“Awkward” by Cheryl Ursin

He wished he had never started.

Always, in that split second, whenever he hit “send.”

It had begun innocently—or so he told himself. The boy always left his cell phone around. Or more to the point, it always fell out of his pocket: between the cushions of the couch, from when he slouched in front of the TV, between seat and door in the car, on the dining-room rug beneath his chair. He knew the boy didn’t get many texts, or have many friends, but he told himself, as the boy’s father, he should check that phone. So, when he saw it lost among a pile of the boy’s clothes, he picked it up and ran his thumb across the screen.

There were only a handful of texts, dating back to when they first got the boy his phone, and they were all to and from the boy’s mother, his ex-wife.

The boy’s texts were all need-based: “Where r u?” (“Main entrance.”), “Forgot my lunch!” (I’ll bring it. 1 hour.”)

The first time he had done it, there was a text from the mother from the night before, and it had gone unanswered. “Don’t stay up 2 late,” she had written.

If he was ever questioned about it, he would say that he had done it, started this whole business, trying to be nice. But, in fact, he answered that text because it annoyed him. She was busy being the parent, even though he had the boy for the weekend. As if he couldn’t be trusted. And here was the rub—he couldn’t. He had no idea when the boy went to bed last night. When he himself had gone, the boy had still been where he always was, in the gray glow of the computer screen playing a game.

“Good morning¸ Mom,” he tapped out and hit send.

She had answered immediately¸ which scared him a bit. But of course she would. If the boy had made any kind of overture to anybody, that would have been big. Even he knew that.

“Hi sweetie,” she wrote, and so it began.

And it worked, in that he did not get caught. He didn’t do it a lot. He wasn’t stupid. But when the boy came on his weekends, he texted the mother, pretending to be the boy. Since the boy was never away from her overnight otherwise and because he was not allowed, even if it had ever occurred to him, to send texts from school, it didn’t seem strange to her that the boy only texted  her when he was with him. And the boy never checked his own texts. If he was his usual, unresponsive self with her, when they were face-to-face, back in reality, well, she would accept that. It’s not like anybody understood the boy.

He didn’t know why he kept doing it, and that made him feel a little queasy. But he would send a text and then wait, phone in hand, for the reply. Of course, he made himself look good in the texts when he could, having the boy say what a good time he was having or mention, casually, what cool thing his dad was doing with him. It even affected that—what he did with the boy. He began to make plans, have his secretary look for things and buy tickets: to a monster truck show, a Blue Man Group show, they even went to a dog show.

Maybe it was because things weren’t going so great for him. He had gone on a handful of dates since he left, mostly girls, he could only think of them as girls, who were much younger than he. And truth be told, they scared him a little¸ made him feel awkward. Like the one who took him to a rock concert with her friends. He didn’t like standing with his feet gummed to the floor by a film of beer. He didn’t like standing the whole time, period. He didn’t like having to shout into her ear and then not be heard anyway, and he didn’t like the way the inner workings of his ears buzzed deep in his head for hours afterwards.

The older women weren’t better. He hadn’t ever, as a young man, had all this “success,” all these dates, but something about them now wasn’t right. The two or three women his age, all gussied up, mouths brightly smiling but eyes looking hunted, both he and she trying to say smart things, present themselves well, like they were in a tough job interview.

And he had grown to hate his new place, a townhouse he had furnished, all in one go, in a single trip to a furniture store, all chrome, black leather and dark wood. The townhouse itself had no good windows. Every room was dark, something he had not noticed when he saw it with the realtor, a woman his age, who wore a tight red dress and high heels, like she was going to a cocktail party, with whom he had had one particularly grim date.

The townhouse had quickly developed a bad, stale smell; its surfaces were all either sticky or dusty. Nothing but crumbs in the refrigerator, that and an old quart of milk, dating back to when he had moved in, that should be thrown out but instead had been shoved to the back, the sight of which bothered him every time he opened the door.

He had nothing to eat in his house, couldn’t fix himself anything, not even a cup of coffee, though he had bought the most expensive coffeemaker at the William-Sonoma next door to the furniture store. He would have had to learn how to use it.

He couldn’t get comfortable on the leather sofa in the living room, where there wasn’t good lamp to read by, just a very bright overhead light that threw harsh shadows.

