“No Grave Today,” by Scott Lasley

Wilburt Hadley sat quietly in his tan folding chair. Miss Joyce and Miss Earline sat across the white plastic table from him reading old issues of Hearth and Home and Cappers, their page turns the only real noise aside from Forrest coughing in his power chair across the room. Age and inclination kept him from moving from his chair again, but he enjoyed listening to, and watching the assistants as they bustled around the common area, bringing today’s residents their orange juice cups.

Wilburt tapped the table shakily with his hands, whispering in earnest, “Y’all seein’ them lil’ young folks sittin’ up all close to Miss Mary and missuh Jim ove theya?” Miss Earline, a woman of formidable stature, even for her age, slapped her Cappers down on the table, surely losing her spot, but she looked around the room and saw about ten or twelve twenty-somethings scattered around at different tables. There were even a couple of the boys and a girl up the front of the room with instruments looking like they were gonna start playing songs or something.  She noticed that Mary had already found someone to flirt with, the poor kid.

Music seeped around the room as a few from the group of young folks picked up their instruments to play and began to sing. Two guitars, a drum that stood on the floor, held tilted toward the young man playing it and one young woman singing harmony to each song presented. Heads rose and fell in positive acknowledgment of the music. Even Miss Earline began singing with them. Wilburt had turned his chair to face the group and had his tired eyes closed up and his left arm bracing himself on the table as his feet patted the floor in time with the music. At 103 years old, the syncopated rhythm of his beating feet was right in line with the boy deftly manipulating sounds with the drum in his hands. That drum, whatever kind of drum it was, coaxed Wilburt’s tan folding chair slightly away from his table and closer to the source of the music. As the music started again, Wilburt had produced two different harmonicas from the folds of his wool cardigan and was playing along with the music.

The notes started off tender and sheepish, but after a few measures, Wilburt had one hand in the air pushing at the air above his head, and the other holding the smaller  harp to his mouth; His right leg thumping and stamping the ground in rhythm and the rest of his body rocking with emotion. The song finished, the boy with his drum simply got up from his place by the two standing guitarists and sat down next to Wilburt, who’s eyes, milky with age were gleaming with melodic fervor and life. “Ya’ll know Down Inna’ Riverbed? Cain’t buhlieve I knows it now eitha. Learn’d it when I’s twelve and now I’s a hundred-three. ‘Ain’t done on God’s earth I ‘spose.” Wilburt chuckled at it with a smile flashing on his face and the boy chortled his own response warmly, “Well, you don’t seem or play a day over 40.”

Wilburt brought the harmonica to his mouth and filled the room with the warm, liberating air and rag-time riffs from younger, savored days. He used one foot to supply the down-beat and his right hand slapping off the plastic table like a whip for the up-beat. The sounds of the boy’s hands striking his drum to match and drown out the soft “thump-tap-thump-tap” of Wilburt’s hand and foot. Today, time was not tugging him out the door, but rather was proving that he still belonged. “I haint goin’ to ma grave s’long as I’s playin this-here ‘monica. I’s meant to be here to carrah it on for ya’ll.”


“Like Father, Like Daughter” by Will D. Patton

It wasn’t even that big of a deal really. I just didn’t like seeing my kid cry. I can’t just discipline someone else’s child, especially when his crime was as simple as breaking apart my daughter’s gingerbread house and shoving it into his spoiled, fat, rich-kid face. Really it was his parents who were in need of discipline. They were setting their kid up for disaster. They let him push around any kid who wasn’t a 190 lb. 8 year old even though they were fully aware of the fact that he was only going to take hostess products out of their lunch bags. They could have at least encouraged him to steal a goddamn salad every now and again. I was starting to feel bad for him.

No, he needed disciplined as well. I thought again of my crying, little girl. What right did he have to destroy what was hers? How would he like it if such a thing happened to him? His dog conveniently passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday. I watched their laughable funeral. They actually bought an authentic tombstone for that pink, writhing, tux-wearing worm’s dog. Ridiculous.

I entered the house that night with a bent, aluminum bat in my hand and marble dust streaked across my clothes. Still wide awake, my kid looked up at me from the couch with the most brilliant eyes, vertically expansive and lit up like meteorites. They matched her smile, which I was seeing for the first time in days.

