by Deborah Poe
There's just enough time between your shifts at the WalMart and Dairy Queen to drop by the house to check on the old hound. Your boyfriend and his dad went hog hunting this weekend, and the pup just gets under the feet these days.At the car, your co-worker, a friend, sort of, comes up behind you like a ghost. You leap when she says your name. She chuckles, pushes the carts by—pitches her cigarette to the asphalt.
More spring than summer, the storm's a couple miles out. You race through the lot, roll down your window and stick your arm in the breeze that cools everything down, waving as you leave. Going 90 on the highway just out of town, you remember the promise you made to your grandmother and slow down.
The sky is slate grey, and the crisp air creeps in, gets trapped. Rolling the window partway up as you shiver, you pass the sheriff going 65. He raises an index finger from the wheel.
In your boyfriend's yard, there're no flowers, just erratic patches of grass. You hadn't expected another car in the driveway. Shoving open your door, you notice Jeff's baseball bat, leaning like a familiar decoration beside the front door. You aim for the front of the house, stop, take your hand from the door and head around the side. Yeah, someone's there, and it's probably Chad.
A few locals were convinced Chad killed Mrs. Rayborne's dog, but Chad had always denied it. One day Jeff asked Chad, and you watched as Chad squirmed in his baggy jeans, slithering like one of those rattlers by the lake—his right hand twitching by his side. People who hurt animals made you sick. But after you saw through him, it's hard for you to look at him. Worse, it feels like he knows why.
The front door slams. You look at the pine trees lining the lake, let your eyes rest on twisted sun through the tops. A heron flies up and across the middle of the lake about a half mile out. Your mom should get a place out here instead of that crappy house at the edge of town.
Chad comes around the side of the house. Well hello smiley, he adjusts himself and leers. As if that isn't weird enough, he sniggers. It's just after noon, and you're sure he slurs. According to Jeff, Chad works night shifts at the factory in Mineola and sometimes gets his drink on during the day. I'm here to check on that old dawg, you force with laughter. Don't you think I know that, Brittany. You grin uncomfortably.
You drunk, dude?
No, dude, I'm not fucking drunk. Have you taken her. . . . ?
She's fine, he interrupts, like he can read your mind. You cross your legs below you, unsure of where to put your hands. He's amped, and you feel slow. How the hell've you been. It seems like every time you're around, Jeff carries you off. You shift your weight, and he relaxes. Your shoulders give slightly with relief. There's some Cinnamon Schnapps in the freezer—I knew you'd be over to check Chuy. Kinda early don't ya think, you ask rolling your eyes, pushing a shoulder against the front door. Inside the house reeks of smoke, even though Jeff's dad never lights up in the house. The scraggly drapes, almost completely shut, dull the room.
Jeff didn't tell me you would be here.
He told me where to find the key if I needed it. My dad. I had to get out of his fucking house. You nod but wonder. Jeff tenses up when you and Chad are in the same room. At a party in April when Chad came into the back bedroom, Jeff stood up and said it was time to leave. Jeff was extra protective though because he knew why your mother's boyfriend was her ex.
Chad circles the couch then sits in the brick-red lazy-boy lighting a smoke. His sickly skin makes you remember your dream the night before—you had driven your Mustang into the ocean. Your best friend Rose shook her head and motioned don't go there, don't go. But you kept driving, right into rising water where you and your car landed stuck.
Slate-colored carpet, anemic corduroy couch, kitchen cabinets on the other side of the counter a drab, old ash—there's too much grey here. Chad puts his cigarette out in the sink, and it hisses.
You shouldn't smoke in here should you?
Step off Brittany. Just check on Chuy—go on, she's back in Jeff's room.
The old hound mix has her eyes half-open on the old afghan. You lean down to pet her snout and notice she's breathing real heavy. She won't last long.
The Wal-Mart-Made-in-China on you reeks. Starbucks, Rubbermaid totes and fresh-mopped floor. You hear Chad open the freezer. What sounds like frozen meat falls to the floor. Then he pours.
