John Scott Dewey
Don’t lick me no more. Kill me one time. Make fire and burn me up.
Knock my brains out ‘gainst the tree.—Buh Rabbit
SAY YOU’RE TAKING OUT THE TRASH. It’s Wednesday night. Put Scooby Doo on for Missy, help tie her ascot, start a bag of popcorn. Tell her she’s Daphne with Velma’s knack for deduction but so help you god, she better stay put on the couch and not wake up her poor mother. Work was especially hard today and Insurance just denied her Focalin refill.
It’s been a week. Slip out to the garage with a pair of latex gloves and grab the plant pot off the high shelf, the trash bag inside, the lighter. Set it upright on the workbench, clearing plastic bricks, and roll it back like a shirt sleeve, far enough where the death’s head can have a peek at you.
For a decent hit, undo your belt buckle. Rub some spittle on the upper thigh, near the crotch, avoiding the scabs, raw skin, stains. Then with one hand hold the head steady while the other strokes its cheekbone with the lighter, the flame like bristles of a paintbrush, back and forth, till the black flesh weeps. Just one drop will do for now.
Set her down and pull your pants up. Stow away the paraphernalia.
Now be a father: poke your head inside the living room, see Missy’s eyes glued to the big screen, her mouth munching popcorn. Shut the door. Bag trash before the djembe drum triggers the chamber. You’ll be as useful as an ten-year-old then.
The garage—it reeks of pull-ups and pizza boxes, of kitchen liners slouching in the corner, the lot of them poked with mouse holes. Mouse turds everywhere. Say you’ll clean this space soon, build additional shelving, sell the elliptical, make room for Corinne’s craft table. Not tonight, but next month. Missy’s birthday’s coming up. Grades are due Friday. Swear you’ll do it next month. Plastic storage bins and outgrown toys and emptied Amazon boxes lie in heaps on the floor, split down the center by a seam of concrete floor. All sprinkled with turds. Tap the garage door opener, suck your waist in and sidle up.
An evening fog has crawled in off the river, humming over the driveway and Miss Jenkins’ split-level across Fey Road. It halos her sconces, the crescent moon, headlights of a passing pickup.
And the whole neighborhood’s stretched skin-tight, it seems. Fingertips and palms in rhythm, holding you like a whisper.
Nerve endings swell.
Eyebrows rise like little hot air balloons.
THE BLACK GARBAGE BAGS ARE STOCKED on the shelf over the workbench. Don’t dilly-dally like you did at school today, when Trey, Chucks up on an empty chair, broke into Gucci Mane bars in the middle of class. He half-crooned, half-spit the refrain: A hundred-k spent—I get the, I get the baaaaaag. Can’t knock a kid for bringing his soundtrack to school. Ever the “cool teacher,” you nodded like you knew who Gucci Mane was—hip-hop having died with its last real gangsters back in the Nineties—and interjected a teachable moment:
“Irony is Trey, son of a State’s Attorney, pushing anything Gucci. Watch this.”
You warmed up the projector screen and logged on to Gucci.com, displaying the homepage to the class, all thirty students. “This is what qualifies for hip-hop couture.” You scroll down the men’s messenger bags first and click on a light-skinned model donning an eighteen-hundred-dollar half-moon hobo bag and capris. Zoom in on the shirt:
“See what he’s wearing, Trey? It looks like a bowling uniform and probably costs more than your cousin’s house in Chester Harbor.”
There was an air about the model, call it east side chic, what a ticket holder in standby looks like when he’s bumped to business class. Funny how he had the same crown of permed hair as Trey, same almond skin tone—the two might’ve passed for twins. Raising an eyebrow, you looked back and forth between the student and the guy on-screen.
“Something you wanna tell us?”
The kid doesn’t miss a beat. He slipped on aviators, same hue as the model’s, and announced that his weekends are booked through March.
The whole class giggled, and you realized he’s another Carl Anthony Jenkins if there ever was.
SAY IT TAKES YOU TEN MINUTES TO CONSOLIDATE four kitchen liners into these two garbage bags, one in each hand. The green can’s a ninety-foot stroll to the curb, in mostly comfortable strides, the slightest spring set off every fourth or fifth step. How, then, are you standing in Miss Jenkins’ driveway?
Her Jack Russell, still kicking since the day Carl went, yaps at you from the bay window, effectively killing the reverie. Get back across Fey Road and deposit the bags. These feet by now should know where to stop without the brain’s having to tell it to. Even on tar.
Try again, man.
It’s the Anansi eggs, what your dad and you used to craft tar products. You’ve told Corinne about all this. The eggs would ship from some Caribbean island in little cellophane sacks, about a hundred per box, each emblazoned with a black widow. Dad trained you to put on latex gloves before handling the eggs; how to empty the eggs into a Tupperware of dry rabbit droppings, whisk them to dust and fold the mixture into the hot pine resin. An acrid cloud would billow beneath the shed ceiling, smelling like a hot tire swing. You’d sit there, spoon in hand, wondering what a drop or two might feel like on the skin, what Dad’s guests would clamor for Friday nights around the bonfire.
The death’s head he’d craft himself, pouring the laced tar over a styrofoam mannequin crown, spreading it like icing. He’d shape two bulbous eye canals with his thumb, a crooked mouth, offset jaw, pocked skin. A man half-decayed, it looked like—black putrefaction, every inch conveying death.
Say what you want about Dad; the man was an artist.
Don’t dilly-dally. A few more bags and you can wash your hands of it all, tuck Missy in for the night, take the whole house, the neighborhood, all of Pondtown as your oyster. A long and vivid reverie, uninterrupted. Say you’ll take another hit tonight and walk the song of Muses.
DOG CRATES CLANG IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM, the door knob rattles, and here you have Missy poking her head out. “Can I have more popcorn?” she asks.
Her vibe’s a riff on an old Vox Connie. “You ate the last bag yesterday, sweetie. I’ll add it to the grocery list. It’s bedtime now.”
The whole of her steps inside the door frame. A piping-hot bag, what would’ve been your midnight snack, dangles from her little pincers.
“I was saving that,” you say.
Watch her eyes grow as the gravity of her crime sinks in. You’ve tried every pill, every exercise, every strategy to curb her impulses, and this is what you reap.
She turns a crooked smile on a dime. “So, you were being deceitful!”
“Okay, fine. Have the damn bag. Just throw it away when you’re done, brush your teeth, go straight to bed. Do not pass Go. Mommy needs her rest, and Daddy, as you can see, has a lot left to do in the garage.”
Her gaze settles on the plant pot resting on the high shelf, like you’re not even there.
“Missy, did you hear a word I just said?”
She nods and bangs the door closed.
ON TAR, YOUR BRAIN’S CONVERTED INTO A STUDIO, its walls lined with egg crate foam that mutes your conscience and the outside world informing it. Call it the chamber. Inside, for about an hour, you host the likes of Denis Johnson, King Lear, your former advisor Margaret Meyers. You revisit moments with standout students, like Trey Davidson, blossoming in your classroom, Missy laughing at your goofy impressions, Corinne deconstructing Pizzolatto’s third season, the women around town calling you by your name, caring to stop and chat.
You’ve explained these aspects of the chamber ad nauseam to Corinne, save the women. One last lunge over the fallen shelf and you’ll have it, the last bag of the night, up and out.
TAKE TREY’S MOM, EMMALINE. You saw her one morning, first time in a few years, white-hot in the school parking lot, waving to her son from the driver’s seat. Her in that Honda Odyssey bestirred you. Emmaline’s the type who replies to your Wednesday emails with measured fanfare, witty retorts, teensy-weensy personal details. A wonder what the State’s Attorney would say if he knew that every syllable of hers came unsolicited. Previewing the reading list you sent last week—the horrors of Poe and Gilman—she wrote back reminding you that she, too, was an English major. After today’s list—Butler, Bryant, Carter, Link—she practically gushed, saying she wished she was taking 11th grade English this year.
If ever there was proof that unicorns exist, you’d find her in Emmaline, the parent who appreciates your tastes in literature.
Her Yahoo! profile picture’s a tease, too, so small you have to draw the phone up to your nose to see it: a sheer of brunette hair drawn over one eye, the other green like Circe’s. Painted lips smirking to a dimple. On tar, her visage stirs strings and woodwinds, their movement swelling above the fog, beyond the contours of the Shore, farther than you can hold your breath, centuries away, back to the pink and pudgy flesh of pagan times.
Oh, Emmaline, welcome to the chamber. We’re paddling a rowboat through the Villa Borghese, you with your feet up on the gunwale, reciting Ovid, peering over the book spine between stanzas. Zephyrus sighs as we cleave a rippling temple.
SHIT. THERE GOES THE JACK RUSSELL AGAIN, warning you off her driveway.
This time the dog rouses a light from the bay window, Miss Jenkins’ hurricane lamp. The bulk of her leans into frame. She’s thickened with age, her vibe a barking trumpet wah-wah’d with a plunger. Literally the last woman on earth you want to see in this state.
Just wave to her. A bulbous trash bag dangles from your wrist by the ties—you look ridiculous—but remind her why you and her son Carl Anthony got along like bandits once upon a time. Just wave.
She crosses her arms at the sight of you. Can’t knock an old woman for standing her ground.
C’mon, man, say something.
“It’s trash night, Miss Jenkins!”
You’re all cotton-mouthed, upper lip glued to the gums, teeth baring. Hold the trash bags up high where she can see them and say it louder.
Her stare thaws you like a fishstick.
The moment you cross Fey Road, she picks up the Jack Russell, still yapping, and carries it away from the window.
YOU MIGHT POKE YOUR HEAD INSIDE MISSY’S ROOM and yours, see that everyone’s asleep. Or just stick your ear to the door. Sounds quiet enough. Tiptoe back to the garage and bring the plant pot down off the high shelf again. Don’t forget your gloves.
One cheek, the side you hit from, is withered to its styrofoam skull. The left eye sags a bit, an artistic choice Dad loved pointing out. Your death’s head is merely a replica of his. You’ve dabbled in other shapes over the years—a tar baby, a tar raven, a standard black tar candle—but none of them produced the same djembe-slap enchantment, that synesthesia of sight and sound, what Dad’s guests would clamor for at his Friday night gatherings.
You’d catch glimpses of them, Dad’s guests, through the Loblollies walling off your backyard. Every other Friday, Carl Anthony and you would wait for Miss Jenkins to start snoring on the couch, right before Arsenio came on, and sneak out her back door, cross the street to the Taylors’ yard, settle in behind the trees. You’d watch the ritual unfold around the bonfire: Dad perched on a stool in black face by the shed, shirtless, donning a tribal headdress—a two-horned beaded cap with cowrie shells snaking past his shoulders. “Dollar Store Chieftain,” Carl called him. One hand rested on his knee while the other presented the tar head. His guests, strangers to you, lined up before him in Dickies and summer dresses, antsy to receive their communion. One by one they’d roll up a pant leg, peel off a strap, prop their heel on Dad’s knee, exposing patches of pink skin and jagged lakes of black.
The winces that came from the hot tar, the way they danced without music, walked on air, licked each other’s track marks, stripped bare and touched themselves on the grass—it’s a wonder they never heard two seventh-graders stifling laughter behind the Loblollies.
MISS JENKINS KNEW THEN, TOO.
One Friday evening, spring of your sophomore year, she returned home from her NICU shift and sat in on an episode of 106 & Park, still in her scrubs. The absolute worst time for her to disrupt you and Carl’s end-of-week routine. She settled herself on the bay window bench with a bowl of cantaloupe and a nose for other people’s business. She put her fork down to chew, massaged her temples, waved to neighbors walking the block. She hollered Carl Anthony’s name from the side of her mouth each time an emcee on the television waxed profane. Forty-five long, sobering minutes went by that way, until she finally called you over.
“Come here, Ickert.”
Carl by then had sunk deep into the sofa, chin-on-chest, scratching the mark on his left shoulder. Yours was on your foot. You had to limp over to the window.
There was a woman you recognized outside—the Ginger Ballerina, in a chevron dress, sautéing across your lawn. Her bare feet grazed the grass.
“She came from behind your house,” Miss Jenkins informed you.
Greensleeves plucked from some invisible harp, the notes a wee-bit sharp. The Ballerina’s limbs were wooden, eyes pinkish half-moons, mouth, nose and hands all sticky with tar, as if she’d grabbed the whole rotten head and kissed it. A wonder that she could still pirouette in that state. By the time she reached the Jenkins’ driveway, her knees were beginning to waver; her hands felt blindly for a steady surface but only caught air on the way down to the asphalt.
Miss Jenkins, seeing all this, rose from her seat and stood there, indecisive. A nurse of all people, indecisive. She rapped at the window, yelling at the woman to get up. She glanced at you and Carl, craned her head up and down Fey Road. She was searching for someone, a good Samaritan, anyone. She scurried to the kitchen and back.
“Here,” she said, handing you a cordless phone. “I’m done looking the other way in broad daylight. Call an ambulance for her.”
The Ballerina’s teeth were chattering, her chin having cracked like a raw egg. You knew the protocol, though. “Dad’s a trained EMT,” you reminded Miss Jenkins, walking the phone to Carl’s room, out of earshot.
On the line, Dad’s vibe was a cropper’s calloused fingers claw-hammering at a second-hand Gibson. “Why,” he kept saying, “why you’re calling me with this fuckery’s beyond me. You say she fell on her driveway, right? So get your lazy ass out there and bring her home.” You implored him with a more vivid picture of Fey Road: the tar, blood, an air of decay you hadn’t felt since visiting Uncle Jamie’s MedLab Appalachia. You reminded Dad that the clock’s a tickin’ and he might just suck it up, get out here and help this poor woman before Miss Jenkins up and finds something.
It was twenty minutes, nearly nightfall, before Dad and two men came lumbering out the front door. Miss Jenkins flipped on the driveway light, and you saw him, face washed, carrying a jug of what looked like white vinegar and the Ruger, his go-to revolver. A torn red rag was wrapped around his head. “Dollar Store Rambo,” you called him. He pointed the gun at the Ballerina, the house, the river at the end of Fey Road, mumbling orders all the while. She started to crawl, or tried to anyway, dragging fingernails across the asphalt. His handlers quickly picked her up by the armpits and carried her back. Dad stayed a moment longer to douse the blood with vinegar, then turned to the bay window, saluting you, and walked back.
“What happens if she dies, Ickert?”
You told her verbatim what was told to you: that only Christians are concerned with death, and that the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is not “God” but the gathering of our ancestral spirits, across every continent, welcoming us back to the Motherland.
You hardly believed it then, and you certainly don’t now. You don’t know what to believe.
And in Miss Jenkins’ living room, that word Motherland hummed in the air like a hornet. An altogether different vibe.
“Ickert, listen to what I’m asking. What if that woman actually dies?”
No one’s ever died on tar, you wanted to say.
She looked at Carl on the couch. “You two look like you just got off a fourteen-hour shift,” she said. Her visage was the one that teachers wear when pitying kids like you. “May as well stay the night, Ickert. Stay as long as you need to.”
STAND UP. FIX YOUR PANTS.
The phone reads 11:05, affording you an hour. The trash is out, the kid’s to bed, the wife’s knocked out on Remeron. You’ve waited all week for this.
The fog’s crawled in thick off the river, muffling the djembe drum’s bravado. Squeeze in and sidle up the concrete seam. From there it’s a ninety-foot stroll to Fey Road.
Say you’d called that ambulance after all, stayed with Carl in the split-level, left that shed to rot in the elements. Say you’d sold the house when Dad died, like Corinne suggested. You wouldn’t be out here tonight, would you, skipping on air. You wouldn’t be thinking of Trey in his aviators, his mom in the parking lot, the temple at the Villa Borghese.
Thank god for Anansi and her unborn children.
A hurricane lamp still halos from the bay window. It stays on all night, you’ve noticed. A beacon, maybe, guiding Carl home.
THE BLOCK’S A FLAT THREE-QUARTER MILES, full-circle, traced by the same line of ranchers and split-levels you’ve known since you were four. Only things that ever change around here are neighbors and lawn ornaments.
But it’s a walk conducive to reverie: cell phone turned off, family unconscious, you’re accountable to no one, for no one.
Lactic acid starts warming your calves halfway down the backstretch. In the Ensor’s driveway, Missy’s lime green mountain bike lies dead on its side, wet with fog, a handle dug into the gravel.
When you asked her earlier this evening, Missy said she’d put the bike away in the garage, swore up and down it was in there.
So you’ll tell Corinne that Missy needs a talk about honesty tomorrow morning. She knows better than you what to say.
On tar, especially after that second drop, the chamber can convert into a television studio with three black walls and a round mahogany table. And so it has now. Sitting across from you is Charlie Rose, the real McCoy, complete with tie and combover. He leans over his notes and speaks to the camera:
“Stephen Ickert is here. He is an English teacher and founding editor of Specters Row, an annual anthology of horror stories composed by students at Kent County High School. In 2012, his campaign to ‘Make Huckleberry Great Again’ went viral across Maryland’s Eastern Shore. When he’s not planning lessons or grading essays, Stephen tinkers with poetry, plays guitar, and sculpts a death’s head out of pine pitch. His colleagues call him a Renaissance Man. His wife says he’s the most brilliant teacher stuck beneath the glass ceiling. I am pleased to have him back on this program.
SI: Thank you, Charlie.
CR: What few people know about you is that, going back to your college years, you were actually a very successful entrepreneur.
SI: It’s a secret I keep, being a teacher, having a reputation to maintain. But yeah, I did make a good deal of money in college. Paid my way through school and all that.
CR: You sold tar babies.
CR: How did that come about?
SI: I’d enrolled in an African American Studies course my sophomore year, a survey of folklore, and during a research project came across the character Uncle Remus.
CR: Created by the 19th Century American journalist, Joel Chandler Harris.
SI: Who my professor totally glossed over in class, by the way. Harris is a guy whose artistic achievements, like Beecher Stowe’s, like Griffith’s, are diluted by controversy.
CR: But the tar baby…
SI: It’s a Remus tale. And you know, back home, Dad would craft these intricate tar heads, human-sized, for his parties and whatnot. I thought the tar baby should be more of an action figure. And even then, having an adult’s anatomy. Like the child consumed by Saturn in the Goya painting, with little ears and toenails.
CR: Your clients call it “dripping.” It’s messy to use, though, isn’t it? The tar itself leaves a scar, not unlike a needle.
SI: It leaves a smudge, I’d say. Skidmarks. Most people who continue using will develop a rash akin to eczema, irritating but manageable.
CR: The mark of Cain, some call it.
SI: Right. Thank Carl for that. It was his idea to sell to folks in Chester Harbor.
CR: And yet somehow, you managed to sell hundreds of these tar babies to clean-cut college kids, from good homes, good families.
SI: In the beginning, I packaged three prototypes in these little cellophane sacks that Dad kept stored in the shed. The ones with the spider emblem. I took them to a party at the Lacrosse House off campus, where I figured the money was. Their goalie, this dude named Dan, I’d known since freshman year—had watched him do lines off his desk in our dorm room. I found him at the House and pulled him aside, demonstrated the drip, told him these babies were a bitch and a half to make but I’d bring the next batch to him directly if he was interested. Before you know it he was walking on air.
CR: You targeted a wealthier niche, and it paid off.
SI: Not immediately. It took a few weeks to bring the second batch to the House. Dan was there with two friends from the women’s team. It was a Wednesday night, a school night, and much quieter, though Dan’s bedroom still reeked of bile and vodka. I handed them the sacks and Dan showed the girls how to stroke the tar with a lighter. Then one, two, three of us transcended into our respective chambers, just as I had promised. The fourth one didn’t say a word to us. She sat there on the floor and cradled the baby, rocking back and forth with it, mumbling apologies.
CR: The tar baby evoking memories of a fetus.
SI: I don’t know. That hadn’t occurred to me, actually. She’d just transferred from the community college, a townie no one really knew.
CR: A miscarriage, perhaps.
SI: I thought she was being hysterical. And I was worried she’d break the spell for Dan and the other girl. What I didn’t expect was that her reaction, awful as it was, would create a kind of haunted house appeal for the tar baby. When word got out, students came rapping at my door at all hours. Carl had to drive up on weekends to help me meet demand.
CR: You say she cradled it, though, as if it were her own.
SI: Maybe she’d had an abortion when she was younger. Nobody really knew who she was. I mean, I feel for the poor girl. Corinne’s lost a child, too—and you hate it, you hate it, causing a person to suffer like that, seeing them balled up on the floor like that. Guilt is its own form of trauma. I can still see that girl from the Lax house. She’ll rear her weeping head as I’m washing dishes or weeding my flower beds. She paralyzes me. Twelve years later and she paralyzes me.
A VEHICLE TURNS ONTO DUKE OF KENT some hundred yards behind you. Approaching, the glare of its headlights stretches your shadow to a giant Slender Man against the lighted fog. You know by its clunking engine that the car’s an ‘04 Crown Victoria, spruce green. You stumble to the side of the road, letting it pass, but it grinds to a crawl at your heel instead.
She does this sometimes, stalks you with her cruiser, and you know why.
Say you turned around right now and apologized for what happened to Carl Anthony. Just give it to her honest: say you froze in your seat the day two cruisers pulled his Jeep over on 213. The sirens blared and you froze.
Swear to god you would’ve grabbed the stash and hauled ass after him into the woods, dumping spider eggs over a mile of soggy ground.
You would’ve corroborated Carl’s story, retained Dad’s lawyer, anything if you hadn’t froze.
Express some remorse and she’ll probably leave you alone.
The phone reads 12:05, past time to turn in. Fix your eyes on an object ahead of you—Mr. Moore’s crepe myrtle will suffice—and walk as if this whole stalking bit’s nothing to fuss over.
Your house is straight ahead, mere minutes.
You’ve nothing on you, anyway, no paraphernalia.
You’re a horse with blinders on, stoic, unbothered.
As if it’s too much to want a couple hours to yourself.
Shit. She’s pulling up beside you.
Her window’s down.
“Meaning no disrespect, Miss Jenkins, but a man should be free to walk the block of his own neighborhood, minding his own damn business, without being harassed.”
Her hair’s cropped shorter than you remember, roots ashier, eyes midnight wary. The whole of her looks plucked off a killing floor.
“You know your garage door’s wide open,” she starts.
“It’s trash night.”
“Lights all on. Everything in plain view.”
“I know it’s an eyesore. Figure if I leave it open all night, some Chester Harbor kids will come clean it out for me.”
“You’re not hearing me,” she says. “Everything’s in plain view, Ickert. Everything.”
She means the head’s out, numbnuts. You left it out.
The whites of her eyes burn like branding irons. She’s not even watching the road.
YOU WORRY ALL ALONG THAT CORINNE WILL CATCH YOU. Some nights—you never know which—she snaps up from her pillow in a cold sweat and whips her head around the room, like an alarm’s gone off. She’ll run to check on Missy first, then the dogs, knocking into furniture across the house. On trash nights, she’ll peek her head inside the garage wondering what you’re up to.
Lights are still on, everything the same as you left it. Miss Jenkins pulls into the driveway behind you, her headlights harsh against the piles and stacks. A wonder how she saw the tar head in the first place. From the driveway, the workbench hides behind a folded ping-pong table. You’d have to walk halfway into the garage to even see it.
A good cleaning’s long overdue. Tuck your waist in and shuffle up the concrete seam to the door. Don’t mind the mouse turds. Pause for breaks as needed. You’ll have more time to get yourself in shape now. You’ll have time to put up new shelves in here, sweep the floor, make piles to donate.
For once you’ll actually be free of tar.
At the door, you flick the lights off and turn to Miss Jenkins in the driveway, waving.
“Goodbye, Miss Jenkins.”
Her headlights hold fast and blinding.
You wave again, but she won’t leave.
A glint of movement at your workbench—someone’s sitting there, in the dark.
Turn the lights back on, Ickert.
The wipes, quickly—they’re in the bench drawer. The gloves on the table.
Slip them on and gently push her back against the chair.
“Missy, you hear me?”
Her eyelids barely open, two bloodshot slits.
“Missy? Oh, god.”
The wipes clear the excess drips without a smudge. But the head has rolled onto the palm of her hand, sticking to it. She shrieks when you try to lift it.
You’ve seen this happen once before. Do not panic. If memory serves, Dad had to use a paring knife.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie. We’ll get this off you lickety split.”
Hustling back from the kitchen, you see the headlights drawing brighter, the engine clunking. Miss Jenkins pops out the car.
“I’m taking care of it,” you tell her.
The tar head’s cooled to where the knife can’t cleanly cut it. It only pulls at Missy’s skin when you try, drawing whimpers. You might have to reheat it.
You wonder when she saw you doing it—how she hid from you, where she hid, and for how long.
The lighter’s out of fluid.
“If you want to help her, keep talking ‘til I get back.”
“I’m taking her to the hospital,” she says.
“The hospital can’t help her, I can.”
Her visage is fogged with indecision, same as it was years ago, when she saw the Ballerina. But seeing Missy in the chair, her resolve hardens. She cuts you off and picks up the girl, cradling her. The death’s head dangles from her hand as they sidle up the concrete seam. You follow them, being a spotter, until Miss Jenkins steps safely on the driveway.
Watch her tuck Missy into the backseat and strap her in, helpless, humiliated.
And where’s Corinne? In the bedroom, getting beautyrest.
The emergency room’s fifteen miles to Chestertown. The way Miss Jenkins drives, you’d beat her there, easily.
Don’t dilly-dally. Dad’s Ruger, his old go-to, is in the lockbox up on the high shelf, right next to the plant pot, idle since the day he took you to the shooting range.
“NO ONE’S EVER DIED ON TAR!”
The Crown Vic’s backed out of the driveway, incandescent in the fog. It turns toward 213, gaining speed, and Corinne’s in the bedroom getting beautyrest.
In a few hours, your students will be sitting in your classroom, awakening to your disappearance.
One of your favorites, Trey Davidson, the State’s Attorney’s son—you’ve had his number for years now, taught all his brothers and sisters. Mr. Davidson lowkey recommended council to you back when Carl got arrested.
Tell him that you should’ve called that ambulance when Miss Jenkins asked you to, tossed out the death’s head, picked a pencil up for poetry, taken your Zoloft as prescribed—all the things you’ve promised Corinne over the years, again and again.
Say it was true what you were told: that the light at the end of the tunnel is not God but the gathering of our ancestral spirits—Dad wearing a toga, a Dollar Store Daedalus.
Check the lockbox for ammo. It’s still loaded for all you know. Don’t dilly-dally. Corinne’s passed out in the bedroom but you know the protocol, you know the protocol, you know the protocol.
John Scott Dewey is a fiction writer, poet, public school teacher, husband and father living in Chestertown, Maryland. He holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. His work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Delmarva Review, Fjords Review, and The Ekphrastic Review, among others. He’s currently composing a collection of short stories set on and around the Eastern Shore, Maryland, called “Prayers for Pondtown.” You can read some of those pieces at johnscottdewey.com.