When he had finally gotten the cable company in to set up the TV, he sat watching the channel the installer had left on. It was some sort of talk show, with the camera panning over an audience of women who responded visibly to what the people in front of them were saying. The people were talking about why their marriages had failed. One man had left his wife when she turned out to be terminally ill with cancer. A woman had dumped her husband when his business had failed. Adversity, said the expert who was up there with them being interviewed, can make a marriage stronger or it can destroy it.

It was their son, he suddenly felt, when things didn’t go right with their son, that had done it for them. Nothing could be easy, the way it was supposed to be, could it? Could it? That was what he had found himself screaming at the son one evening – thank God his wife had not been home to witness that.

He had been trying to get the son to dress to go out for dinner. The wife wasn’t home, so they were going to go out somewhere. It was already late and he was hungry. The boy came down in a ridiculous outfit, ill-fitting, contrasting patterns, dirty, no shoes. He kept sending him upstairs again and again to change, but the boy could never get it right. And he was overweight and his skin was bad and his hair was greasy and stuck up all over the place. He was just … lumpen.

The other kids in that wealthy neighborhood where they used to live: they were so beautiful, every one of them physically graceful, perfectly and expensively dressed, with clear skin and perfectly tousled hair.

And then there was their son – who was nearly his height, with his dark hair, and had his bad eyesight (which he had always thought he got because he studied too much, but maybe it was genetic). The boy’s hair was not tousled, it was dirty and weird. There was no charm, no grace to the boy. He never even looked clean. His shirts didn’t stay tucked, white pockets always stuck out from his pants, his shoes were always untied. He walked like his body hurt.

His son couldn’t approach a stranger or even someone he knew, look them in the eye and say hi. And he didn’t know what to say when they greeted him, just looked furtively at the ground and kind of rocked where he stood.

This all made him, the father, feel mental.

It started way back. A colicky baby, one who couldn’t be comforted, didn’t coo or smile or babble, one who always had some kind of skin rash, a baby who did not sleep and was not cute.

They got called into conferences, starting when the boy was two. Two! In nursery school.

When he came home early enough, which wasn’t often, he’d try talking to the baby, he would, even though he felt like a fool and would really much rather be nursing a drink and reading the paper. But the baby didn’t respond back, didn’t even seem to realize he was being spoken to.

He saw his wife doing it. She’d be on the floor, staring into the toddler’s eyes, talking, talking, talking, slowly and emphatically. She’d tell him that was what this therapist or that book recommended. Sounded like a bunch of bullshit to him. But when she said the boy needed home visits from a therapist, he didn’t balk. When she said he needed to be in a special school, privately he was concerned. He wanted the boy to go to the prep school, that conduit to the Ivies, in their neighborhood. But then he watched the boy, one rare Saturday morning, when he took him out to the park. Other boys—cute as a television commercial—were kicking a soccer ball around with their dads. Clearly, they knew and were following the rules. They chattered away at their fathers and ran around like tight little springs. Then he looked at his son, who couldn’t even kick a ball, or swing on a swing, who had not said a single word to him during this whole outing, already filthy from sitting in the mud in a weedy corner of the park, digging with a stick.

Which school the boy went to was his wife’s call, he decided. Dealing with the boy was her thing.

Though there were times, when he was angry, when he told her it wasn’t even a thing. What did she do all day, he wanted to know. Eating bon-bons and shopping, he asked, even as he knew, looking at her, getting older and frumpier, hair going gray and frizzy, that she wasn’t going to the gym or the spa or shopping. He even told her, once, that it was her fault the boy was the way he was. She did something wrong when he was a baby. He didn’t know what since he wasn’t there, but it must have been something. And this hovering now: how did she know that IT wasn’t what was causing the boy to be so backward?

Why couldn’t things just be right?

In quiet moments, he knew he wasn’t a nice person, which was why he avoided having quiet moments. He was harsh and competitive and driven. He couldn’t keep a secretary for more than a few months. The last one had left, in tears, on the third day.

But he was right to be the way he was. Look at where all that nastiness got him. He was at the top of the heap at work. A lot of people had dropped out. But not him. He ran things and he made a lot of money. Being an asshole, not suffering fools, was necessary to be a success.

And would the wife even have married him if he hadn’t had some chance at success? And would there be any therapists and any special school—$40 grand a year—without his money?

No. He was what he was and he was right to be.

