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"Wheelbarrow Rides," short story excerpt

Wednesday 7/28/21

She should’ve brought the wheelbarrow, the one her father gave her rides in as a girl, to round up his parts as she found them in the forest.

Knowing him, it’d be leaning up against the garage wall in the same place, same manner. The only man who checked the air pressure on the wheel of his wheelbarrow, his garage organized with the meticulousness of a museum. Better smell.

And how she’d enjoyed it. The aroma of dirt-covered overalls that weren’t there, and grass stains that had somehow infused themselves into poured concrete, so ubiquitous was their presence in her days.

They were a robust outside family. Her friend Mindy had a new porch once with window screens, and they sat on it and gossiped about the boys at school, said words like “handies” and expressions of condemnation such as “Oh my God, you’re so awful,” which really meant, “let’s keep it going, this is how people grow up, and now we are in on it, too. We won’t be stopped.”

“Dad, can we get a porch?” she had asked.

“Don’t need a porch when you have a backyard and nature,” he answered, which made a certain amount of sense, though she also didn’t know how a person could have nature. At least not that way. They had “a” nature, which was so, so different.

Still, the wheelbarrow would have slowed her down, and look, there was her father’s other arm on the forest floor behind the house she hadn’t been in for so long. The trail continued.

What was it her husband said? “That man is going to die out there on his own, now that your mom is gone. This estrangement thing—you need to put it behind you. Even if he is a cocksucker.”

Her husband had done some research reading, apparently. “This estrangement thing.” He didn’t use phrases like that. The unintended homophobia was more typical, not that he had anything against people and their persuasions. Was just how he talked.

But you couldn’t explain to a dad like Barry that you’d had a parent who simply didn’t love you. He wouldn’t get it. The man looked at his own children as if there was no amount of wrong they could do in this world that would be enough to cease his belief in them or the support he’d extend.

“If he wants to die, let him die,” she had countered, and even as she said it, she felt the second thoughts—a syncopation of stated intention—in the jagged beat of her words.

He’d probably gather up a whole canteen of whiskey and walk back into the woods he loved so much and never come out. Every now and again he’d let a piece of who he was slide to the ground. Kick it aside. Some fingers. A hand. Arms. The parts of a person that were label-less. Mossy clumps of words unspoken. Bright, lightning blazes of words that were. A chain-link fence of embraces that never happened.

Eventually the legs would go, and there’d be this torso on the ground with a head that could still speak. Bark. But it wouldn’t bark a cry of “help me, I’ve gone too far.” Maybe it’d be an explaining bark. A bark of clarification. “I was nothing without her. You were never enough. We were never close. She wanted you more than I did.”

And it’s not as if he’d blame it on the whiskey. His canteen had a kind of insulating fur over it, like it was a formerly domesticated container gone feral. He respected her too much. Wouldn’t insult her intelligence by compelling her to respond, “I know,” as she sat beside him so that he’d have some company in his dying moments.


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