He steps off the dock as if he expects to set his foot on glass.

       He sinks.

       She doesn’t know this man she’s been watching but takes her hands out of her pockets and runs towards him, kicking up dust on the path, clattering across the dock, which is not wet, not slippery.

       She gets on her belly and stretches down but her fingertips don’t touch the water. She reaches. She tries to get to him. She’s too small, too young, but she wants to be strong enough to find him and grab him and pull him out, yank him up, help him back to land.

       There’s a roiled place in the water but no thrashing man, no one swimming, no one trying to save himself. She stands and throws her jacket to the dock. She pulls her sweater over her head. She readies herself to dive, but the water is smooth.

       No one reaches up.

       The dock flings itself up to the height of a cliff and she sees the lake like an inch of water in the bottom of a drinking glass, a long way from where she stands. She looks over a precipice, and there’s no one there.

       She doesn’t dive because he doesn’t want her to. He wants to stay down there.

       She crouches and pukes over the water. It floats. A few bubbles rise to the surface.

       She lies down on the dock, her back on wood rubbed smooth by bare feet, chill air surrounding her gleaming skin. She makes a nest in her clothes. Fog weaves through the stalks of grass and cattails, lit by the moon, what will be dew in the morning crawling in from the Pacific just the other side of the highway. Vertigo moves through her body, tines chimed individually, thrummed and ringing one by one.

       In the dark, in the snare of wisps, she wonders if he weighted his ankles, or just willed himself not to surface.

       Even if it’s too late to unmake his choice she wonders if she should tell someone. She rolls to her side and tries to throw up again but there’s nothing left.

They started this trip in the desert where they live, traveled east to Colorado, up through the Rockies, west along the border of Canada. They’ve been driving down the coast for a week, back towards Arizona, home, her dad at the wheel, seeing ocean sprawl out the windows every day. The view is spoiled for her since what she saw in Marshall, so she’s been reading magazines and listening to her headphones more than looking at the scenery. They’ve camped most nights and he’s tried to teach her how to orient herself by finding the North Star, how to cut fire wood—Aim through the wood, for the chopping block below. Don’t aim for the log. You’ll miss—and how to call elk. She possesses few of his talents, but is surprisingly good at rough dirt roads; she never drives the pickup truck on the highway because she’s only fifteen and doesn’t even have her learner’s permit, but when they hit dirt he’ll open a beer and she’ll take over. She never scrapes the bottom on rocks and even drove through a stream that cut across the road.

       Fearless, he said to her.

       She doesn’t know where they are, only that they’ve stopped at a town with one stoplight, one all-night diner, and one hotel with one room left. They won’t camp tonight. Both need showers. She’d navigated this trip, tracing their route on the atlas with her fingertip, expecting the next little town even before it appeared, telling her dad where to turn. Every night by the campfire she would use a permanent marker to draw in the route they had driven on a map she had to unfold and refold. But because they’ve been on Highway One for a week she doesn’t have to pay attention and has lost track of what they’re near.

       She orders coffee from the waitress while she’s trying to decide what to eat. It’s too late for dinner and too early for breakfast, so she orders key lime pie with scrambled eggs, hash browns, mozzarella sticks and orange juice, and she’s still trying to figure out what she actually wants when the waitress walks away.

       Her assortment of little plates arrives and she pokes at the food. Her dad sets aside the chopsticks that come with his Oriental Chicken Salad because he doesn’t know how to use them and alternates between bites of chicken and bites of oily lettuce. She tells him she needs to do laundry and he says they’ll stop the next day. They can play cards at the laundromat. Fun, he says. She doesn’t need to tell him she’s been wearing the same jeans for days, the only pair she brought, his old ones that he gave her when they got too worn out for him. They’re paint-splattered and torn and her mom hates them, hates the way they hang low on her skinny hips, tells her she dresses like a homeless person, says she doesn’t care who Kurt Cobain is, she raised her daughter better than this. Her mother asked for the time off for this trip half a year ago, but mysteriously had to work, told them they should go without her, it would be great, this first trip with just the two of them. Her mom said she’d paint her room while she’s gone. When she comes home she’ll stab holes in the yellow paint, rehang her Joy Division posters and the Cure t-shirt she doesn’t wear anymore because her mom accidentally dyed it pink by washing it with her dad’s red workshirt.

       She’d rather not watch her mom and dad avoid each other in the small space of a truck cab, anyway. 

       Since when did you start drinking coffee? her dad asks.

       In the fifth grade, she answers. He didn’t notice when she got boobs either.

