Monday, June 30, 2014


…Growing up in a big family with seven brothers who were mostly gregarious and good athletes made me the opposite.  It wasn’t their fault, of course.  I just was what I was.  While both my dads were mechanics I had long hair, read poetry and still don’t know what a carburetor is or where isn’t located under the hood.  At some point, around seventh grade maybe, I gained a new friend named Gordy.  I can’t recall his last name, which means we must not have been that great of friends, or else, Alzheimer’s is setting in. 
In any event, Gordy shows up in quite a few of the stories I’ve written.  He was a short-lived figure in my life, yet an important one. 
Gordy, if you’re out there somewhere, let me know.   

                                                             At The Deep End

            At the pool, I watch the blind girl’s parents lower her into the shallow end.  She’s maybe five, and skinny as a ladder.
            The girl kicks her feet, giggling.  She wears a Hello Kitty one piece swimsuit and has floaties on her arms.
            “It would really suck being blind,” I say. 
            Gordy shoots me with a spray from one of the squirt guns we shoplifted earlier in the day.  When I tell him to knock it off, he squirts me in the eye, so I slug him on the shoulder.
            “You’re still an asshole.”
            Gordy and I have been friends our whole lives, but next Monday he and his mom are moving to Kansas.  After another “dust up”, Gordy’s dad got put in jail for beating his mom pretty bad and the divorce is all finalized now.  “Dust up” is Gordy’s term.  He’s a professional at making misery seem harmless.  Once when Gordy’s dad tried to drown his mom in the bathtub, Gordy said it was merely a “boating accident.”
            “Geez, Elaine,” the blind girl’s father says, “you’re going to break her damn arm.  Just let her go.”
            Gordy says he’s not excited about moving away.  He says life is a peach, even though he’s been in and out of trouble quite a bit this last year, starting with an episode where he broke several of our school’s windows with a crowbar. 
            The blind girl looks ridiculous.  She won’t stop grinning, nor does she stop slapping water against her face and chest.  Her mother is flustered while her father reads a magazine on a lawn chair.
            We started shoplifting a few weeks ago.  It was just candy at the start, but it’s progressed to games and toys, items that are trickier to conceal inside our clothing.  I’m pretty sure the manager’s onto us, but Gory could care less.  “What’re they going to do, toss us in the clink?” he says.
            A plump woman with marbleized thighs comes over and talks to the blind girl’s mother, and from their easy manner I can see she’s some kind of friend.  They gawk over the blind girl, then get lost in conversation.
            I watch the blind girl start to move through the water, going fast.  Gordy sees it, too.  “I hope she drowns,” he says.
            I jump up, dive in and reach the girl just before she’s about to reach the slope that leads to the deep end.  When I break the surface, holding her by the waist, there’s a crowd poolside.  The blind girl’s dad tells me to get my goddamn hands off his daughter, while the girl giggles, splashing us both, using her hands as paddles.
            When I get out of the water, Gordy says, “Smooth move, Ex-Lax.”

            Before bed that night, I lay in the bathtub under the water, holding my breath.  I look up through the murky surface thinking: Life’s like that--unclear and fluid, always moving, wavering, slippery yet certain. 

Friday, June 27, 2014



…I feel blue today.  Is it because it was my birthday yesterday?  Maybe.  Probably.  I’m not sure. 
But I’ll shake it off.  There’s no reason to be sad on a Friday.

…Outside my window people are waterskiing on the lake even though it’s a gray day.  The look like they’re having fun.

…Here are some very random things I learned of late that you might already know:

-The U.S. economy has now added back all jobs it lost during the financial meltdown.
Still, 6 out of 10 people believe it is impossible for them to achieve the American Dream.

-There are 7.1 million millionaires in the U.S.

-Kentucky’s basketball coach was given a seven year contract extension worth $52.5 million.

