Two Stories

Two Stories

Munching webworms nest in white mulberry trees. Their webbing like frothy sickness or ill-conceived constellations and from homeschooling in the woods with our father and mummy we compare Hemingway’s “Now I Lay Me” to the munching webworms. How Nick Adams listened as silkworms worked their way through feeding racks of mulberry leaves. How he spent time steeped in memory to no good, to smoking skillfully in the dark, to praying for his parents “On earth as it is in heaven” which unlike Nick we don’t do. But we should for our father and mummy are thieves and they are teaching us.

Mummy leans in during wood tick checks, hair in a loose braid around her head. She cups our scrotums. Bounces them. Tests our heft. Weights our worth in her hands. Cops a feel. Steals from us. Definition of the scrotum Mummy says, teacher-like, is: The thick-skinned sac that surrounds and protects the testes. The scrotum also acts as a climate-control system for the testes because they need to be slightly cooler than body temperature for normal sperm development. The cremaster muscles in the wall of the scrotum relax to allow the testes to hang farther from the body to cool or contract to pull the testes closer to the body for warmth or protection, she says, then those hands of hers callused and big-knuckled from chopping wood and carrying water pull through our long blonde hair. If she finds a tick suckled, a wood match is struck up the side of her bib coveralls. Blown out. Settled, hot, on the tick. It crabwalks backward. Mummy pinches it to the floor. Expertly. Crushes it with her boot heel. In our bedroom she plays with our toes as if we are still little. Marches fingers across our bellies. Tickling. All the way up to the downy hair on our chinny chin chins.

Our father in his blue work shirts and mummy in her bibs stained with the forest, grow pot and smoke and we smoke too, rolling joints from pot in fat baggies. Mornings, let’s go, says our father. Our father brings his Browning T-Bolt and we bring ours. Double Helix rotary box magazines. 10-round capacity. We walk single file out of our cabin, pass by the garden and into the woods. Our father says he likes the way the rifle fits in his hand as he walks. Our rifles have slings and scopes. Look, our father says. We crouch behind serviceberry and false indigo. We see mule deer grazing with their fragile spotted fawns. Dead come fall, our father says, patting his rifle. We’ll take their lives our father, the thief, says. Later, my brother and I hold rough mugs of bitter coffee in our hands and black-billed magpies cry out raspy and harsh as we turn west, packs on our backs with a baggie of pot with papers and some food, rifles slung over our shoulders in hand. Pants cinched. Boots on.

We build a bonfire then smudge ourselves in the smoke on the banks of the choppy Reeno River, two miles from our cabin. Roast shot squirrel. Eat fat carrots from the garden with more than one carrot sometimes two or three attached to the frilly green tops. We build a lean-to. Mornings sit on logs and smoke. Feel strangely fine and witless like our father and mummy. We shoulder our packs and rifles. Pass a joint back and forth. Hike to a clearing we like where deer graze, magpies shout, ponderosa pines ring around bluebells but two men and two women have beat us to it. We see strapped on six-shooters. Smith & Wesson Schofields. Cheyenne holsters. Wyoming drop belts. Expensive. The men and women look like actors in a western film, we think. Silver studs prance down seams on their jeans. Pearl snap buttons hold shirts closed and over shirts the men and women sport vests with black leather fringed Conchos hung from both sides. And above all this the four have on white Stetsons, tilted. We step into the clearing rifles slung firmly over shoulders. Put our packs on the ground. Dig out our baggie and throw it on a log, like a challenge.

One man picks up the baggie. Eyes us and we eye him. After smoking our pot, the men and women unbuckle those six-shooters and lay them down. We lay our rifles down. Slip off boots and socks. Women take hold of us, our blonde hair flowing down slender backs and they lead us barefoot through the bluebells and under the pines. They smile at us and the men follow. Women bring rolled pot joints to the men’s lips. Vests are taken off and slung. Studded jeans are tossed, prancing, across bluebells. We see the men and women doze, at last. We snatch up our packs, grab our rifles, shove feet into boots and we take those expensive six-shooters of theirs and we steal away.



High Noon

What kind of name is Fifi? I ask her from my bed.

What kind of name is David Vicheshettie? she answers me back, then says, Fifi comes from Phoebe.

Isn’t that a bird?

Come fly with me, she says.

Where to?

The Spinach Diner on Vine, Fifi says and pulls on her shorts. Snaps on a tiny pink tank top with spaghetti straps. Feels around for her flip flops under my bed. Slides them on. Pale skin shows blue veins on her forehead and wrists as she rests a hand under her pointy chin, waiting for me. I pull on Dior shorts. Strap on sandals. Drop on a black t-shirt. This way, I say.

