Randall Brown & Pamela Painter ~ Two Pieces

Battle

Her orange dress and the but­ter­fly hat and the edge of woods. She is say­ing she built a fort and I am yelling out my win­dow that I’m not allowed out today.

Bella,” my moth­er yells from where she is patch­ing Dad’s work shirts in the kitchen,  “Get away from that win­dow and back to clean­ing up your room—all those pinecones and snake skins are prob­a­bly crawl­ing with worms.”

We are only allowed to go into the woods as far as the creek, but I see Lizzie’s hat on the oth­er side and know that the fort is out of bounds.

It isn’t long before Mom is back to shout­ing answers at reruns of Family Feud and I’m out the door, stomp­ing across the creek in my muck boots.

Who are we fight­ing?” I ask Lizzie.

I always let her decide—real or not real—though there are dire con­se­quences with both. I hold my breath as she nar­rows her eyes beneath that but­ter­fly hat and says, “We have a new ene­my.”  Zombie-par­ents, she con­tin­ues, made so from a mutant yeast in their drinks. They blend into the trunks of trees, wait­ing to bite.

I know where this comes from because I hear Mom telling Dad that Lizzie’s par­ents spend a lit­tle too much time with the bot­tle.  It’s her Dad’s belt that bites, but I don’t let Lizzie know I know this, just like I don’t tell her why my brother’s in jail.

We pre­pare for bat­tle. I sharp­en the ends of sticks with my brother’s old Scout knife, and Lizzie builds a pile of mis­shaped rocks, choos­ing only those with enough edges to do real dam­age.

Sometimes I get to think­ing that maybe we’re too old for these games, for but­ter­fly hats, and sharp­ened sticks, for con­jur­ing up Zombie par­ents hid­ing in the trunks of trees.  Then I remem­ber my brother’s games in these same woods and I know I’ll fol­low Bella’s but­ter­fly hat any­where it flut­ters, any­where it goes.

~

Reunion  

Jake’s father lives in a cab­in off of Route 6 in Potter’s County, God’s Country, a few miles from Steven’s Creek where Jake grew up and from where he fled when he could, fif­teen years ago, at fif­teen, for a schol­ar­ship offer at The Haverford School. Doddering ever­greens line the end­less grav­el dri­ve­way that winds around noth­ing for no appar­ent rea­son.

Eventually that noth­ing turns into a nar­row lane at whose end stands his father’s old black lab, tail wob­bling, eyes rheumy with cataracts. Jake is back because Old Trimper, his father’s clos­est neigh­bor at two miles, left a mes­sage on Jake’s answer­ing machine that said, “If that’s you, Jake, you best get on home to see to your old man, and I ain’t sayin’ more. ”

The dog fol­lows Jake inside, the front door hang­ing open. Inside, spot­less, just the essentials—a TV, reclin­ing chair, lamp, side table, kitchen table, some chairs. The back door is hang­ing open too, so Jake and the dog–Jake seems to remem­ber its name is Thunder–head past the TV and reclin­er to step out onto a slab of gran­ite.

Worried, final­ly, Jake calls, “Pops, Pops, I know you’re out there but where?”

A blur of move­ment among the cones and nee­dles of the pine trees. Thunder barks and, with sur­pris­ing strength, pulls Jake into the woods.

His old man is lean­ing on a shov­el beside two long–hell, two long graves– the first the length of Jake’s old man, the oth­er short­er and shal­low­er, the length of the dog.

Old man Trimper thought you might need lookin’ in on,” Jake says, tug­ging on the shov­el that wouldn’t budge an inch. “You been plot­ting this for awhile?”

Long enough.”

Well, my wife and son are back in the old Motel Six, two miles from here, wait­ing for me to fetch them so you can nar­rate my child­hood. Dex wants to meet Thunder and Minnie doesn’t believe we had two out­hous­es.”

His father lets go of the shov­el unex­pect­ed­ly, send­ing Jack top­pling back­wards into Thunder’s grave. “Looks like Timmy might need Lassie’s help,” his father says.

The dog fol­lows Jake inside, the front door hang­ing open. Inside, spot­less, just the essentials—a TV, reclin­ing chair, lamp, side table, kitchen table, some chairs. The back door is hang­ing open too, so Jake and the dog–Jake seems to remem­ber its name is Thunder–head past the TV and reclin­er to step out onto a slab of gran­ite.

*

Later that evening, Minnie scours the fridge for some­thing to add to scram­bled eggs while Jake’s old man teach­es his grand­son how to throw the ball so near­ly-blind Thunder can hear where it lands. Jake sneaks out first to inspect the remain­ing out­house where he replaces the Sears cat­a­logue with city-style toi­let paper from home, and sec­ond­ly to work up an appetite by shov­el­ling all that dirt back where it belongs.

Your ‘hum­ble begin­nings’ takes on new mean­ing when you see it up close,” Minnie says to Jake, as she gath­ers the fam­i­ly for din­ner.

Do you think Dex will want a dog now?” he asks her.

Dex here needs a dog,” his old man says, as he pulls his chair up to the table.

Dex nudges his chair up close to his grand­fa­ther and announces, “I’m going to call him Thunder Two.”

Jake knows what will happen—that Dex will asso­ciate Thunder Two with his grand­fa­ther, as if Jake’s old man were the one snug­gling against him, beg­ging to play ball, rolling over. What choice does Jake have but to let his son have real thun­der.

~

Pamela Painter is the author of four sto­ry col­lec­tions, the newest is Ways to Spend the Night from Engine Books.  She is also co-author of What If?  Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Her sto­ries have appeared in Harper’s, Five Points, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, and Ploughshares among oth­ers and in numer­ous antholo­gies. She has received grants from The Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts, has won three Pushcart Prizes and Agni Review’s The John Cheever Award for Fiction.  Her sto­ries have been pro­duced in LA, NYC, The Hamptons and London by WordTheatre.

Randall Brown is the author of the award-win­ning flash fic­tion col­lec­tion Mad to Live. His work appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash FictionThe Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, Grey House’s Critical Insights: American Short StoryBest Small Fictions 2015, and The Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction. He blogs reg­u­lar­ly at FlashFiction.Net and has been pub­lished and anthol­o­gized wide­ly, both online and in print. He is also the founder and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and teach­es in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.