“Everything is Ours” by Jen Corrigan

 from West Trade Review, Spring 2018, Vol. 9  ©2018
A nominee for the 2017 Pushcart Prize, Jen Corrigan’s prose has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Pithead Chapel, Change Seven Magazine, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere. She is also a book reviewer for The Coil. Visit her at www.jen-corrigan.com.
“Everything is Ours”
by Jen Corrigan

          It was surprisingly cool in the bathroom at the back of the church. The two girls had tucked themselves into the stall on the far left, the one with an OUT OF ORDER sign taped to the door. The sign was Nicole’s idea, a precaution against the nosy camp chaperones who might notice they were gone and go looking for them.

The theme for the last day of Bible camp was deliverance, or obedience, or some other –ence word. Tina did her best to look attentive and innocuous during the opening scripture reading. Sitting in a pew as far back from Pastor Rick as possible, Tina used a hymnal balanced on her knees as a makeshift table. Without looking down, Tina scrawled OUT OF ORDER in big, authoritative letters. Instead of looking at the paper, she watched the sweat dotting Pastor Rick’s brow. In the light filtering through the stained-glass window, the beads looked golden, ringing his head in a luminescent halo.

When Tina lifted the paper up from the hymnal, Nicole elbowed her and pointed to the smears of permanent marker that had leaked through onto the cover, declaring the hymnal OUT OF ORDER.

“You’re going to Hell now,” she whispered in Tina’s ear, the vibration tickling her earlobe in an itch. Tina always seemed to grow hyper-sensitive to itches and skin sensations whenever the girls were together. She also laughed at the smallest things around Nicole. The girls tried to cover their giggles behind their palms, but Pastor Rick heard and shot them a stern look in between scripture.

Tina sat on the toilet seat, back pressed against the wall. She pulled her red, scabby knees up to her chin, arms wrapped tight around her shins to keep herself in place. Nicole sat above her, perched delicately on the tank with the precision of a small parrot. She tucked her long legs between Tina and the damp ceramic of the tank. When one of the girls shifted, the skin of their legs rubbed together, and Tina’s face would glow warm just under her eyes.

“How much longer until this stupid day is over?” Nicole asked, stifling a yawn with the back of her hand. Her charm bracelet jingled against her face.

Tina peered around her calves at the watch on her wrist. The green numbers glowed in the dimly lit bathroom.

“We’ve only been in here forty-five minutes.”

Nicole groaned dramatically, her voice bouncing off the walls and the ceiling in an echo. Tina shushed her.

“Don’t shush me,” Nicole huffed, reaching over and yanking Tina’s greasy red ponytail. “You are not my mother.”

Tina reached up to grab a chunk of Nicole’s hair in return, but Nicole smacked her hand out of the way.

“And you do not touch a black woman’s hair, either.”

Tina scoffed, and a sense of mischief squirmed through her body, up and down her sternum until it rested in the low part of her stomach. “You aren’t a woman.” With a finger, precisely poised, she flicked the flat front of Nicole’s butter-yellow tank top. “You’re what my mom calls a carpenter’s dream: flat as a board.”

Nicole grinned, her small white teeth glowing in the fluorescent dim of the bathroom. She ripped a long strip of toilet paper off the roll, tore it in half, and crumpled each half into a ball which she then put down her shirt and wedged into her training bra. Sticking out her chest and pulling her tank top tight across her body, Nicole wiggled her shoulders.

“How about now? Do I look womanly?”

“You look stupid.” Tina squashed one of Nicole’s paper breasts with her palm. “Nobody would believe those were real.”

Tina looked at Nicole puffing out her chest like a proud peacock about to strut past a group of hens. The clumps of toilet paper under Nicole’s shirt looked lumpy and hard in a way that was both funny and sad.

Sometimes, Tina wasn’t sure if she wanted Nicole or if she just wanted to be Nicole, with her long, lithe body, pretty features, and infectious, slightly crooked grin that made her look older than thirteen. Instead, Tina was chunky and freckled, her arms and legs covered with bright-red specks that only got bigger and redder in the summer sun. The only thing Tina had that Nicole didn’t was breasts, great soft lumps that hurt when she touched them. Nicole wanted breasts so badly, every night doing chest exercises in hopes of stimulating their growth. Tina didn’t think they were worth the trouble.