-82% of all email users use Gmail

-At least 10,000 more Americans and Europeans took their lives during 2007 – 2010 than during good economic times prior. 
The suicide rate for was 4.8% in the U.S.
6.5% in major European countries
-The state of Oklahoma averages 2 earthquakes a year but has had 207 through June 15th of 2014

-The average age of a car still in use in the U.S. is 11.4 years old

-33% of all parents have no money set aside for a family financial emergency and another 11% have less than $1,000 set aside

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


…Tomorrow I will be older.  I guess I’m older today, but tomorrow it will be official.

…For the second time in two weeks I got paid for a story.  For the second time in two weeks that payment was $10.  It’s basically nothing, but on the other hand, it’s still something

Somebody even said some nice things about my writing:.
Writing is all about pattern, establishing it, breaking it, and this is something that Mr. Kuntz does very well. He lulls us into complacency and delivers us into evil, or he takes us down a rabbit hole only to end up having tea with the Keystone Cops. That he is able to continue to surprise us this far into the cycle says a great deal about his skill.  We’re left this month with a hint of retribution hanging in that smoke-filled air. Whether next month makes us laugh or wince, I feel confident it will be worth my investment in time and money.
Yet another impressive story in the 2014 project. As a reader I remain hungry; as a writer I am in awe.
It’s a beautiful day where I am.  I wish the sun is shining for you, too.
Here are some things to like on a Wednesday:

"It's practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.” Joe Moore

“Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.” Mary Oliver

"It's the friends you can call up at four a.m. that matter." Marlene Dietrich

"I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of imagination." Keats

"You must have the devil in you to succeed in the arts." Voltaire

"Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve." W. Clement Stone

"I'm totally in control of this tiny, tiny world right there at the typewriter." Joan Didion

“The night kept coming on in and there was nothing I could do.” Charles Bukowski

"I want to put a ding in the universe." Steve Jobs

"It's humbling, to become the very thing you once mocked." Gillian Flynn, "Gone Girl"

"We sit indoors and talk of the cold outside.
And every gust that gathers strength and heaves
Is a threat to the house. But the house has long been tried."
---Robert Frost "There Are Roughly Zones"

Monday, June 23, 2014


…Actually, I don’t mind Mondays.  Not anymore.  When you don’t have a set schedule, one day is no different than the next and you haven’t a bias towards any day, good or bad.
There was a cult hit single, however, called, “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats apparently about one of the first Columbine-type school shooting which occurred, of course, on a Monday.
I’d forgotten how creepy the video is.
Anyway, Monday…  Monday has always been pretty good to me.  I certainly can’t complain.
I hope Monday is great to you.

…The new Michael Jackson album is awfully good.  If you get it, get the deluxe version.  “Love Never Felt So Good” is completely addictive and I’ve had it in my head for at least a week now.  I can’t understand why he never released it earlier.

I spent a few hours visiting Michael’s older catalogue.  My fave is “Black or White.”

I wrote this the other day:

                                                A Very Modern Family

When I was young, my father loaded me inside the barrel of a rifle.  It was a double barrel shotgun and so dad loaded my sister in the other barrel.  That was our dad’s way of keeping the family together, although mom had run off with the vice principle at the school where she taught.  Our father kept threating to pull the trigger if we didn’t behave and repeat how much we loved and adored him.  Eventually we tired of the incessant needling for praise and our flattery rang false, so our father put the gun barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger and that was how one modern family managed to stay together eternally.

…Here are some things I like to start the week:

"I don't understand the point of being together if you're not the happiest." Gillian Flynn, "Gone Girl

 We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas or oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. “--Winston Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons on British resistance to the Nazis, June 1940

"Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are.  Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story."

"As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come to you.  That's the real obsession.  All those stories.”

"The thing about remembering is that you don't forget.  You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present."

"What you have to do is trust your story.  Get the hell out of the way and let it tell itself." Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried

"I know you can't save every dog. But you can totally try to save the dog that's in front of you." Cesar Millan, aka The Dog Whisperer

Friday, June 20, 2014


…Tomorrow my daughter comes home from L.A.  I’m very excited.  Haven’t see her in a long while.