So, that Schnapps? You jump when he comes up behind you.
It's pretty early in the day; I have a shift. . .
Why does Jeff let you work so god damn much?
You pull your hair back, bite your lip. Jeff doesn't tell me what to do. Besides, I'm saving to go to Tyler JC. Have a drink, Brittany. Relax. Christ. You think you should go but reach for the drink, standing up. You look pretty Brittany. Look at me. You push yourself past him, accidentally spilling schnapps down his shirt. Anger flashes across his face; then the grin comes back. Way to go, Happy Bunny. His face looks fat. Happy Bunny is Jeff's nickname for you.
Down the hall, the bat's inside. The room is too silent. Like your bedroom before a hard rain—no lightning or sound. Ice sways and bangs against the glass, as he places his right palm across your chest. God, you're pretty Happy Bunny. His right palm reaches for your jaw line; his skin feels like one of those mats they sell at Wal-Mart. Sturdy design but above all just black rubber. Chuy does one of her high-pitched yawns and then growls standing. Brittany, he spits, seizing the base of your neck. The sound of his voice dangles from some edge.
The air in the room is metallic, what you imagine an aluminum recycling plant smells like. A slate and yellow sky just before a storm. You try to imagine a busy bar where there are people everywhere who will save you. You see so clearly a bartender shaking hands in a busy bar with the fat rich oil man banging his hand on the bar. He says easy easy easy when he notices what is happening. Your mother frowns. The song "Sex and Candy," that one hit wonder or one segment of it, plays its chords over and over. The bartender says 15 dollars or 50 dollars or 5 over and over.
The horse-beaten grass, the laughter filled the wind in your face. You look at your friend, Rose. She screams back at you to slow down. But you mostly like the feeling of soaring across the field like a baseball into the bleachers or a kite cut loose of its strings. And you hate to slow down, to hush. Your stomach crunches up like the grass under hooves. You pull back to a trot and then more clearly notice the heat.
Someone drives up loudly behind you. It rubs you the wrong way how close the car comes to the fence; it spooks the horse.
Night plunges in and out of you. Birds fly in numbers. Dirty old town. Dirty old drink decision. Southern Comfort. Momma's fat boyfriend after screwing the nail in, his hands, you laugh when he says I think I'm about to have a heart attack.
There are aluminum cans, and there are football fans.
You think of your brothers and sisters. Your Brandon. Your Brett. Your Hope. Dear Hope, you begin, hope like the horses galloping through the night. Shit squish under the hooves. Cinnamon roll scrunched out of a tire. The flight below the branches as the hooves launch out of the muck. Dear Hope like a cinnamon roll scrunched under a tire. You need to go to the bathroom, bad.
You look at his face, then let it go. This won't be out- galloped or stopped. The baseball bat will do its work, and that work will be senseless and hard. You think of her neck. The curves at the small of his back. You taste the iron. Hazel with the dog in her lap. You thought you would be much older. You are carrying the bat.
In your mind you stripped it away. You walk it down to the lake, mostly just to make him stop. In your hands it is slippery and almost falls twice. But you make it to the lake. It's light. Not heavy like the boulder that fell down the center of you when Jeff told you you'd never be a vet. Not heavy like the air drenched in August or the east Texas south. Heavy is an aluminum baseball bat, light with death's arc. You will carry it to the lake. Crows caw behind you, angling too a mile out. A crane arches, bends and soars forward. You'll be like that bird. Your skin becomes charged. Electricity brims as you surface—your energy conducts the air.
DEBORAH POE is the author of the poetry collections Elements (Stockport Flats Press 2010) and Our Parenthetical Ontology (CustomWords 2008). Her fiction and poetry appear or are forthcoming in journals such as Ploughshares, No Tell Motel, Sidebrow, Fact-Simile Magazine, No Contest and Colorado Review. "Brittany" is from her short fiction manuscript, "Event Landmarks." Deborah is fiction editor of Drunken Boat and guest curator of Trickhouse (2010/2011). For more information, visit www.deborahpoe.com.