Reads: 218

“Draw four sucker. Blue.”

I sigh and take the cards grudgingly. Two greens, a draw four, and a reverse. Cj’s in for a world of hurt when I lay down that draw four. What goes around comes around.

After the lights went out, she was able to instruct me where there were a couple candles, calling out directions as I stumbled around in the dark. I pulled one off of a bookshelf, which she wasn’t too pleased about, but lit anyways. The rest of the meal dragged by in relative silence. Now, we’re sitting in the candlelight playing Uno.

“You’re gonna regret that,” I reply, taking the time to put down a blue eight.

“How? I’ve only got three cards left. For all you know, they could be the three remaining draw fours.”

“That’s pretty difficult to believe, considering I have one. Red.”

Smugly laying down the card, I watch as the smile melts off her face and is quickly replaced by a scowl.

“Asshole.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“I never said I was. You assumed. That makes an ass out of you and me.”

We banter back and forth for a bit while the game wraps up. My draw four happened to be the end of her. It turns out Cj is an incredibly sore loser.

“That’s not fair. I should have won. The only reason I lost is because you hit me with that stupid card,” she grumbles, dumping all the cards in a pile and reshuffling them.

I snort, watching her slim fingers quickly complete a bridge shuffle and begin to redistribute the cards. She wears matching rings on both of her middle fingers, thick bands with a black chain in the middle. They spin lightly with each movement of her hand.

“I’m going to step outside for a smoke, if you don’t mind. Do you care to join me?”

“Sure.”

The storm is quietly receding when we make our way onto the screened in porch. Thunder rumbles softly in the distance and lightning continues to dance across the sky, slowly fading towards the west. All else is eerily quiet.

Smoke fills the air as Cj exhales, drifting away in the chilly breeze. I cross my arms and lean against the porch railing.

“So tell me about yourself.”

“What would you like to know?” Here come the twenty questions.

“What’s your favorite movie?

“Saving Private Ryan.”

“Do you like war movies?”

“No. I just have a huge crush on Matt Damon.”

“At least you’re comfortable with your sexuality. Most people can’t admit that.”

Rolling my eyes, I reposition myself against the railing. She gazes at me, revealing a sly grin.

“I completed a tour of duty in Iraq over the course of three years. I was honorably discharged following an injury. I’m okay now. But to give you an explanation, I enjoy war movies because I’ve lived that life.”

She looks somber for a minute before she perks back up. “Are you sure it’s not because of Matt Damon?”

“Positive.”

She flicks her cigarette out into the driveway, where it lands in a puddle. I follow her back inside. She heads for the living room, hoisting herself up and onto the couch on one end. I grab a candle off the dining room table and set it down on the coffee table, taking the other end of the couch.

“Why did you move up here?” she questions, covering her legs with a blanket.

“I’ve traveled quite a bit, and I really enjoyed the northwoods of Wisconsin. So, I bought a plot of land and started building my cabin. You know it as the old Wellman place.”

“Wallace.”

“The old Wallace place. Whatever. I just needed to get away from Virginia. Wisconsin seemed as good a place to start over as any other.”

Stewie leaps up on the couch between us, pausing to lick a paw. He jumps up onto the back of the couch and settles down, curling up in a ball and going to sleep.

“Escaping an ex-girlfriend or crazy family?”

“You could say that.”

Out of all the things I’m beginning to enjoy about Cj, the fact that she doesn’t pry for information is probably one of my favorites. If I wanted everyone to know about my business, I’d tell them. She either completely understands where I’m coming from, or doesn’t care. Either way is fine by me.

“I’ll assume it’s the ex-girlfriend. Women are crazy.”

women are crazy. You’re not that bad. There’s supposed to be a chart between the level of attractiveness and craziness of a woman. I think a comedian brought it up once.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a backhanded compliment, but I’m just gonna roll with it.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

She chuckles, a sound made deep in her throat. She gets up and pivots herself into the wheelchair, heading towards the kitchen. Cj must have an incredible memory, because the rest of the cabin is pitch black besides the living room.

“Hey. Do you want a beer?” she calls out, opening the fridge.

“Sure.”

“Henieken, Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, or PBR?”

“I’ll take a Summer Shandy please.”

She rummages around for a minute before returning with my beer and a PBR. She pops the top off and hands it to me.

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Taking a drink from the ice cold bottle, I appreciate the fact that living in Wisconsin has a lot of perks, one of my favorites including Leinie’s. It’s pretty much all I’ve drank for alcohol since I’ve been here. I don’t care for hard liquor for personal reasons, but beer is okay in small quantities.

