I wonder how long it’ll take for ’em to come on over the hill. I’ve got good cover. I can hold out a while. My hands are shaking. Not from fear, but from what I’ve got running through me. I never thought a night out would lead to me ending up here. She had every right to do what she did. I didn’t. They’re gonna find that out.

I half hope that fat shit Caldwell is the one who tries it first. I’ve been looking for a reason with him. He used to date my sister. The other night I found her behind the cattle barn at the county fair, bloody and bawling. I said, “Who done this to you?”

She didn’t answer me. When I asked her again, she fainted. I picked her up and carried her to my truck. I decided to take her to momma’s house. As I was leaving, I seen old Caldwell directing traffic. I pulled up to him. The lights were flashing all around reflecting off the windows of houses.

“Let me see your hands,” I said to him.

“What for?” he said.

“Let me see ’em.”

“I’m busy here, Ronnie. You’re backing up traffic. Get on.”

I stared at him a while and then pulled away as slowly as I could. He stared back until somebody behind me honked. Then he turned and motioned for them to come on.

I took my sister to Momma’s. There was an irony in that since I’d spent many a night cleaning my momma up after Daddy had finished with her. For years, I wanted to kill him for treating her that way, but he took care of it for me one winter evening behind the woodshed. Once Momma had Sis laid on the couch and half coherent, I went and found Doug Comer. I‘d heard he had a bag of pills.


I found Doug at Liza Turner’s house. The door was half open, so I went on in. She was blowing him on the couch. I cleared my throat and Doug sat up real quick and tossed her off of him. She went flying backward and hit her head on the coffee table. He went to clambering around for his gun. She said, “Fuck,” real slow.

“Easy, Doug,” I said.

“What the fuck are you busting in for? Liza nearly bit my fucking dick off.”

“Did she?” I said.

We all looked. She hadn’t.

“What do you want?” Doug said.

“Sunny Bill told me you might have a few,” I said.

“I got some. How much you after?”

“He said you had a bag.”

Doug got up and left the room. Liza rubbed the back of her head, checking for a knot or some blood.

“You hurt?” I said.

“Fuck you,” she said.

I shrugged and leaned against the wall.

Doug come back. He still hadn’t put on any pants, and his dick was jangling around between his legs. “You got money?” he said.

I handed him a roll of cash. He took the rubber band off, licked his finger, and counted it. He rolled it back up, put the rubber band back around it, tossed it on the couch and handed me a Ziplock baggie about half full.

I nodded and went to leave.

“Hey,” Doug hollered. I turned back around. “You can help me fuck her, if you want,” he said.

“I’m alright,” I said. “She ain’t what she used to be.”

She told me to fuck off. I pushed the screen door open and heard it slap behind me.

I drove out to the levee and parked the truck down the far end where the security light won’t reach. It was hot out. Sticky. The truck was heating up. My air went out last week and I hadn’t had the extra to get it worked on. I couldn’t roll the windows down for the damn mosquitos, so I pulled my shirt off.

I popped a few of the pills in my mouth and washed ’em down with some coffee left over from the morning. I stared out at the river for a while. Memories kinda flood back when you do that. I got to thinking about Tanya and how it’d been a while since I’d been to see her. It was getting late, and I knew I needed to get back to Momma’s and check on Sis, so I threw the truck in gear and headed back to town.


You ever been in a situation you don’t think you can get out of real quick? Jimmy Scales was once. I used to work with him on a road crew. We were laying asphalt on 63 one day and he kept telling me his old lady didn’t understand what he was going through. I asked him what it was he couldn’t shake. He didn’t come off it. He just kept on bitching about her and all these things she didn’t get about him. Finally, I said, “Goddamn it, Jimbo, what the fuck is it? You’re talking my ear off about being in the shit house, but you ain’t giving me much to work with.” He told me to go to hell and mind my own business. I told him fair enough and left him be.

At dinner, he didn’t say much. He was over by a tree sitting in the shade, eating a bologna sandwich. I was glad. I was tired of hearing him moan. When the boss man called time, we all headed back out on the road. Jimmy took his time. He wasn’t moving as fast as he was in the morning. I put it down to bologna not being such a good choice on a hot day, went back to what I was doing, and paid him no mind.

We had one lane of traffic running and cars were flying through it too fast for where we were working. Clint Graves was on the stick and he was green as baby shit. I told him the other day, if he didn’t pay attention, he’d get somebody hurt. He shrugged and went back to staring at his phone like the younger ones do these days.

After an hour or so, I started to worry about Jimmy. He sounded like a broken man. I thought he might just need somebody to talk to and thought I better go find him. Check on him. Let him vent.