“I bet Pastor Rick would like them,” Nicole said of her newly constructed bust. She looked mischievously at Tina from the corner of her eye. “He seems like a man who would like a big rack. He probably likes your tits since they’re fucking huge.

Tina felt her face become suddenly hot, like she was leaning into a campfire. She looked at Nicole’s lumpy artificial breasts and imagined Pastor Rick cupping them gently with both hands. A pang went through Tina’s chest. “Yep,” she said, her mouth pulling up on one end into a bitter smirk. “Like a pirate’s dream: a sunken chest.”

Nicole pulled out both wads of toilet paper and tossed them at Tina’s face. Tina shrieked and Nicole laughed.

The door to the bathroom creaked open, and Nicole clamped a hand over her own mouth, choking her laughter quiet. In tense silence, the girls sat completely still and listened as the woman, wheezing slightly, plunked down on the toilet in the stall next to them. As her weight hit the seat, the lid on the tank rattled. Over the course of several minutes, Tina and Nicole refused to look at each other, afraid the look would trigger an outburst of nervous laughter. The woman grunted and sighed, finally completing her bathroom visit by flushing the toilet and leaving without washing her hands.

“That was disgusting,” Nicole said once the door banged shut. Her voice sounded squelched and nasally like she was talking without breathing through her nose.

“Yeah, it was,” Tina agreed, plugging her own nose between two fingers. “And just think she’ll be using those hands to do Jesus crafts with children.”

“The unwashed masses.” Nicole waved a hand in front of her own face as if trying to shoo away the smell. Her charm bracelet tinkled happily like tiny church bells.

Tina had given Nicole the charm bracelet for her ninth birthday, the one Nicole had at the ice skating rink, despite the fact that nobody except her could skate. While Nicole flitted across the ice, her skates making a chkk chkk rhythm across the smooth surface of the sink, Tina and the rest of the guests scooted behind her, wiggling their hips in a sad attempt to propel forward. Fast and almost erratic, Nicole jumped and spun, circling the rink again and again as if she was flying. The way she seemed to skip across the ice reminded Tina of the Jesus lizard on a Discovery channel nature special, running lightning quick over the top of the scummy jungle water.

Tina stayed close to the edge of the rink with her right hand touching the wall at all times as if the contact provided any protection from falling. She moved herself carefully, her skates slipping forward inch by inch. Tina watched the advertisements printed along the walls, visible during the local hockey games broadcasted on a local cable access channel: law firms, realtors, several restaurants in downtown Iowa City with reputations better than their actual food.

Although none of the party guests were as good at skating as Nicole, the second-best skater was Lydia, a girl from out of town whom Nicole met at summer art camp. Shifting her weight from leg to leg, Lydia propelled herself fairly quickly across the rink, keeping up just enough to talk at Nicole’s back. Nicole turned her head over her shoulder to respond, smiling and laughing. Tina hadn’t spoken one word to Lydia, but it was at that moment that Tina knew she hated the girl.

It was as if Tina’s body made the decision for her. The next time Nicole and Lydia swept past her, Tina’s left leg shot out in Lydia’s path. Their skates collided, and Tina and Lydia tumbled to the ground. Tina’s hands were already out to catch her fall.

As if in slow motion, Tina watched Lydia fall beside her. Her feet shooting out behind her, Lydia careened forward, her face falling toward the ice in a perfect arc. Tina gasped, her chest constricting like she had had the wind knocked out of her. She wasn’t sure if she was regretful or simply awed by the trajectory, by the crack as Lydia’s skull met the ice.

Nicole’s mother took that moment to usher everyone off the ice for cake and ice cream while she called Lydia’s parents to come take her to the hospital for stitches. Tina was unscathed. After Nicole opened her presents, she and the guests went back out on the rink. A long pink streak marked the place where Lydia’s head had broken open on the ice. Tina skated over the spot and felt a chill inside her body. The blades of her skates rubbed away Lydia’s blood with every lap around the rink. Her shame, however, rested warm in the pit of her chest.

“God, it reeks in here,” Nicole said, still fanning the air with one hand. With the other hand, Nicole absently traced a phrase of bathroom graffiti carved into the metal wall of the stall. Crissy sux weinerz. “Good for you, Crissy,” Nicole murmured.

“We could sneak back to the group,” Tina suggested. “At least we’d be outside.”

Nicole shook her head, her big loose hair bouncing slightly. “No way. I’d rather sit in a poo cloud for all eternity than go out there and participate.” She scowled at Tina. “I’ll never forgive your mom for convincing my mom to sign me up.”

