1. Clean Your Room; Dirty Room, Dirty Life.
My room’s got a crack running down it’s middle and I’m cleaning the motherfucker with a wire hanger—hands and knees!—and light’s bad to see my work, just a 40 Watt and whatever comes through my little window. But crack’s getting clean anyways, along with my room.
And when I finish, me and Freedom are going to the doctor. Going to get that dialysis, going to hook Freedom up to that machine, get that stuff out of him. He’s dying. Gotta get him living, again. That means two things: Five Rules (what else!) and getting Freedom where he needs to go, get him fixed up.
Weather’s strange though, through my window, which puts me on edge—no, provides me with challenges, challenges I have an opportunity to overcome on account of the dually being busted and there being no other vehicle than that Ford which is unwieldy and stick shifted—a form of transmission I do not feel comfortable operating, especially in the rain—providing me with challenges galore.
But the sky and the crack are two different things and I control one of them. That’s all part of it, Frank says—he made the rules and organizes the meetings and what not: great man who helps many—knowing what’s yours and knowing what’s God’s, or someone else’s, or no one else’s. Those are the tough ones: the ones that are no one else’s.
Clock’s ticking. 7:25. Gotta burn ass on the crack and the room and get dressed right and eat and convince Freedom to let me take him. He can’t drive stick neither on account of his condition, all backed up and swole, can’t barely bend his left foot for the clutch. He needs me and knows it—don’t matter if he’s afraid of dying, afraid of doctors, afraid of that machine. Fuck all. He’ll die if not and I’m his man, whether he wants me or no—that’s called initiative motherfucker, Frank says.
Batteries, Cheetos, baseball cards, toenails, dead spiders, BBs, clumps of hair, a doll’s foot: crack’s got all kinds of stuff. We got it on account of the shift. These trailers come in halves off the truck and our lands moving beneath us, pushed the East half proud of the West an inch and a quarter. Crack supposed to be seamless, but ours is plain, each half drifting apart, probably still moving, probably someday’ll fall open like a cardboard box and I’ll wake up staring at the sun.
And now it’s clean. 7:30. Best check on Freedom. Get his ass in gear. Gonna be a good day and challenges will be met with verve and intensity. I walk down the hall to the kitchen—trailer’s a hallway, basically (they bought this thing out of a catalog! Boomed it down, Freedom says, dropped it from the sky). It’s a box with a hall for to walk down it’s middle. Kitchen’s in the middle of the middle. Freedom’s down there, eating, fucking around on his tablet, or he’s asleep.
Kitchen’s warm and smells like Jimmy Dean’s. I go to the kitchen sink to get a glass of water, look out the window. I see Scotty out there—sister’s boyfriend, lives across the driveway with her in the other trailer— beating the dually’s engine block in two rhythms at once, out on the gravel, noisy and dressed with a pressed, greased, Sheriff’s uniform unbuttoned; hands greasy too and his sunglasses—tactical, he calls them—dropped down on the tip of his nose, showing his eyes and I can see plain as day that he is flying high and hard on something; eyeballs too big and black, almost no white in them—high and hard. You can tell by the way he’s throwing his weight around, all rough and weird, gun and belt cockeyed, banging clamorous against the truck.
I smile. There was some talk of Scotty getting the dually going so Freedom could take himself—no sir. I can see that Scotty is just getting started and doing who-the-fuck-knows in his state. So Freedom’s riding with me!
I turn to look at him. Light leaks through the trailer’s smudged window and shines pale against the tablet screen Freedom moves his fingers across.
He takes off the headphones. “What do you want?” he says, turning to me with his big legs planted as sick trees in the carpet, varicose and dense, same diameter all the way down and held together by long black pressure socks.
“It’s getting time to go. You got a date with that machine.”
He puts his headphones back in. A man in his pajamas with a red face is screaming at him from the screen’s surface. I walk over and get in his line of sight to overcome that challenge. He takes the headphones out and looks at me.
“What’s that to you?” he says.