…As I write this, there’s a man in a boat outside my window, maybe fifteen yards away, staring up at me.  Kind of creepy, but that’s what happens when you live on a lake.
People out here sure like to fish.  They’ll go fishing in a downpour.  But today it’s quite nice.

…This was in the paper the other day:
SEATTLE, WA: Amy Lee, 28, whose sleep was interrupted by a cancer charity run outside her apartment was charged with assault and reckless endangerment for allegedly pelting supporters with trash, used cat litter and frozen chicken.
It kind of cracked me up.

…Here are some noteworthy (at least I think so anyway) commentary from Facebook folks of late:

HOW YOU CAN TELL IT'S THE END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR: One of my male students was constantly talking and making noise during the other students' recent classroom presentations and one of my female students, clearly fed up with his disruption, turned and yelled, "WILL YOU SHUT THE F--- UP?!?!" When his head whipped around to me as if to say, "And what do you plan to do about that?" I looked him right in the eye and said, "I'm with her."

Someone just got smashed in the head with a "rough beach umbrella" caught by the wind. I can dig that.

10 Qualities Women Look For In a Man
1. loves small animals, even rodents.
2. makes you giggle insanely for no reason.
3. does not humiliate you about your hair....
4. lets you sing to the dog, does not call authorities.
5. finds your lack of knowledge about many subjects adorable.
6. tells you that you have nice long legs when you have short legs and nobody has ever really said they were nice.
7. loves The Naked Gun and Kentucky Fried Movie, Mel Brooks and all early Woody Allen.
8. writes beautifully but isn't vain about it.
9. loves your childhood.
10. loves your childhood. (the importance of this cannot be overstated)

I'm a little torn about blocking idiots because I feel like it creates an online culture in which there are no dissenting voices. Of course, idiots don't really have much of value to say, so it's a moot point

Ducks love salt swimming pools. I want a duck of my own. And a salt swimming pool. And a watermelon. Help me out

If I have a really shitty childhood, does that mean it's okay for me to terrorize, trick, and lie to everyone else in my life? Seriously, I would like your input.

imagine how massive history books would be if they recorded all the times people stared into space and didn't do anything

This morning my phone, which was in my pocket, connected to Netflix and started playing the opening to my favorite TV show: "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. . ." Never in my life did I expect I would able to say I had Law and Order in my pants.

tracking the fashion trends of hispanic grandmas
everything else

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


…Wow, “Orange Is The New Black,” Season 2, is really good.  Much darker than the first season.  Great acting.  Incredible characters, and lots of them.  Conflict every five minutes.  What’s not to love?

…Here are bits I like midweek:
"You are a little soul, carrying around a corpse." Epictetus.
"I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed." Mary Oliver
“The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.” Steve PreFontaine

“Most of us can, if we choose, make this world either a prison or a palace.” Lord Avebury
“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.” -Eve Ensler

“It is better to say, "This one thing I do" than to say, "These forty things I dabble in." Washington Gladden

“Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.” Nicholas Murray Butler

“I come to the office each morning and stay for long hours doing what has to be done to the best of my ability. And when you've done the best you can you can't do any better.” Harry S. Truman

“Every man stamps his value on himself... man is made great or small by his own will.” J.C.F. von Schiller

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."  Helen Keller
That’s the kind of a person it takes to be a writer." Avi Steinberg
"I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things." Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Someday, somewhere - anywhere, unfailingly, you'll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.” Pablo Neruda

Monday, June 16, 2014


…Happy Monday.

…I hope you had a fantastic weekend and that you spent some time with people you did not know, who are now new friends.