It was true. Tina’s mother was the reason they were both there, crammed in a stall in a stinky church bathroom.

“It will be good for you,” Tina’s mother had said when she expressed outrage at the idea of going to Bible day camp.

“We’re not even religious! We only go to church on Christmas and Easter,” Tina protested. Nicole called their type the C & E crowd. To emphasize her point, Tina slammed a kitchen cabinet. The dishes inside rattled dangerously.

“Watch it,” her mother said in a low voice that vibrated like a cello being tuned. She slipped a cigarette from her pack and wedged it in between her lips. Her blood-orange lipstick left a thick, bright smear across the filter. “I’ll talk to Nicole’s mom. Nicole can go with you.”

“They’re not religious either!” Tina yelled, feeling the fury well up inside her. Since she was a child, she’d been angry. When the anger came, it felt like a visceral itch, a sensation in her body that demanded to be noticed and wouldn’t go away until something, anything, was destroyed. Her mother assumed it was because Tina’s father left, and took her daughter to therapy where she could talk out the resentment. Tina wasn’t sure what she was angry at, or if it was even really anger she was feeling. She didn’t think much about her dad, but for all she knew, her mother was right, that the absence of a father had fucked up her psyche in some way. The only thing Tina was sure of was that she felt calmer when Nicole was there to smile and laugh and dismiss all Tina’s rage with a joke. Tina’s sense of being different, and afraid of that difference, subsided when the girls were together.

“Tina Marie, don’t you dare raise your voice like that,” Tina’s mother said, raising her own to match her red-faced daughter.

As if a cord inside her snapped, everything came tumbling down. It was a blur. Tina running to the mantle in the living room, Tina clutching one of her mother’s Precious Moment’s statuettes in her hand, Tina hurling it down onto the hardwood floor where it shattered, but in a less satisfying way than she had imagined.

That outburst solidified her mother’s decision to send Tina to Bible camp that summer.

“Mom just wanted me out of the house,” Tina said, reaching out to rub her index finger across Crissy sux weinerz like Nicole had done. “I don’t know why your mom signed you up. She’s never home anyway. Not like you’d bother her.” Nicole’s mother worked long shifts at a hospital over in Cedar Rapids.

Nicole rolled her eyes. Even when she was being obnoxious, she still looked pretty. “She told me she didn’t want me sitting in front of the TV all summer, eating junk food and getting fat. Still, she could have picked something better for me to do than praise Jesus all damn day.” She uncrossed her long legs, recrossed them.

Tina felt desire swell in her chest. I’m going to tell her, Tina thought. The adrenaline ran hot like liquor through her veins.

Nicole sighed, peeled a piece of toilet paper from the roll, and began methodically shredding it with her fingernails. Her chipped glitter nail polish sparkled even in the harsh fluorescent light. “So, what do you want to do to kill time?”

Tina shrugged, feigning apathy. She willed herself to feel calm, but the idea for her reveal was percolating. The fantasy played inside her head, and she watched it like a movie in milliseconds.

“We could play Truth,” Tina suggested. It would be the perfect way of saying it, her revelation masked as just her being goaded into it by a game.

But Nicole shook her head. “Truth isn’t fun anymore. We already know everything about each other.”

Tina nodded, pretending she agreed. “Yeah, Truth is boring.” She paused, lifted her pinky finger to her mouth and gnawed delicately at the skin around her nail. The idea swam into her head and bumped up against the gray matter, like a horrid fish in an aquarium slamming against the glass.

Tina’s voice sounded tinny and far away as she blurted it out. “Maybe we can practice kissing,” she said, her gut deflating. “You know, so we’ll know what we’re doing when we start dating boys.” Her voice put the emphasis on boys. Even to Tina, it seemed like a creepy proposal, and with such a bizarre cover that entirely negated her revelation. The words hung in the air between them, hovering like a horsefly that wouldn’t leave. Tina looked down at her shoes, suddenly interested in the laces, wishing that the words would just drift away.

“Um, I don’t think I want to do that,” Nicole said carefully.

At a distance from herself, Tina tried a breezy giggle, as if none of it mattered, as if she really did just want to practice for boys. “It’s cool,” she said without looking at Nicole. “It was a dumb idea anyway.”