“No you ain’t.”
“No you ain’t. Driving myself. Get me my pills.”
“How you doing that?” I say, walking to the counter to get the plastic pill box, randomly filled, days of the week disregarded as irrelevant.
“My business,” Freedom says, putting his headphones back in, frowning, squirming a little in his chair.
I look outside from the kitchen bar and Scotty pulls something big and galvanized off the block and throws it over his shoulder.
I turn back to Freedom. He’s sweating. “If you think you’re driving, you’re wrong. Scotty’s got the dually all torn to hell.”
I hand him his pills. He’s got the tablet on the table and he’s holding the edge of it stiff and breathing hard, one headphone hanging off his huge head as he tries to focus on the screen. These pain spells come and go.
“So, I guess I’m driving,” I say.
“That’s rich,” Freedom says between breaths. “I’m driving myself. Scotty says—”
“Scotty’s full of shit. He just started working on the dually a few minutes ago.”
“Watch your fucking mouth, he’s a civil servant,” Freedom says. And then, “Besides, just because you can break an engine, doesn’t mean you can fix it.”
And I feel that, the acid kicked up at his fucking ignorance and blame because I take care of that dually like it was my life—I take care of property, look at my room, look at the spotlessness of my crack!—and he knows it and smiles back at me though he’s sweating in the pain of his kidneys and I stand here stuttering like a fool with my face all red.
“You is sneaking out at night, going to those little meetings of yours, taking my truck and trashing it, I’m sure,” he says. His breath is labored. Scotty is banging away. Then he says, “I know you don’t prime that diesel with how cold it’s been. You probably don’t know, but when you don’t pull that little knob your Mama uses to hang her purse on, it’ll hurt your vehicle, jacks up your compression.” He’s grinning and clenching his big teeth.
And I stand there trying to think and can only say, “I warmed the block. I pulled it.”
“Well I say you didn’t. Besides, you can’t drive stick,” he says. “How you going to take me to the doctor in the Ford? Think of that?”
“I been practicing!” I say, stomping my foot.
“Bullshit,” he says simple and confident, big shoulders moving up and down. He turns back to the tablet and I stand there as a cloud moves past the sun, darkening the trailer’s inside, moving shadows over our faces. I stand sick with rage, watching myself watch him, embarrassed by the hot tears I feel loading behind my cheeks. And I watch myself lean forward, face close to his, over his shoulder, and say loud to overcome the headphones: “I am dragging your old ass through the fucking gravel if I have to.”
And he turns and I step back with my hands shaking and eyes wet and he gropes for his walker, his eyes dark and pissed, just as the door flies open and Mom’s backside shuffles in backwards, talking to little Luna, Stella’s daughter, carrying an old cardboard box. Luna runs silent and fast into Freedom’s legs to hug him and he staggers back and pats her head, wincing.
“Y’all know what Scotty’s doing out there?” Mama asks, placing the box on the kitchen bar, standing on tiptoes to see Scotty in the driveway. “Got his uniform all greased up and he’s going into the station today.”
Luna reaches for Freedom’s tablet and Freedom catches her hand. “No, no, Luna dear. That’s for Grandpa. Ok?” he says loudly. “You understand?”
Luna nods. She has never spoken—though we think she can, that it’s not some disorder. Confidence or some shit. We all know how that goes.
“Gonna get dressed,” I say and start walking back, Freedom and me eyeing each other over Luna’s pigtails. “Twenty minutes!” I add. And Freedom looks gray and stony as he pats Luna’s back.
2. Wear a suit. Dress the way you want to be treated.
Scotty stopped banging but now I hear him yelling, arguing with Stella across the driveway—now, how the fuck, Freedom, is Scotty going to fix the dually while he’s yelling at your daughter? Huh? I think to myself, walking to my room. I can hear them now through the walls of our hallway, dull and barky, like dogs.
Frank says power is will but Freedom and this fucking situation gets me tore up and feeling bad about myself something awful, which throws a wrench in everything I am trying to do with The Five Rules, turns my will to jelly and I lose my power.
