Cremation

By Andrew Shepperson


That Sunday in September—the day before we moved out of our house in Artesia, New Mexico—never really got started until the late afternoon when the rumble of my brother’s Ford pickup interrupted my daily reading.  I placed one of my favorite issues of Hustler to the side of my flabby potbelly, knelt at the windowsill and poked my nose through the blinds.  Outside, my big brother Jason marched across the desert lot my family called a front yard, crunching dirt clods beneath his brown work boots, and stopped at the tire swing tied to the old cottonwood in the center of the yard.  Each time he pushed up on the rope and snapped it back down a cloud of dust burst out of its thick, brittle fibers, swirled upwards and then disappeared in the leaves.  Jason towered over the decrepit Michelin—a cracked and weather-beaten, pitiful play-thing, with only a few cream colored patches showing the letters “ich” and “n.”  He pulled his black cap off and ran a filthy hand through his sweaty red hair before putting it back on, staring at the dirt below the swing as if it held some secret he couldn’t quite grasp.  After spitting a glob of dip juice down to the ground beside him, Jason grabbed the tire with his monstrous hands, spun it like a top so the rope gnarled into knots, whirled around as if throwing a discus, and sent it flying.  As it spastically twirled and swung back and forth, I imagined how different it would look if I were in the swing—so much less menacing, I thought, so much more graceful and fluid, my body providing the weight and stability it so desperately seemed to need.  Without me, it just sputtered out on its own, circling and jerking like an epileptic dog chasing its tail.

“Ronnie, I’m gonna need your help with this!” Jason yelled, looking toward my window.  “I know you’re there.  Put the porno down and get out here!”

Reluctant to the leave the solace of my empty room, I rolled my eyes and sighed a long and dutiful sigh as I stuffed the magazine beneath my air mattress.  I knew what awaited me outside would not be a pleasant experience—I had grown pretty attached to the swing throughout the years.  I was only eleven then and didn’t fully understand why our father was so insistent that we take it down, but I knew for certain that he thought the swing was pathetic. And it was, in a way.  He never protected the part of the rope that looped around the tree with a rubber hose like you’re supposed to.  Instead, he’d just let it rub against the branch until the loop had worn down to a few fibrous strands, and it always seemed to snap as I was swinging and never as my brother was.  I’m sure now that Jason could tell when it was at its weakest, that he would inspect it and let me swing over and over again when it was about to snap.  I’m amazed I was never seriously injured on the thing, falling to the sun beaten ground like that, every time just as shocked and surprised as the time before.  As soon as he got home, we’d let our father know that it broke, and he’d just look at it lying on the dirt and shake his head, telling us he’d get another one up as soon as he could.  Several weeks would pass and then several more, and the swing would still be lying there.  Eventually he’d get around to it, only to come home to another snapped rope a few months later.

I’ve since come to realize the shame he must’ve felt.  I’m sure he envisioned the taking down of the swing as some sort of final act, the necessary end that he couldn’t bear to look at.  Of course, he expressed none of this, gave us no real reason for taking it down.  So on that Sunday, as I shuffled in my soccer sandals, looking down the hall at his closed bedroom door, I cursed him for making us do it ourselves and failed to pity his sadness.  Letting the screen door slam behind me, I slouched towards my brother, one hand tucked inside the pocket of my cargo shorts, the other shading my eyes from the late afternoon sun.

 “So Dad said we could get rid of it anyway we wanted to, right?” Jason asked, squinting up at the branch where the tire swing was hung.

“Basically,” I said.

“Well, did he or didn’t he?”

I shrugged my shoulders, unwilling to except the fate of the swing.  I’d been told weeks before that our time to move was coming.  There was just no more electrical work for my father in Artesia, or at least that’s what he’d said. But when I saw Jason fiddling with the tire, the reality of the move sunk in even deeper.  My brother was the only one working, and I respected him for that, even if he did have to drop out of high school to paint houses. I just wished my mother was there to help us, but she had left months before, a few weeks after my father had been fired again, probably for drinking on the job.  Left without anything—even me.

Fights were a part of life.  I had come to accept that long before my father forced us to move.  As is typical for most unhappy couples, at least the ones that I’ve encountered, he and my mother would always fight about the little things—my father’s empty beer bottles crowding the table or my mother’s unusually late nights at the restaurant where she worked—but gradually I came to realize that such unhappiness was indicative of a greater sickness, a symptom of my father’s “chicken-shit blood,” as my brother began to call it in high school.  Neither of us hated my mother, though I was the only one she really talked to without the fear of an argument looming in her voice.  I was her son and Jason wasn’t.  Simple as that.  Jason’s mother, Nancy, died of cancer when he was only five, a year or so before my father met my mother, Veronica, or “Rons!” as he would always call her.  So I suppose I was named after my mother, though that was never directly stated, just as the fact that he loved Nancy’s corpse more than all of us combined was never mentioned aloud.

 

After my mother left, my father slept most of the time, so things were awfully quiet.  Yelling I could deal with, but the silence during that time, the silence overwhelmed me, sent my mind to places that an active world would normally help it to avoid.  So much so that there were times when I wished my father would actually wake up—just to interrupt the flow of disturbing thoughts.  Those were the loneliest times, the times when I wished he would just wake up and yell, and I had almost fallen to that point when my brother called for me outside.

“Did he or didn’t he, Ronnie?”  Jason asked again, as if he even cared how our father wanted us to take the swing down.  Out of his cracked, sun-burnt lips, he spat a glob of dip juice to the ground beside my feet, rearranged the brown filth in his mouth with his finger and wiped the excess off on his paint-splattered jeans.  He pulled my chin up with the same saliva covered finger and raised his bushy red eyebrows.  His breath reeked of tobacco and booze, and the orange freckles on his face intensified the glare of his beady green eyes, shining horribly with a drunken glaze. “It’s a simple fucking question,” he said.

I leaned back and slapped his hand off my chin.  Lifting up my t-shirt with one hand to wipe away his brown, sticky spit, I flipped him off with the other.  The tire swayed against the back drop of our off-white adobe house, patched in places with stucco of a much grayer color than the original, which caused the house to truly show its age, especially on those few occasions when it rained.  It was a small, three bedroom house, hunkered down on the outskirts of town where all the houses were spread at least a hundred yards apart.  Jason and my father, toward the end of our time there, would always complain about the lack of space and the shitty plumbing and whatever else they could find that would lead them to criticize something or someone other than themselves.  But during those few months after my mother left, I always thought there was too much space, too much room for error, her absence and all her belongings left behind as empty reminders of the order she had always tried to give us—but no cause for action, no reason for anyone to take up where she had left off.

“What’s it matter, anyway?” I said.  “We’re just gonna cut it down and toss it in the trash.  Let’s just get it over with.”

“And?”  Jason spat near my feet again.  “Answer the fucking question, Ronnie.”

“And,” I said mockingly, trying to push Jason away, “Dad said jack shit.  He said he didn’t care how we did it—‘Just make sure that goddamn, rotting piece of shit is off the tree before we leave’ is what he said.”

 

“Drunk bastard,” Jason muttered.  A gust of wind blew dust in his eyes.  He winced and dug the particles out with his fingers.  “Piece of shit desert,” he said.

“So, should I go get the clippers or what?” I asked, anxious to get back to my room after a short time outside with my brother.  He was always someone I longed to hang out with when he was away and couldn’t wait to get away from when he was right beside me.  A brute, if nothing else, but still my brother, someone I looked up to and constantly compared myself to despite all his defects.  Quite simply, he was everything that I wasn’t.  Athletic and strong, good with his hands and somehow charming in a wicked sort of way, it seemed that Jason was just better suited to survive than I was.  I liked to read, sometimes pornography I stole from my brother or books from my mother’s shelf, and was fat until I hit my growth spurt a year or so after we moved to El Paso.  Even then, I was still awkward and quiet around most people, quiet like my father, not counting his intermittent outbursts of drunken rage.