The awkward pressure dissipated as Nicole cleared her throat and recrossed her legs. Leaning over, she dug a fingernail into a scab on her knee. Delicately, almost clinically, Nicole peeled away the rust-red strip from her skin, exposing the oozing red world beneath it. Flicking it from her fingernails, Nicole dropped the scab on the floor where it landed perfectly centered in the middle of a small square of grungy turquoise tile.

“So,” Nicole said, her voice light once again, “what are we going to do about lunch? I’m starving.” Tina looked up at Nicole. While Tina’s cheeks were still glowing like leftover coals, Nicole had moved on, changed the subject entirely. It felt as if, for Nicole, nothing had happened. A surge of shame and disappointment and rage swirled in the pit of Tina’s stomach. She itched for acknowledgment, any notice that, yes, she was there, and that she was the way she was.

Without answering, Tina hopped up off the seat of the toilet and unlatched the stall.

“Where are you going?” Nicole asked.

“You said you were hungry,” Tina replied. “Let’s go.”

“What’s gotten into you?” Nicole asked. With deliberate motions, she unfolded herself and climbed down from her position on top of the toilet tank.

The flare of anger pulsed dangerously inside Tina, stopping her from answering. Instead, she threw open the stall door, banging it against the wall. The sound felt louder, sharper in the small space.

Without looking to see if Nicole was following, Tina threw open the door to the bathroom and marched down the hallway to the small kitchen where fellowship and senior dinners were held.

As she stomped across the church, Tina reveled in the action, the movement. She felt the air against her warm cheeks as she propelled her body in the space. Her arms, her legs, all moved freely in motion. She knew this beauty as change, and an intense joy curled itself around her heart.

Her feet felt light as she trounced into the kitchen. She threw open the door to the small, antiquated refrigerator and peered inside.

“What are you hungry for?” she asked Nicole. Tina pulled out a huge glass platter of turkey and cheese hors d’oeuvres wraps, each one a tight spiral. A sheet of plastic wrap covered the food, crinkling under Tina’s hands. “Want some of these?”

A tingly smile threatened to break Tina’s face. With pleasure, she realized that nothing would ever be the same, that nobody, not even Nicole, could ever quell the fury inside her.

Nicole gaped at her, her eyebrows knit in the kind of guarded look you’d give a crazy person. “We can’t eat those. They aren’t ours.”

Tina laughed. “Everything is ours.” Balancing the platter in one hand, Tina peeled back the plastic wrap, plucked a wrap from the bunch, and popped it in her mouth. The flavor, the texture, everything danced together in a synaptic explosion of taste. Tina chewed, rolling the food around on her tongue a bit before welcoming it down into her stomach. One after another, she shoved the wraps in her mouth, smearing mayonnaise across her lips.

“Tina,” Nicole said in a soft voice. “We can’t.”

The newfound freeness of Tina’s body took over and she watched her arms lower and wrench up, flinging the platter up into the air. The platter careened upward and then back down again before crashing to the floor and shattering. Shards of the glass platter and the wraps exploded across the floor in a loud, delicious sunburst.

Tina looked down at the kitchen floor, at the mess of glass and cheese and mayonnaise. She marveled at how it would never fit back together again, would never be as it was.
















“Down at a Certain Season into the Pool” by John Stephens

John Stephens is a 29-year-old practicing attorney  that lives in New Orleans who attended Louisiana State University as undergraduate where he studied creative writing.  He later attended Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans.


This story originally appeared in West Trade Review, Spring 2017, Vol. 8 ©2017


Down at a Certain Season into the Pool

By John Stephens


The waterline on the walls came up to his neck.  Even after the two foot incline of the entryway wheelchair ramp.  He stood looking at the molded highline as particles floated in piercing sunlight, weightless and defiant.  His sister, Dana, yelled from the road outside.

“Bedan! Should I come in?”

The wall was bowed concavely and large patches of plaster had sloughed away.  Small rotted planks showed, some of them still moist.  How, he didn’t know.  The sun had been vicious since the storm, consuming, as though it meant to burn its ancient grudge with man to the root.

“Gotdamn,” he whispered.

Dana walked up the outside ramp and he looked at the tilted doorway then back at the wall, the floating particles now lost.  His sister stopped at the doorframe.

“You find it?” she asked.

“What?” he replied, his tongue dull, his eyes still at the wall.

“I said did you find it?” She crossed her arms.  Bedan turned his whole body to her.

