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Winter Shade

originally published by 
The Adirondack Review.

He turned onto the street where their home was tucked into the bend. It was, like all others on the avenue, covered by large sycamores weighed down with snow. The woman’s head rested back on the seat next to him. She wasn’t asleep, just looking to be left alone by her husband on the slow Christmas Eve drive. Music played on the radio, old holiday tunes from a decade neither of them could identify. Most of the songs were obnoxious shopping jingles, but a select few of them were nice, the way they felt severed from time, especially on that one night of the year.

The car pulled into the driveway and turned off. The music went without warning. Her head lifted and eyes opened as she reached for the door. He leaned forward and looked through the front windshield like a child might, up to the sky where the snow and colored lights blended together like oil painting. It took him back to the early and best years of his life, before bills and early-turn-in Saturday nights, before conversations about kids or unsatisfying vacations. The snow fell softly.

“Should we go for a walk?” he asked. There was a smile across his face and he looked into the sky as if hoping to see a miracle sail beyond the static above. She looked around in a daze, ready to lay her head back down and dream of Spring.

“No,” she said.

“Come on. We can go down to the creek and sit on the bench under the tree.”

“Which tree?”

“The one we sit under in the Summertime. It’s not far at all. It’ll be nice right now.”

She got out. The man followed. “Will you at least watch a movie with me?”

“You only want to watch scary movies, plus I’ll fall asleep.”

“Then let’s walk. Just for a minute,” he said. 

The red wine she had at the party worked like Nyquil and she could already feel the headache drying her skull. She took with her the bag from the gift exchange game, a thoughtlessly regifted candle. On the porch she waited for her husband to unlock the front door. The snow wasn’t wet, but it collected. She turned to see what was taking him. The porch light was off but the night kindled from the few streetlamps. He stood out in the snowfall, looking up as if he were catching flakes on his tongue, but he wasn’t, he was only watching it come down.

He looks cute, she thought, childish, but cute. A quality that followed him. He was curious yet devoid of any obligation. Marriage had always been a hot topic, and once they were hitched his complaints became about the house; a home in the same town where her parents lived. She wanted a baby, but he was only interested in looking up at the sky, hoping to spot a fat man blazing across the night in a sled.

She waved her hand towards the door to guide him.

“You really won’t walk with me?” he asked again. There was a pause. “Even if I tell you a story?”

Her ears were cold. “I don’t like your stories.”

“You used to.”

“Not anymore,” she said. “They scare me.”

He stood stubbornly in the snow. His hands in his pockets as he stepped forward with his head low. He turned to look out at it again. “It’s like that scene from A Christmas Carol,” he said.

He moved his hands around in his pockets pretending to search for the key and biding time for her mind to change. Her jaw tensed and she shook her head. He was great at guilt, another unripe attribute that followed him.

“Fine,” she said with a heavy breath, “Ten minutes. And nothing scary.”

He smiled.

“Seriously,” she said.

She set the candle on the porch, pulled her jacket tight around her body and the two walked to the back of the house. A gate opened to a path which accompanied the creek. In Summer the water flowed nicely, but in the Winter’s peace, the vein was still.

“That party was alright,” he said. She nodded and kept her face tucked into her jacket collar. His coat was unzipped. It smelled like a cold burn and there were homes with fires glowing in windows through the trees in the distance, none of which felt particularly occupied.

“Are you gonna tell your story?” she asked to get the night moving. 

“You don’t like my stories, you said so.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I like your stories, they’re just always ghost stories nowadays. I don’t like those.”

He bit onto his lip and thought for a moment. “Do you want to hear the one about the drifter in the snowstorm?”

“I said not scary.”

“I don’t think it’s scary.”

They walked a little more as he thought. He snapped his fingers. “How about the party story? That’s perfect, I can make it a Christmas one this time.”
“Are you talking about the one where the guy shows up at the doorstep after all of the guests have left?” she asked. “What don’t you get about not scary?”

Her husband shrunk into his coat. “I’m trying to think of Christmas stories I know.”

“All the Christmas stories you know are about ghosts,” she said.

“Those are the best ones.”

