FICTION February 4, 2022


When I was a baby, I glowed. Momma called me Glowworm back when I had names other than In The Way. She said I was magic. The doctor said I was jaundiced. Jaundice means they kept me at the hospital for days, even after they sent Momma away. She made such a show of them taking me away that, when the time came, it was Daddy who had to come get me ’cause Momma’d been banned. She said they were trying to steal me because that’s what people do. Now I’m In The Way, and being stolen just might be all right.

 “He brought you on home, and all the glow was gone,” Momma once mused and keeps musing in my head. I’m seventeen now, a real woman, one day away from graduation, and that brings its own glow.

I came into this world Mountain-Dew-piss yellow. Now Daddy’s leaving the world a breathless blue. Funny, what time does. He is bed-bound and can’t breathe, which ain’t new. The air machine is glaring at me from the corner, and I’m glaring back because I’m not supposed to get it for him. I made a promise. “Only watch and make sure,” Gideon had said. He knows watching is what I do best. Gideon might be four years older, but I’ve always been the one watching out. Sometimes I wonder how he survived the years before I was born. Daddy and Momma wouldn’t be easy to live under all alone.

Now Daddy’s blue, and it’s not nice to look at but not as ugly as you might think. He’s shuddering and gripping for air that won’t come. We’ve all been waiting for Daddy to die for so long, I can already feel the relief coming. In my head, I’m begging him not to breathe. Begging so loud, it almost drowns out Momma and her old musings. I’m begging and begging and wondering why I thought he’d go easy. But I always knew I’d be something, and I always knew it would cost. 

We made the plan a few months back. It started when some man with a tie knocked on the door. We hadn’t had a surprise visitor since Nurse Anthony sent that social worker here. That was over a year ago; no one comes by surprise no more. Momma is our most regular guest. She comes by hungry for Daddy’s meds—“like clockwork,” Gideon says—but she never knocks. I’m sure the knocking is what made Gideon jump like he did. The man at the door had round eyes, nicer clothes than any social worker I’d met, and a couple of stringy hairs that didn’t seem to know the rest of him was bald. I think he was scared of Gideon or maybe Sampson’s barking coming from out back.

When Gideon opened the door, the man introduced himself. His name started with L. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the rest on account of the house groaning so loud. Our house is on stilts and has spots where she doesn’t like you standing. The front door is one of those spots. I did hear snippets of the explanation of why Gideon, who is hardly a man, is the man of the house—the “Momma’s gone, and Daddy’s in bed for keeps” conversation. And then, scratching his chin like he does when he’s confused, Gideon led Mr. L to the back porch to talk. I tried to listen, but Daddy’s air machine got to hollering, and I had to run to the bedroom to shut it up.

After he sent Mr. L away, Gideon came inside, looking at me like shut up.

“I didn’t say nothing.”

“Well, don’t. Just get to studying,” was all he said before putting on real clothes and leaving for his shift at the filling station. I watched him bike out of our holler while I blended Daddy’s dinner. I fed Daddy’s tube and gave him the sponge. I could smell that Gideon had skipped all the sour bits. Daddy can still grunt, but he keeps his noises to himself when I’m the one sponging. Gideon says Daddy is different with him, that he makes little engine noises when he gets close to his sour bits, asking for a secret manly sympathy. I think it’s in Gideon’s head. Sometimes he gets funny ideas and can’t sleep. I tell him, “Skin is just skin, there ain’t nothing to it,” but there’s no shaking his demons.

Gideon gets funny, sticky ideas. I’ve got ideas too. When I give Daddy the sponge, or feed him, or change his bag, or just check up, I get to whispering all my little notions. And nowadays, Daddy couldn’t do nothing if he didn’t like what I have to say. The thing is, I’m a woman now, all grown up with my own self and my own thoughts, and I earned whatever’s coming next because I’ve got ideas to spare.

That whole night, I couldn’t get Mr. L and his puffy face out of my head. I was reading, lying on the edges of the living room, waiting for Gideon to come home. The living room’s in the middle of the house, and the floor dips down in the center, like my bookshelf did when I started flirting with bigger books. We can’t cross the middle of the room on account of the rotted support stilts; if we’re too reckless, we’ll send the house tumbling. Daddy said he was gonna fix it back when his balance was off, but he and the house just kept on tilting into the realm of unsalvageable.

I’d half fallen asleep over my Little Women by the time Gideon came home. His heavy feet pounded like a drumroll on the front steps before he burst in—always in high spirits after work. He says getting out of the house lifts him. I think it’s the filling station’s cigarette selection, along with his sticky fingers.

“Leahanna, put on the decaf,” he chimed over the air machine’s beeping. “We need to talk.”

I set Louisa May aside and went to the kitchen, every step making the house bellow. A good girl, I got the decaf and a grape pop. On the back porch, I offered the black sludge to Gideon. We sat and sipped; it’s our ritual. If something needs said, we say it there, watching the sun or moon or blank sky shine down on the lake. That night was a crescent moon, and on the lake’s surface, it looked like a shuddery smile, with teeth all about to fall out, kerplunk, into the water.

“Know what I got to say?” Gideon blew smoke to the sky, blocking the moon and stars for a time. When the smoke cleared, he said, all sing-song, “Mr. Door Knocker,” and handed me a business card, all crumpled and creased. It was printed on shiny paper, like the community college pamphlets. 

I read out loud: Mr. L’s name, his company, and finally “real estate developer.” Gideon moved his cigarette through the air with each syllable, back and forth, like a music man. He looked satisfied. I’d quenched his thirst to hear those words. They must have been running around his head for hours, all jumbled, letters tripping over one another. He can hardly keep numbers straight. There’s no way he got through “real estate developer,” even if he had an eight-hour shift to try. 

“You know what that means,” he said.

“On its own, I do.”

“Building things.” His eyes were all aglimmer.

“I know.” I could feel my face flushing under his searching gaze. For Gideon to know more than me, even for a moment, felt all wrong in my body.

“Look out there,” he said, pointing his cigarette down the sloping yard toward the water. No, past the water. “See those lights shimmer?”

I grunted a response, having no patience for the scenic route. “What about ’em?” My tone was light, not letting on how itchy I was for the point.

“They’s fixing to make more.” He turned to me. “Build more. Develop real state.” His rotten breath came my way, filling my lungs and itching my eyes. “They’s building—uh, he called them, like, Mac-mansions.” 

“So he came by because?” I asked what I had already guessed. I needed to hear it.

Real state developing. They’s looking to buy all the houses, for the land on this side of the lake. Gonna make it like the East Side.”

I flinched at some notion I couldn’t quite catch. My palm was slick around Mr. L’s card, and my eyes were set on the blazing windows across the water. I had heard them called bay windows in a book, a book with a little girl, a little dog, and a big fat mansion with bay windows. I had never thought twice about the big houses across the water. The east end of the lake had always been so far away. 

Our house groaned its whale groan, sounding like Daddy might have been walking around inside. It was just the wood settling. I said, “I expect our new neighbors ain’t gonna like us.”

“He said we ain’t never gonna sell this house for nothing. It ain’t worth nothing.”

“And who decides that?” I growled into my pop. It was automatic, like Sampson barking at the tiniest noise. Daddy’s daddy built our house by hand. He wasn’t developing no real estate. He was just trying to make a place for all of us, even the yet-to-be-borns, and he did. No one ever left. That’s not how it worked. When Daddy’s brother married, they put a trailer down by the cove. When Daddy’s brother died, they made his wife scram and take the trailer with her. This place is ours, and we are its keepers.

“It’s damn near collapsing,” Gideon said, smiling at my boiling blood.

“I know.” I said it like a whimper. Looking back, I’m real glad I went about that conversation the way I did. In Gideon’s eyes, I’ll always be the one who needed convincing. I decided to go slow and scenic around his ideas, careful to make sure they didn’t seem like my own. I let him tell me that, right now, while they need the land, Mr. L will be the kind of generous we couldn’t dream of—money like something from a fairy tale. 

“Not sure what we’d even use it for.” He shrugged. “Or where we would go.”

“Right,” I said, raising my fizzy grape to my lips, though I knew there wasn’t nothing left but purple spit.

Before we get to the rest, I’ve got to say I’m smart. I know it’ll make me look worse—like I had more than half a hand in it—but it’s the truth. I’m smarter than I look and twice as smart as anyone wanted me to be. So I can’t very well say I was twisted into it. There’s more in my head than in the rest of this county. You’ll see.

We started talking numbers later that night, sitting at the foot of Daddy’s bed. The air machine was tight on Daddy’s sleeping face, his breathing sounding like crashing waves. Gideon had his sketchbook out and was drawing a picture of Mr. L choking on his tie. I scribbled “Mr. L” at the bottom. For someone without much schooling, Gideon sure can draw. I tell him he has a visual intelligence, and he always grunts in agreement. Laughing at the picture, we couldn’t help but talk nonsense about leaving Mr. L hanging long enough to raise his price. Eyes to the ceiling, we whispered hypotheticals, both waiting for the other to do the nudging. I rubbed Daddy’s dead feet.