“So, what’s your story? What brings you to Wisconsin, or are you a native?” I question, turning towards her.

She takes a sip of the PBR and sets it down on the end table before responding. “I’ve lived in Woodpine my entire life. I moved out to the cabin when I was nineteen. Ma’s been a single mother since I was eight, and I didn’t want her hovering around me once I got the hang of life without a limb. Love the woman to death, but she’s a helicopter parent.”

“How so?”

She shifts uncomfortably and remains silent for a moment. “I was bitter for a long time after what happened. I don’t want to go into detail, but I was in a really bad place. Ma took the brunt of all that anger and smothered me with attention. She was always there, not letting me do stuff for myself. I’m not proud of it, but one day I told her to fuck off and that I could figure it out on my own.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. Our relationship is strained at best. She helped me move out here shortly after that fight, but now she refuses to come out here. It’s one of the things I regret.”

“Why?”

“Because I was nineteen and too proud to accept the help she offered. I just felt...overwhelmed. Imagine losing a leg, and then suddenly, someone’s at your every beck and call. Helping you to the bathroom. Helping you shower. Helping you get dressed. Mind you, this is all shit you used to be able to do yourself. It’s humiliating. And even after you’ve relearned how to do all those things, minus a limb, someone is still alwaysthere.”

“Guess I’ve never thought of that.”

“Yeah. Because I was so angry and bitter, everything just kinda bubbled up over the top and exploded. I’ll never forget the look on her face either. She froze, and her face crumpled up before she started sobbing. She didn’t talk to me for a week. I moved out here about a month afterwards with help from her and Joe, but she’s never been out here since. Too painful for her, I guess,” she finishes quietly, draining the rest of her PBR and crushing the can.

The rain drums softly on the roof, the only sound in the otherwise silent cabin. I glance at the rise and fall of Cj’s chest, trying to formulate a response.

“You were nineteen. Raging hormones probably didn’t help the situation. I’m not saying what you did was right, but I can empathize with both you and your mother. How old are you now?”

“Twenty four.”

“You’re young. Hell, it’s easier to fix everything when both parties sit down and talk about what’s bugging them before it has time to fester.”

“Thank you for the great pearls of wisdom. I’ll be sure to try them out right away.”

“Always glad to be of assistance.”

She rolls her eyes and hops into her wheelchair, grabbing her phone and cigarettes off the end table and depositing them in her lap. Holy hell, she smokes a lot.

“Are you ready to head home? It’s already 10:30. I don’t care if you spend the night, but I realize that some people have to work,” she asks, wheeling to grab my clothes out of the dryer.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I have a couple things to finish at home in the morning anyways.”

Standing up, I stretch, feeling my back crack. I groan as a particularly loud pop echoes through the room. At least it felt good.

“Jesus Father Time. I know you mentioned serving in Iraq, but how old are you anyways?” She hands me my clothes, which are folded neatly.

“Thank you. I just turned thirty.”

“You gonna be able to make it out the door on your own? I can call Life Alert if you can’t.”

“I’m sure I can manage. It’s my back cracking, not a hip breaking.”

Cj chuckles, sticking a cigarette in her mouth and rolling out the door. “With people your age, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.”

“Just think. In six years, you’re gonna be a hot mess like yours truly.”

We climb in the truck and all is silent for a moment while she lights her cigarette.“I’m already a disaster. Can’t fucking wait to be ancient on top of it.”

***

When we pull into the parking lot of Super One a little while later, all the lights in the building are out. The Silverado is the only vehicle sitting in the parking lot under the glare of a street light. I bought it from a high school kid a couple years ago. It’s a black 1994 extended cab with a 6” suspension lift on 35’s.

Cj turns her head towards me, a smile playing around the corners of her mouth. “Are you compensating for something?”

“Yeah. I’m trying to burn the fact that I owned a Prius for a year out of my brain. It’s not about the miles per gallon, it’s about the smiles per gallon.”

“Fair enough. Hey. Text me when you get home so I know you made it there safely, please.”

“I will.”

“Good. Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”

Hopping out of her truck, I walk to the back and grab all my cans and jerky, waving to her as I pass in front of the truck. She honks, peeling out of the parking lot and sending loose gravel flying. I sigh, unlocking the door and throwing all of my crap in the passenger seat, heading for home.