       He doesn’t talk much, doesn’t seem to feel the need to fill silent spaces like her mom does. She wants to say, Hey Dad, tell me about your first kiss, first job, biggest regret, favorite color, favorite music, biggest fear, first love, but no matter how or when she says it, it will sound—loud.

       When they’re done eating they’ll go to their one hotel with one room left, two beds, and drop matching jeans on either side of each, one pair dark and new, the other beat to shit, pull on pajama pants and slide between clean sheets. She feels awkward changing in front of her dad, but thinks it might be weird to make a point of doing it in the bathroom. When do you stop changing in front of your dad? She’s never had to think about it before this trip. It’s not like he pays attention. He doesn’t look.

       She feels uncomfortable taking off her clothes, whatever the occasion. The man she’s sleeping with, the man nearly a decade older than her, the man her parents have never met and probably never will, who said to her, Those jeans are so hot, and, Girls just don’t dress like that, but who didn’t ask how old she was, and never has, he always takes her clothes off for her because she doesn’t know how to do it in a sexy way. Though, when she’s in a hotel room with her dad, she doesn’t know how to take her jeans off in an entirely unsexy way, either.

       She salts the mushy layer of hash browns, the one under the crispy layer, and splashes on Tabasco to make it seem like she’s eating. The morning after they stayed in that bed and breakfast in Marshall she couldn’t eat a single bite. Her dad noticed and asked if she was okay; it was the nicest breakfast they’d had so far—eggs from a farm down the road, French toast made with homemade bread, buckwheat pancakes, oatmeal, jams canned by a neighbor, fresh orange juice—all served by a smiling white-haired woman who must have churned her own butter, and she knew her dad wanted her to enjoy it. She told him she was fine.

       She still hasn’t told him about the man at the dock. She hasn’t told him anything.

The day before they’d been winding alongside the ocean and saw a white-lettered, white-bordered, state-issued green sign that read “Marshall: Population 51, Elevation 15.” Marshall seemed to have nothing to offer travelers except fifty-one people fifteen feet above the sea—no gas stations, no restaurants, no place to pee. But even though it was next to the ocean, Marshall had its own little lake, rimmed with tall waving grass and cattails, and a small dock stepping lightly into the fresh water.

       Wanna have a picnic? her dad asked. They had a cooler full of lunchmeats and cheeses, fruit, miniature containers of yogurt. They smeared condiments on bread while sitting in the back of the truck then carried their food to the dock and sat on the bare wood. It was a glittery, sunny day and it felt like a sauna bench against her bare legs. Their food tasted good, wholesome.

       She wanted to fish, wanted to go knock on the door of one of the few houses around and ask if it was okay to fish in their little town, on their little dock. Could they just sit a while? Maybe they would have poles to lend them? She could tell her mom that they fished on their trip, quality father-daughter time. And she thought that maybe if they were still, with no road and blurred scenery flying past outside of glass, if they weren’t contained in a moving metal box and sat in the burrowing sunlight long enough, maybe they would talk, maybe she would ask questions and he would answer, maybe she would open her mouth and the truth would come out.

       He saw that one of the houses was a bed and breakfast with a lacy-lettered sign in front. She imagined Marshall’s population sign as a scoreboard, lighting up two numbers higher in honor of their temporary residence.

       They went to bed early because there was nothing else to do, but she couldn’t sleep. Too

hot under the hand-quilted blanket, she crawled on top, but the air washing over her skin gave her goosebumps. She thought of the man she was seeing, the phone calls when she couldn’t get out of her parents’ house for the night, knew, with her dad in the same room, she couldn’t do what they did those nights. For two hours she moved between sweating and shivering, unable to stay still.

       She got up, slipped on jeans, a sweater and a jacket, slipped her dad’s pocketknife out of his piled-up pants. She crossed Highway One and padded along the dirt path that led to the dock, just enough moon to see by. Stars punctured the black paper of the sky and the damp made the air feel oily, slicking her skin. A fog had drifted up from the ocean; lit from above it looked like moonbeams crawling along the ground, making her feel both surrounded and exposed. Her skin heated the air that slipped under her clothes.   

       When she looked up a few hundred feet from the dock she saw someone standing on it. He stood with the wide-shouldered stance of a man, very still, wearing a jean jacket over a hooded sweatshirt, the color red is turned by moonlight. His eyes were cast out far from him, watching the water, and she imagined him reeling in fish with his eyes. An electricity passed between them, but he didn’t acknowledge that she was there. Cold crept into her body, but she stayed still and watched.