...I have been immersed in my new novel.  It’s become a bit addictive, which I think is a good thing.  I like spending time with the characters.
Here’s the first chapter…

                                                     Rayburn, Wyoming, 2009
            In bed late at night, by herself again, Jo listened to the crickets chrip while she waited patiently for her dead husband to walk through the bedroom door. 
            Monty was late again, as always, which was his way of teasing her—tormenting her really.  Foreplay, Baby, he liked to say whenever he finally showed.  I’m just stoking the flames.
Tonight, same as every evening, Jo worried that she might not be able to make Monty appear.  She worried, too, that she’d become a crazy loon like her mother, worried that living on the fumes of a dead love was not only tragic but perhaps a clear signal that she’d lost all sense of the here and now.  The only thing Jo knew for certain was that Monty was dead, yet she loved him and always would.
Gusty winds shook the walls of Jo’s trailer home, rattling hinges as well as items left on the stubby bureau butted against the end wall of her bedroom.  In the distance outside, a train chuffed, passing by the town of Rayburn the same way hundreds of automobiles did every day.  The sound of the disappearing train cut a gloomy arc through Jo’s  soul and so as a buffer she resurrected an image of Monty and her—Jo in a white wedding gown, Monty wearing a bolo tie and denim tux with a glob of wedding cake hanging off his chin.  The image and the photograph that was taken of it didn’t show what happened afterward, how Jo had craned her neck at an awkward angle, mouthing his chin like a trout, sucking his skin clean all the while giggling like a school girl. 
Inside Jo, her unborn child--nearly nine months along now--flopped and flailed the way it always did whenever Jo yearned for Monty.  The baby-to-be was a constant reminder of how things were different, how they’d changed, and Jo, superstitious to her core, credited the baby with powers and abilities no human possessed.
“Settle,” Jo said aloud, though in a whisper, patting the puckered lemon end of her distended belly button.  “Do you hear me?  Settle down.”
Instead, the baby railed harder, throwing a conniption fit, making Jo clench and squirm and sweat.
“You rascal,” she whispered, patting again, her fingers trembling.  “Are you trying to kill me?”
Jo thought about turning on the light and reading—something to distract her thoughts from the scuffling baby, but the only book on the lampstand was one of poetry and it required Jo’s entire concentration to make sense of the poems’ hidden meanings.  She reached over and took a sip of water from a glass next to the book of poems.  The water was tepid with an iron tang.  Something was wrong with the well again, she’d told Shane as much, but like most things Jo told her husband, Shane passed over them with nary a look of recognition.
She glimpsed the alarm clock’s pulsing red glow: 1:33 and Shane still not home.  Nothing unusual there.  It should have been upsetting—her husband out carousing every night--yet Jo actually preferred Shane’s absence, and of course with Shane gone that left Jo free to enjoy her imaginary trysts with Monty.
How could two men, twins, be so different?
She thought about them now, how she had married Monty when she was just seventeen, how only three years afterward Monty was dead, with Jo gripped by a pull of grief so strong it threatened to bury her, too, until she did the unthinkable, marrying Shane.
Now the crickets hushed and the whipping shadows along the trailer windows stalled and, mercy of all mercies, there stood Monty, leaning against the doorframe, grinning.  He looked happy if not also a bit cocky, and Jo knew Monty wanted her but that he would stay like that, in a James Dean pose, until she begged him to come to her.
Jo pulled the covers off and lay on her side and as she did the baby inside her turned on its ESP and kicked so hard Jo coughed.  She pressed her forearm against her belly trying to still the child, pressing a little too hard maybe, but now that Monty had arrived, she had no patience for the rummaging in her uterus.
As Monty approached, the child recoiled harder, throwing vicious uppercuts and jabs, so Jo squeezed down firmly to thwart the blows, wondering if she clasped enough could she silence the unborn baby once and for all, wondering next did she mean it, did she really want the baby dead? 
Hot tears—tears of guilt and frustration--splashed down Jo’s bare breasts.  She knew she should be happy.  After all, a baby was something to celebrate, a giddy event necessitating revelation, yet to Jo it felt like one more warning flare exploding in a sky.
Hey, Cuddle Bug, don’t you worry about a thing, that kid’s going be all right.
Monty always had the ability to read Jo’s moods and tics, as if he and Jo were an elderly couple, working from rote memory.  She loved this about him, how Monty could recognize what was eating her below the surface, how he was so unlike Shane in this way.