“Any day now, he could be gone,” Gideon said. It was true, but we both knew any really meant any. It had been almost a decade since Daddy’s friendliness with needles had turned sour. He refused to believe anything like a virus could end him, but he went brittle anyway. Still, he’s stuck around like a parasite. Daddy went bed-bound faster than we’d been told he would, but everything slowed down after that. When I was fourteen, the doctor said, “Two years.”

It started as a virus Daddy never spoke about sober, then it fermented into something like what some ballplayer had—shredded muscles and blended meals. There was less shame in the ballplayer disease for Daddy, but it’s all the same to me.

It was three Fourth of July’s back when tilting balance turned into regular tumbles. Or at least that’s when I first noticed. Daddy fell lighting a bottle rocket. He sent it soaring into the doublewide one cove over. The hollow-faced family that lived there got panicky-pissed and left the trailer screaming fire, but it didn’t actually do damage. They were just looking for a reason to get excited. 

The pissy neighbors left real recently. They didn’t give a goodbye, but we haven’t seen them in months. Their doublewide got hauled off last Monday, which is hard to do, not cheap, and concrete started pouring Friday. Gideon says, “Good riddance.” I say things are changing, and we gotta do our part.

Anyhow, after Daddy’s feet left him, I had to go to the library in Poplar, then the post office, then a whole heap of other offices. It took work and Gideon’s gas, but someone’s got to read the papers before signing. Three weeks later Daddy had a nurse all to himself. The bedroom became a hospital, and there’s been beeping all night ever since. I wonder whether I’ll miss that sound. 

The nurse was a nurse but a man. His name was—is—Anthony. When Nurse Anthony first came, Gideon kept staring at his arms and neck. I tried to be less obvious, but the clean cotton drew my eyes to the hems, where baby-blue met tan flesh. I see it in my mind and still want to stare. Anthony was the kind of tan that means something. Gideon wanted to ask him about his racial heritage, but I said that sounded prejudiced. Gideon disagreed. When I told him it sounded like flirting, it earned me a smack, which, I think, proved my point.

Anthony was with us Monday through Friday. I never could focus on those days. Knowing Gideon was with Anthony while I was stuck in school was unbearable. My only comfort came when I got home and saw how terrified Gideon always looked, clinging to a corner, stuttering out shards of compliments; he was always relieved to trade off. Gideon would walk along the cove, fuming over every attempted conversation, I’d guess, while I sat at Daddy’s bed, thanking Anthony for all he did for us.

Anthony would tell me about the life of a nurse. So many houses and bodies and stories. Lots of responsibility and real emotional, actually. He’s sensitive, which I admire because I’m a lot like that myself. One Monday, when I was off school, I saw him come in and say hi to Daddy. He turned to me, looking like Sampson does right after we have to kick him.

“What is it?” I asked.

“His complexion. He just looks so much worse.” In only one weekend, Daddy had become unrecognizable, Anthony said. I didn’t see a change, myself. Anthony went silent and teary. I took his hand, wondering how many people, alive and dead, those hands had touched. 

If Anthony could see Daddy now, he’d be wailing, and I’d hold him. Daddy is glowing blue, and my lord, I didn’t know he could still move so much. When Nurse Anthony spoke about suffocation, he made it sound slow and romantic, like drifting from breathless to gone by accident, lost on a stray current.

Nurse Anthony educated me on oxygen by mistake. It was the first time Gideon and I had managed to convince him to stay past clocking out. He was struggling that day: “So much death,” he’d said. So we begged him to come down to the cove and relax. He had swim shorts in his car and a hairless stomach that looked nothing like Gideon’s.

When Gideon ran up to the house to get his smokes, leaving me alone with Anthony, I slipped under the water. In the darkness, I listened to the drawn-out silence of water and imagined Anthony staring at the place where I had just been, waiting for me to return to the surface, smiling and glowing in the evening sun. Time ticked, and my lungs got to burning. When I didn’t resurface, Anthony did what I had known he would do. I heard him crash through the water before his arms laced around me and squeezed. He kicked us to the surface; I bit his bicep on the way up. Once we were lying across the mud, shuddering and spitting, I told him I felt dizzy, rolled into his heat, and asked what would have happened if he hadn’t saved me. His answer wasn’t the one I wanted, but now that Daddy’s glowing blue, Anthony’s words are running around my mind.