When I finally get there, it’s already almost midnight. Tramping up the porch steps, I unlock the front door and enter inside. Because there’s no air conditioning yet, the cabin is hotter than the seventh gate of hell. I should have taken Cj up on the offer to spend the night. At least her cabin wasn’t stuffy.

I set the cans and jerky down on the ground by one of the bins of clothes. Pulling out a can of ravioli, I work the top of the can off and throw it in a garbage bag over by the door. Grabbing a plastic fork, I head back out to the truck to bring in the clothes from her dryer. Once retrieved, I traipse back inside.

Throwing my clothes on top of the mini fridge, I pull out my phone to text Cj that I made it home alright. Instead, I notice a missed call and voicemail from Dad. It’s then that I notice the date. June thirteenth.

After shooting her a text, I shuffle out to the porch and plop down in the rocking chair. The rare times that Dad has called in the past few years, it’s never been good. It always ends up with me feeling worthless and Dad screaming. My thumb hovers above the play button. I finally steel myself to press play, already knowing what’s coming.

Hey Tucker. When are you coming home? I know your Ma would like to see you. You haven’t stopped by for a while now. I think it’s been a couple years now. I hope everything’s okay with you. If you’re ever in the Virginia area again, stop by to see your Pa, would ya?”

Dad’s voice is slurred, and I can hear the whiskey bottle clink down on a table in the background.

“‘Course, I wouldn’t blame you for not comin’ round. If I was as cowardly as you, I wouldn't show my face ‘round these parts either. You’re a sorry excuse for a son, and it’s probably better that you live up there with whatever whore you’re with now.”

Something crashes to the floor, and glass breaks on the other end of the line. Dad swears, and I can hear a ripping sound reverberate through the voicemail. I’m clenching the arm of the rocking chair so hard I feel it crack underneath my knuckles. Pushing myself out of the chair, I pace the porch instead.

Maybe you can try being a better son by making it up to your mother and burying a bullet in your head, but that might be too good for you. It’s probably just better off to let you live with what you’ve done. God’s gonna cut you down eventually. He punishes all the sinners like you by casting them into the lake of fire. You’re gonna burn in Hell for eternity, Tucker. I hope you’re happy with yourself.”

 

It’s all I can do not to hop in my truck and drive to Virginia to strangle the old man myself. Instead, I stalk inside and hurl my phone against the wall. The glass shatters and sprinkles to the ground in a thousand tiny pieces. Shards crunch under my boots as I angrily collect my fishing gear and worms from the fridge. Slamming the door to the cabin on my way out, I stomp down to the river and set up camp underneath the oak tree.

Sitting down by the water has become a favorite pastime of mine. The best thing about being out here is that I don’t have to think. I don’t have to listen to whatever’s bouncing around in my head that day. I don’t have to pretend everything is okay.

Except tonight, I’m wide awake, and it feel like my brain is a livewire of jumbled thoughts and actions of what had happened that night. Even though I want to, I can’t forget. Everything about that night is seared into my memory, like it happened three minutes ago versus three years ago.

Before I know it, a flashback hits me like a train.

“‘Ma, I’m home!’ I call, walking through the front door of our house in the mountains of Virginia.

I had run down to the store for Ma to grab chocolate chips. She wanted to make chocolate chip banana bread for a church bake sale that was happening tomorrow.

I set my keys and the chocolate chips down on the wooden kitchen countertop, plucking an apple out of the fruit bowl next to the toaster. Taking a bite, I shrug out of my muddy boots and set them on the boot tray next to the door. Coming back to the countertop, I find it strange that there’s no batter been made yet. Puzzled, I head towards the living room.

‘Ma, you okay?’

She’s not in the living room, and she’s not answering me. I drop the apple on the coffee table and jog through the house, peeking in all the rooms. I’ve checked all the rooms but the attic upstairs. We don’t keep anything up there except a couple totes of my childhood things and some old musty furniture.

My heartbeat quickens as I pound up the steps, ripping open the trap door of the attic. The room is dark, and I don’t see her, Somewhat relieved, I turn to close the door, instead noticing a high heel on the ground in the streams of light that pour the cracks of the window.

No.

I close my eyes, bracing as the tears threaten to spill over. Forcing myself to look up, I count to three before opening them.

Ma hangs from the rafter, one of her best Sunday dresses on, her blonde hair a halo around her head. The other high heel is on her left foot. My heart plummets down to my stomach and I scream.

The date is Saturday, June 13th, 2015. 


Submitted: July 01, 2018

© Copyright 2023 A. R. Currson. All rights reserved.

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