The man looked into the sky again. Some snowflakes looked like falling stars and he felt the beer he’d drank warm his blood. The flakes dropped into his eyes and melted. He wiped them away.

“Okay,” he said, “I have one.”

She looked at him endearingly, a hint of what they shared the first few months after they’d met. There was also suspicion in her face, as if she’d been betrayed one time too many, and couldn’t be again.

He ground his teeth, and then he began.


“There was a church that sat upon a hill. It wasn’t the largest in town, hell, it wasn’t even the first Baptist, but it was full of believers who made their way each and every Sunday morning, and it was all because of the Pastor.

“He was a particular man with a particular way of hospitality. He might set a soft hand on your shoulder, or use your name like he’d known you his whole life just after you told it to him only once. He made you feel safe, like you had a friend.

“When Christmas came each year the Pastor and his wife made an effort to make the holiday special for the children who attended the church——and so they put on a Christmas pageant. It always started with the choir doing some sort of pops arrangement, never Tchaikovsky, just department store stuff, and when the choirs wrapped, the kids would come to the altar and perform a short play. This was the crowd pleaser.

The Pastor had written the script himself, and his wife composed the music. It was about church mice who taught the meaning of Christmas to a herd of cats on a quiet night. The kids would get ready in the basement of the church, then march out to a room full of awes and perform. Half of the children were in mice ears, and the other half had black cat whiskers painted on their faces.

“One year the Pastor decided he wanted to do something new and different. He wanted to grow the production to add songs and a reenactment of the first Christmas in Bethlehem as the mice told the story of Mary and Joseph, but he needed more participants. There was a small neighborhood at the bottom of the hill which the Pastor passed by most days on his walks. These weren’t the nicest homes, in fact the neighborhood was only half built before the developers went belly up. The playground however had been finished. The Pastor noticed that no adults were ever watching the kids at this playground and the children ran wild. They smoked, swore, and were up to no good at all——at least not in the Baptist’s eye. On a cloudy cold day the Pastor decided he’d visit them.

“He stood at the edge of the playground. The children were collected there as they were every cloudy day. When they noticed the man staring at them from a distance they stopped and watched back. The Pastor approached, asking where their parents were. None of the children replied. They stared silently from monkey bars, atop slides, and on creaky swings. The Pastor grew uneasy. None of the children seemed to blink, or have any expression upon their faces at all, and so the Pastor left.

“Over the next few days he could not stop thinking about the children he’d encountered. Why were they so quiet, yet unfrightened? He wondered, and began to develop a plan.

“That following Sunday, the Pastor arranged for the best patrons from church to take a handful of pamphlets down to the neighborhood and hand them out. So that’s what the churchgoers did——they did anything that the Pastor asked without question, especially if he set his hand on their shoulders and used the names their friends called them.

The men with the corduroy coats and the women with the heavy wool skirts marched down the hill and knocked on doors, leaving the pamphlets when no one answered, which they found to be every home. The Pastor didn’t knock on doors though, he went straight to the playground in the center of the neighborhood, knelt down, and invited the children to come to the church for Sunday School. He even pitched the Christmas recital to them, and said they could join if they wanted.

“The following week not a single adult from the homes showed at the church. Not one. The Baptists came up with their own conclusions as to why. But it upset the Pastor that no one showed. After greeting the regulars he decided he’d go to the playground and plead for the children to come, but he never made it. Before he got to the bottom of the front steps of the brick church, a line of the children from the playground were heading in his direction. They were dressed in sweatshirts and ripped jeans, their faces and elbows were scratched and dirty, and most of them hadn’t had a haircut in some time. Also, he noticed for the first time how pale they were, especially for children who spent so much time outside.

“ ‘Good Morrow,’ the pastor called to them.

None of the children replied, they kept walking towards the church and the Pastor walked after them. When they got inside the Pastor showed the kids to the basement where Sunday School was held.

“When the playground children entered, the usual kids in the class turned their heads to see. No one welcomed the new children who took their seats in the back row and listened as the teacher——a woman who herself gave a type of shrewd eye to her new students——narrated a story.

“After Sunday School the children were guided upstairs for the sermon. An extra pew had been added to accommodate them. Again, they sat in the back quietly, and listened to the Pastor begin.

