by Brad Green
The cops took Cora's daddy away the day he kept putting out cigarettes with his fingers. With a forefinger and thumb calloused as cowboy leather, he squished the orange embers and she marveled at the sizzle.--Don't start that again now, Jerry. Cora's mother held open the screen door, her arm sharp with bones.
--Doesn't hurt, he said and lit another. --Here, hon. He waved Cora over and she hesitated before climbing onto his knee. --God comes to me out of the air and enters my body when I don't take no breath. The world always wants to kick me in the head and God in my body is the only way to survive. The Holy Spirit is like a radio wave and I can tune my body to receive the signal as long as I can be still enough to listen.
--Jerry, I'm going to call the loony house again if you don't take your meds. Cora's mother stood in the doorway wearing her orange Whataburger dress, elbows red and jutting. Her body lean and solitary as an exclamation point.
--Right. Jerry rolled his eyes and Cora smiled. He drew an amazing amount of smoke into his lungs (--Better than fucking LSD, God is) and let it out in a glorious blue plume.
Cora sat on her daddy's knee till the cops arrived, watching the glowing tip of the cigarette shake as her mother continued to berate him until he reached forward and mashed the hot tip between his fingers in front of her. --Only way out of this, pumpkin. He flicked the cigarette away and lit another. --Hate to stick you with that woman, but a man can only take so much. You remember that. Everything is against a man, I tell you. It wears a feller down. He blew smoke at the back of her head and it swirled out in front of her.
Cora's temple squeaked on the truck's side glass as rocks pinged off the undercarriage. The fence around the hospital was barbed wire on knotted wood, cock-eyed in the ground, sagging the same way her mother's voice had protesting the visit. She had no use for that old thing was what she said, her cheeks hollowing around a Marlboro. She'd have to take off work. That'd be hours lost. It'd mean beans and cornbread for dinner all next week. No hot dogs. Certainly no Banana Twins. It didn't matter. Cora made enough noise for a long enough time that her mother finally gave in.
--I ain't seeing that old fart though. She shook the hot point of the cigarette at Cora's face. --You can damn well bet cash on that. I ain't got no use for such a man. Things are hard on a woman. You'll find out. Ain't no Holy Spirit comes to lay a salve on my hurts.
When the truck stopped, Cora startled. The motor chugged trying to shut off. It always did, as if it were afraid to give up the work of its combustion.
--Get on now. Cora's mother cracked her knuckles. --I ain't sitting here all day. Best skedaddle.
Cora stepped out of the truck onto the grounds. It wasn't a house, really, like everyone said. Squatting red brick buildings. Windows covered with a black iron mesh. A woman wearing faded sweatpants stood on the other side of the gate, laughing like a sun-struck tin can. Cora took cautious steps forward.
A man with small thumbs and hairy forearms took her name. She wore a yellow rectangle badge with VISITOR in all capitals. Slithery pale squares of fluorescent light swept under her feet as she followed him down a long hollow hall. Thirty three steps later the man shouldered open a rusty door onto a small yard and motioned with his chin towards a plastic table.
Part of the table's left leg was melted as if someone had held the furious tongue of a Zippo there. The chair complained under her weight. He looked up at her and his beard parted over crooked teeth. --Hey, pumpkin.
There wasn't much to say. Cora just kept staring. He'd thinned, the flesh under his chin dangling like a chicken's. His hands and fingers moved hardly at all. When he did move, it was as if he were underwater and she wondered if that was what it was like being with God, being with anyone. She handed him a cigarette stolen from her mother's pack and the lighter rasped under her thumb. Flame trembled into the tip as he breathed in the heat.
--Why are you here, Daddy?
--For three squares and no laboring, he said, smoke leaking from his nose. --The woman over yonder blows me whenever I want. I read or watch TV or sleep. I don't have to do a damn thing is all, just talk now and then. A slow smile spread out from around the Marlboro. --This is a perfect place. I ain't listening to your mom yelp neither. Such quiet is freedom.
Cora told him how much she missed him. She worried it made her sound little.
Jerry took a long draw on the cigarette and his breath hissed through the flaring ember. Cora stared at the tip and it didn't shake. Her father held the smoke in his chest as he talked so that it brilloed his voice on the way out. --I really don't care none, now do I, pumpkin?
Cora's mom saw it on her face as soon as she opened the truck door. It was a moment before she started the truck. Her hand was on the key and then it came off to hang there in the air.
For a moment Cora thought her hand might come on over, rest on her knee, touch her hair, squeeze her shoulder. She didn't breathe, waiting for that, waiting for something to come through the air to her. She tried to be still and silent in order to receive the signal but her mother's fingers hardened and twisted the key in the ignition. The old motor coughed and rattled the cab. She leaned her head on the glass and watched the fence rush up toward her and slide past.
Brad Green's work has appeared in Storyglossia, decomP, elimae, The Blue Earth Review and several other journals. He's working on a novel and lives online at http://elevatetheordinary.blogspot.com.