When they drove away the next morning she envisioned Marshall’s green sign like one of those calendars that you pull a page off of every day, three pages shaken loose and blown away in the wind.

The first time it wasn’t what she’d expected. She’d been told by her friends at school that it would hurt, by the ones who had and the ones who hadn’t. Everyone knew that it hurt. But that’s all they ever said about it. They hadn’t told her she wouldn’t be sure if she could stand it. She almost had to ask him to stop, but was glad she hadn’t. She wanted him to treat her like he always did, like a grownup expected to behave in certain ways. Like the first time his friends came over to his apartment when she was there, when he’d introduced her around without a label and she hadn’t given herself one. She stayed sitting the same way she’d been when they’d arrived, one leg tucked under her on her chair, the other bent at the knee and pressed into the table, slouchy, comfortable, like she belonged there, and she knew her shirt was pulled up at the belly a little and she didn’t tug it down. When he poured whiskeys for his friends he’d tipped the bottle towards her and she’d given a quick nod. He gave her a glass and a couple more and she drank just the right amount, enough to seem like it was normal for her, a thing she did, but not so much she became giggly and girlish. You did well, he’d told her after, to her blush and steam. They think you’re cool. 

       He’d entered her slowly, let her get used to each inch—as much as she could handle, stopping right before she had to ask him to stop, then waiting, then continuing, and because he didn’t ask her if she was okay, didn’t say anything to her, she didn’t think he was going slow out of compassion but instead out of a desire to not have her stop it. What she’s learned between then and now is that she should move her hips as much as possible.

       Sometimes he grabs her so tightly she can feel her bones. He pushes on her skin, not like he’s trying to diminish her, but like he’s trying to grasp her exact dimensions. When she’s above him he rubs hard down her belly, out across her thighs, he grips his palms around her waist and she knows he likes how little she is, how condensed and unstretched. He is big, muscular, bristly, and she likes it when he is above her, pressing down on her. She likes it when he almost smothers her.

       That first time, she didn’t feel much different after. She hadn’t really enjoyed it, thought of it as just another thing she’d done. The change has been coming since, building. The revelation was one she tried quietly to control in her shock, but the way she bucked and convulsed told him all he needed to know. He stopped, looked at her and said, Don’t be afraid to be loud.

       He doesn’t love her. But he’s teaching her things. 

       She’s sure she’s different from anyone at school. No one says the things she says in a man’s bedroom, does the things she does there. As her demands have increased, his demands have increased as well. And there are things she’s not sure she wants to say, things that she knows will happen if she says them, things she thinks she wants, but isn’t sure. She wonders if he’ll figure that out, just like he seems to have figured out everything else about her wants, about what she’s thinking but doesn’t say.

Her dad walks down to the office to ask for a late checkout so they can watch the game on TV. The A’s, her old team, are losing. She thinks they’re having a rough time this season—she doesn’t keep up with baseball anymore. When she was eleven she collected baseball cards with her dad and they’d go to card shows and set up their own booth. She was usually one of the youngest there, and one of the only girls. She haggled with the men, knew what her cards were worth, the stats of all the players. She wonders what those men thought of her, a skinny, gangly kid with sunburned cheeks and tanned limbs, gesturing with little fingers and a hand on her hip.

       Sweetie? her dad asks when he gets back from the hotel office.


       Are you okay? You always seem so tired, and you aren’t eating much all of a sudden. Are you having fun, sweetheart?

       She almost says, Dad, I saw a man commit suicide, but the sentence sounds so ridiculous as a response that she can’t say it out loud. She thinks, What an awful way to decide to die. Don’t most people use knives, guns, pills, a rope? She almost says, Dad, I started having sex, or Dad, there are so many things that no one ever tells you. 

       I’m fine, she says. 

       He hugs her, but she doesn’t let it last too long.

       Where’d you get that bruise on your knee? he asks, concerned. She moves her leg before he can touch it.

       I don’t know, she says. The last time she saw him before this trip, he’d met her at his door, lifted her skirt above her hips, pressed her against the wall. She’s little enough to be lifted and held.

       Been climbing trees? her dad asks.

       Not in a while, she says.     

She reached down towards the water. She tried. She wouldn’t have let him pull her in. She’d have been strong enough to lift him onto the dock.