But, still, he texted her. And it did occur to him that he could just call her—as he held the boy’s cell phone, a call was just one button push away. But he couldn’t. During their last fight, which the boy was present for, he screamed at both of them, he threatened to leave. And she had just said, very quietly, “Go, then.” And he had had to, then, hadn’t he?

He read her replies to the boy, who she always called Sweetie or Honey, sometimes Boo Boo or even just Boo, with a hunger. Encouragements, ever-patient reminders, little “thinking of you” sentiments, decorated with emoticons. He thought, if he was still with her, that he would tell her, shout at her, that he had never had any of this, growing up—it was laughable to think of either of his parents doing anything other than yell at him—and he had turned out just fine, more than fine.

One weekend, he had seen his son pull a textbook and a notebook out of his bookbag and sit down at the dining-room table. He knew that the kid had never done that, not on his own, before. He came over to watch. He looked at the work, which was stultifying easy, over the boy’s shoulder. The boy misspelled something, and he pointed it out. Well, it was misspelled, wasn’t it? What was he supposed to do? But the boy had sat for a moment, looking at the notebook, then shut it and shoved everything back into the bag.

“No,” the father said. “Keep going. You were doing good.”

But the boy just carried the bookbag up the stairs.

He stood there, squeezing his eyes shut.

And, then, one day, he was found out.

He had just texted her. It was pretty late at night. The boy was in the next room, killing zombies on the computer. He had texted, “Good night, Mom.” She didn’t text back; she called. He jumped and dropped the phone. The ring was loud and there was a picture of her on the screen—a very unflattering shot that the boy must have snapped; she was looking away, unaware she was being photographed.

She didn’t leave a message.

Then his phone began ringing in his pocket.

He considered not answering, but then thought, in that split-second, that that would really give him away.

So he answered, like he didn’t know who it was.

“Hello?”

“It’s been you, hasn’t it?” she said.

“What?” he stammered. “Who is this—“

“You know who this is,” she said. “You just texted me from Josh’s phone, didn’t you?”

He briefly considered denial. Not too briefly, though. The silence grew unbearably long.

“Yes,” he said finally.

“You asshole,” she said, then paused. “It’s been you all along, hasn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Was it ever him?”

“No.”

He was startled to hear a cry from her. It was her turn for a long pause.

“I will pick him up at the regular time tomorrow,” she said finally, and hung up.

He went in to stand behind his son, watched him shoot a zombie in the chest at point-blank range.

“That was your mom on the phone.”

The boy didn’t respond.

“She said to say hey.”

Another zombie charged the boy, who shot it in the head. Blood and brain splattered all over the screen.

The son pushed away the keyboard and spun around in the chair, nearly knocking his father in the knees. He did not make eye contact. He waited for a beat, eyes downcast, as if unsure what might happen next. Then, he heaved himself out of the chair and fled the room.


Cheryl Ursin is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Houston Community Newspapers, and the restaurant guidebook Gayot’s NYC Restaurants. She is currently a contributing writer for the Buzz Magazines in Houston. This is her first published piece of fiction.

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“Amalo” by Sarah Fisch

At dinner the night before their sightseeing excursion, and after half a frozen margarita, Alice had misspoken the next morning’s destination as the “Amalo.” Her husband, Lee Henry, said “that’s your sense of history,” and exhaled hard with a “hoooooo” sound. “Hate to think how’d you pronounce half the historical places we’ve been to.”

“Appomattox,” Alice replied with exaggerated care, her gray eyes cool, then took a quavery sip from her sloshing, too-heavy glass. “That’s probably the hardest one to say.”

“We never were at Appomattox.”

They’d dropped their gaze from each other then, and concentrated on navigating their nightmarish meals. A laconic girl called Crystal, her black hair streaked alarmingly with pink strands, had brought them piping-hot platters spread with pools of gravylike pinto beans hardening a deeper brown, oily corn tortillas filled with some red-sauced meat too spicy in odor to be safely edible, ominous rectangular items buried in melted yellow cheese, guacamole that Lee Henry devoured on corn chips, but that after one dip of fork tines from green mound into her mouth, Alice had abandoned entirely. Acceptable rice, thank goodness. On each of their plates, deeply puzzling the Thomases, sat a quartered lime about two-thirds smaller than a normal lime.