Gorgeous, what’s the matter?
“It’s just…”  Jo stared in Monty’s eyes which glimmered dewy brown.  She didn’t want to worry him, spoil their night together before Shane returned home drunk and ornery as always.  “I’m so goddamn fat.”
Nah, you’re beautiful.  Beautiful and perfect.
“I sure don’t feel that way.”
Monty sat down on the side of the bed and took Jo’s chin in his hand, brushing away tears with his thumb.  He had the softest touch, callused hands yet smooth as gossamer.
Look at me.  Jo, look at me.  You’re beautiful and the one great love of my life.
Jo felt herself flush, same as the first time Monty had labeled her eyes emeralds, said he was a sucker for redheads, especially redheads with connect-the-dots freckles splashed across their cheeks.
“Stop being so sweet.”
I’m only as sweet as you make me.
Now Jo felt herself sweating under her arms, inside her calves, between her toes.  “Why did you have to go off to that stupid war?  Why in the hell?”
They sent me.
“But you didn’t have to.  There wasn’t a reason.  You weren’t drafted.”
I told you.  9/11.  I saw those towers burn and melt, and the pictures of it played over and over so many times, people dropping from skyscrapers like puppets…I just felt like I had to do something, you know?
“Like you could change things?”
Yeah.  Maybe a little bit.
“And then you died.  You got killed.”
Not only me, but a lot of others, too.
“You were mine, Monty.  Mine.  How am I supposed to go on without you?”
“Don’t shush me,” Jo said, swatting away Monty’s hand or the air where it was supposed to be.
You wanna wrestle?
“Shut the hell up,” Jo said, with a giggle.  “I’m pregnant.”
You’re a breadbasket, do you know that?  A--what-do-they-call-it?—a cornucopia of contradictions.
“I’m just a widow who’s pregnant and miserable.”
You’re not that miserable, are you?
“Yes, I truly am.”  Here Jo was, talking when she wanted to be making love.  “But like you said, I’m lots of things.”
Then tell me what you are.
“Okay,” Jo said, “for one, I’m lonely.”
You have Shane, though.
Jo flinched at the sound of Shane’s name and decided to dismiss hearing it.  “I miss you so much.”
But I’m here now.
“You are, right?  This is you.  I’m not making it up, am I?”
Monty ran his palm across her right breast, tweaking Jo’s nipple until it became erect.  He stared at her nakedness boyishly, full of awe and wonder, his eyes mobile, as wide as Jo had ever seen them.
“Make love to me.”
Is that request or an order?
“Both, I guess.  But do it quick.”
“Let’s go already.”
 I’m happy to oblige.
Monty disrobed and lay on top of her, his body weightless yet alive, as real to Jo as the last time they’d made love.  He entered her with ease even as the baby inside Jo started its familiar rummaging.  He was gentle, always gentle, completely unlike Shane, but Jo wanted Monty to be rough tonight in order to distract herself from the flailing fetus, and so she urged him to thrust harder. 
You sure?
“Yes.  Definitely, yes.”
Soon they were bucking, the bed making screeching sounds, headboard banging.  Monty obliged her request in a wonderfully wicked way, and even though in one part of her mind Jo knew this was all her imagination’s work, another part believed it was factual, their coupling, frantic and manic, the most delicious sex she’d ever had.
Jo climaxed in three successions, every nerve ending turning prickly and electric.  She heard herself scream after the final release.  Gasping, clutching the bedcover in her fist, she felt how wet she was, soaked actually.
“Oh, God, Monty, I’ve flooded the bed.”
I’m not so sure.
What do you mean?”
Have a look.
When Jo inspected the mattress, she saw that she had indeed flooded it, but it didn’t have anything to do with sex. 
Your water broke.
Getting out of bed, a dizzy spell sideswiped Jo and she had to grip the edge of the bed in order to keep from falling.  She saw shooting spots the size of coins.  Breathe, she told herself.  Breathe.
Jo started to dress, then stopped and got her cell phone off the top of the dresser.  She punched in Shane’s number, but it went straight to voice mail.  She left a message, trying to stay calm yet urgent, and called again--same thing.  He was probably three sheets to the wind.  After work at the mill, Shane spent nearly every evening throwing back Jack and Coke’s at The Iron Side, a dive bar with prostitutes stationed near the restroom stalls.
Jo finished dressing and tried to plot her next steps but contractions came at her without warning--piercing darts that made Jo’s legs wobble.  She knew she had to hurry.  She wished she had someone she could call, but her father had passed away and her lunatic-of-a-mother would simply make a mess of things if she became involved, calling Jo a witch, invoking Satan or some such nonsense.