       He wanted to breathe water. He wanted to fill his lungs with fluid like when we all first were, part of another body, when we lived in a salty sea and someone fed us with a tube into our bellies and our lungs got oxygen from the brine we floated in. He went back to that. The first breath he must have choked, must have resisted, but then that’s all there was and his lungs must have given in, inhaled and exhaled the pond. As the water dimmed he felt like he wasn’t sinking anymore but floating, up to the surface and off it.

They decide to splurge and find a nice hotel in downtown San Francisco, between Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. Their dirty pickup truck gets valet parked.

       When they get to the room there’s only one bed. I asked for two, her dad says. Stay here.

He drops his bag and she sits on the edge and bounces a little.

       He comes back and tells her there are other rooms, but they all only have one bed, too.

       The hotel is all out of cots. I’ll get my sleeping bag and sleep on the floor, he says.

       Dad, that’s silly. This bed’s really nice.

       Well, then I’ll sleep outside the blankets.

       You’ll freeze.

       It’s summertime. I’ll get an extra blanket or use my sleeping bag.

       Dad, you’re my dad. We can share a bed. It’s no big deal.

       That night, after a meal of bites of grilled cheese, French fries, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a pickle, and ice cream, all served on plates covered with silver domes, they crawl in bed and her dad insists on sleeping outside the comforter. He takes the pillow out from under and covers himself with his sleeping bag. It smells like campfire.

       She goes to sleep quickly but wakes often. The city is noisy, cars and voices, and light comes through the window even though the curtain is drawn. One time when she wakes he is curved behind her, the blanket between them. His belly is fitted to her spine like plates nestled in a cabinet, the way she used to find her parents in the morning when she’d crawl into their bed before cartoons and waffles. She tries not to wake him as she shifts onto her stomach but he stirs. You okay? he asks blurrily.

       She says she’s fine and apologizes. He flips and tucks into a ball and sleeps again. All she has to say is, No, Dad, I’m not okay, and he’d be awake to listen.

She wants to tell him, this man who might not be waiting for her when she returns home, what it feels like. Like chasing something full speed, breathing to help you run, reaching out with your fingertips and digging and clawing and trying to get it, pushing harder, running faster, reaching and grabbing and finally catching it.

       She wants to tell him about the concentrated heat she feels, right before. The full body blush. The rush and wash of blood upwards.   

       She wants to tell him about after, the looseness in her limbs she never feels any other time, the deep ease. He always curls up with her even though they both know she has to leave soon. She never spends the night. He’s never cold after, but she knows if she explains how nice that is for her, he would construe it as love, a thing she doesn’t think he wants her to feel.

       She wants to tell him how different she is now. But the more she tells, the more there is to tell. She’s learned to say I want you to...,but wonders if saying that enough times will make him become someone else. 

The next morning they wander the town and see the sights. She is swollen-lidded, carrying a fancy coffee topped with whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon, and a Ghirardelli chocolate crêpe her dad bought from a little cart shaped like a trolley. The sweetness doesn’t help awaken her, doesn’t bring her into the world.

       They walk to the pier and slap their feet along salt-saturated, wind-worn boards, the bright shapes of people milling around them. Walking out over the water, she watches the liquid flash through the cracks in the wood. She wonders what’s down there. They reach the end of the pier and she looks up.

       All the people start getting flung into the Bay as if they’re stepping on spring-loaded platforms and being catapulted into the sea. Amidst the flying bodies she envisions some people gently stepping over the railing, arching their arms back to hold them in place, heels between vertical slats, and one by one they let go and fall off the edges of the pier. Some leap, some swan-dive, some fall backwards, some step as if they expect to set their feet on thick carpet.

       She sits down, covering her face so she won’t have to see all the people. Her dad crouches beside her, asks what’s wrong. She shakes into his arms, lets him surround her, then shrugs him off. She wipes her eyes.

       Nothing, she says. I just got a little woozy. I’m not a fan of heights, you know.

       I never knew that about you.


       Let’s get you back on solid ground, he says, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet.  He walks her back along the strip of wood with his arm around her shoulders so she doesn’t have to decide where to walk.

They find a café and sit. Her leg muscles twang. She maneuvers her food around her plate. Her dad lets her be quiet.

       When she’s next with him they’ll be on that dock, smacking the hollow-sounding wood, a swelled body below, then a skeleton. From now on, wherever she is, he’ll be there too. Because she watched his choice he’ll watch all of hers, see what she does with the rest of her days. 

       Dad, she says. Something happened.

       He looks up, deep-set eyes narrowed.

       When we were in Marshall, at that bed and breakfast, I couldn’t sleep so I snuck out and took a walk. I saw a man jump off the dock and drown himself in the lake.