“He moved the congregation up and down, left and right, through all of hell's layers back into Heaven. He told stories of losers and winners, rich and poor, serpents and sinners, and when he was done the Pastor so modestly eased into a delicate plea, one it seemed his life depended on, as his wife rose from the front with a deep steel bowl which she held out with both hands.

‘Donations,’ she said.

She walked up and down the aisles to collect. ‘Donations,’ she reminded each row. ‘Donations.’ Every woman with a perm and man with a patch sewn to his elbow dropped twenty dollars or more into the bowl, it filled green. Slowly, it made its way towards the back. When the bowl came to the children from the playground, the Pastor’s wife held the bowl to her chest and looked to her husband for instruction. He nodded. She leaned over, right next to the smallest child’s face——a little girl with long tangly hair——and held the bowl out to her. The Pastor’s wife squinted her eyes and smiled. ‘Donations,’ she said.

“The room was quiet and the congregation turned to watch the little faces blush over. But this didn’t happen, their faces remained cold and pale, yet unbothered that they were unable to donate. The congregation’s eyes burnt into the children’s Sunday rags with rips in the knees and grass stains on the hips. The children from the playground stood, and without a word, left.

“The weeks leading up to Christmas passed by and the church prepared it’s performance. None of the children from the playground returned. Nor did the Pastor see them on his walks any longer. It was as if the whole neighborhood had deserted. The creaky swings still blew in the wind.

“On the Saturday evening before Christmas, the congregation congregated for the pageant.

“Good Morrows exchanged in the cold night as the crowd filed in, then the pageant began. The choir warmed up the crowd, as usual. When they finished, the singers walked off of the risers to take their seats with their families patting them on their backs. The congregation prepared for the children’s play to begin.

Mothers took out cameras and wound them, holding them at the chin ready to snap, but the children never came up from the basement. The Pastor’s wife shuffled out with an apologetic smile to see what was holding them.

When she didn’t return after a few moments the Pastor rushed down the aisle with some men from the choir.

They marched down the staircase.

The Pastor grabbed the brass handle of the old wooden door leading to the basement and turned it. It creaked as it easily opened, as if being pulled from the inside. The men gasped as the children l——”


The wife covered her ears and closed her eyes. “Every time,” she said. “You get me every time.”

“I didn’t mean for it to be scary,” he said. “Not when I started it.”

“We could’ve had a nice night, but you had to go off and ruin not only the party for, but the rest of the evening.”

“Don’t even start, that party was shit,” he said. “All the parties you drag me to are.”

She looked at him, he wouldn’t look back.

“We can’t have any nice nights,” she said, “not even Christmas. You always have to find something to complain about. You can’t be happy with anything, and you can’t keep your word.”

“How do you figure?”

“Your stories. You just want to stay home and think of fucked up things. I hate it.”

The night was cold then and the snow on the ground was a nuisance. It seemed deep and heavy. The man didn’t want to go home. The thought of sleeping in the king-sized bed felt more lonesome than sleeping in the park on the bench under the tree alone. They didn’t speak again until they reached the house.

He walked to the door and opened it but he realized that his wife wasn’t by his side. She stood at the edge of the porch, looking up into the snow falling.

“Which scene did you say tonight was like?” she asked. There was no weight in her voice.

“A Christmas Carol?” he asked. She nodded. “There’s this scene, where Ebenezer and Belle——Belle is the girl he loves——they’re walking through a park. It’s snowing where they are. Somewhere in London I guess.”

“And what happens?” she asked.

He shrugged.

“Sure you do. You always say, ‘every scene has a fine point’, especially with an author as famous as what’s his name?”


“Ya. Especially with Dickens. So what happens in this scene? What’s the ‘fine point’? Come on, what is it?”

A few beats of snow hit the ground.

“He ends it,” he said.

He opened the door to the house for her. Her eyes looked ahead as she passed him.

The man stayed outside a while longer, looking out into the night towards the houses that felt abandoned, even with their light in the window. He considered lighting the regifted candle his wife had brought home and letting it burn all night wherever he slept. He didn’t want to look into the sky again and hummed the last tune that they’d heard on the drive home, a song from a decade he couldn’t recognize. He thought of going back to the bench under the tree where it was shaded in the Summers; where the snow would fall around him and he could imagine whatever stories he liked.

acapulco, ago

originally published by t’ART Press.