Then Jo remembered Sloan, Monty and Shane’s father.  Sloan was a good man, kind and soft spoken, always ready to lend a helping hand without the expectation of compensation.  Jo could phone Sloan and have him track down Shane.  Yes.
She was about to call his number when the doorbell rang.
Jo checked the red-lit alarm clock:  1:45 am. 
Another panic attack seized her, clamping its hands around her throat, the way Shane often did, and cutting off her air again.  She equated surprises at the door with horror and death.  In a flash she saw herself opening the door of her other house, finding the two uniformed officers there, dour looks on their square-jawed faces.  Without a word passing between any of them, Jo knew Monty was dead.
We regret to inform…
We’re sorry for your loss…
He was a valiant soldier…
Because of the, the condition, well you know, the manner in which, well, it was an IED he stepped on…
He’s been cremated.
Jo pinched her eyes and shook away the memories.  Go away.  Go.  Be gone.
Now her lower back ached, as if someone had slammed her with a steel plank.  She stood leaning over, praying it was Shane at the door, that he’d lost his key. 
No, what a stupid thought that was—if he’d lost his key, Shane would jam his thumb on the bell and keep it there until Jo answered.  Then he’d blame her for losing the key and he’d most likely swear at her, calling Jo names.
The doorbell chimed again.  Jo straightened as best she could and grabbed her robe from the closet.  She flicked on the bedroom light and the hall light and lumbered with great effort through the wood-paneled walls and down the steps, clutching her stomach with one hand, her back with the other.  She paused at the door, wishing she had one of those peep holes that hotels had on their doors.  At this hour, anyone could be on the other side— a fugitive on the run, a psychopath or an axe murderer.
Jo took a deep breath as a flurry of contractions ambushed her.  She almost screamed.
The bell chimed again, no different than the other times, yet it startled her all the same.  The visitor was persistent.  
From the slit in the door she heard someone call her name.  Then, “It’s me, Sloan.”
Sloan.  Thank God. 
But why was he here?
When Jo opened the door she knew instantly that something was wrong.  Sloan wouldn’t meet her eyes. 
“Oh, God Sloan, I can’t take any trouble right now.  My water broke.”
“You’re in labor?”
“Yeah,” Jo said, choking out the words.  “And this damn baby wants out in a hurry.”
Sloan reached out his hand as if to touch Jo’s stomach or perhaps to steady her but he must have realized how awkward the gesture was because he withdrew his hand at once, holding it at his side, not knowing what to do with it.  It was the first time Jo had ever seen Sloan flustered.
Another pang came, leaving Jo gasping, doubled-over.  “Can you drive me to the hospital?”
“Of course.”
Jo started to make her way off the porch, then remembered her daughter, her and Monty’s daughter.  She felt sick that she’d almost forgotten, but she told herself it was because of the labor pains.
“Would you run up and get Ella?  I don’t think I can do the stairs.”
For a second or two the labor pains subsided and Jo gained clarity.            “Sloan, why are you here?  It’s almost two in the morning.”
            “We can talk about it in the car.”
            Jo grabbed Sloan’s wrist as he was walking past.  “Tell me now,” she said.  “I know it’s bad and I don’t want Ella catching on.”
            “Shane.  He got himself into some trouble.”
            Of course it’s Shane.  “What happened?”
            “He was in an accident.”
            “Is he hurt?”
“Not really.  I don’t think, anyway.”
“What kind of accident?”
            “He’s okay.  He’ll be fine.”
            “Goddamn it, Sloan, don’t be coy with me.  Where is he?  I’ve been calling him.”
            “Well, that’s the thing.  He’s in jail.”
            “He’d been drinking and he hit another car.”
            “Oh my God.”
            “The other driver is just a little banged up.”
            “But…”  But this was Shane’s third DUI.
            “Really, Jo.  We can’t do anything for Shane right now.”
            Jo nodded and released her grip on Sloan’s wrist.  She watched him head up the steps taking the stairs two at a time, moving with the agility of a teenager, though he was over forty years old.  She leaned against a wall with her aching back to it, the contractions sharp as ever.  She knew she wouldn’t make it to the hospital.  Neither would Shane.  The baby was on its way with a fury.  Jo wanted to tell it to stay put, not just for a while, not just until they could get to the Emergency Room, but forever.  She wanted to tell the baby she was sorry she ever got pregnant, sorry she’d been such a fool to marry Shane, sorry she’d made such bad choices.  She wanted to warn the child about what life would be like once it arrived because Jo had a feeling that bad as things were, they were about to get worse, and if Jo had any special gifts at all, it was the gift of premonition.

            The girl was as tough as most of the men Sloan knew, yet this was enough to break her.  He wished she’d scream or bawl but the only sounds she made were chuffs and gasps, as if she was drowning or being smothered.
            A wild, sleeting snow made it difficult to focus on driving, or Jo, who was reclined in the seat to him.  Every so often she heaved and her breath washed over the truck’s console, sour-smelling like curdled milk.  She squeezed the vinyl seat between her parted legs and each time she did the fabric mewled.
            “I’m not going to make it.”
            “Sure you are,” Sloan said, careful to keep his voice steady.  “You’ll make it.”
            But the nearest hospital was still thirty miles away.  He was doing seventy on the freeway despite the lashing snow and winds that kept nudging Sloan’s pickup nearly off the side of the road.  He should have taken her to Hendricks.  A horse doc was better than nothing, but now Sloan was headed in the opposite direction of Hendricks and there was no turning back.
            In the back seat Ella, Jo’s two year old daughter by Monty, sat bug-eyed but quiet, sucking on her thumb.  Her eyes looked black, yet she had Jo’s fair red hair and it was long and lank like Jo’s.
            “This is bad,” Jo said, her voice placid all of a sudden, curiously calm, as if she’d gone into shock.
            “You’re going to make it,” Sloan said, hating the futility of his words.
            “This baby, it’s bad.  A bad seed.”
            “Don’t say that.”
            “It hates me.”
            “Come now.”
            “It knows things.”
            Jo’s calm nature and comments spooked him.  Jo was one for the supernatural—a fan of astrology, Ouija boards and tarot cards—superstitious as all heck, her interest ramped up even farther after Monty’s death, but Sloan had always thought it playful, a harmless hobby.
            “It’s not only inside my uterus, it’s gotten inside my thoughts and true feelings.”
            Sloan wished she’d stop talking nonsense.  Jo was a smart girl, brighter than most, a reader of poetry, and while this was merely the ramblings of a woman unwound by her current ordeal, Jo sounded too much like her crazy mother.
            “It hates me.”
            “You shouldn’t say that.”
            “It wishes I was dead.”
            “Shush now.”
            “It hates me, and I don’t blame it.”
            Sloan patted her knee.  It was a dumb thing to do but he’d done it and when he returned his vision to the highway ahead of him he saw the glowing frame of an animal in his lane.  There was no time to brake or swerve or even blink.  The animal—most likely a coyote—slammed into the truck’s fender, crumpling immediately under the right wheel well with a grotesque sound like meat and bone being fed into a wood chipper.
            Sloan’s heart was in his throat, throbbing behind his eyeballs, making him tear up, the windshield a sheet of water on both sides.  He thought he should pull over to inspect the damage but the truck still flew at the same speed and there was another twenty-five miles to go.
            He glanced back at Ella and forced a smile.  When he looked over the seat at Jo, her head lolled against the headrest and her eyes were crossed.  Drool leaked down her neck, pooling in the cup of her clavicle.
            “Hey, Jo.  Jo, you okay?  Jo?”
            And then her knees banged against the dashboard as if Sloan had slammed on the brakes.  She screamed now, the scream of a woman dropped into a vat of boiling oil.  She thumped her head against the dash and would not stop no matter how Sloan pleaded.