“And I said find what?” He sharpened his eyes at her, the heat from this place seeming to leak into his forehead.

“You said you had to come inside to get somethin,” she said, and Bedan turned back to the wall.

“Don’t even remember what,” he admitted.  Dana looked at him a while.  Nearby a bulldozer cranked up, whining into gear.

“She was a baptized child of God,” Dana said eventually.  “This ain’t her home anymore.”

Bedan nodded slowly.  “This place,” he said.  “Just a house, then.  Didn’t have any choice but to sit here and go under.”  He turned to his sister.  “And it was the same for her, wasn’t it?  Her just layin here.  She couldn’t even try not to die.  Now you gonna try to talk to me bout the good that comes from splashin water on a gotdamn baby?”

“Bedan!” Dana snapped, and she took a swift step forward but suddenly stopped herself.  Her eyes sunk on him, sorrowfully, as though she could actually see the leak in his head.  “The hand of God could slap you better than I ever could,” she uttered.  “You just hurry up in here.  All’s left is trash.  And our people waitin up off the roadside.”

“I know they are,” he said.  “And let em wait, damnit.  After everything, this here’s the easy part for em.”

“Dont you keep talkin that way at me,” she said.  “You best be happy they called us at all.”

“You go on out,” he said.

She walked back down the ramp to the car and on her way past the old fence in the yard she tugged at the cast iron gate but it halted in a congestion of rust, like the jaw of some long-dead beast.

Bedan turned around, took in the old living room.  Some of his aunt Mamiere’s books were overturned on the floor, one of them opened upward with its pages mildewed and crippled.  He walked over to it and tapped it with his foot and some thin bits of gold gilt scattered from the pages.  Crippled, he thought.  Broken down.

Keeping on, the hallway dark and moist, smelling of all sorts of mishaps.  From shitmud to motor oil.  On the walls hung a dozen crooked pictures, those from his chest on down all dilapidated, smeared outlines of his people within the frames.  He stood before one of them.  He’d known the picture well and though it was washed out he remembered the image of himself as a baby being held in a rag by his Mamiere in an old wooden chair.  The frame lopsided, swollen.  Maybe the last thing in her head.

He stared and licked his thumb to wipe away mold from part of the glass.  Then he straightened the frame on the wall.

Beside him a bowl-shaped light fixture hung from wires where it had lost its holding in the ceiling.  A small remainder of leak-water sat stagnant in the bottom of the glass, delineated by old evaporation lines.  Above it, the hallway ceiling was cracked and sagged and Bedan worried that if he touched the dangling glass the whole of it would crumble down on him.

“I aint ready for that,” he said.  He walked past the hanging glass, a small staircase up on his left and a thick rank coating everything, as though the air itself was ill.

An old carpet running up the middle of the staircase was stained blackgreen, hairy pustules growing atop the matting.  A motorized wheelchair apparatus stuck out from the wall, the connecting platform for the chair near the very bottom.  Maybe she’d made it up to the fourth or fifth step.  Breathing, crawling a short length after falling out of the seat, before the water took her and she just floated off.

He bent over and pushed on the platform where the chair had been attached.  It creaked about an inch.  Bedan shook his head and sat down onto the mess of the rug and laid his elbows into his knees and his head into his palms, his throat feeling like it had begun to unskin itself.

As he sat there a heavy flush of wind rolled through the front threshold, moaning, banging the door against the wall.  Then the moan rushed up into his ears and everything outside his head went silent as noises scraped about in every direction inside of him.  He pressed his palms against his head and the noises turned to urges, each urge a different kind of snake but each with the same hiss.  Then a charge shot up his spine as he stood abruptly and raised the heel of his boot.

When he stomped the fourth or fifth time at the wheelchair platform it broke partly out of the tracks, taking with it a heap of plaster, roaches squirming out from behind it, this whole place stormed into some infested strangeness.  And how the sky gonna send away a lady, he demanded, still kicking at the rubble.  A whole damn old lady.



There was work to ought been done in the front yard, overgrown grass drowned into parched yellow clumps and a cement bird feeder cracked down through the base and leaning with impossible luck, the stone curtsy of it drawn so tiredly.

Bedan walked through the fallen portion of the fence and up to the car where his sister sat in the passenger seat.  The engine had been running and when he opened the driver door he felt the gushing air from the vents. Dana sat looking through the window at the front of the house, her chin on her fingertips.  When Bedan sat he could hear barely over the air conditioner that she was humming.