(It’s Always Summer When It Starts)

originally published in Pastel Serenity Zine.

He stood at the desk in his son’s room. It only had a few items on it: a red lamp, a baseball with the smudged signatures of his boy’s little-league teammates, and a toy plane——the jetfighter kind.

The boy watched his father spin the toy in his fingers like a pen. It was an F-15 model, archaic in the age of drone and unseasoned commercial space travel.

It was true, he hadn’t known a damn thing about being a father. Being in and out of the boy’s life for all of fifteen years made that clear. When he finally managed his own apartment in lieu of crashing between friend’s places it was easier to have his son on weekends, but by that time the child had grown to fifteen years of age, and having a place of his own hadn’t strengthened their bond. It wasn’t his fault, the father told himself. He’d never had a good example of how to parent either, and so he did the best with what he had. Best involved silence.

Each July first since the boy was old enough to walk they had gone to the airshow to see planes fly above whether life had been going well or not. When the boy was younger he’d sit in second World War planes and smell the aged metal and leather and pretend to shoot down an enemy. In the early years the boy loved it, before he realized his father would only be present in a way he could count on that one time a year. The only photo the father and son had together was in the cockpit of one of the old planes.

The boy’s favorite part of the shows weren't the antique aircrafts though, they were the loud ones; the fast ones; the red, white, and blue F-15’s that flew at noon while the National Anthem blared from a grassy field: The Thunderbirds.

There had not been eye contact between them. The boy was aloof as teenage years afford those blessed with it to be. The father set the jet plane down and pivoted it just like it might park on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The boy rested his head against a pillow that had been picked up from Goodwill on Broadway; it’d been flattened from years of use. He was not far from a man himself. Gone were the days of a child with oversized earmuffs watching the jet planes scream through the skies above leaving satin white trails and he hoped his dad wouldn’t pull out tickets to the airshow, which was a week away.

The father sat near the boy’s feet and leaned his damp palms into his knees. The sun was gleaming and the Summer afternoon was warming outside. The apartment in which they lived was old brick, the kind you find in early neighborhoods around big cities. The sort of buildings named The Roosevelt or The Beverly written in cursive near the front entrances. This complex was The Charlemagne Whitehall. The name can’t fool you, there was nothing ritzy about the rooms at The Charlemagne, an old white fridge, linoleum floors, single pane windows, but the view wasn good from the third floor and the corner apartment looked over the old Denver neighborhood.

There were grass and trees and pleasant things during the day. When you looked far enough out a tall wooden fence was built at the end of the houses. Beyond this fence, designed for visual pleasantry and noise control, was a highway that stretched from the tip top of Texas to the top tip of Wyoming, cutting Colorado along its way. From the other side of the posts came a dull deposit of tire on pavement, like waves of an ocean missing a rhythm.

The boy watched his father squirm in a button-up shirt that didn’t quite fit around the neck. He wished his dad would leave so he could stare at his phone until she texted him. He wanted the weekend to pass so he could get back to her.

Ever since he and Elle ran into each other at the park that May they couldn’t spend a moment apart. She’d been with her mother and the three ate together at the concessions by the boat house. Elle and the boy felt the same about each other and expressed it as so. It might have been the only time in their lives that happened, but they wouldn’t know that then, and so they lived as if they’d never hurt each other. The boy didn’t want to eat dinner or mow lawns in the sun that Summer for extra cash, he didn’t even want to go out with friends because his stomach wrinkled if he missed an opportunity to see her while her parents were out, even for just an hour. He’d been dating Elle for over a month. He loved her, or so they told each other when they kissed goodbye near the corner store before dark each evening.

He hated staying with dad, it meant that he and Elle were far. The boy wished he were older then he could leave for good. Home with mom wasn’t bad; unsatisfying rather. If he and Elle left they could be together anytime, without her parents having her home early, or his mom mentioning sex safety before breakfast. He didn’t even want her to know his dad.

