked, I stepped outside, wondering how long a vehicle had been parked there without my knowledge. A man was leaning against the front bumper of the truck smoking a cigarette. He looked nothing like the image of a rustler to me. 

He was pudgy and dressed in bib overalls. His feet were adorned with some camouflage Crocs. He was bearded and had on a sweat-stained truckers’ hat from the local feed mill. He looked vaguely familiar, like I might have seen his picture on the People of Wal-Mart website.  

“Are you Will?” the man asked, and I recognized the tone from the phone. I thought of saying no. I stood there trying to decide what to say when Carl spoke again. “Let’s go catch this gyp before it gets any brighter.” 

“But how?” I asked. The question was meant to be geared toward the truck. How did it get in the drive without me knowing? I think Carl thought I meant Bessie.

“Minor details,” is all he said as he lifted his butt off the bumper and gestured me to follow. I was too stunned to decline. 

The trailer was parked in such a manner that, with the trailer’s rear door open, it blocked the gap left by the open gate. Carl entered the trailer via a side door toward the trailer’s front. Following, I noted the trailer’s floor was blanketed with carpet. I turned to ask Carl the purpose of the carpet, but he was already heading toward the woods, two dogs on either side of him that hadn’t made themselves noticed until now. Dumbfounded, I stood there watching them go until they stopped at the edge of the woods. 

“You coming?” he asked.

“Listen, I’m not sure what kind of help I’ll be. Maybe I should just wait in the house. I’m more of a hobby cowboy.”

“Cowboy? Shoot, son. Cowboys got nothing to do with this.”

“Well, yeah, maybe. But I’m…” I was digging through my bag of lies, but couldn’t clutch anything valid enough to use.

“I’ll tell you what. Since it’s your first time and all, I’ll let you be the racer.” 

“Racer? What’s that?” 

“Oh, nothing much. You just run back through the trailer and exit via the escape door.” 

“That’s the door on the side? And how will I know when?” 

“Yes. I’ll holler. Oh, and be sure to shut it behind you.”

And with that, he turned and walked into the woods. I took a tentative step off the trailer, wondering just how fast I could make it back to the trailer. I’ve never been known for my ground speed. I’m no dummy; I knew what Carl was asking me to do. I should’ve turned and gone into the house. Maybe I was just desperate to rid myself of Bessie, or maybe it was the way Carl just marched off into the woods so fearlessly, but something mustered what minor hero material was in me. Stupidly, I followed, feeling like a lamb being taken to slaughter. 

Our quartet found Bessie by the mudhole pond, patiently chewing her cud. I thought Carl would send the dogs instantly, but he only stood staring at her in silence. 

Finally, I asked, “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. I’m just figuring. You stay here. I want to see what she does when she’s approached.”

“Explodes,” I said. 

Carl either didn’t hear me or didn’t care because he took the dogs and started around the pond. Bessie noted their movements with the skilled tactician of a seasoned veteran. As Carl and the dogs circled the pond, she shifted her hind legs around, keeping her pointed stubs of horns pointed in their direction. Then she started backing up. I’d never seen her back down from a fight, but the dogs, I figured, were a new threat she had not dealt with before. As she backed up, she kept edging around the pond, keeping the water between her and Carl. I stood stock-still, not sure of my role in this tango, watching as her rump inched closer to me. 

Transfixed on Carl and the dogs, Bessie finally backed around the pond until she was a mere ten yards away. I hadn’t moved, wasn’t even sure I was breathing, but she abruptly whirled around to face me. I felt death was certain now—that at any moment she would charge, drilling her horns into me before stomping me to death with her mini-hooves.

“Run!” Carl shouted, startling Bessie who glanced his direction. “Run, now!” 

I swear Bessie knew what he said, because she turned and looked at me, an evil smirk coming across her face. Bessie was looking for a fight. I wasn’t giving her one. I ran.

I ran as fast as my short legs would go, and, feeling Bessie’s hot breath on my backside, jammed into another gear I didn’t even know I had. I was preparing to hit Mach 1 when the trailer came into sight. I took a quick glimpse back before entering the trailer and could see the dogs nipping at Bessie’s heels. I exited the escape door, slamming it behind me. The trailer shook violently, Bessie bouncing off the sides like a wild bird put in a cage. 

“Good job, Sport,” Carl said, coming around the end of the trailer, “Better get half-pint here to the yard before she brains herself. Have you got my pay?”

Stunned by my near-death experience, it took me a moment to answer. “Yeah. Yes. It’s inside. I’ll be right back.” 

Rushing inside, I found Pinky at the back door, no longer wearing her night mask, but still in her robe. 

“Where have you been?” she asked. 

“Catching a killer cow.” 

“You caught her?” 

“Of course.” Playing it off, I continued, “Say, Carl wants to get paid. Grab me a check, please, before Bessie breaks out.” 

She disappeared around the corner and I heard the drawer open and slam where we keep the checkbook. “How much is it?” 

“I have no idea.”

Back outside I found Carl already in his truck, the two dogs in the passenger seat. Spontaneously, there would be a big thump from the trailer as Bessie tried her best to free herself, the truck rocking a little with each blow. 

“How much is it?” 

“Two hundred is my standard hauling fee.” 

“Great,” I said, and started writing out the check. 

“I prefer cash.” 

“Oh, well. I don’t…”

“A check will do, as long as it’s good.” 

“Oh, it’s good. I promise.” I tore out the check and handed it to him.

“I guess you want the check from the yard mailed to here? That is, if she brings more than the postage cost.” 

“Yes, here’d be great.” 

“All right then,” Carl said, and put the truck in drive. “Take ’er easy.” 