He looked at her.  “Give it your peace, then,” he said.  “Mine too.”  She continued to hum and she nodded slowly as Bedan grabbed at the pouch on the backside of her seat and pulled out a half drunk pint of whiskey and uncapped it and turned it into his mouth.  Feeding the snakes, or tiring them out.  It didn’t matter.  He capped the bottle and drove.

As he neared the end of the block, Bedan slowed.  A street sign on the left corner lay covered with whatever blackened residue might tire itself in the coursing of a flood.  On the right corner two vehicles were parked, a glistening black sedan beside a tired old truck with wooden makeshift cargo railings implanted into the truckbed panels.  Two white men in ties and pleated slacks stood at the rear of the sedan and behind them a black man in torn overalls leaned with his elbows atop the tailgate, his face drooped there between his arms.

Bedan drove slowly, his eyes set like hounds upon each of the men yet with a greater draw upon the black man.  He stared at him, released the gas pedal and let the car coast.

“Mamiere told me one time,” said the sister, watching Bedan stare out the window.  “If you don’t ever get the urge to take off and run from your job then you ain’t likely doin your job right.  That or you just too tired to try runnin at all.”

“Every geezer gonna say that.”  Bedan pressed the brakes, rolled the window down.  The white men turned to look into the vehicle while the black one stayed with his head down between his elbows.

“Always got trouble with the water, don’t we,” said Bedan.  The whites turned to one another.  Bedan stared beyond them.  “Always gonna have trouble with the water, ain’t we!” he yelled.

The black man lugged his head up, his sagging eyes punctured with wide pupils, bearing already whatever shame might come his way.  He stood there quiet, tired, almost broken, like a man standing by to watch his own self drown.




Down the road Bedan reached behind the seat again and put in a couple more swigs.  Licked his upper lip a while then accidentally jerked at the wheel as he went to put the bottle back.  The boxes of keepsakes clinked.  His sister grabbed at the dash.

“You gonna let a ditch kill us?” she snapped.  “God all good and mighty.”

Bedan said nothing, clenched the steering wheel.  They drove on out of the neighborhood, onto the freeway and west.  There was no more humming, no giving of peace.  Just red unease hanging above the airflow.

“Our people,” Bedan mumbled.  He shook his head.

“What did you say?”

“You called them sons a bitches our people.  Back there at the house.  They ain’t any more our people than the gotdamn chinese are our people.”

“Yeah okay,” she said.  “Get mad, go on and get it.”

“They ain’t got nothin to do with us ‘cept that business back there.  Our people, our people gettin lost, gettin put out.  And for the bottom fuckin dollar.”

“I didn’t say any of this was right.  You best get your mind away from that idea. And away from that tongue while you’re at it.  Yellin at that poor man back there.  Pride doesn’t put food on the table, Bedan.”  She reached at a box in the back seat and moved a lamp post to stop its rattling.

“Everybody a crook,” he said.  “God and everybody.”

“I know it ain’t any good,” she said.  “But you keep all this up you gonna make yourself whole in hate.  And that evil’s a disease.”




They went only a few miles on the freeway before Bedan slowed the car onto an exit and headed towards the river, towards the smokestack plumes of the refineries off there in the distance.

“What now?” said the sister.

“Montichella,” he said.  “Want to check on that horse of hers.”

“That thing aint dead?”

He pulled through some of the city’s longstanding neighborhoods, grass all drowned, sediment set down like decayed fur covering most of everything on the ground and three feet up anything that stood.  Sinkholes in the roads, jagged and gaping.  He hand-cranked the window down and in came the rotten smell of mud, drying out there like grief, drying up but all it takes is another touch of water.

Eventually he made his way to where the flooding hadn’t stuck, near the section of the levee that didn’t had its back broke.  The section that hadn’t had the old ladies around it swallowed up, where the sons and nephews of them ladies didn’t have to come around and knock everything down, didn’t have to confuse their salt and pepper with their pride.

A few more turns before he passed through the rusted gate of the small barnyard, the peeled-paint sign above the driveway of gravel and small white seashells that led to the stables right there where the levee and the railroad tracks came to a corner in the northwest hitch of the city.  The tires clacked against the rocks and dust kicked up as he pulled to the stablehouse and set the car in park.

“How long you gonna be?” she asked.

“Can’t tell for sure.  You can take the car, just be back around dark.”

The stablehouse smelled the same as when he’d been a boy.  Hay, dung and sweat.  He’d swept and shoveled for this place for several of his younger summers, back when his uncle pulled his way into a handful and gone and got that American Quarter halfbreed.  Mamiere liken to make the whole neighborhood’s throat sore for screaming about it so much.

“Hello?” said Bedan.  A beautiful brown stood its head out from a stall and shook.  Tall and shiny, young, saddlebred.  He went down to the stall and held his palm out to the horse, let it sniff.  The brown licked at it a few times, then shook again.  Bedan rubbed its jaw and patted down onto its neck.

“Gotdamn lucky,” he told it.

“Can I help you?”

Bedan turned.  A man had come from the door down the way.

“Come to check on my auntie’s horse,” Bedan said.  “‘Unless I just aint heard bout it dyin yet.”

“The name?”

“Jubilee,” he said.

“I mean your aunt’s name,” said the stranger.  He’d walked up to Bedan and stood there in a worn-out pair of jeans and a denim shirt to match.  Whiskered, tired.  Bedan had never seen him before.

“Her name’s Fisk.  Horse is called Fisk’s Jubilee.”

“Alright,” the man said, nodding.  He looked behind his shoulder towards the end of the hall, looked back at Bedan.  “You got an i.d. or somethin?”

“Need a license to ride a horse?”

“Just askin what I’m told to ask.”

“She’s my mother’s sister, we don’t share the name.  But I’ve been up here the last fifteen years of my life.”  He looked past the man, around and up and down the stalls.  “Where’s mister Cassidy at?”

“I imagine you’re meanin my brother,” said the man.  “He’s out down the levee trottin.  What’s your name?”


“Well, that’s right,” said the man, easing up.  “My brother mentioned you might be comin by.  Your aunt the one who passed in the storm?”

Bedan nodded slowly.

“I’m sorry to hear that.  Fine old horse of hers,” said the man, motioning over his shoulder.  “I come in from Beaumont to help Doug with the mess he had dealt here.  Damn sloppy bunch of it.”  He looked down at his boots and swiped a heel against the dirt.

“The horse,” said Bedan.  “She alright?”

“She is,” said the man, looking back up.  “She’s in the back left down there, all fed and restless if you’re wantin to saddle her.”  He turned and walked down to the stall.  Bedan followed, passed some long snouts and longer eyes tucked back into the stall shadows, faces storm-struck and nagged weary by it, hay dust drifting about in the quiet air.

When they got to the far down stall the brother unclasped the latch and pulled open the swing gate and motioned Bedan into but Bedan stopped just before the opening and looked in at the horse.  Her eyes long like the others but holding captive a more fluid weariness, a black sadness in them moving slight against the bare light like marbles in a breeze.  And the hide, dark brown like a good roux, with a blackhair mane sliding down the neck.  Bedan felt a warmth in himself as he watched at her.

“I brushed her today already,” said the brother.  “I can get the pad and pull down a saddle if you want.”

Bedan walked into the stall and put his hand onto the girl’s snout, rubbed soft, felt the heat swell in his throat.  She gave a few thick breaths and rubbed back against his hand.

“How bout a walk,” he said to her.  The brother walked off behind him and Bedan put his sweaty face down onto the horse’s cheek and felt himself almost apologize to her.

After a few moments the brother came back with the pad and saddle slung over one arm and the bridle held in the other and together they tacked her up in silence as the horse stood there, still and graceful.

When they’d finished readying her the brother took a step back and looked at the horse, then at the man.

“Y’know,” he said.  “Doug and I, when we was younger, we had another brother.  He was the youngest, had some bad legs and fell out into a pond on our old farm one day and drowned.  Doctor told my mother there wasn’t any more hurt or sufferin to it than fillin a glass of water.  Or fallin asleep after a long day’s work.”  He shrugged and put his head down and let the words offer themselves up in the humidity.

Bedan nodded a short while.  Something like cool milk spread in his chest, calming, an understanding to be had here in an otherwise foreign sense of relief.  Silent thanks was given as he nodded once more and let the careful course of the calmness move him.

“I’ll take her on out,” he said.