The restaurant’s patio held umbrella-shaded tables on the bank of the San Antonio River, landscaped concrete walkways on both sides, bars and restaurants, all sort of Spanish, reminding Alice of an old-timey movie set, as though consensus had determined a re-enactment of something quaintly festive. The trunk of a great big cottonwood next to their table was protected by a tiled planter. It must be so much older than all the buildings, Alice thought. Lee Henry watched for bands of young servicemen, discernible even in civilian clothes. He remembered. At intervals, flat motorized passenger barges nearly as wide as the canal glided by, almost close enough for Alice to touch. She waved a fluttery hand at the passengers every time. Somebody always waved back.

But it was so hot on that patio, and no stopping the flies. The Thomases had returned to their hotel room at the Palacio del Rio by seven-thirty. Indistinct crowd noise awoke Alice at a quarter to ten, and she went to the window and pulled the heavy drape. Below the Palacio del Rio, on the dark river, another barge was passing. There must have been a dinner table on it laid for, oh, twenty people, Alice guessed, hearing them laughing, and the put-put of the motor, a glass breaking, unsteady candlelight filtering up at Alice through tree branches, all amplified and warped for a moment as the boat passed under an old concrete footbridge, then all vanished around a bend. Alice felt she’d seen something she shouldn’t, but wouldn’t have chosen to miss. She stayed looking down at the funny little hemmed-in river for several minutes, hoping for another boat.

The next morning, she didn’t spot the Alamo right away as she and Lee Henry made slow time towards it across a broad flat bright stone square. Alice used to be be about three inches taller than Lee Henry but had shrunk down, and walked gingerly; she had a new knee, so her straw-visored eyes scanned for un-evenness in the paving stones.

There was quite a crowd, and no length to anybody’s shadow. Lee Henry thought: Mad Dogs and Englishmen, something something noonday sun. So hot at only a quarter of twelve. A majority of the people gathered appeared Mexican. Where would they be visiting from? Henry wondered. Why would Mexico-Mexicans visit the Alamo? And the San Antonio Mexicans, why weren’t they ashamed to have lost here? Do they not know the story, the battle? He puzzled over this, and startled with sudden shame. They’d won, actually, the Mexicans. At the Alamo, they’d won. It was another battle they lost. But they’d lost everything, then.

Old men sold sno-cones from pushcarts. Lee Henry wished Alice could walk with him as she used to, to get past them faster, these old men, older than they, still working jobs. Sticky children and their parents ate these sno-cones and other things under the shade of a gigantic live oak, or in a gazebo. Babies screamed from their strollers in the heat, while yet more clumped families in unbecoming shorts ambled over from the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum across the street.

Lee Henry’d brought his camera from Athens, the new digital kind that Amy had gotten him for Father’s Day a month ago. He’d spent four days dedicated to learning how to use the damn thing. Now, though, Lee Henry’s idea of photographing himself and Alice in front of the Alamo struck him as mysteriously cheap. And who’d you hand your camera to, anyway, who wouldn’t run off with it?

Alice, finally looking up, squeezed Lee Henry’s arm and chirped, “Why, now, there it is!”
As though Lee Henry hadn’t seen from the beginning, hadn’t already had his heart broken. They’d gone and mis-re-built it somehow, set it amid encroaching hotels and cheap curio shops, all wrong. Lee Henry had always imagined the Alamo as squatting massive and austere, its defiant gaze cast over a desert, mournful-like, its perfect shadow slicing red dust, walls a garland of prickly pear and, Lee Henry realized, dead Mexican soldiers in blue Napoleonic uniforms. That’s part of what was missing. Also other, live Mexican soldiers fixing their smooth-bore muskets at the… Lee Henry squinted up against the white sun at the flat-faced buiding. Where would the Defenders have stood? Davy Crockett, James Bowie, Whatsit Travis, and Lee Henry’s very own great-grandmother’s brothers: Asa and Jacob Walker, of Rockridge County, Tennessee. A lifetime of imagining Asa and Jacob, nearly-identical in their buckskins, bayonetting to the last, and now he couldn’t place them. The roof was sloped, and new; they couldn’t have hunkered down up there.  Lee Henry believed that the walls the Texians had defended had been high-up, second-story like, and hard to scale; where would they have been?

Alice Thomas didn’t mind Alamo Square, though; indeed, found herself touched by the human scale of this historic mission, and the families enjoying themselves, the regular everyday people walking by on their lunch break, maybe. She sang in a high hoot, swinging Lee Henry’s hand,

“Across the alley from the A-lamo, lived a pinto pony and a Na-vajo—”

He tugged her along. She giggled.