            Ella began to cry, too, flapping her thumb in front of her like a diminutive, confused hitchhiker.
            He pulled the pickup over, hearing the sound of fluid pouring forth from the front engine block.  Steam rose over the headlights like sea horses made of fog.  He knew it was only antifreeze, yet all the late-night TV watching in him made it gasoline.  He imagined the gas catching a spark and that spark igniting an inferno, him, Jo and Ella sent sailing through the snow-smeared night sky in a red and black explosion.
            The engine hissed and in seconds a great cloud misted over the entire windshield.  Sloan punched the dome light on.
            Jo hadn’t noticed they’d stopped.  She continued butting her head against the truck’s cab like some deranged mountain goat.
            “Jo.  Jo, stop!”
            But she wouldn’t.  Even after he grabbed her wrist, she jerked away and continued slamming her head.  Ella squealed and squirmed, trying to free herself of the car seat.
            “The baby’s coming,” Jo said.  “It’s trying to kill me,” she said as she banged her head.
            Sloan got out and was at once blinded by a hailstorm.  It hit his face, forehead, and eyes.  A pellet nicked his tooth so hard--ricocheting into the black night--that Sloan wondered if it wasn’t his own tooth that had been broken off and flung away. 
            Coming around to the passenger side door, jagged diamonds of hail beat down on Sloan’s head and neck and pinged off the truck door and glass, a stampede of thundering ice chunks falling by the thousands, the sound almost deafening.
            Sloan reached in and grabbed Jo’s shoulder and as he did she started to wail.  Her forehead was berry-red with mucus and sweat slathered across her cheeks.  She worked her jaw up and down as if testing to see if it was broken.
            He told her to be quiet, to be still, and forced her to lie back across the truck seats.  This took some doing because she kept trying to sit back up, but after a while she complied.
            A spur of shame ran through Sloan as he spread his daughter in-law’s legs, but there was no other choice.  He looked and saw that the baby was already on its way out.  There was black blood and slime and the dome of an infant head staring at him.
            He was scared but forced his fear aside and told Jo to push.  Jo chanted to herself, some kind of prayer maybe, while the flesh on her thighs jiggled as she trembled.  Sloan told her to push again and there was a warning in his voice this time that even quieted Ella.
            The plate of the baby’s skull, looking like the base of a greasy tin bowl, seemed to swell with each push Jo gave, but still the baby did not want out.
            “You need to focus, Jo.  Focus and push.”
            She gave it a great effort, huffing, one hand gripping the headrest, the other the steering wheel.  She bore down and tried and tried.
            They had been at it for fifteen minutes with no progress.  During that time several cars passed by them on the highway, one blaring its horn.  No one stopped.  He could be a man killing a woman and no one would stop.
            “Push as hard as you can, Jo.  This is going to be over soon.”
            When she obeyed, he told her, “Again.  Again!”
            Finally the head came out, shoulders, too.  The baby was wearing its umbilical cord around its neck like some kind of slimy rubber necklace.  Sloan uncoiled the cord with great care but as he did so he knew it was too late.  The child was a cold, navy color.  It did not cry or breathe or do anything.