 “You know about oxygen?” Anthony asked, sopping wet and dripping all over me.

“Of course.” Sometimes Anthony didn’t look too happy to talk, but he always sparkled when he educated me. So I let him. “Oxygen,” I said before taking a big breath and trading it in for giggles. I leaned and laughed into his shoulder. It smelled like lake and sweat. He pushed me back, as gentle as suffocation.

“Oxygen goes to your brain. It saturates it. Feeds it. Even before you’re born.” As he spoke, I stroked the place on my chest where he pushed me away. “When you cut off oxygen to the brain, it starts affecting it really quickly. Brain cells can start to die after about a minute. But a little isn’t much to worry about,” he added, looking at my startled expression. “Just smoking cigarettes or getting really dehydrated will kill brain cells. It’s only really bad once permanent brain damage starts.” He started talking neurons and how, after fifteen minutes, you’d be lost forever. There was mud on his neck. 

I swear Anthony said something about going unconscious quickly. This doesn’t seem right. The few muscles left working in Daddy’s neck are spasming; his eyes are trying to fly around everywhere, trying to find me, but he just can’t make them. I come closer, wondering whether I should help him along. I slip my hands over his throat; it’s slick and fleshy, nothing like Anthony’s strong neck. Daddy used to be strong. I remember, three years ago, when his neck bulged with ropes of muscles as he hollered for Momma not to leave him. I wonder whether he knows that she comes over like clockwork now. It’s hard to know what he’s thinking.

I hold his neck but don’t press. I’m real gentle and thinking about the last time we touched tender, not for cleaning or feeding. We were on my pink paddleboat. His legs pumped us across the shiny midday lake, the muscles already shrinking in secret. His hand had squeezed mine, and he was humming. He was pretending to be as tizzied to get to the dam as I was. I laughed myself dizzy that day. The boat’s since gone pale with the sun. 

I watch my thumb press on the middle of his neck. Right here is the place where his laughs were made. The place where he said my name. His voice was deep, maybe. Funny how fast voices get forgot. I stroke his shriveled hand. So many muscles used to live under that skin. Mamma’d dubbed them, on more than a few late nights, idle hands. Idle hands gone out of order, for better or worse.

“Daddy,” I whisper, my forehead against his, making him see me. “You’re gonna have to stop fighting.” I still don’t squeeze much; helping him along wasn’t part of the plan. It has to seem accidental in case anyone goes looking into it. “I’m taking care of you, Daddy.”

Anthony once said I’d make “a natural nurse.” He could be so good to me. “You’ve been taking care of him just fine,” he said, trying not to frown while changing Daddy’s catheter.

When I say a shiver went all through me, I mean it. It was just how Momma’d described the Holy Ghost. “You think so?” I asked, and it came out all wrong.

“Oh, sure. There are all kinds of nurses. I went to the community college first.”

“In Poplar?”


I’d seen signs for the community college but didn’t know anyone who’d actually gone. My class has only sixteen kids and even fewer brain cells. None of them is going to college. Poplar is forty-five minutes away. It’s a trip we’ve made a million times, hauling ourselves there for treatments, talks, and nonsense papers to sign. It wouldn’t be easy to get to class, but nothing could deflate me that day.

“With your experience, though, I’m sure it’d be a cinch.”

“And I’ve learned all sorts from you,” I said, sinking back into the foot of the bed; he was done with Daddy’s catheter. “Me, a nurse,” I laughed. “And I never did like doctors.”

Anthony knew I had brains and what he called spunk. It’s an ugly word, but sometimes it’s ugly to have to fight, but you’ve still got to fight. I let him see our room once. He’d smiled at the bunk beds. It was a smile I didn’t like, but he made up for it when I showed him my books. We flipped through brown pages, smelling that special dust.

“All my books got other people’s names in them,” I said, stroking Naomi Finley’s swirly signature on the inside cover of The Once and Future King.

“Nothing wrong with second-hand.” 

I was about to tell him about taking books from classrooms and libraries and stores, taking them and keeping them and loving them and imagining the lives that belonged to names like Naomi Finley, when he started flipping through Gideon’s pad.

“That’s Gideon’s,” was all I could say. Drawings of shoulders flicked by. My shoulders, some, and Daddy’s brittle collar bones. Gideon fixates on one thing at a time, says one day he’ll be able to make a whole person just right.

Anthony stopped flipping and stared at a pen-and-ink arm. I wondered whether he recognized his own lines and the way the light hit his hairs. “You two are something,” he said. “Really something.”

That night, Gideon got back from work just as Anthony was walking to his car. They leaned against trees and talked, faces turned from the house, for nearly an hour. I pretended to be asleep when Gideon came in. He made his own decaf and sat alone on the porch, humming like the world belonged to him.

Anthony was twenty-four when he left us, and I was sixteen, which is close enough in age that it’s a forbidden-love situation, not an actual issue. There was no reason for him to act like he did. Some people are just timid, I guess. It takes time to grow into yourself. Sometimes I said things that scared him. I could tell. His droopy brown eyes could get me all lulled into telling too much of me. One of the last times I ever saw him, he was misty-eyed over Daddy’s bed, surveying his fresh tininess. Those eyes were meant to have tears in them. It looked like magic.

“It’s just life. The way it goes,” I had told him, holding his hand to soften the blow of my wisdom.

“Yeah, nothing’s fair. He deserves so much better.”

“I know,” I said, looking at his cow-eyes. His face was crumpled in a heartbreak that he didn’t even know was for me. So before I knew it, the words were out of my mouth, and I transferred his pities to their rightful owner. “I’ve got it too,” I said. He was all blank and shocked, so I added, “The virus. Me and Gideon both.”

He must have said “Oh my god” a hundred times. He squeezed my hand and told me I needed to be going to the doctor, needed to be on medications. Was I looking after myself? I really could live without a single symptom; medicine’s a miracle. He went on and on. His hands went sweaty in mine, but I didn’t mind. My thumb probed his wrist; his pulse was thunderous, blood rushing through him, all for me. My god, did he love me right then.

But I never should have told him. Days after, I could feel him pulling away, staying silent for hours on end. I knew he must have done the math. Daddy’s med-chart has his diagnosis date, which was only nine years ago. Anthony had done the subtractions and studied the dates, seen that I wasn’t born with the virus and neither was Gideon. I was born with a glow and healthy blood, and Anthony knew what it all meant: Daddy had found a different way to infect us. Anthony kept his eyes to corners when I was in the room. I wanted to remind him of all that I was, that I was really something, but the words never left me.

The next week, I came home from class to see Gideon standing by the icebox, holding his swollen fist in a crate of push-pops. Before I could speak, he got to hollering about what I’d told Anthony. Anthony had come to Gideon, all sensitive-like, the way he is, and Gideon had gotten unruly.

“You don’t talk about your flesh and blood to no one!” He had his purple finger in my face, spit flying. 

I believe “unruly” and “unseemly” was what was said. That meant Nurse Anthony didn’t have to come back ever again. Unruly and unseemly meant a social worker started coming. A new nurse came less often and then barely at all. It’s hard to think about all that now—losing Anthony. Remembering never did any good. Remembering is the lasting of things past their expiration. Those days stink of rot.

I never did forgive Gideon and still don’t plan on it. I took a risk in telling and suffered for it. I could have talked it all smooth, gotten Anthony to see it the right way. Skin is just skin, and if you don’t make peace with that then there’s no life for you. I know Anthony would understand. But once Gideon got to swinging, it was a lost cause.

Senior year got to flashing by, and I heard that ticking clock. I never could get the community college out of my head. No, it changed my neurons, I’m afraid. I got Gideon to drive me into Poplar, on false pretenses, of course, and filled myself out an application.

It wasn’t until last week that I got the letter, and that’s what did it, really. That envelope did the trick. Time to glow again. I came home from school, said bye to Gideon as he left for the filling station, and got to feeding Daddy before I remembered to check the mail. I saw that envelope with Leahanna written on it, and I knew: Gideon and Mr. L and Momma and Daddy and his tubes and his oxygen and those houses and whoever the hell buys those houses, they’d all fall right into place for me, and I’d be something. When I opened the envelope, I saw glimmering pictures of people with bookbags walking through glass doors. They looked shiny and busy, like people worth photographing.

I ran the two miles to the filling station, my legs turning snowy white from the pale dust of the road. I was floating. Gideon was sitting on the front counter sketching when I flew in. His eyes were like nothing I’ve ever seen—terrified and hopeful and terrified about the hope. He thought Daddy was dead, I know it. I held up the glossy folder, my golden ticket. 