The boy had no idea what he would want to do if he left home but any job would be fine because it would be him and Elle. They could share any old apartment and he could sleep with his face contoured into the back of her neck. If dad can hold down a place, the boy thought, I sure as hell can.

At the airshows the father would tell his son about the day he signed up for the Air Force, but wasn’t admitted because of a disorder with his esophagus. He’d always clear his throat after. I wanted to work on the aircrafts, he’d say. Fix engines.

To make matters worse, time seemed to travel in fast-forward——the father would swear to it, and every year the snowball rolled a quarter-mile-an-hour faster, measured by how tall his son grew. The two never had much conversation, not about football or building fires, and when they did speak it was about topics that didn’t matter any longer. Invalid interests of the boy’s that had been given up long ago in his short lifetime that father hadn’t been present to outgrow with him. Interests that he wasn’t ready to let go of them because if he did it would mean he missed them.

A breeze pulled through the cracked window and circled the room. The father remembered mornings like it at that age: no job calling him to rush off, or vices to tempt, and no future to distract the present. It was a day of just enough white clouds in the sky to burn your gut with the truest romantic premonition: possibility.

I wished someone would have clued me in, the father wanted to say. I wish someone would have given me any warning of what kind of agony was coming after that. But no one ever did.

His father’s face flushed red. Everything but a clear thought ran through his mind. In that moment the man became younger than his son in ways. His focus drew to the window and out toward the passing clouds. There was a reason he came to his son. Everything inside the man told him to retreat, but the father promised himself one drunken night out of highschool with a freshly broken heart, that he’d tell his kid that it all was going to change, unless he could be prepared. There was nothing else more important, nothing changed the course of the man’s life quite like that first rip of the heart some twenty-five years earlier. Friends were lost and feelings dissipated never to return. Everything would be less fruitful than before.

He remembered all of it as he stared at a day just like the one he’d fallen in love for the first time on, because it’s always Summer when that happens and Winter’s cold night without healing snow when it ends. She’d walked away that night without letting him take her home one last time, and as disappeared into the tunnel she took his nerves with her, and if she took his spine too that was okay because he would grow it back by finishing what he’d started with his boy: the one talk.

The father prepared to say: you won’t see color the same, or have talks with your friends like you used to. You won’t even be able to enjoy another nice girl’s company because you’ll have your guard up. And if you ever find someone to settle down with you’ll end up treating each other like shit because she’s likely had the same happen to her, and if she hasn’t you’ll give her the heartache, won’t you?

The boy had sat up in bed. His legs were crossed in front and his phone was behind him.

But the father stood from the bed and looked over the fighter jet toy sitting on the desk next to the window. Above it through the window the wooden fence just barely hiding the highway was waiting. “I forgot to tell you,” he said. “I got an extra if you want to bring your girlfriend this year.” He patted the door frame. The boy would not see the breakup coming late that Fall because there was no way to, and no matter how much he wanted to call his father back to his room; no matter how much he craved the talk that wouldn’t happen and so many more like it, he let his father go.

The gust from the window pushed the photo of his father and he in the cockpit of one of the old planes onto the floor of his room, it had an ash burn on one of the corners. Through the muted noise from beyond the fence, where the highway which would take him back to Elle stretched, the boy looked to see if she’d texted. He didn’t know then that he would have a few more months with her before he’d swear himself that if he ever had his own child he’d inform them about pains he wished he could have been spared by his father. He’d warn them and let them know that they could count on him to teach them because he hadn’t been able to count on anything, not on green Summer days like that one; not other than watching planes pass above once a year.

milkweed & fed

originally published by t’ART Magazine.               

i. herald

here lie notes, complaints, journal entries, drawings, fictions, frowns, heartaches, heartbreaks, new lives, old deaths, poems, coupons, confessions, ————s, bad impressions, lyrics, post-everythings, decent vulnerabilities & other writings from sweatpants that one day I’ll want to forget.


  corner drunks sleep when the candle
  lights. not to freshet space; but to keep wake

        so as to not bother others. no distinction beyond ordinary    

                                                              except that I dream of this flame——

but in those dreams it’s too bright for
wick to hoard or tax, and I chase it when heads rest beyond oniered dustings. or rather,
give up——because then, in revelation’s nude, it scurries at the slite/est lift or turn.

 and so I cannot write about light; not truly. not like in the moments when haunt and aspiration seize swinging hands and call   and facedaway    and rove red.