Following Pinky through the grocery store a month later, I found myself in the meat department. I realized I hadn’t thought of Bessie in a while, but seeing the red meat lying on Styrofoam plates wrapped in plastic made me wonder where she was now. Her display on the selling floor at the stockyard must have been impressive; she brought a whole fifty dollars, according to the check I received. She may have been compact, but she fought like a giant.

Will Brooks received his bachelor’s degree from Drury University, with a major in creative writing and a minor in business. He currently works for his family’s propane company. He loves working with his hands and enjoys many outdoor activities, hunting being his favorite pastime. He lives on a large farm, in a house that was built with lumber harvested and milled right on the farm over sixty years ago. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hawaii Pacific Review, Pencil Box Press, Ignatian Literary Review, Critical Pass Review, Stirring: A Literary Collection, and The Penmen Review. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers’ Guild.


Ah, Life – Caleb Coy

Ah, Life – Caleb Coy

Ah, Life

Ah, says the sighing sage, Life.

You have to taste it in the deed,

Make time for it by letting go.

Screw that, says the cynic, the salesman.

You have to have a leg up on the vermin who desert

         a sinking vessel.

You have to do what is best for yourself.

So, therefore, one must have the time of one’s life

         now,

While the vermin still crawl in the crannies,

While the ship is still afloat.

The sage and the cynic meet to trade secrets,

to agree.

As the hull scrapes against the rock,

As the water seeps in,

As the vermin fly in droves and the bow tips upward,

Tell yourself

         this is the beginning of the thing        

not the end of it.

Caleb Coy is a freelance editor with a Masters in English from Virginia Tech. He lives in Christiansburg, VA with his wife and two sons. His work has appeared in The Common, Stonecoast Review, and Harpur Palate.

Here on Earth – Caleb Coy

Here on Earth – Caleb Coy

Here on Earth

I said I know you never meant to do

         the thing you did.

He said, I know that, I know that,

But as a consequence of my deeds

And the boulder I set rolling,

         a pure good thing

         is gone from here,

And it’ll never return here again.

I mean here on earth, not here in this town.

I said, I know that, I know that.

Caleb Coy is a freelance editor with a Masters in English from Virginia Tech. He lives in Christiansburg, VA with his wife and two sons. His work has appeared in The Common, Stonecoast Review, and Harpur Palate.

Detour – Caleb Coy

Detour – Caleb Coy

Detour

Worms eat the belly and freshen the soil

To reconcile, to breed blooming flowers,

And call them a masterpiece—

This is tramping in God’s garden.

Sensible, though it is, to say she has spoken,

An echo sublime, a material reflection,

The path into her muffles into darkness—

Not this way. Not in the brambles.

Terror and folly, awe and mystery

Choke the spirit of searchers,

Their counsel tangled in time,

In the depth of undiscovered stretches.

Here we turn. Here we take the byway.

Leave the wood, leave the peaks, leave the beaches,

Return to the tongues of men and of angels,

Return to the temple of the prostrate self.

Lest the image become the object,

Lest we return again to whispering horns,

Or we wander in dimness of words

And swallow the wormwood within the honey.

Caleb Coy is a freelance editor with a Masters in English from Virginia Tech. He lives in Christiansburg, VA with his wife and two sons. His work has appeared in The Common, Stonecoast Review, and Harpur Palate.

Blackberries – Caleb Coy

Blackberries – Caleb Coy

This is the first of four poems that we will be sharing from Caleb. We hope you enjoy reading his words over the next few days just as we did during the editing process.

Blackberries

I turned blackberries from the stem

On down the brambled row,

Ripe and bulging,

Silver in the sun of evening.

Beetles had come to drink,

Sometimes four on a single berry.

You must blow them off

Or risk the smashing of all.

My fingers stained with soft

Labor, my bucket half full,

I wipe my brow at the end of the row

And carry my glean to the stand.

Later, I return with white raspberries,

My blackberries having been taken.

The farmer offers me his own picked bushel,

But it is not the same.

Caleb Coy is a freelance editor with a Masters in English from Virginia Tech. He lives in Christiansburg, VA with his wife and two sons. His work has appeared in The Common, Stonecoast Review, and Harpur Palate.

Unwelcome with My Camera? – Keith Moul

Unwelcome with My Camera? – Keith Moul

Another piece of Keith’s we found to paint a vivid picture. Enjoy.

Unwelcome with My Camera?

Local folks suspect strangers lurking about.

My head up, I gauge light burst on a window,

then as flashily decamps in the leaves’ flutter.

What to do with “get away from my lawn”?

Or defend a case of brilliance here observed?

If I turn to gaze farther, I dig ghastly cavities

in brain matter granted custody of this place.

All right, a simple inquiry at the door: May I

pause to limn the gilding pageantry of light?

Thus squandering that time and all should he

answer “NO!” East breeze ferries drama in;

rain sweeps to vertical the velour of leaves;

street spray from a car flashes the horizontal.

A tide no more regularly reconfigures beach

than light saturates this neighborhood’s eyes,

blinding in painted white of this church wall

of a minor sect sparkling as if combustible.

My accidental presence here creates a scene:

a timeless day, my imperfect finger ready on

the release; my ignorance; me, wet but steadily

pelted by as yet unknown but eternal certainties.

A forced departure bars me from final assertion,

penultimate views, or any infinite assertions

on any stage where my vision may earn a space.

Evening darkness, of course, supplants debate,

yet a word: I click a frame to the mediating, but

minor sect, yet in profile.  Kinfolk tales portend

a fight, but guide the fine spirit of nostalgic light.

Keith Moul has written poems and taken photos for more than 50 years, his work appearing in magazines widely.  His chapbook, The Journal, and a full-length volume, New and Selected Poems: Bones Molder, Words Hold were recently accepted by Duck Lake Books. These are his ninth and tenth chap or book published.