“But isn’t it funny to think of all those men fighting and dying for that little old thing?” she asked.

It wasn’t.

Lee Henry customarily enjoyed Alice’s companionship on their vacations together. She charmed him with her gift for enjoying herself, her unfailing politeness, how she’d lean against him, wearing her newest dress, while he’d explain to her about the volume of Niagara Falls with its mist kissing their faces, or the complex maneuvers of the Second Manassas while the sun set on her hair. But Alice had always seemed happy to go anywhere —history was just a dead thing, or divergent, inessential. Lee Henry always knew it, too. Knew he was a beloved obstacle to the orderly and present-day conveyor belt of thought that made up Alice’s mind.

Finally, clutching hands as they stepped through the arched doorway, and panting a little, the Thomases ventured into the refreshing semi-darkness of the Alamo. The doorway opened into a sort of chapel, with a vestibule, and a short, barrel-ceilinged hall, all of sand-colored limestone. There was an improbable, if attractive, electrical wrought-iron chandelier above them. Plaques, flags and wreaths were placed ahead where the chapel’s altar would be. Lee Henry was conscious of a cool, profound relief; the embrace of the historical, and the air conditioning, and man-made light, and the soft echo of visitors who spoke in stage whispers.

“This is lovely,” Alice said. “It’s not at all what I expected.” She made her halting way to where the flags were, and bent to examine the wreaths of flowers in their stands. Lee Henry set about the perimeter, glided his shaky fingers across promising holes in the walls, recoiled at graffiti etched into the soft stone, peered at the glassed-over cases full of maps and pistols, espied with pleasure that some of the explanatory plaques, verdigris-tinged, seemed older than he did. This was all proper and correct. Whatever happened outside the Alamo, this grave quiet space held court here forever, however small.

Lee Henry had always wanted to feel something of the Walkers, to touch some tangible history in his living life. It was hard to explain. It was near impossible to explain to Alice. He’d seen mimeographs of Walker letters, the handwriting over-stroked and hard to read, and none of them about the Alamo, but about mundane things like crops and livestock purchases. As a boy, he’d seen a miniature painted portrait of both, a lens-like glass oval of young men, set in a tiny, tooled leather box. He’d even bestowed upon his only son, now forty-seven, their names — all their names. He called the boy Jacob Asa Walker Thomas. Lee Henry’s firstborn. He had even given up a possible Lee Henry Junior, that’s how strong he felt about the Walkers. He would have liked to make Jacob and Asa know it, somehow. And maybe he could: Asa and Jacob Walker had surely stood where Lee Henry now stood, facing with steely, inheritable character the specter of certain death, as they readied their weapons in the cool of the…morning?

“I’m heading over to the gift shop,” Alice whispered, suddenly very close.

“What?” said Lee Henry, though he had heard her.

“The gift shop. It’s out the back way. There’s a nice garden out there, too. I wonder if they don’t have those little Mexican girl dolls like they had in Santa Fe that time. I’ll bet you that Hunter and Shelby would just love one of those little Mexican dolls, with the braids?”
Lee Henry stared through her, not not-listening. Or not deliberately. Alice sighed. She patted Lee Henry’s chest, and made a half-laugh.

“Well, I’ll go-on and go, and you come find me.”

He was alone in this mission. He had hoped Alice might take special interest in this landmark sacred to his mother’s family. Jacob and Asa Walker had made their way to the West, and now he had retraced their steps. By car, but pulled by fellow-feeling and destiny in their direction. Lee Henry knew that Alice had made allowances to come to Texas: she would have just as soon have gone to Louisville again. But that the Alamo held no more allure to Lee Henry’s wife than any historical marker he pulled off the interstate to take proper note of, bruised him. This hushed and reverent place where, if there were ghosts, there’d be so many and of such importance — she’d like an aquarium just as well. And while Lee Henry had no idea what the hell dolls Alice was talking about, Amy’s girls were twelve and fourteen now. Even Lee Henry knew his granddaughters were past dolls. Long past.

But Alice loved gift shops. She particularly liked buying gifts from the shops in museums. Back in Athens, she had a desk drawer with a folded-up canvas tote bag from the Spartanburg Art Museum, a blue-and-red spherical Murano glass paperweight she’d picked up at the National Gallery, and a commemorative enamel pen from the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum in Savannah, all wrapped and at the ready just in case somebody’s birthday crept up on her.