I sat in the back pew to not be noticed. It had been twenty years, twenty at least. I was raised Wesleyan
but stumbled upon this Catholic mass. Though I was an imposter, that denominating gulf didn’t seem to

It was a blue Sunday in Fall. I’d gone to hear the choir. Whatever faith had once meant to me always
entwined with harmony, whether it be a pop hymn or a Bach mass. That’s the only time I could ever
understand euphoria as relating to God. But I knew that when I left, the ephemeral blind faith would leave
me too. It always had. So I crowded close to the pillar of concrete at the end of the pew, too shattered to
drop to my knees. I lowered my head and put my hands between my legs. There—not by choice, but what
I can only call necessity——I had my first grown prayer.

I couldn’t remember how to do it exactly, but I’d pushed uphill for too long——

I thought of mom, who I’d abandoned. Of her sacrifice so that I could walk away; of all the things I’d
never know. And when the priest spoke and the choir took their seats, the betterment of everyone I knew
came to mind——or at least those I could picture.

When my head hung for long enough I looked up and opened my eyes. There, above the chapel, was a
carving of Jesus. Its shape reminded me of what little impressions I still had of Hopi art. The lines of the
cross and crown were not parallel or perpendicular, rather, they were angled with chaotic intersection.
Even so, there was a delicacy that I can’t explain and someday will attempt to draw instead. Above that
carving with painted red feet, a small creature fluttered up to the window at the top of the towered altar,
where the sky would usually have been grey.

I came to realize it was a black monarch when the rays coming through the glass caused it to silhouette. I
suppose it could have been a moth from that distance, a big one, but there was something paced yet free
of form in the way it moved above the priest’s words, embodying their rhythm.

The monarch landed on the window’s crossbar. The window bay itself recessed, and even from my seat I
could feel dead flies on its ledge. There must have been a draft that high because a spider’s web (or
perhaps a cobweb, depending on vacancy) blew. Inevitably the monarch would be caught.
The choir rose for Alleluia chorus and I decided I didn’t want to participate any longer. Faking
this——taking a different Christ——felt like something that might upset mom.

When that ritual ended, a humiliation followed. I hadn’t talked to a God or Goddess in so long. It sobered
me, later——for what is religion other than a cult that’d carried on for too long? Had I really not had
credence since boyhood? Since my grandparents had right minds and still walked the earth? Since my
brother was virginal and had forgotten it okay to feel both good and bad alike? Whatever had drawn me in
(maybe just the music) ceased to matter. And in all of those prayers both from that day and a thousand
and one days before it, I realized that I’d never asked for much. Not a fast red car or tee shirt. Maybe this
had been taught and I’d forgotten. I needed nothing, but is prayer for those in your own life selfish?

The monarch tried to push through the glass leading out of the towering chapel. Yet I didn’t sense it was
freedom from the building that the monarch cared for, but rather to escape the decay around it. And
there——above wooden Jesus and the flesh priest, where wings and legs brushed against the web carcass,
and the dead flies rested in the outlooking tomb——life and death cycled, despite ever reaching a heaven or
hell first.

The Instinct of a Churchmouse

originally published in Storgy Magazine

We stole our first vehicle at fourteen.                                  

It was our grandfather's '94 Chevy pickup, and Pete and I took it every night that summer without license and without permission. We'd cruise the suburbs, sometimes meeting up with girls down the road or to grab milkshakes at the 24-hour drive-thru. Anything we could think of really, and for no reason other than the freedom of it.

Though we grew up like brothers, Pete and I were cousins. He was a few months older and knew how to drive, so I rode shotgun most of the time. We weren’t bad kids, but it was a free summer, and the last before we fell into the trap of adulthood. Pete lived with our grandparents and since we were so close I’d stay over often, especially once we started taking the truck for spins. Each night we'd snag the slim, silver key off of the wall and sneak through the window out to the pickup and start the engine. We wouldn't close the doors until we were far enough down the road not to worry about excess noise.