“So what’s The Beast actually doing?” my brother asked, using one of his most recently coined nickname’s for our father.

“Passed out in his room, probably,” I said.

Jason chuckled and spat another glob of dip juice out into a gust of wind.  After a split second delay, his warm, brown droplets of goo splattered on my face.  That sweet, shitty smell of long-cut Skoal always made me want to vomit, but I couldn’t give Jason the satisfaction of seeing me sick.  Pursing my lips to hold back the gags, I wiped my cheek with my hand and then held it out in front of my face.  The sticky grains of tobacco smeared on my palm looked like a bunch of squashed mosquito legs.

“Uhhhhhh, you sick bastard!  You spit all over me!”

 “Awe, sorry there, bud,” he said, smiling so wide that the mound of dip bulged and oozed out of his bottom lip.  “Your face a little muddy?”

Even as I knew my anger would only intensify his joy, I rushed at Jason and dove at his legs, twisting and tackling him by surprise.  Swinging recklessly, I landed a few weak punches right in his ribcage before he pinned me down as he always did, shoved my face to the ground and ripped me back in a chokehold as if I had no strength at all.  He laughed maniacally and grinded my curly brown hair into my scalp with his sharp, steely knuckles.  I was used to his noogies by then, but they were always worse when he had a few drinks in him, when he had to press harder to truly feel the impact of bone on bone.  Each knuckle sent a separate current of pain shooting down my neck as they dug into my skull, and collectively they produced a burning so intense I was certain my hair would fall out the next day and never grow back. 

“Awe, Ronnie loves a noogie.  Ronnie loves my noogies, don’t ya Ronnie,” Jason mocked.  “Say you love my noogies and I’ll stop.  Say you love ‘em, Ronnie.  Just once.”

“Stop, you fucker, stop!” I cried, even as I knew he never would until I professed my love for his abuse.

“Say you love ‘em, Ronnie.  Say it, or else your scalp’s gonna bleed, boy.”

I always ended up screaming that I loved his noogies, but I never once gave up without a fight.  I wiggled and flailed my legs, flinging my sandals off in one last frantic attempt to escape.  But it was no use.  He just pressed my face into the dirt again and then started rubbing even harder.

“Say it, Ronnie, I know you want to.  Say it!”

“Alright, alright, I love your noogies, you sick fuck!  I love your noogies and I hate you!  You happy now?”

“Good,” Jason whispered into my ear before letting go.  “I always knew they’d grow on you.”

As I pushed myself away, I felt tears begin to well up and tried my hardest to hold them back.  I had never seen Jason cry and knew he would just use it against me as he had in the past, calling me a “momma’s boy” and telling me I could never hack it in the real world.  He stood and turned his back to me, dusting himself off as I wiped a lone tear away that had escaped down my cheek.  After enough of the dust had been slapped from his clothes, Jason turned around and held out his hand, but I just sat there giving him the finger again, hoping that my rage would dry up the tears before he would notice.

“Fine,” Jason said, and then resumed inspecting the branch.  “You know, you’ve got a pretty foul mouth for a sixth grader.”

“Yeah, well,” I said.  I slipped my sandals back on over my gray, dirt-stained socks and stood up, the urge to cry replaced with the hatred of the reply forming in my brain. “Yeah, well, you’ve got a pretty weak fucking mouth for a retarded, two-time tenth grader, high-school dropout deadbeat.”

I crossed my arms and stood my ground, surprised at the foul eloquence I had managed to summon so quickly.  Jason just laughed.

“I’m outta here,” I said and marched to the house.  “I’m not spending my last day here with a fucking moron like you!”

