Arrivals / Departures

Travis Stephens

Before the poet left he taught her to run the chainsaw. It was the Stihl they bought together and she kept. He wouldn’t need it in LA. Amy loaded her pickup, which she had owned before the poet years, and caught a ferry to Vancouver Island.

The poet had been a farm kid and told funny stories about milking cows, aggressive chickens and baling hay. He had picked up a number of skills from the farm—welding, plumbing, rough carpentry and keeping old engines limping along. He taught her how to run a chainsaw because she asked him to. When she had fired it into a snarling, spitting thing he watched her lop a fallen branch into firewood.

“Good,” he said. “Don’t force it. Let the saw do the cutting.”

Whatever, she thought. When she killed the engine he took it from her. “Bring a chunk of that wood,” he said. “Lemme show you how to sharpen it.”

He had set the saw on the ground and they had hunkered next to it. The poet pointed out cutter teeth and tie straps, and put a round file to a cutter chisel.

“Make it shiny,” he said. “Take a break every so often and sharpen the blade.”

“How often?”

“My old man would do it whenever he needed a smoke break.”

“That is no help whatsoever.”

The poet did have a lovely smile. Always had that going for him. Problem was, he knew it. Amy knew that he owed her half the rent for the last month he was with her. Never had written her a single love poem either.

The last two days of rain had stopped. Mist and fog rose from the ground where the sun found it, slanting beams of September that looked warmer than they were. Amy put the saw and a can of gas in the trunk of her truck and set a thermos of coffee on the seat. Sylvia leapt into the passenger seat and put her paws on the dash. Of course she was muddy and Amy let it go.

She had rented the house known as the Pink House. Three bedroom, so more than she ever needed, but it came furnished and was cheap. The yard was dominated by a trio of pines, one of which threw an protective branch over the small porch. Amy didn’t lock the door because she had misplaced the key shortly after moving in. A line from a Guy Clark song came to mind:

“Leave the key in that old front door lock, they’ll find it likely as not…”

Sylvia settled onto the seat and put her nose an Amy’s thigh. When Amy pushed on the gas pedal she felt the muscles in her thigh shift below Sylvia’s weight. As a puppy Sylvia had curled in the pocket of Amy’s lap, the entire circle of puppy with room to spare. Now the dog would not fit of course and deigned to even try. The dog stood to Amy’s knee, a watchful presence who’s growl sounded at strangers matched Amy’s feelings exactly. That deckhand on the ferry who waved Amy’s truck into place before lingering to smile at her? Growl. When the deckhand made a step closer a growl even he could hear. Atta girl.

When the ferry landed Amy was already in the cab. The vessel bounced and jounced, then settled into her lines. When the ramp was down and the chains pulled back Amy and the dog were the first to start their engines. Ahead of them was open road, a new day. The chainsaw was sharp and as ready as she was. This one could go either way.



Travis Stephens is a tugboat captain who lives and works in California. His book of poetry, skeeter bit & still drunk was published by Finishing Line Press. Visit him at: