FICTION April 25, 2014

The Cultivationists

When the siren arrived outside and died, Obie staggered out to behold the pockmarked ruddy face of Sheriff Junaluska Minks, who was kicking a hubcap out of his way as he marched forth between the junkpiles. He wore his black hair in a ponytail that swung around his neck when he drew back his head to announce, “Glad I don’t have to wake you. Looking for Kermit Gant.”

Minks climbed the steps and saw Delilah sleeping. “They say you’re calling yourself full-blood now,” he said, “but your son still can’t get into our school.”

“Link’s with his mother out west.” said Obie, staring into the yard. He had to keep track of what happened, for Link’s sake if not his own.

“Have you seen Kermit?”

“Yes, Sheriff, I have.”


“Be patient. I’ll explain.”

“I can arrest you for those junkpiles. Public health.”

“Have a drink with me, June,” said Obie, thinking how Indians could be the most self-righteous people on earth.

“If you were on the tribal rolls, you’d have heard about my efforts toward temperance. I got the biker bar shut down.”

“Sheriff, I killed Kermit.”

Nodding like he had no time for this, Minks shook Delilah’s arm, but she kept on sleeping.

“That’s assault,” said Obie.

“You’re wasted.”

“It’s my house.”

“But I don’t have to listen.”

“I confess as sure as I’m Cherokee,” said Obie, just to confound the sheriff, even as he felt confounded himself: he was forgetting something big from just moments ago.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Polygraph me.”

“Are you two having an affair?”

“Kermit threatened my son.”

“Did Delilah help?”

“Do I have to Mirandize myself?”

This finally got a rise out of Minks. Reacting like Satan to the harrowing of hell, he stretched an arm out to punch Obie. Obie flinched, but it turned out Minks was stopping his fall. They sat down, and he closed his eyes. He dreamt he was being led in chains to Calvary, except it was too cold; Calvary was hot. He hadn’t told Link where to hide. That was the forgotten thing: Link. Link had to learn what was happening. Delilah would tell him, if Dwight Gant wasn’t busy diddling her by then to his heart’s content. Link’s fate rested on a dumb drunk. The covenant of grace was collapsing, and Obie was going to throw up. He put his hand on his stomach and prayed, but what to say? “God bless the moon and God bless me,” and next thing they were parked by Fontana Lake and he was sideways in the squad car while Minks scraped vomit off his shoes with a windshield squeegie. With horror he remembered opening the safe, leaving the door wide. He almost told Minks as much. When he caught himself, his mouth hung open until he drooled. “Your mother would be ashamed,” Minks told him, and he couldn’t even count coup in reply, because he was handcuffed. He held his pinky finger out to try, hoping to touch the sheriff’s uniform—never give up—but Minks moved away toward the radio and said, “Emmett, come in, Emmett, come in, over, meet me in town, over, Reverend’s got something to tell you about your brother.”

John McManus is the author of the novel Bitter Milk and the short story collections Born on a Train and Stop Breakin Down, all published by Picador USA. He is the recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award, a Fulbright Scholar grant, and a Creative Capital Literature grant. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, American Short Fiction, The Oxford American, The Harvard Review, StorySouth, Columbia, Paraphilia, and Night Train, as well as the fiction anthologies Surreal South ’09, Surreal South ’11, and Degrees of Elevation. His MFA comes from the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. McManus is a professor of creative writing at Old Dominion University in Virginia, and he also teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Goddard College. He is contributing editor for Fiddleblack, a literary journal dedicated to creative writing with a strong sense of place.