But I can’t think that way, day full of opportunity as it is. And I’m the man to rise to its call, though it’s difficult, made that way by Scotty and Stella screaming across the way. They fight a lot and we feel it in our guts when they start in. And we all listen careful, in case Scotty starts beating on her. But we don’t know what we’d do if he did. He’s with the Sheriffs and armed so we don’t like to talk about it. I sure don’t though that’s candy ass bullshit.
I follow the crack down the hallway and here I am: my door. It is filthy! The last thing I got to clean and I been avoiding it. Frank says, “there’s always gonna be a little shit left in your asshole, no matter how hard you wipe. It just takes time to get it out.” Ain’t that the truth? This old door is my asshole and these posters are my shit at the bottom of this trailer. Don’t get me wrong. I got the Five Rules posted over everything but years of posters underneath that—can’t bring myself to get rid of them. Something about a door, it’s like a record, like you’re stepping through your past every time you head out and face the world.
First thing I put up there were these posters Freedom and I won at the Evergreen State Fair back in the day—got terrorists on them as targets. We shot ‘em all to hell and the man said it was pretty good because the guns at the fair aren’t made to shoot right and I got hella tickets. Next thing was Kenny, from South Park? He just cracks me up, man. Quiet-like, always watching, knows the right thing to do but can’t do shit, dying over and over again—like that time Stan pushed him into the woodchipper! How do they come up with that stuff? Mom hated Kenny so one time ripped him down and I found him in the trash and saved him (Haha!), taped him back up and hid him for a while before posting him up again, big eyes blinking down the hall.
Over him I got Iddy—he’s this sick-ass rapper whose videos I used to watch on MTV. On the poster he’s pointing at you and calling you “Bitch,” which I thought was funnier than hell, but got Freedom riled up and one time we got in a big fight and he marched up to Iddy with his razer knife and cut fuckin’ holes in his eyes, and I caught him doing it and pushed him away and he cut my cheek with the knife—not sure if it was on purpose—but I hauled off and hit him except I never hit no one before and it didn’t work right, wrist got all folded wrong in his big fat neck, and just sort of crumpled there. Then he hauled off and hit me. Hard. So I started crying—ain’t proud of it!—said fuck you and he said fuck you and I split for a couple of days. Slept under a bridge with Ricky Smith and huffed paint outta socks and stole hot pockets from the corner store until Freedom came and found me—he found me!—dragged my ass back in the dually and didn’t say a goddamn word ‘til we got home, and when I walked down the hall and saw my door, Iddy was still there but his eyes were gone too.
Then, almost right after, to spite Freedom, just to get into his head, I found this poster of Marilyn Manson, like almost naked, just some leather straps over his tits with his cock tucked back so it looks like he’s got none, and I think Freedom felt so bad about kicking me out of the house that he didn’t say anything! And I was, like, surprised because if he didn’t like Iddy… But that’s around the time when he got his condition and went to the hospital and started getting into politics and watching them videos in the computer room, so I don’t even know if he noticed.
Anyways, I found Frank and things started to turn around. Five Rules, you know? I went down to Kinkos and printed them out so everyone in the house could see I was changing, that I was getting my shit together—posted it right over Manson, Rule #1 just between his legs, like they was getting born right out of Manson’s tucked-in cock.
Door open. Room feels refreshing! Clean, man. A place of control. It takes my breath away. There it is. Suit hanging where I left it. Gonna brush that fucker up and be ready to face the world and Freedom and whatever. Got a little wire brush and brush it every day because suits ain’t like other clothes, you know? They take vigilance, like all good things.
I admit, when I first read this rule on the website, I was suspicious. Nobody I know wears suits, and I didn’t get it, how people judge you when they see you, size you up and see whatever you’re showing them, as if you were speaking, as if you were telling them your life story.