Alice liked the gift shop at the Alamo very much. It was housed in a spacious stone structure with another high barrel-ceiling, a very handsome architectual detail that Alice looked forward to describing to Amy, and surely it used to hold something useful, too, in olden times. Grain, horses. And the Alamo gift shop’s selection of merchandise was particularly funny. Scorpion lollipops! And “Texas-sized” this and that; a giant pencil, a hugely outsize pair of sunglasses, a monstrous flyswatter. Plastic guns and plastic knives and plastic army men and plastic… dinosaurs? Davy Crockett faux-fur hats with real raccoon tails. It had been just forever since Alice had seen anybody wear one of those, and she racked the photo album of brain, seeking a little boy for whom she might purchase it. Alice always ignored t-shirts, as the images and tag phrases thereupon increasingly proved either vulgar, or incomprehensible. One in this shop had read, “Texas Women: the Best-Kept Secret in the South.”

How could that be? Alice thought. Why would they be kept a secret in the South?

A middle-aged light brown lady with her thick ponytail in a white cotton scrunchie and a red gingham smock materialized near the racks of t-shirts and said to Alice, “Ma’am, these t-shirts all in here are 40% off.” She patted one with a photo of bluebonnets on it and smiled. “These right here.”

“Oh, I hardly ever buy t-shirts,” Alice heard herself explaining. She hoped she didn’t sound judgmental. If she did, the gift shop lady, whose nametag said “Dolores,” didn’t let on.
“Where are y’all visiting from?”

“Athens.”

“Georgia?”

“Tennessee.”

“Oh! I hear it’s real green up that way.  Real purty. Wish y’all would send us some of that rain.”

“I wish we could!”

Both women laughed a little longer and louder than they otherwise would have. Amy would say that they were glad to have “made a connection.” Dolores observed that there seemed to be an Athens, Everywhere. There was an Athens, Texas, she said, but allowed as to how most of the people from Athens she met in the gift shop were from Georgia. Dolores always enjoyed meeting all the different vistors in the gift shop, she said. Often people would ask her where the basement was. Alice couldn’t fathom why people would ask that.

“It makes no sense whatsoever. They have basements up North,” Alice stated, with conviction.

Dolores admitted that her son had told her — several times — why people would ask about the basement, but it was something silly from TV and Dolores always forgot.

Alice told Dolores that she and her husband, “he’s still in the museum,” had been to Athens, Georgia, and to Athens, Alabama, but never to Greece, because Lee Henry didn’t like to fly.

Dolores’s husband’s family lived in Piedras Negras, just across the border, three hours away, on the Mexican side of the river.

“Oh!” Alice said, uncertainly. “Do you often go visit?”

“Girl, not anymore,” Dolores said, mysteriously. Alice wasn’t sure what she meant. Was this woman afraid of Mexicans? Was her husband’s family all dead?

There was a pause, then, and both women ran their hands over things; Dolores straightened the t-shirts, and Alice fondled a child’s Indian headdress of dyed feathers.

Finally Alice asked, “Why are Texas women the best-kept secret in the South?”

Dolores cocked her head, and smiled attentively. Her teeth were very good.

“Well, I don’t know! Why?” she said.

Alice stood for several seconds. “Oh! I just meant… one of those shirts…”

“…You know, you’re right,” said Dolores, remembering. “I never have understood that one either.”

*

Instead of finding the Alamo’s rear exit, Lee Henry stumbled back out the front door, and was immediately sunblinded. There was no garden.

“Dammit!” Lee Henry said, a half-gurgle. It was so hot, so hot he could barely catch his breath. More sweat than he ever knew he had came pouring down him, even squishy in his shoes. I’ll make it over to the bench by that tree there, he thought, and sit down. I’ll buy a cold drink in a minute. Waves of shimmering heat rose from the stone and cement plaza, making it hard to tell how far away the tree was.

*

Alice had decided to buy a Davy Crockett coonskin cap for Cody, the boy who mowed the Thomas’s lawn. Alice thought he must be twelve or so. Although, she reflected, he drove a pickup truck. Dolores wrapped the hat in hissing tissue paper, and was saying, “We do sell an awful lot of these,” when both women heard the sirens.


Sarah Fisch lives in San Antonio, TX, where she writes about arts and culture for the San Antonio Current. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’s.