“You take one more step towards that house and I’ll wake The Beast up and tell him about those magazines,” Jason said, leaning against the tree.

“See if I care,” I said. “They’re your magazines.  Anyway, I threw ‘em all out yesterday.”

I could see them all—a few favorites scattered beneath my air mattress, just waiting for me to take them out, and the rest stuffed in my dresser packed inside the U-haul.  I knew Jason didn’t believe that I had actually thrown them out, but I thought it might make him angry anyway.  He stuffed his hands in his pockets and squinted over at me like some cool cowboy from the movies.

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to go inside and tell him then,” Jason said.  “Better now than never.  Too bad your mom ran away without a cell phone or else I’d call her up and tell her, too.  She probably wouldn’t care, though.  Seeing how she’s already been in several issues.”

Now, I understood this wasn’t true, but I was young enough that it sent my mind spiraling into uncharted territory.  I had looked through all my brother’s issues and never seen any woman that looked remotely like my mother.  She was too short and stocky to be in a magazine like that.  Her hands were too pudgy.  Her hair, too brown and curly like mine.  But the thought had already barged in, and I knew in that moment Jason had won whatever sort of battle we were fighting that day.  I began to think about the fact that it was only after my mother had left that I started blazing through all the porn, only after I knew she wasn’t going to be there to catch me that I had looked at every single naked woman my eyes could find.  After all, those women in the magazines weren’t real, as far as I was concerned, at least until Jason mentioned my mother.  That ruined it—the reality of it all, the accountability.  I felt sick and confused, like something horribly wrong was going on that I would never be able to control.  Somehow, Jason’s threats had fanned the hot coal of hope that had not yet died inside of me.  I worried that my mother would find out when she finally came back.

“YOU LIE,” I said trembling.

“Nope,” Jason said, walking towards me.  “That’s where The Beast first laid eyes on old Veronica.  After that very first moment in the bathroom, he just couldn’t live without her.”

Before he had come within ten feet of me, I kicked off my sandals and rumbled towards him as fast as my short, stocky legs would allow.  Jason dodged my first attack like a matador and waited for the next.  As I missed for the second time and was about to pass him, Jason grabbed me under the armpits and pulled me up over his shoulder.  But instead of keeping me up there and twirling me around like I thought he would, he knelt and set me down, holding me in a hug until I stopped my hollering and collapsed into an all out bawl.

“I’m sorry, bud,” Jason said, still holding me hostage in his arms.  “I’m sorry.  Didn’t mean it.  Shouldn’t have said it.  Bad joke, bud, I’m sorry.”

I pushed him away and plopped down in the dirt, confused even more by this unexpected show of remorse.  Atop the mesa beyond the end of our dirt road, the sun began to descend below the horizon line, casting an intense orange light on the yard.   I held my eyes wide open for as long as I could.  Through my tears, the yard was shrouded with glowing clouds of orange.  But every couple of seconds, the welling would force me to blink.  And then the watery lenses would drop from my eyes, the orange clouds would vanish, and the yard would return to its natural repulsive state.

“Just because she left us doesn’t mean she’s a whore,” I said sniffling, resting my head between my hands.

Jason’s cap was at his side now, tapping lightly against his thigh.  He dug the dip out of his mouth and threw it at the trunk of the tree.  I rubbed my eyes and then my face, smudging the thin layer of sand that covered it.  I tried to collect myself, but all I could do was whisper, “You sick fuck, you sick fuck,” eyes now aimed at Jason, who stood over me with his hands on his hips and frowned.

“Look, bud, I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m a sick fuck, I’m a sick fuck, you said it.  Just…I need you out here, alright?  Just for a little while longer.  Wait here and I’ll go get the ladder and some other stuff.  Sit your ass and wait.  Can you do that?  No more talk of mothers or whores or any of that porno you stole from me, OK?  Just keep your ass there and I’ll be back.”