I give my shovel to Randall Gibbs and told him I had to piss. I saw Jimmy sitting on a guardrail. I zipped up and started toward him. That’s when I saw him come to terms with it all. Clint was on his phone and never saw the log truck until it was on top of him. I hollered and everybody got out of the way real quick. Not Jimmy. He stared at that truck till it was about fifty yards away and then stepped out in front of it like he was headed outside for the mail. It made an awful sound. A sound you never wanna hear. I run over to him, but there wasn’t anything to do. What was left of him was a mess. A far worse mess than he probably had going on in his life. He’d just had enough. I wondered how bad whatever it was eating him actually was. How could it be that bad?


After work, I went over to his place. His wife, Cheryl, met me at the door. She had a baby on her hip that looked like it needed a cleaning and her eyes were as dark round the outside as a coon. She didn’t open the door, she just stood behind the screen staring at me.

“You alright?” I said.

“No,” she said.

“Y’all need anything? You got money to—“

“I don’t need nothing. I got a bottle boiling in here I need to see to.”

I nodded. “Holler if you do.”

She shut the big door, and I walked down the stairs and back to my truck. I knew there wasn’t much I could do. She seemed as gone as he was.

Two weeks later, they found her laying in the floor dead as a hammer and that baby in its bed a screaming and hollering. I never found out what the matter was, but I had my suspicions. I had a bag full of cause stuffed under the seat of my truck and thought it best to leave it alone.


You ever get drunk on pussy? I mean pussy so good you can’t shake thinking about it? And the one who owns that pussy is crazy as hell about you? That’s a thing there. Makes people unreasonably protective of one another. Makes ’em the kind of unreasonable that thinks other people are after what they got. Truth be told, that kind of situation causes more trouble than it does good. Me and Tanya was that way. We’d hooked up off and on for a few years, but whenever I got too far gone, she’d cut me loose. A couple of weeks later, she’d be banging on the trailer door with that look in her eye and I fall back into it.

We’d fired it up a few weeks back. I was beginning to think this would be the time it would stick. Then, she found a text message on my phone from some road whore I’d danced with at the Legion a week back, and lost her shit on me. She went to throwing anything she could find at me. Worst of all, she was at my house and it was my shit she was breaking. I don’t take kindly to that. After she’d flung a t-ball trophy at me, I grabbed her by the arm and I give her one right between the eyes. She dropped. When she hit the floor she went to quivering like a crappie on a river bank. I thought she was faking it. She had a knack for that. She’d once smeared ketchup all over her face and sent a picture to the police and told ’em I’d beat the shit out of her. I had, but there wasn’t no blood. That part was fiction. But Tommy Schiff believed it and I spent a few nights at the Providence County hotel until she come and paid the bail.

After a good minute or two of her carrying on, she quit. I told her to get up, but she didn’t, so I grabbed her by the arm. She was dead weight. Her head folded back, and she made a gurgling sound. I knelt down and stuck my face to her mouth, scared to death she’d come alive and bite the shit out of me, but she didn’t. She wouldn’t. No chance. I crab-walked backward until I hit the couch and started full on freaking the fuck out. I looked for my phone and started to call 911, but thought better of it. I had family history with this kinda thing. They’d know I’d hit her. Her nose was bloody and it had run all down her face. I went to thinking about options, but I didn’t have any good ones. I was gonna have to call. I owed that to her folks. Her daddy was always good to me and her momma was struck with some sort of palsy. It made me sick to think about what this would do to ’em.

I got up and went to the closet. I had some crank in there and a 30.06. I stuck my pocketknife in the crank bag and took a good snort, then riffled through a drawer looking for shells. When I found some I shoved ’em in an old duffel bag laying in the closet floor, and went outside.

I carried that bag and the gun over to a line of hay bales out in front of the house. I propped the gun on a bale and pulled out my phone. I hit the numbers and told what had happened. Myra said, Ronnie, what have you done? I told her I didn’t have a good answer, and the end result would probably be worse. She told me she’d pray for me and hung up.

So here I am. I know what’s coming. I’ve got at best ten minutes before I flame out like a nickel bottle rocket. I can see the blue flicker of the lights getting closer and hear the gravel popping. I reach for that old gun and get a good spot where I can see what’s coming down the road. Everything’s in slow motion, but crystal clear. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I see Jimmy. I know now what he was thinking, and I finally understand.


About the Author

DAN RUSSELL is a writer and host of The Fair to Middlin' Podcast. His work has appeared in The Arkansas Review, Cowboy Jamboree, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Tributary, Close to the Bone, Poverty House, and You Might Need to Hear This. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Concordia University-St. Paul. He and his wife and family live in Arkansas atop Crowley’s Ridge. His debut novel, Poor Birds, will be published by Cowboy Jamboree Press in 2025.