“What? What did you do?” 

“That word right there—that word says accepted.” I sounded it out, and he grabbed me, mouth open in a silent scream. When I tell you I cried like no one ever did before, it’s no tall tale. We sat on the counter together, howling and laughing and scheming and getting drunk on ideas about what hadn’t yet happened but what we knew we could make true.

And now Daddy’s glowing blue because everything costs.

“Fuck, Leahanna!” A voice rattles from over my shoulder, trying to get her throat around a scream. “Get him his ventilation!” I turn and see she’s in the doorway, watching. Momma. 

The house betrayed me; it didn’t groan when Momma came in. Now she’s eyeing my hands on Daddy’s neck. The terror on her face is so close to awe. Every wrinkle and line seems to point to her wide-open mouth, a slack pit that used to hold teeth. Sometimes I imagine her as just one big mouth that spews her musings and tricks and terrorizes—a mouth that devours anything she can get her shaking hands around.

Her eyes scan me, hungry for a reason. No, no, she’s scanning the whole damn scene, trying to see whether this will make her life better or worse, and whether she should stop me. She’s good at that kind of thinking, but I’m better. She lunges across the room, and her hands close around the air machine’s mask right as Daddy dies. I can just tell from the way he feels under my fingers that there’s nothing left in him.

She pushes me away and forces the mask on his face. She jabs at buttons and pulls at straps, but she’s never used it before.

“He’s gone, Momma.” No more meds for her, I guess.

Momma mouths my lord but can’t make the sounds. I laugh, thinking, her lord just left. The lord of the house is gone, and everything’s about to get real messy for Momma. She does what I know she’ll do. She runs. Her heavy feet forget the rotting stilts, and the house rocks under her stride. It’s still shaking when she’s hopped in her car and disappeared up the holler. She’ll go wherever it is she’s staying this week, gonna sit around stammering and wondering what to do. I’m not sure which option she’ll settle on, but there’s hope no matter what she does.

Even if Momma decided to get to talking, they’d call it “nonsense.” The police know her, and not in a good way. If she points the finger at me, I’ll bring out the “I saw her do it” and “She’s fixing me up.” I’ll come out of this just fine and carry Gideon with me all the way to wherever the fuck I want to go. If it sounds brutal, you’ve got to remember that things cost. I didn’t set the price.

First I have to run to the filling station, tell Gideon, and call the police on their phone. It’ll be easy to be shaken. To tell you the truth, I can hardly stand as it is. Once the word’s out, the whole county’s gonna weep. I can hear it now: “How tragic, poor girl’s daddy gone, passed on, and the day before her graduation! Some people just ain’t set out for luck.”

So I tell Daddy, “Bye-bye, Glowworm,” and promise him I’ll make him proud. I’ll do things not one of our kin ever thought possible. His lips are cold to kiss, so I do it twice, knowing I’ll likely never get to experience such a sensation again. Then I jump up and down, trying to get my legs back and pump that adrenaline right up. The house moves every time I land. It’s glorious. I jump harder. The crack of splitting beams comes up from below, and the whole world seems to shudder.

I’m ready. I scream for Daddy and run from his room, pounding my feet into the floor. When I’m in the heart of the living room, the floor gives way under my stride, and my leg shoots through splintering wood. My ankle is all twisted, and the jagged edges bite at my leg. A howl spills from me, and I know the other side of the lake can hear my cry. As the house settles, I bellow and writhe on the broken floor. It’s slanted now, like a sinking ship. I take a deep breath, suck up all the air Daddy left behind, and sing my fury into the night. 

Soon I’ll rise and run my crooked run all the way to the filling station—my sliced-up leg staining the pale road. I’ll fall at Gideon’s feet, and maybe he’ll feel the weight of the day too. I hope he breaks, sobs, and holds me like I deserve. Momma might do something, or she might not. And the night will pass, bringing tomorrow right into my lap like a gift I’ve been waiting for all my life. I’ll put on my gown. When they call my name to cross the stage, I’ll have to limp because things cost, but I’ll still cross it. When they call my name, it’s gonna be followed by “plans to study nursing at Poplar View Community College” and then applause. No, it ain’t gonna come from nobody I know, but it’ll be applause.

Cole Chamberlain is a writer and social worker living in St. Louis with his cat, Burden. His work has been published in the Ponder Review, Months to Years, Atticus Review, and Pangyrus. When he isn’t working, he can be found at the local ice rink, teaching himself to stop without the wall.