And anyways, I was in a bad way, feeling way down, huffing bleach too much, coming off bad deals, Googling how to fucking kill myself, which, I know! bad idea, but that’s what I was doing: fifty pounds heavier, jerking off, clicking pictures of dudes hanging from baling wire or holding plugged-in toasters in the bathtub, hands all charred, hair sticking up, water all grey and muddled, but through it all, thank God, I clicked on a link that said “how not to kill myself,” which I thought, you know, why the fuck not, I was high. So I scrolled around and clicked on a link that said DON’T BE A PUSSY.
There it was, The Five Rules, the organization. First thing I saw was a little GIF of a barn on fire which flashed to a picture of Uncle Sam which flashed to a picture of a cat, circled in red with a line right through its middle. I was like, what the fuck? But I kept scrolling and started reading to my salvation. It said,
You’re going to die. Everyone you know is going to die.
Your grandma and grandpa are dead, probably, or will be soon.
Their parents have been dead for years.
You’d say that you already know this. You’d tell me, “duh, Frank, what the fuck else is going to happen?” To which I respond, fucking-A. But how come you’re acting like you have all the time in the world, like you can just sit on the couch and touch your balls?
You want to off yourself, go for it, makes no difference to the rest of us. But ask yourself one thing. You going to pay for your meal? Or are you going to leave the bill on the table for somebody else to pay? Pathetic.
And that was it, man. Frank got me—and Frank is awesome, funny dude, super driven, helping all us motherfuckers get our shit together, posting the videos, got the Podcast, helping us get the fire started!—showing me all kinds of ways I been sitting back, thinking just about my own little horseshit life, not living for anything bigger, not thinking about other people, not participating. That’s the thing. Got to participate. Can’t let life just happen.
Frank got these meetings everywhere, all over the country, and they have one down in Smokey Point at the VFW hall. So I cleaned my room and took the dually and went to K-Mart and bought a suit—you ain’t showing up to meeting without a suit on. That would be a bad idea, Frank makes that clear in all the videos. And they was fresh out except for the one I’m brushing right now. On the plastic man under a light, all the shelves around it empty on account of that K-Mart going out of business; and it was weird that the last one left was probably the most fucking awesome—badass-like, Neo in the Matrix kind of shit, all black, cool green stripes all up and down.
When I tried it on in the dressing room it was like, whoa—a little small, but whatever—who is this guy, you know? And I got it. I was like Holy mackerel. I ain’t got no friends because I been telling the world I’m a piece of shit, my clothes all sweatpants and free t-shirts and blaze orange whatever. And who wants to hang out with a piece of shit? I don’t. I want to hang out with this motherfucker, right here in the K-Mart dressing room.
3. Get Punched in The Face Every Six Months
Hair is slicked back and I walk from my room like a new fucking man.
Everything is stone quiet and I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and those stripes are working! And I know the day is good from here, this point on, onward and fucking upward!
A pot falls in the kitchen and many beans sound against the linoleum. I walk down the hall and enter the kitchen to see no one but Scotty standing before the stove in a mess of cereal—fridge dumped out—pots and pans, broken eggs, and him eating peanut butter out of the jar with his black greased fingers, sunglasses pushed all the way up.
He smiles real nice and says, “Hello young man.”
“What the fuck?”
He’s big and filthy, barrel chested with a crew cut, taking up lots of space like a bear in the house. He huffs a little giggle. Peanut butter splatters on the microwave and on his sunglasses.
“Y’all got anymore Jimmy Dean’s?” he asks.
“We ate them,” I say. Not knowing what to say, wondering where everybody is, hearing only birds.
“Oh man!” he yells and kicks a heavy cast iron pan without wincing. It goes straight to my fucking shin and I see white and scream and stomp my other foot. “They smell good too,” he says. “Shit!” And he’s up, I’m watching him as he leaps, goat footed, gun swinging wild between his legs, up from the floor to the counter, dancing, kicking coffee cups off it.