       Are you sure?

       What do you mean?

       Are you sure that’s what you saw?

       The waitress approaches with coffee and seems to sense the tension. She walks away.

       Yes, Dad. Of course I’m sure.

       He’s dead?

       He’s definitely dead. She says dead out loud.

       How do you know?

       I watched for a long time. He never surfaced.

       He runs a hand through his still-thick graying hair. Why didn’t you run for help?

       What good would that have done? It would have been too late by the time I got back.

       Everyone and everything was so far away.

       You should have told me. We should have called somebody.

       She shakes her head. She looks out the café window at the fog crawling down the streets, over blocks.

       She’s telling her dad about the wrong man. The other one is pressed against her back, tall above her. She can’t describe it.

       I think I should have jumped in and tried to save him.


       I wonder if I would have been strong enough to pull him out.

       You did the right thing. You’re a good swimmer, but you shouldn’t have risked yourself for some crazy person.

       He wasn’t crazy, Dad. I didn’t jump in, she says, because he didn’t want me to.

       His eyes are maybe the saddest she’s ever seen them.

       Sweetie, he finally asks, are you okay?

       I don’t know. I don’t feel so hot.

       Why didn’t you tell me sooner?

       I didn’t know how.

       Well, I guess this is how.

       Their plates get cleared and then he gets up to go to the bathroom. After it’s been a few minutes she looks over and sees him on the phone. He looks grim and serious. She wonders who he called.

       He comes back, pays their bill; she notices that he leaves a large tip, and they leave in silence.

That night they sleep again in their fancy hotel, her dad on the floor in his sleeping bag. She doesn’t try to stop him. She burrows into the blankets, a pocket of warm air she tries to hibernate in. When the room becomes light enough for them to pretend it’s morning, he offers her a silver-plattered room-service breakfast. She declines.

       Where do you want to go today? he asks.

       The middle of nowhere.

       He nods. Do you want to keep seeing the ocean?


       Okay. We’ll keep going south.

She calls him. From a payphone at a gas station, while her dad is inside.

       I miss you, he says, when he hears her voice, when he recognizes it.

       I miss you too, she says, surprised.

       I want my fingers inside of you, he says.

       She hangs up the phone.

They stop early at a campground in a patch of woods across Highway One. Her dad cooks pasta and brews cowboy coffee.

       They look west and watch the earth turn so that it lifts the ocean’s edge towards the sun. The colors change as the water covers the burning circle—crimson, sapphire, saffron.

       She pictures her mom lying by their pool at home, laughing, shimmering in the heat with her low-cut bathing suit exposing her exquisite chest bones. The rest of her is beginning to gravitate downwards, to loose elasticity and vibrancy. But her chest bones are cut and lifted, as if she is carrying them around on a tray. 

       I want to swim, she says.

       Don’t stay in too long. It will be dark soon.

       She goes behind the truck, changes into her bathing suit, wraps herself in a blanket she finds in the back. The air isn’t cold yet. Her dad stands to follow her down to the ocean.

       She slips out of her shoes when she hits sand, carries her mug of coffee with her until she nears the water, nestles it where the waves end. A marker. She’ll find out if the tide is coming in or out.

       The beach is deserted. No cars drive past. She hands her dad the blanket. He folds it, and her body feels molded from sand, the top layer drying and lightening and blowing away.

       She walks into the water, dives through the waves, gasps at the shock. She’d forgotten exactly how cold the Pacific is, even in the middle of summer. She makes herself stay in and her body adjusts. It only becomes bearable.

       Her dad watches her swim. He taught her how. When she was little they would practice all day and he loved how hungry she would be when they took their lunch break.

       She dives deep and kicks her strong legs. She stays under as long as she can, until her lungs flame, like she does in the pool at home, in the little turquoise chlorinated puddle she’s returning to, where she flips at the ends and tries to make three lengths with one breath.

       She floats on her back and looks up; there’s still blue in the sky. As the water swells and drops she lightly rises and falls, twice as much as her body rises and falls when it lies on a flat surface, breathing. Even if she let go of her body, it wouldn’t sink. The salt would keep her buoyant.

       She’s not sure what to fear.

       Pivoting to vertical she treads water, looks for her dad but can’t see him. The empty beach unnerves her, but it’s good he’s not worried. She decides to push out farther with two more lungs full of air. Five total. She knows she’s strong enough to turn around and take five good swims back in.

