The bus, its engine screaming, is heading for the
stop, is coming for her. Her eyes dart to a side
street and she hurries toward it. Turning the
corner, she begins to run. It's dark, hemmed in by
industrial buildings, and her frantic steps echo
off the faceless walls. Strewn trash and graffiti
mock her failure—the bus has passed and she
begins to cry. Slowing to rub her eyes, her toe
slams a concrete lip and she staggers forward
and then sees—far up the street—a large vehicle
turn her way.
"We better leave," he says, "something's wrong."
The wind catches the lumps and some tumble
across the ground, landing in distorted poses.
They're her puppets. He then hears a voice so
pleasant he doesn't recognize it at first, and in a
flash, in a cold wave of dread, he comprehends
the stupidity of his mistake. The man is standing
Two children struggle to cope in a drilling town
within Wyoming's Red Desert, a community beset
by instability, substance abuse and violence.
"Bull, get the hell up—y'all are one, lazy dog."
His legs stop quivering and his eyes open to
the baking sunlight of his resting spot. He rises in
time to avoid the rusty pipe thrown by his master;
it clinks and rolls away in puffs of dust. Cowering,
he listens to expletives on how worthless he is,
sleeping day and night. After the man enters the
shed, Bull sits and exhales a long, slow sigh.
Panting, tongue out, he looks vacantly about his
circle, his world, the exhilaration of the dream
fading from his heart.
A guard dog is aided by a yellow lab that appears
one day outside the fence of his compound.
Behind a remote farmhouse, the sun touches the
horizon, turning the tops of the piney woods
orange. Peeper frogs chirp in the cooling air and
hunched over a picnic table, a father sips from a
pint bottle, mumbling to himself. The boy knows
enough not to bother him, but he's excited about
his magic kit and driving his father's tractor for the
first time. Will he drive it tomorrow? He creeps
toward him, wanting to show him a magic trick,
wanting to ask him about the tractor. "Dad?"
The Birthday Gift is a tale that defies description
—like a sudden feeling or scent that carries one
back to a magical place and time—a place still
bathed in golden light, a time when a boy could
still imagine reaching the sun.
She exposes another roll of negatives and
then the last image to be printed appears—the
shot of the white cat circling around Henry's legs.
"Yikes!" she says. "What happened here?"
The entire scene is out of focus.
"It must be one of yours."
She giggles and looks into his grinning face.
"I'm going to forget you said that, wise guy."
Without thinking, she reaches around him for a
quick hug but his hands press into her back and
she's held tight.
"You can kiss me if you want," she says,
pushing up on her toes, offering her lips—but he
only drops his head beside hers, his warm breath
steady on her neck. "All right," she whispers,
we'll just hold each other."
The paths of two misfits, a depressed housewife
and the local garbage man, collide during the
spring of sixty-six in a small Midwestern town.
A thousand pounds of thrust between her legs,
her fuel ready to ignite, she circles Star about
Willie and Morgan in a fast lope. Sitting erect,
her hips rock with the rhythmic thud of hooves
and then her entire body tenses as the bluff
wheels into view. Kicking her boot heels in and
shouting "he-ya," horse and rider explode
forward in full gallop.
A sixteen-year-old daughter defies her father's
control, engaging in risky thrills such as galloping
full speed over the rugged plains of Wyoming. But
behind her rebellion and tough girl swagger lies
a broken heart.
short stories page 2