Nice, Fifi says, walking past my sunken living room decorated in posh black and white. Her hands brush the luxury I live in. Where are the books? she asks.


You know those things with covers and thin paper between. Some are hardcover and some are softcover. They have spines. With titles, sometimes written in gold.

I know what a book is and no I don’t have any, I say. We head out the door into a fresh, sundrenched Hollywood morning.

I have this little place where I have shelves of books and paint, she says. And I go to Phil’s Bar on Fridays. You must have been slumming last night when I met you there, she says as we step into the diner.

Hi Luce, Fifi says to the waiter.

Whew, Luce says, eying me up. You’re scoring high on the charts these days, Fifi. David Vicheshettie!

I duck my head. I don’t want to be recognized by anyone else in a spinach place.

I recommend the spinach malt with vegan burger, Luce says.

For breakfast? I say. Bring me some coffee. Can you put in a shot?

You’re in unfriendly country there, my famous friend, says Luce. Though I could use a belt myself.

Bring me the usual, Fifi says.

What’s your usual? I ask her.

Spinach patties fried in olive oil, she says. When we get our food, I choke it down.

It’s good for you, Fifi says and somehow I believe her. We leave, then pause in a doorway up the street.

This is where I paint, she says. We go in the door and up a flight of stairs. On an apartment door is a full-length portrait of Fifi. Neon orange paint seers my eyes wide open and her electric blue nose sends the spinach in my stomach on a somersaulting spree.

You okay? Fifi asks.

I need strong coffee. With a shot.

You’re at the right place, she says. For strong coffee. She settles my green-gilled frame on her bed. Makes coffee.

I’m never eating spinach again, I say.

There’s this little cafe next to the Spinach Place that serves rutabagas. How does that sound instead? Fifi asks.

Rutabagas? I ask.

Or how about Tomly’s Vegan Place?

I’m afraid to ask.

They serve eggplant.

Eggplant, I say faintly.

The purple, spongy stuff.

I know what eggplant is, I say.

You didn’t know what rutabagas were.

Who does?

Here’s your coffee, Fifi says.

I take a sip of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted then look at a giant canvas on the wall. Fifi’s face. In lime greens and chrome yellows.

Like Chuck Close, I say, nodding at the portrait.

Oh, smart boy.

Close once worked mostly in black and white.

Smarter boy, she says. Then says, Yale laid the foundation. I do the work. Super Purple Gallery near the eggplant restaurant shows my art.

Look, I say. Last night?  I was after a lay, pure and simple.

Were you?


Ever pure and simple?

Pure and simple?  Was I ever?  Completely. I’ve always been a fresh-face boy.

So fresh-face boy, I meet Luce at high noon. I’ll walk you down, she says, looking at her watch.

You and Luce have a thing going?

We meet at high noon daily at his place over the diner, Fifi says. Nights he gets stoned. Goes to jazz clubs. Meets up with prostitutes.

But you have a thing going?

At high noon, Fifi says.

Back on the street I say let’s go to Super Purple Gallery. Before high noon.

Two blocks over we step into the gallery. Here’s my latest piece, she says. Me doing a headstand with a dress on.

It’s pretty bizarre.

Pretty? Or bizarre? she asks.

It’s pretty because you are in some strange way. Bizarre because you’re doing a headstand in a dress. The hem is bunched at your eyes and your crotch is above the center of the painting. It’s like you’re thinking with your crotch. Don’t say smart boy.


I’m right?  You’re thinking with your crotch? I ask as we leave.

I’m thinking it’s almost high noon, Fifi says.

I see a Double Dip ice cream store. There’s still time, I say. I take her hand and we step inside.

I’ll have a two scooper, she says at the counter. One scoop of the bright blue confetti ice cream and one scoop of this lime green.

I’ll have a two scooper, I say, the one here with maraschino cherries in vanilla ice cream with crushed pretzels.

Fifi and I sit in the sun on tall stools by the front window and eat, bending this way and that to catch drips. I reach out and brush a dash of blue confetti ice cream from her cheek. Then our hands that had brimmed over with luxurious ice cream just minutes before are empty. Fifi gets off her stool. Her hair brushes my back as she moves past me and then away from me. I hear her in her flip-flops softly slip-slap out the door of Double Dip. I see her through the front window of Double Dip. Her tiny pink tank top shimmers predicting the high noon blaze to come.


About the Author

Atwater’s fiction is published in Cowboy Jamboree, LitroNY, American Literary Review, Roanoke Review, PANK and others.


Image by Alexandre Lacerda de Almeida from Pixabay