The leather reins felt like feathers in his sweaty hands as he rode the old girl, took her slow up the stretch onto the crest of the levee.  The breeze climbing along with him and the horse.  Down to his left the railroad tracks paralleled the road and to his right a crescent jut of the Mississippi jawed southward, all that wide brown water strewn about into wildness by the reflections of the sun.

“You,” he said to the water, and then he trotted on.

About a hundred yards down he spotted a manned horse clapping its way back towards the stables.  Watched the man handle the ride.  Cassidy, he thought.  He picked up the old girl’s pace and not long after he came abreast of the rider.

“Mister Cassidy,” said Bedan, nodding his head.

“Be damned,” said the man, tipping the brim of his hat.  “Been too long.”  They both pulled their horses to a quiet and Cassidy looked Bedan up and down.  “I see you got her goin alright,” he said.

“She still knows the way.”

Cassidy nodded and then leaned back and stretched his shoulders and chest out to the sun.  “Ain’t that fine,” he said, and he rubbed the neck of his own horse.  “You stayin around long?” he asked.

“No,” Bedan replied softly.  “I believe I had enough, probably since the minute we come into town.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Cassidy.  “But I admit, the storm has seemed to have a way with messin with the way time works in people’s minds.  Too much of it at once.”

Bedan turned his head, wiped a hand across his eyes and cleared his throat.

“I can keep her long as you need,” Cassidy continued, watching the man beside him.  Bedan nodded slowly.

“Mighty grateful,” he said, and the men looked out beyond the trees.

“People who say blood’s thicker than water,” said Cassidy.  “They never seen the Mississippi.  Not this leg of her anyway.”  He squinted against the down-plow of the setting sun.  “Down here folks abide to the water above all else.  It moves em, takes em.”  He turned to Bedan.  “You know it too true.”

“Your brother,” replied Bedan.  “Told me bout yall’s younger brother.  Bout him out on the farm.”

Cassidy cocked his head.

“Did he now?” he asked.

“Yessir,” Bedan replied softly.

Cassidy turned and eyed down the old stablehouse, then looked back out to the river.

“I dont know why,” he said.  “That man in there’s the only brother I’ve ever had.”  The words were spoken truly and he lifted the rein in his hand and the horse underneath answered with a turn and a slow push back towards the stables.  “You stayin out a while?” he asked.

“Nothin bout a pond on a farm?” Bedan asked, the heat of snakebite in his throat.  “Nothin bout fillin a glass of water?”

“I honestly don’t follow you,” said Cassidy.

Bedan closed his eyes, tightened his grip on the reins.  His horse’s ears laid flat.

“I’ll see you shortly,” Cassidy offered.  As he moved off Bedan said nothing.  Opened his eyes and stared out at the brown passing weight before him, the watery slug of this earthly world that must always move, must always go.  Must flow on out to the ocean, take whatever it has the strength to pull along with it, all the energy involved made into one drowned madness by the tug of this place.

Bedan turned onto the sun and held out his face.  Felt the stinging of his eyes and he thought about how the river would take him if he galloped in.  Just the curiosity of it, how long he could stay up, and how he would have to eventually sink.

He held his face out still, tried to keep his eyes open but the sharp sun pressed them down like hot thumbs against open wounds.  Forced to look away but ordered somehow to stay put, his vision upward refused, the true heart of that fiery thing impossible to know, to understand, but always there, to live with and without at once.

Eventually the white blur faded enough from Bedan’s eyes, his sockets sore and worn.  He turned to the stables, over there in the shade of the levee and standing upright despite all the push and pull.  The forces allowing, accepting of it.  Bedan whispered and nudged the horse, and with his hand on her neck and her tired heartbeat in his palm he led her back to the stables, to the quiet and dark and unforgotten.




“Be damned,” said the man, tipping the brim of his hat.  “Been too long.”  They both pulled their horses to a quiet and Cassidy looked Bedan up and down.  “I see you got her goin alright,” he said.

“She still knows the way.”

Cassidy nodded and then leaned back and stretched his shoulders and chest out to the sun.  “Ain’t that fine,” he said, and he rubbed the next of his own horse.  “You stayin around long?” he asked.

“No,” Bedan replied softly.  “I believe I had enough, probably since the minute we pulled into town.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Cassidy.  “But I admit, the storm has seemed to have a way with messin with the way time works in people’s minds.  Too much of it at once.”

Bedan lowered his head, wiped a hand across his eyes.

“I can keep her long as you need,” Cassidy continued, watching the man beside him.  Bedan nodded.