       Under on number five something tangles around her waist. She screams underwater and chokes and bursts to the surface coughing salt, her lungs burning. He’s next to her, gasping, wearing all his clothes. What are you doing? she yells. 

       What the fuck were you doing? I couldn’t see you! I thought you were in trouble!

       I’m fine! she hollers, her teeth chattering. They’re both screaming even though they’re well past the waves and the ocean is silent out here.

       I didn’t know where you were, he says. Water has collected in the wrinkles of his face, in the corners of his eyes. Fuck, he says.

       Dad, I’m fine.

       It’s getting dark, he tells her, sounding amazed that she hadn’t noticed.

       But the sun is barely down. The sky and water are the same shade of blue, the horizon removed.

       They slowly oscillate in the buoyant ocean. Treading water, they’re almost the same height. She and her father can almost look each other in the eye.

The next day they cut east. Instead of road by ocean they curve through desert, pull off at a highpoint to see how far they’ve come. She doesn’t miss water, but isn’t glad to see the mesas.

       Come look, her dad calls out to her a little ways from the road.

       She walks over, hears the rattle before she sees the coil.

       We haven’t seen one of these in a while, have we? he asks.

       When she was young he would catch snakes, hand them to her, and when she pinched them by the skulls they would automatically wrap forearm to bicep, sometimes thicker than her arm. Always garters, never rattlers. He trapped a scorpion in the kitchen, taped to the tile, and let her study it for as long as she wanted before smashing it with his boot. His tarantula beltbuckle, a block of resin around the body, sparkly green felt underneath, the kind usually sold as paperweights in gas stations, which made her squeal every time he showed it to her but only because she knew the fear was meant to be staged. He has shown her only contained danger.

       When she was born her dad sent her a dozen red roses. Not her mom—her. Do you remember when I was little? she asks. We used to say the road was the back of a snake, black with a yellow stripe, sometimes fat with white ones too, and when we drove we’d wonder which corner the head of the snake would be around.

       I remember.

       Dirt roads were paths the snake had carved.

       We never found it, he says

       Still haven’t.

       The rattler corkscrews around air, vibrating a warning.

       Remember when I found those two rattlesnakes mating in our yard? he asks.

       You called me out to show me, then killed them both with one bullet.

       That’s before shooting rattlers was illegal, before they were endangered, he says, eyeing this one, its color so like the gravel, its shape so different than the jagged pieces of stone

       You made their skins into a hatband. But you never wear the hat.

       It’s hanging in my closet. Do you want it? he asks.

       I know someone who would love it.

       Who? None of your friends seem like the type.

       You don’t know all my friends.

       I would if you brought them around.

       She’s not sure if they’re trying the snake’s patience, tempting it to lunge, or if it will wait all day, quivering. Even if it strikes she knows it can’t reach them where they stand.

       Don’t worry, I wouldn’t give it to him, she says. I’d keep it for myself.

       Him? her dad asks.

       The rattler is still furious at the invasion, still shivering in the sunlight. It won’t untwist and slither away; they will have to be the ones to leave

       She shrugs, then slowly crouches, reaching down to the red dust to pick up a rock. He asks what she’s doing. She stands and hurls it towards the snake, clattering six inches to its side, exactly where she aimed it. Her dad taught her not to throw like a girl. She expects him to yell, but he doesn’t. The snake doesn’t move, just makes a tighter helix.

       What the fuck was that for? he asks quietly.

       I wanted to see it strike.

       And break its fang on a stone? He doesn’t look at her, keeps his eyes on the snake. He says, It knows only to strike at living things. You’ve never seen it?

       No. She imagines venom running down the rock.

       They walk to the truck, backwards a few paces, then turn, the rattle at their backs.

       At the edge of the road her dad bends down to the desert clay. Indian Paintbrush, he says, plucking the red spiky bloom. We’re getting closer to home.

       She can still hear the snake, but only because she knows to listen for it. She takes the flower from her dad’s hand and tucks it behind her ear like she would every time he brought her a bloom in childhood, loose dirt falling on her neck from the roots that came up with the stem. She climbs into the truck cab and rolls down the window so that the wind will snatch it out of her hair.

Erin Stalcup’s fiction has also appeared in The Kenyon ReviewKenyon Review OnlineThe Sun[PANK]Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. Erin received her MFA from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers, and is currently a PhD student at the University of North Texas, where she is Assistant Fiction Editor at the American Literary Review. She has recently finished her first collection, Gravity: Stories & a Novella, and begun a novel.

Back to Freight Stories No. 8


Erin Stalcup

Population 51, Elevation 15