“Hey kiddo.”

“Hi daddy. What were you doing?”

“Oh, it’s not important. You sure seem cheery. Tell me about your day.”

“I had a pretty good day. I borrowed some of your anti-freeze, I hope you don’t mind. It worked really well though.”

“What on earth did you need anti-freeze for?”

“I put it in Richie’s dog’s water bowl last night.”

“The Open Road” by Victoria Brinson

I kept the bottles. Doled out a few pills every day, and pretended I was in charge. And we had good days. Sometimes good weeks. Times when he could laugh at my jokes, make jokes of his own. Times when we could curl up together and watch reruns of our favorite movies.  Then he would get unreasonable. Angry. His speech would slur, he couldn’t understand simple things like which button on the remote to push or how to send a text, and so I would start hunting. Sometimes I found them. Another prescription, bought over the internet, begged from his doctor, traded from other addicts. Sometimes I didn’t find them, I just went crazy hunting. The legal prescriptions I gave him every day, which he let build up in a futile attempt to prove to me that he wasn’t taking anything – it was just a joke. A terrible, gut-wrenching joke on me and my attempt to control a situation that was out of control.

The therapist said I was being unreasonable, to want him the way he used to be. Fun and sweet and kind. He wasn’t that person anymore. Did I want him the way he was now? With his chronic pain, with his drug abuse? She said to quit trying to make choices for him, that he had to decide how he would live. That my decision was simply whether or not to be a part of his life. That I could not control this situation.

I lined the pill bottles next to each other on the grey marble counter. Hydrocodine. Furenol. Oxycodine. Flexeril. The list went on, and I was oh so familiar with all of them. My throat ached. It felt surreal. Me. Living in a world of prescriptions and addictions. Me. So afraid every morning of what the day might bring. Me. Holding on so tightly that I was suffocating.

I laid the bottles carefully, one by one, next to him on the bed. Pain-weary eyes met mine. “I’m done.” The future stretched out before me. Uncertain. Open. I curled up close to him, feeling the warm comfort of his body.

“Milk” by Carrie Branson


            Jasper carried his two paper bags into the tiny two room apartment.  Pickled beets and pears combined with chocolate liquor sat on the counter.  Unloading his groceries he looked down at me and smiled.  I had taken the day off and doctored myself with whatever cabinet medication I could consume.  My mind was focused on finding the television remote but my body was only interested in lying still on the small two cushion sofa.  “Holy shit,” Jasper was standing in front of the only window looking out onto Centralia’s town square.  I opened my slits of eyes and tried to question what was wrong when he backed away slowly.  “Unless your meds are seeping into my blood, I can count at least 100 camels chewing away the the salt bushes that surround the statue in front of town hall.”  I tried to stand but fell back quickly.  “Grab my phone,” I said.  “Take some pictures.”

I could hear Jasper trying to figure out the buttons on my iPhone.  He has had the same boring flip phone for three years.  I twisted my body to try to catch a glimpse of the exotic scene outdoors but I couldn’t crane my neck enough.  As I put my head on the edge of the sofa arm I could hear the sirens and noise getting closer and closer.  I remember nothing after that.

I felt like I had slept for days.  I remember getting drinks of cherry Kool-Aid from a small yellow cup sitting on the end table.  My arm had fallen asleep and I shook it violently off the side of the sofa and smashed my finger on the tile floor.  Jasper had been in and out and at one point he left the front door wide open.  I had noticed a smell coming from the kitchen area and popped my head up to investigate.  Three small camels were slurping from the last of the milk that had apparently spilled on the floor.  I don’t remember getting milk but now I won’t have to clean up the mess.  I grinned.

Truthfully, I don’t know how I got where I did, but I was not on the sofa anymore.  Jasper was sitting next to me and the annoying beeping sound was ringing in my ears.  My arms looked like they were plugged into a small computer and my legs were tied to the bed.  “How do you feel?”  I heard the voice but could not tell who said it.  Jasper leaned over my bed.  “I don’t know why I am still here.  I thought you were gone this time.  Had I not come home early to get started on my project you probably would be dead.”

Shaking my head and following along with the story I realize that the camels had the right idea.  Taking on a new town and entering house by house to search for food.  Maybe that is my next move.  My next sofa escape.