The pickup itself was short and long like the dachshund and painted dark green. It smelled like grass clippings and the wool seats itched the backs of our legs. My grandfather, or Papa Art as we called him, loved his pickup, and he loved driving. It was also around this time that Papa's mind had began slipping. The usually sharp-minded man started forgetting small details like leaving the garage open overnight, then bigger ones, like leaving my grandmother at the grocery store——the family took notice. Because of his waning memory he carried around a notepad to jot reminders to help keep facts straight. Had you flipped through that pad you might find memos concerning doctor appointments, or sales at his favorite stores and where he had the coupons stashed. The words began to grow more and more smudged as you flipped through because Papa was left-handed, and slowly he was able to hold his hand over the words less. I admired that Papa wasn't ashamed of the contents in that notepad. What he was ashamed of was that now he had to use it, that his mind was not what it had been and never would be again.
On a late-July afternoon that summer I sat restlessly alone in my grandparent’s living room with their Chihuahua Marty flipping between the four out of two-hundred channels I liked (24, 72, 45, 23). The afternoon begged for adventure. Television had grown boring with the blue sky outside so I wandered into the kitchen to see if any snacks might do the trick. Marty followed, and as I cracked the refrigerator door the cool air hit me, and something outside the window glimmered and caught my eye. It was the pickup, parked cozily in the shade of the tree in front of the house, shined, waxed, and washed. It was the type of afternoon that felt like it could last as long as you wanted it to, especially at fourteen. On the wall hung the slim chrome key. I grabbed a soda and shut the refrigerator door to return for more channel surfing. I popped the tab and fingered through the same four channels again. 24, 72, 45, 23 then back to 24, but before I knew it I returned to the kitchen window and was eying the truck again. I knew my grandparents had taken their other vehicle (a purple Chrysler New Yorker that had a/c and leather seats) and wouldn’t be back for a few hours. I wondered if I could wait patiently for that long.


What I knew for sure was that the key was there, and it dared me to take it. It would be a fun story to tell Pete when he returned, I thought, and maybe he'd have a new respect for me and maybe I could even share the late-night driving duties with him. The screen door slammed shut behind me as Marty yapped from the porch for me to return. I didn’t. I looked around at the neighbor’s houses for witnesses as I opened the driver's side door and sat inside the pickup. I slid the key in and turned it until the engine purred. Patsy Cline played from the tape deck and I pulled the shifter down until the gear selection was in D for Drive. It was one of those old automatic shifters that stuck out from behind the steering wheel and kind of just fell into place when you pulled it south——they don't make them anymore. I let off the brake and the truck moved. I wanted to see what the pickup would do on its own; test it. It rolled a little then moved faster so I nervously smashed both feet on the brakes. That would have been the ideal moment to turn the engine off, put it in P for Park and go inside no harm done. But instead I relaxed, and let off the brake again, the pickup inched forward. I still can't explain what exactly came over me that day, and maybe there isn’t an explanation. I wasn't a bad kid, B-average and rarely the subject of punishment, but I believe that day I was tired of being bored, I was tired of being boring. Maybe the summer of passenger-side joyrides had worked me up to it, or maybe it was just a long time coming—some sort of distorted symbol of taking control. I had a lot to lose: from a learner's permit to my life, but if I learned something about driving from Papa Art, it was that being behind the wheel gave you the type of freedom that I yearned for. It was a clear day and I looked forward through the windshield. I wasn’t turning back, though I didn't quite see what was down the road either.

I figured I would go around the block first as my foot moved to the accelerator. I could feel the pickup now, it was natural and easier to control than the driving games down at the arcade. I pulled up to the end of the road and made my first complete stop. I knew to do that much. In fact, I knew a lot of the rules of the road, at least the ones written in the law books, and even though no one was anywhere near me I flipped on the turn signal just in case. There was no room for error, so I looked left, then right, then to my rear and side mirrors, then left again. The truck did most of the work as I made the left turn and rolled on down the neighborhood street. I'm sure I looked cool at that moment because I remember feeling that way. Patsy never sounded sweeter than she did on that day, and the only thing better would have been if the windows were down and a breeze was blowing through my hair. So, I reached for the handle. My eyes shifted between my mirrors, the speedometer, and the road as I rolled down the glass. That's when the sound of Ms. Cline drowned in the grind of the moving green pickup truck against a parked white car.  