I sat there in the dirt and felt the raw patch on my scalp where Jason had rubbed the hardest. Watching him clank around in the back of his truck parked beside the U-haul, I contemplated whether or not I should ditch him to go lie in my room.  I knew I would be more comfortable, but there was nothing left for me there except those magazines and that air mattress covering them.  A few pillows.  A change of clothes for the next day.  All the rest was stuffed inside the U-haul, ready to be carted off to El Paso.  He would’ve just dragged me back outside anyway.  I thought that if I stayed put, I might be able to get one last ride in on the swing.  As Jason had grown older, he pushed me less and less, but I thought he was still buzzed enough to agree.  That was one good thing about his drinking towards the end of our days in Artesia—he was always willing to push me with a few drinks in him.

Jason came back carrying a work bucket and a ladder and walked right past me without saying a word.  He clanked the bucket down next to the trunk of the tree and set the ladder up a few feet away from the tire swing branch, shaking it to make sure it was stable.  A lizard skittered down the tree and across the sand to take refuge in a rusty brown drainpipe that ran down from the gutter at the corner of the house.  I thought of the time that my brother taped a blue-tail just like that one to the top of a Frisbee.  It was during the day in the summer, so my mother was at the house.  Everything was fine until she came out and caught us in the middle of tossing him back and forth.   After making us watch as she peeled the electrical tape off the lizard’s skin and set him free, she sent us both to our rooms for the rest of the day.  Knowing damn well that it was all his idea, she only sentenced me to three days of vacuuming but made Jason wash dishes for a whole two weeks.  As he scrubbed and rinsed and then slammed the dishes down on the drying rack, he sang perverted songs about her lizard loving ways.  My father, when he was there, would usually say something like “shut it” or “pipe down,” but my mother never said more than two words to him during that time.

“Any last words for this piece of shit?” Jason asked, patting the tire.

I sat there pouting, pretending not to hear.

“Well, alright then. Let’s bury this fucker.”

From the bucket, Jason pulled out a pair of tree trimmers, snapped them together at me and then headed towards the tire.  I reached out and grabbed the bottom leg of his jeans.

“One last ride? I asked, still tugging at his jeans.

Jason shrugged, swung the trimmers up and pushed the blades against the rope.

“Please?” I asked.

“Nah,” Jason snorted.

He flexed his forearms and gritted his teeth as if about to snap the rope.  I jumped up and grabbed his arms, yelling “NO!”  I tried to hold him back and dug my fingers into his wrists. 

Smiling now, Jason withdrew the trimmers from the rope.  Holding them out away from me, he pushed me down with one arm and threw the trimmers back in the bucket.  He walked the ladder over to the other side of the tree and set it down.

“OK,” he said, “get your fat ass in this fucker and hold on.”

I leapt to the swing, pulled myself up with the rope and somehow squeezed inside.  The fit was snugger than it had ever been before, but I managed to stuff myself into proper swinging position, legs dangling and hands firmly gripping the rope just above the tire.

“Ready,” I said.

“Alright,” Jason said, “now that I know you want it bad enough.”

He spun the swing with much more force and enthusiasm than he had when it was empty.  After I gave the go ahead nod, he grasped the edge of the tire with both hands and sprinted back and forth until he sent me off spiraling and spinning into the orange light.  As I swung and held on tightly, I thought of Jason testing the rope earlier and believed, as the rope hadn’t snapped, that he had done so for me.  Every successful ride seemed to be packed into that last one.  They flashed before me in jumbled fragments, as if I had ascended into some joyful near death experience. I imagined my mother standing on the front steps gasping, her image fading in and out as I swung towards her and then away.  And even though it always made her worry, I thought she would have been happy to see me on the swing that one last time. 

 

I screamed and howled until the tire swing tottered to a stop.  In my usual way of exiting, I fell off backwards and lay in the dirt pretending to be out of breath.  Jason clapped as he came to help me up.  He held out his hand, and I took it.

“Man, you’re basically un-swingable these days,” he said, pulling me up.  “That was tough, bud.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you’re just not as strong as you used to be,” I said.

“Good last run?”

I nodded and smiled.

“Good,” he said.  “That’s good.”

And so I stood there surveying the yard with my brother.  The sun was halfway down and now casted more of a reddish glow on the land.  Dust spiraled up the old cottonwood’s trunk and through its branches.  The leaves, already tainted with a few spots of yellow, quivered and gave off a sound that reminded me of the rain stick my teacher used to quiet the class.  The huge tattered flag beside the screen door flapped and fell and then flapped back up again.  I contemplated retrieving my sandals, which were strewn beside the front steps, but instead found comfort in the fact that my socks were already brown.  Finally, a peaceful feeling set in, only to be interrupted by Jason patting me on the shoulder.

“It’s about that time,” he said.

After resetting the ladder a few feet away from the swing, he walked over to the bucket and bent over.  But instead of the trimmers, he pulled out a can of turpentine and a box of matches, ripped off the cap and then poured a couple gulps inside the tire.  The fuel oozed and dripped out of its many cracks and crevices.  As Jason struck the match, all I wanted to do was smile and frown at the same time and so just stood there with my mouth open instead.

Cupping his hand beside the match to protect it, Jason gently guided the tiny, struggling flame to the edge of the tire and dropped it in.  Both of us stepped back as the bottom of the tire ignited.  Jason flung some more turpentine to the upper portion of the tire.  Flames rushed up its sides, and soon the whole rubber circle was engulfed in flames that seemed to pulse just above its surface.  It swayed on the rope and burned like nothing else I’d ever seen before, exuding thick black plumes of smoke that rose through the tree branches and then drifted westward with the wind toward the red horizon.  The fumes stung my nostrils with the smell of burning rubber and turpentine.  As the fire grabbed a hold of the rope and journeyed upwards, I tugged on Jason, who was completely hypnotized by the spectacle, and pointed at the burning rope.

Jason ran for the trimmers and up the ladder.  When the flames crept close enough to the branch, he yelled for me to watch out and then cut the rope.  The burning tire plopped down and sent a cloud of dust and smoke flying all around it.  I waved the black smoke and dust away from my eyes but kept staring at the burning tire.  Jason climbed down the ladder and clanked it shut.  Carrying it over his head, he walked to the truck as if he had just trimmed a few branches on the tree, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred.

“Hey, fat-ass, you want a beer?” he yelled back at me.

“Nah, that’s OK,” I said, somewhat stunned as I sat facing the sunset, staring at the tire in front of me.

“Alright, well I’ll get myself two then,” he said.

I crossed my ankles, brought my knees up to my chest and clasped my hands around them.  Part of me was relieved that the tire swing was down and burning.  I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to use it, not even if the people moving in had kids.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was sad.  Something that had been a part of me for most of my life was now dead and burning.  The loss was permanent.  And the more I tried to avoid it, the more I thought of my mother.

Jason came back with two beers and handed them to me.  He sat down next to me as I snapped one open and gave it to him.  I set the other one in between us and twisted the bottom of the can into the dirt.  Jason gulped with his head cocked backwards and then let out a huge belch.  I shifted in the dirt and stretched my legs out in front of me.  The smoke still emanated from the tire in thick, spooling clouds, and the flames hadn’t dwindled at all.

“Jason,” I muttered, “you think she’s…you think she’s…”

Jason coughed and spat into the fire.  I didn’t try to finish the sentence.

“Ever coming back?” he said roughly, staring straight forward.

I nodded and stuffed my hands beneath my legs.  Jason took off his cap and scratched his head with the bill.  He put it on and off, on and off, until he found exactly the right spot on his head and let it rest.

“Well.”  Jason took another gulp. “For you maybe, when me and The Beast ain’t around no more.”

“Yeah,” I said, pretending to understand, nervously massaging the backs of my thighs.   “But how’s she gonna do that?”

