fiction by Richard Childers

Anne’s father was drunkenly picking through the garden for a cucumber. She watched him from the front porch. The garden sat at the top of a gentle slope. He was so drunk his eyes had that dead glaze over them and his knees spun beneath him. He told Anne before he went up there that he didn’t want a cucumber that was yellow and overripe. He said he’d crawl around all night if that was what it took to find a bright green one. It was Sunday afternoon, but he was still wearing his Friday night jeans. Two or three buttons were missing from his shirt causing his hem to flap freely in the breeze. Her dad’s hips were sharp and narrow. His muddy work boots swallowed his bony ankles.

Anne stepped down from the porch and crossed her driveway. John Perley had just pulled up and was waiting for her. The Camaro was crimson red with rally wheels. White gravel dust chalked up its fenders.

“He’s feeling good tonight, huh?” John laughed as Anne sat down in the passenger seat.

“He’s hunting him a cucumber for supper. Once he’s got that squared away, he’ll be all set,” she said.

Anne’s face was caked with makeup and her nails had been painted red days ago, but now they were chipped and flaking away. Her hair was like brown springs.

“Let’s go down to the lock,” John said.

John shifted into reverse and spun them around. A tree limb brushed the roof of the car as they passed through the metal gate and slowly bounced down the long gravel road. Anne watched her father in the rearview mirror as he plopped down at the bottom of the hill and turned a big green cucumber over in his palms. The tires squealed as the Camaro pulled onto the pavement. John rolled down the window and the wind slapped at the young couple’s faces.

When they got to the lock, they watched the water rushing over and down past the bend of the river. Trash and worn-down tires bobbed and gasped for breath, caught in the wash. John took out a joint. It was fat on one end and narrowed out to a spindly twist. Anne’s chipped nails clicked around inside her purse before she pulled out a lighter. Anne pinched the twisted paper between her teeth and held the Bic’s flame to the fat rounded end until the paper smoldered black. Above the river, trees exploded against the off-blue sky in different shades of green. A haze hung in the air. The wind combed through the treetops and Anne wanted John to run his fingers through her hair much the same.

The river and the earth and the treetops all piled on top of one another. Anne rubbed at her eyes and gripped the seat below her thighs. Her face felt red-hot as she passed the joint back to John.

She watched the trash struggle to swim again where the river tripped over the lock. Crumbling concrete walls and pitting steel jutted out of the stream. The water didn’t draw deep breaths like John and Anne, the only mercy it knew was God’s. It cut its way with force and didn’t look back with regret or feel the shame that came with drowning those in its path. Gray plumes of clouds swirled above the hotrod coupe and its two lovers. Branches whipped and cracked. The leaves were hopeless against the heavy winds that dipped into the mountain valley. The leaves held tight to life, they did not scream, and they did not beg. They grasped at their branches harder than they did when the sun shined and no matter how deep Anne looked into herself, she would never understand what kept them from letting go. It would be easier to give in, she had thought. To flip in the breeze and sink under the river to where the current pulled them, and a leaf never shined green in the light of day again.

The drive home was blurry until the tires left the pavement and scratched back up Anne’s driveway. The car’s oil pan almost bottomed out as it scraped across a gravel rut; Anne felt her buzz do the same. The limbs brushed the top of John’s car again as they passed through the rusty gate and turned to meet the small farmhouse. The siding was faded white, and the porch seemed to sag in on itself.

John cut the engine and Anne’s ears were filled with the hum of cicadas settling in for the evening. They crossed the porch and stepped into the living room. Anne’s father was sprawled out on the couch asleep. An ashtray spilled out next to him. He was still in those dirty jeans he had worn at the garden. On the coffee table was his open pocketknife and half of a bright green cucumber. Anne glanced down at her father and then back to John before heading towards the hallway. The floor creaked under John’s boots as he followed her through the house and into her room.

John’s thighs were hot and sticky against her own. She held her breath and listened as his chest gently rose in the dark room. Anne thought of her father in the living room alone. She wondered if he had cleaned up the ash or eaten the rest of his supper. She wondered if he even breathed at all.

Richard Childers is a fiction writer from Eastern Kentucky. He received a BA in English from Berea College and an MA in Writing from Spalding University. His work has appeared in Limestone Journal as the runner-up for the Gurney Norman Prize for Fiction, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Heartwood Literary Magazine, and most recently San Joaquin Review Online.

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