I limp through the kitchen, dodging shrapnel. “Freedom!” I holler, getting to the living room to stand and see out the open front door. And I’m stopped by everyone, staring back at me under a luminous, gray sky. They appear strangely in that light, all scattered on the gravel driveway, sky shifting bright to dull, all prepared to leave somewhere in their coats; Luna wearing her backpack and held by Mom; Freedom standing to the side with his walker and an old hoodie and shorts, wearing an embarrassed expression— all of them fixed on me, looking like I’m late for something planned, something expected.
I feel Scotty’s girth hit the floor and swear the crack shifts a little under the dining table.
“S’all right, young man. We’ll get us some Egg McMuffins on the way” he says quiet, patting my shoulder with his mit, smearing my suit with engine grease and peanut butter.
I look at my watch. I should have left with Freedom two minutes ago.
I follow Scotty outside to the deck which looks over the hill our trailers sit on, with its winding gravel driveway, disappearing around a bend, and making its way through the trees down to Gunderson Road.
Scotty’s walking down the ramp and trips and swerves his way down the planks and I follow and stand between Freedom and Mom on the gravel. I see Stella now too, blond, cold looking, sitting behind the dually with a bleeding jaw and looking bored.
“Well, let’s get to it,” Scotty says, standing by the dually pigeon-toed and staring at nothing.
Mom and me trade looks. The clouds seem to drop elevation and a little wind kicks up. Out past the roof the Doug Firs in the distance are gauzy with rain, like the sky is coming loose and falling over everything.
I don’t know what to say. Scotty stands there grinning and flashing his sunglasses, so I open my mouth and hope something comes, hoping to God it’s the right thing to say.
Before I do, I hear Freedom say, “You know there Scotty, I am feeling better. Wouldn’t you know it?” He looks sideways at me and Mom. “I don’t need to go to no doctor,” he says, beginning to tremble. “Honest.”
Luna squirms and reaches out for Stella who doesn’t notice.
Scotty looks at Freedom.
“See, I’m feeling better, so no worries, man,” Freedom says, leaning forward, sweating. I can see he is starting to hurt. A few drops of rain sound against the roof of the dually and begins to speckle his cotton shorts.
Luna is squirming. Mom scolds her and she stops.
“I don’t get it. I thought you was in a bad way, thought you had to go?” Scotty says, pulling his gun and gnawing on the barrel with loud clicks, his knuckles white on the grip.
“Well, I—” Freedom says.
“It’s that I’m taking him, Scotty. That’s it,” I interrupt.
Everyone turns to me. Stella looks confused.
“Why? We had it all arranged,” Scotty says. “Going to drop off Freedom on the way to the station.”
“Thought I’d spare you the trouble, is all,” I say. “He’s my Daddy, Scotty. Anyways, it’s mine to do, no call making you do what’s mine. I’m happy to do it.”
The rain drags across the trees and hangs before us like a wall of water and smells like flint, twenty feet or so behind the dually and a sun break, somewhere far behind it, shines through the drops in one solid beam, like a flashlight. Scotty moves to the open hood, steps over the wires and old iron parts he ripped out and left to lay— he shuts it hard and steadies himself against the truck.
“No trouble, like to do what I promised,” he says, slurring, leaving the gun between his teeth and walking to Freedom, taking him with both hands, and escorting him gently to the dually.
Freedom is almost doubled over onto his walker and shaking and sometimes smiling real big. “It’s just I’m feeling better is all,” he says as Scotty opens the door to the dead truck, turns Freedom around, and lifts him into the back of the cab. “Don’t think I need it,” we hear Freedom say as the door clicks shut.
“I’d like to make it a family thing,” Scotty says as the rain moves closer across the trees and into the clearing where our trailers sit.
Stella gets up, brushing gravel off her ass, and gets in the truck, looking like she is killing time. A feeling in my stomach like a big drop into nothing widens as Scotty stands there in the sounds of rainfall beating on everything. I see Freedom’s head bang against the window, squirming in there alone and we all stand in silence, suspended in the moment, unable to leave Freedom with nowhere to go besides. Probably would have stood there for a long time but Scotty wrestles Luna free from Mom and brings her, limp and scared, into the cab and shuts the door. Luna looks at us through the dirty glass, laying her head against Scotty’s shoulder, dark eyed and expectant.
4. A man is not a man without responsibility, no exceptions.
Me and Mom are standing out there in the rain, little flurries of it marking the gravel in dark confetti. The squall moves closer, the wall of rain ten feet away. Mom looks tired, wracked by it all, breathing shaky like she’s going to cry, and I can tell, bodily needing to be in that gutless truck with Luna, making sure she is OK, I know it.
She turns to me and says real low, “get the .45 in the bureau.”
A cold feeling goes down my back and settles in my stomach and a little puke teases the my throat. I nod just as Scotty rolls down his window.
“Y’all coming? Freedom’s hurtin’ you know?”
Mom watches me as she walks to the passenger side and Scotty is turning the key, silent in the ignition. I can tell as his elbow moves, turning and turning, trying to get the spark plugs he pulled to ignite over the headless pistons. I can smell the wet dust, me getting wetter, until the feeling gets to be too much. I’m gonna puke. I turn and walk to the trailer to get the .45.
Scotty doesn’t seem to notice and I eye the truck, walking up the ramp. I get onto the deck and see into the cab, see that Mom is now holding Luna, engaging Scotty in some conversation, pointing at the dashboard; and I see Freedom, and can’t bear to look, Stella pressed against her door, getting as far from him as possible, and he, his mouth open wide in a silent scream, is beating on his knees and twisting, and I must turn away and face the gun in Mom’s bureau.
I get to it trying not to think, but can’t help knowing the fact that I will be pulling a gun on Scotty while he’s coming down off crank, pissed as all get out, holding a gun of his own; there will be kids and women who will get shot if I do it wrong and the cold feeling squeezes my guts out and I do puke, all over Freedom’s boots he has lined up against the wall, feel hot and shameful tears running down my cheeks. I pull myself up and open the top drawer of the bureau and its laying there, a black L on top of Mom’s underwear and I take it with a trembling hand and look at it, and hate it with all my heart, hate it with the hate of my life, revealed in the dark cavity of its black outline, this hopeless goddamn shithole, and all things that that brought me here—and I wish that I was never born to this day and cry and laugh at the joke of it.
But I am here with a gun in my hand, the only one to help my little niece, my jacked-up fucking sister, my ailing father and my helpless mother. It is me and only me with the power of the moment, the opportunity, the will to help—if anything were to happen to them now, it would be on me and me only, and this truth bears down as a knife on my head and pushes me, huffing in my tears, with puke on my lips, out, through the living room, through the door, to the deck, and it is darkly silent.
5. Only Help.
A dry square dampens in the heavy rainfall where the dually used to be.
The sun break shoves a cylinder of light through the rain which falls solidly over the trailer, and I am drenched in the golden, wet color of it, watching the dry gravel disappear. They are gone, family disgorged in their gutless truck with no hope of leaving, like some prophet ejected to heaven in a fiery chariot; and I’m blinking in the rain with a gun in my hand not believing my eyes and feeling light and jittery, waiting for a truck to fall out of the sky.
Then the sound of metal grinding gravel, and I turn and catch a glimpse of the dually’s front bumper disappearing around the bend, down the hill from the trailer. No sound of engine, no exhaust beating out time against the old rusted muffler and now I know now that Scotty’s got it in neutral, had pushed it backwards ‘til it coasted, down the hill, silent and fast to Gunderson Road. So I take off running, knowing that Scotty won’t stop, won’t care to stop, falling with no power steering, pell-mell to the road and the fields and the woods beyond.
I leave the trailers behind me and keep running past the old garden patch mom left to fallow, down the hill and around the bend and stop at the crest to see the truck’s nose disappear around another turn, bouncing wild in the furrows and sprint on, leaving it all behind, running blank, burning my lungs up, falling down the hill, tripping over furrows, falling toward the wild leaping dually.
It’s a long driveway and fear like light flattens my thoughts, and they come at random as the trees rush past and I cross our property line. They bought all this for the horses, I remember, back when Freedom’s name was Dale, back when he had the machine shop and could pay for Mom to haul Arabians and Quarterhorses across the country, showing them from Missoula to Pendleton, dancing under the big halogen lights; back when Mom would smile and Stella still went to school.
The truck rattles through the trees and I think I hear a sharp welp come from somewhere and hope to Jesus Scotty can keep it on the gravel. I know this turn switches back, so I leap down a bank to meet up with it on the other side, down into the wet earth and rotting wood and sick smells. My suit pant rips wide as I run and the dirt is black and soft and sinking.
We buried the first horse, Jackson, the Arabian, next to the driveway, soon after Freedom changed his name, after we watched the planes fly into them buildings on 9-11—big and free until the explosion, and Freedom cried—never seen him cry—and started listening to the radio and getting on the internet. Jackson got bloat from bad oats and Mom walked him all day trying to get the gas out but it was no use. Freedom found her down here somewhere, draped over the horse, laying there, his big guts twice the size they ought to be.
I’m half up the other side of the gully and hear the dually glide past, quiet and heavy above the rim, and swear I hear a little girl screaming. I throw off my coat and tuck the gun in my pants and grab big clumps of rotten wood to scramble, getting to the top, dirty as hell, limping down after the dually. I can see it clear now because the rest of the way is straight, bramble and trees falling away at the side of the driveway, a hall of huckleberry and blackberry bushes, choking the old trees, and beyond it, Gunderson Road, a big four lane where everybody drives too fast to see much that surprises them.
I can see them all inside behind the glass, tossed about, Scotty’s big arm stiff against the wheel, bent backwards against the bench seat, steering, Stella holding on for dear life, Mom with her eyes closed, hugging Luna, and Freedom’s limp body rag dolling, head banging against the steel roof of the dually cab in the back seat. I am sprinting, yelling their names, getting hoarse, aching all over, crying and screaming down the hall of trees. I get to the road just as they clear the far side ditch, crossing into a field, their front end catching air when it hits a mound and tipping up, straight against the clouds so I can see the underside, the spinning drivetrain, the suspension, the dead engine works, and then they’re gone, behind a hump over which I cannot see. And I am running across Gunderson with all my might, .45 falling down my pants, through my pant leg and kicked away. I reach the crest of the hill and look down and place my hands on my head and breathe, breathe, breathe.
Mom stopped showing the horses and dropped her travel trailer across from our new double wide. Stella soon moved into it, when she was thirteen, at Freedom’s recommendation, on account of she and Mom not getting along.
Mom didn’t work with the mare anymore, just let her graze in the field, cleaning out her stall when she felt like it. Stella was getting high for the first time the day it died. It was November, fog had trickled in, soaking the orange and red leaves with frost. Stella was sixteen and was with a boy named Billy Boyce who crushed the Percocet with a spoon in one of Sandy’s cast iron pans.
The mare fell in a hole. Freedom had dug it to burn garbage in and it was narrow—about four feet wide, but deep, ten or twelve feet. The mare fell in headfirst, golden flank fit for the hole.
Mom was on her way to check on Stella, make sure the boy she brought home was behaving himself when she saw the mare, out there in the fenceless paddock, legs kicking desperate in the fog. Then the sound it made, a sound we’d never forget, a high-pitched throaty huff, muffled by the black earth.
Stella heard it too. Naked from the waist up; she pushed Billy off her and ran to the window, meeting eyes with Mom across the yard— Mom, with parka and bare head, running her fingers through her hair, Stella, little breasts pushed against the window and an Angel’s kiss of Percocet blooming on her nose.
We all came to the sound of Mom screaming, her hand hovering over the jerking hooves and we gathered about it, separate and sullen, as strangers at a funeral gazing down into the split earth. When it was all said and done, we couldn’t get a good shot at it. Freedom lost a clip and half before the Morgan stopped kicking.