Jason didn’t answer.  He finished gulping down his beer, stood up and splashed more turpentine on the tire, even though it was still blazing.  He sat back down and flung his empty beer at the fire.  Instead of landing in the flames, the can just bounced off the outer edge and landed in the sand.

“Jason,” I said, “how’s she gonna do that?  When’s she gonna come back?”

Jason opened up his other beer. “Don’t know, bud, don’t know,” he said.  “She’ll come back when she has to…maybe not, I don’t know.”

“Fine,” I said, pushing myself off the dirt.

Not knowing what else to do, I started to sprint to the front door but tripped over my own feet and fell.  Any other day, I would have sat there and sulked, but on that day I needed something else, something to ruin and control, something to burn.

“I’ll show her.  I’ll show all you guys,” I yelled, picking myself back up.

I ripped the screen door open and stumbled to my room, desperate to find something I could throw into the fire.  After circling aimlessly around my empty room, I flipped my mattress up and tossed every issue of Hustler I had stashed under there out onto the carpet.

“I’ll show them, I’ll show them,” I whispered as I stacked the magazines, about a dozen in all.

I balanced the stack on my head as I ran back outside.  Before Jason could say anything to stop me, I threw them down into the fire, let out a scream as I backed away, and then fell down next to my brother.  The fire grabbed the pages and turned them with its fingers. It comforted me to see them burn, to watch all those naked women get swallowed by flames.  They were originally Jason’s, but that just made it even better.  He was the one who mentioned my mother, who started all this madness in the first place.

“So what are you gonna do now, throw me in there or what?” I asked, sensing his annoyance.

Jason said nothing and then threw a punch at me, pulling it back right before it reached my nose.  Of course, I flinched, and so Jason laughed and laughed.  He ended the fit with a few coughs, shook his head and spat into the fire again.

“So what are you gonna throw in there?” I asked, eager to see if he would do anything to top me.

Jason raised his beer in mock toast and chugged the rest of it, crushing the can between his hands when he was finished.  He held the crushed can between his fingers and showed it to me, waving it in front of my face and glaring at me, his crazy eyes reflecting the flames.  Then, as if the crushed piece of aluminum were a small basketball, Jason shot it into the burning tire, holding his follow through in the air for a few seconds before standing.  For awhile, he just stood there, silent and entranced, the fire fueled even more now by all the pornography.

“Man, those pussies get old, don’t they?” he said, lightly kicking me in the lower back.  “I thought you said you already threw all those mags out?”

I shrugged.  A few burning centerfolds fluttered in the air, floated across the yard and then into the street.  I imagined a picture of my mother burning in there, burning black and then gray and then white, dissolving and disappearing into the flames, and I knew then that I would toss the rest of the magazines when we got to El Paso.  In the twilight, the color of the smoke had softened to a dark gray, and the tire still looked strangely wholesome and intact, as if it would take a whole lifetime to completely turn to ash.  A rogue gust whirled the smoke my way, stinging my eyes and lungs, but I didn’t budge.

“I was thinking I’d heat up some burgers,” Jason finally said.  “Want some?”

I shook my head.  I didn’t feel like eating.

“I’ll call you when they’re ready,” he said.

The desert crunched beneath his work boots.  The screen door slammed.  I rubbed my hands into the dirt, trying to find some comfort in the land that I grew up on, the land that I would never touch again.  I just sat there rubbing my hands into the dirt, watching all of the Hustlers burn inside the tire, watching the flames overtake all those women I would never know.  I sat there and waited as the sky grew darker and darker.  I waited for my brother to call me back inside.

 

Andrew Shepperson was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he received his BA in English at the University of New Mexico in 2009.  He is currently a Follet Fellow pursuing an MFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago.  Other than writing and reading, which take up most of his time, he enjoys exploring Chicago with his wonderful wife Natasha.  This is his first publication.

Share |