The squeaking and cracking of two vehicles rubbing against each other will stay with me forever; bone-chilling. I didn't get out of the truck, but I didn't freak out either, not yet. Freaking out would have been forfeit. I went into survival mode, my body took over and my mind was back riding shotgun. Before a thought could be collected, the shifter moved into R for Reverse, then D for Drive and the pickup peeled away from the scene. (Later I find out that this was called a hit-and-run, and it was also in the law books).

The truck went to the end the road. Took a left, then another and was back onto my grandparent's street. I pulled under the tree shade and pushed the shifter into P for Park. I hopped out to check the damage, scratching my itchy legs. A few white streaks ran along the front bumper, but thankfully there was no serious damage. I rushed inside and grabbed a wet cloth to wipe away the white marks and after a few scrubs the bumper looked good, I thought. Only a few unnoticeable scratches remaining. I went back inside, Marty was still barking as I hid the rag in the dirty laundry and sat back in the recliner to once again to flip through the channels and pretend nothing had happened. I couldn't tell you one program on because I was scared down into the deep marrow of my skeleton and my adrenaline fired on all cylinders. I tried to pretend nothing had happened but I was twisted like a dirty dish rag inside. In that moment I felt less brave than when I’d started, I had no plan to admit the crime to my grandfather, or my parents, and especially not Pete. I could lose everything I had coming, including the rest of a beautiful summer.

This had to be my secret, I decided.

I stayed glued to that chair until my grandparents returned. My grandmother came inside and asked me to go help Papa bring in groceries while she started supper. I walked out, and that's when I saw my Papa Art for the first time from the far end of innocence, like a custom Norman Rockwell commission he leaned against his truck with one arm, sleeves loosely rolled and the sun heading down beyond the mountains behind him. He wore a cap cocked softly atop his head and carried his normal sense of Americana about him which radiated at that moment as he looked at the exact spot I had hit the parked white car. Wiping the marks off hadn’t done much good, there were still scratches on the truck that had become more visible as the daylight changed. I grabbed some grocery bags from the Chrysler as my Papa walked inside without word.

Later that evening the whole family sat around the dinner table, my grandfather still quiet as forks and knives clickety clacked against plates and everyone around him talked and ate. No one suspected that I had anything to do with it, I hadn't caused any trouble in the past so I kept quiet, using my good reputation like a milksop. As my grandfather thought himself through theories of what had happened to the bumper I noticed my mother and aunts having a separate conversation with their eyes. They motioned to each other as if they knew what had happened——they had no clue, but with Papa’s declining memory, they didn’t need much evidence to support their theories.
Papa was frustrated at himself because he knew his mind was not what it once was, regardless of what happened with the truck——the pickup was only physical evidence of it. Even though the collision wasn’t his fault he questioned himself, and I let him do so by not speaking up. Papa had already struggled with coming to terms with memory loss. He wondered if maybe he had hit that car and just couldn’t remember. It all showed in his eyes as everyone ate casserole around him, everyone except him and me.

The next day, by family vote, Papa Art's truck keys were officially taken from him, and with little fight (except from Pete, who knew Papa still had enough capacity to drive). Papa's favorite freedom, driving, had been robbed from him by none other than his own grandson. The man I was supposed to become that summer had driven off that day, and the man I did become placed that slim chrome key in his pocket to gear up for a driver’s permit. It wasn’t an easy decision on my family’s part, but he gave in. He tried as hard as he could to not let it anger him, especially in front of Pete and me, but he never drove again after that day.

I never took the pickup with Pete again either. It didn't feel right, though I never told Pete why. That summer was supposed to be one all teens have that blurs adolescence and adulthood. When responsibility is just around the corner and you're stupid enough to run towards it. Papa's notepad continued to be his best tool in the time that followed, up until his notes became illegible, left-handed scratch.

Nowadays when I drive to Papa Art’s resting place I thank him for being a man for both of us because I had to learn how it was done the hard way. And I learned too late.