Travis Stephens

The wind, it seemed, to come from every direction. Or there was no wind, only the cold lapping at them like it was a rising sea. They walked together because they had to get out of the house. Not their house, or hers, but the house she was raised in. Her parents’ house, warm and comfortable until now.

They’ll get over it, she said.

I doubt it.

It’s just the surprise.

He stopped with his hands jammed into his pockets. At least she had the sense to wear mittens. He had a pair of poker chips in his pocket and he slid them against each other, wishing the buzz of their friction were warmer.

No, he said, it’s more than the surprise. You could see it in their eyes. The last thing they wanted was for their daughter to marry somebody like me. To run off and elope like we were running from the law.

We weren’t running from the law, she said. Besides, Annie eloped when she and Matthew got married. She cocked her head at him the way she did when she was choosing her words. Did none of your family elope?

Bill had a wedding. Eileen too. Glen got married in a courthouse way down in Texas. He shrugged, ventured a smile. Glen is the only one that stuck. He’s still married.

There you go. We’ll play the odds. She said it with the finality he was accustomed to. He’s never met someone so solid in her convictions, so ready to make a decision and run with it. It what got us here, he thought, leaving a perfectly acceptable job dealing blackjack on a Mississippi casino boat for two days of driving north. Yeah, Thanksgiving week is a quiet one in the casino, but still.

He licked at the frozen ground with his wingtips and half expected it to spark. Goddamn it was cold, so much colder than home in Tennessee. She stepped deeper into the copse of trees and bent to pluck a leaf from the ground. She approached him. He watched her hold the leaf and snap it before her nose.

Wintergreen, she said, and held the leaf to him. He bent and sniffed, but mostly felt the run in his nose, the edge of a sneeze.

A bird passed through the trees so close by and they could hear it beats its wings.

We should get back, he said.

Why, she said. Let’s give them a little more time.

No, I don’t mean go back to your folks. I mean we should load up and go back to work. To the casino.

Frank, no. They’ll come around. Just need a little more time. Besides, it’s Thanksgiving in a few days.

If you say so. She saw the edge settle into the line of his mouth, the same line that spoiled his looks and usually meant the cards were not behaving as they should.

Me, I don’t see any turkeys around. Except us.

She shot him a look.

Gobble, gobble he said.

She smiled so he returned it. Thank god.

I read about Chicago, he said. Seems like a place for you and me to visit.

It’s three hours away.

Seems close enough for me. Let’s go there.

She chewed on her lip. What about my parents?

Tell them we don’t mean to put them out, all unannounced and all. If they want we can come back Thursday.

She knew that he liked to open with low cards rather than face. Liked to see if his guesses about the other payer’s hands were right.

You Southerners, she said. So smooth.

Y’all like it, he answered.

God help us, she answered, sometimes we do.





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: