3 Stories by Claudia Smith
1 Song and 1 Painting by Dan Grissom
(Note: This story previously appeared in the short story collection, The Sky Is a Well, and the anthology, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness, both published by Rose Metal Press.)
Jenny looks out her window at the scorched grass. Rains came last night and battered the blades down. Fall is almost here, you can see it because the azalea bush is stirring in the breeze. You can see it because the kids are out on the asphalt, kicking a milk carton around. Last week would have been too hot for playing in the street. Brandy, the littlest but not the youngest, kicks the carton against Mr. Collin's gun metal SUV. Brandy's sister Tonya runs after, skids, skins her knee. Jenny is outside with band aids and mercurochrome in under five minutes.
They sit on the stoop with her, watching the blood drip. Brandy pats Tonya's knee. Her hands are sticky with blue ice pop juice.
Tonya looks at Jenny's flat belly. What happened? she asks, did your baby die?
Shut up Tonya, Brandy says. You aren't supposed to say.
The following story is a response to "Burned Bright" by Dan Grissom.
It was a flowering weed called ladyslipper, or silverslipper, something like that, growing in the field behind the porta-potty depot. Springtime, that field was itchy with blooms. After other fields and lawns were burning summer, the flowers lingered. We wondered if it was from the overflow. I scraped dirt from his fingernails, scratched the eczema behind his ears, and we nuzzled. He lived somewhere, blocks away, I wasn't sure, maybe near the train tracks. He said his father was a paratrooper. Mostly, we were too tired for talking and too young for the other. The slippers began to curl, shedding petals. That day, he slid his pinkie into my ear. It tickled. We lay for awhile, then he flicked his lighter. I plucked a flower, opening it, and he leaned over. He lit each petal, then handed the Zippo to me. I started lighting those flowers, as if they were candles, one by one. The grass burned pretty bright.
The building is as big as three city blocks. I've never been inside, he always said to wait in the car. We are waiting. He is supposed to take us to the Greyhound station. People walk to their bugs and SUVs, badges swinging from their necks, sometimes glancing. He will come, Mom, my son tells me. Don't call, Mom. Just don't call. It is an hour. It is an hour and five minutes. The bus came and went. It is an hour and twenty minutes. I unbuckle us, we go into the lobby. The lobby with the tall plastic Douglas fir. Mom, those aren't real presents, my son tells me. The presents are wrapped in cool blues and silver. I ask them to page my husband. I am not wearing a ring. They probably don't notice, do they? Our son comes over, takes my hand in his. I don't want to stay here, he says. Let's go. Let's go Mom. Let's go. I am talking to the girl behind the desk. She is wearing black glasses with turqoise backing. Her eyes are turquoise. She grabs her elbows, as if she is cold. But it is very warm inside. I'm sorry, he is not answering. He was going to take us to the station, I say. Our son tugs, says Let's go let's go let's go Mom. He wipes his nose on his Power Ranger sleeve. Back inside the car, I call my husband. We're driving, we'll just make the drive now, I say. I take the freeways. The visor is broken and I'm squinting against sun spots in the glass. There is the tall burned grass and the cattle, and we stop at Bucc Ees for beef jerky. I'll be quiet, Mom, my son says when I take the entrances and exits. I tell him to look at the trees and their bare branches, the brown and gold grasses. Autumn is overtime, my son says. He is explaining and I am not listening. The streets in Houston are wide and the freeways go right up into the sky, like mountains without trees. No water, no trees.
"Darling" by Dan Grissom
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