He’s melting, this man who was once my father. Flakes of dead skin stick to the loveseat.
There’s a glass of water in his hand, another on the table next to him, and he’s sucking them down one after another while he talks about doing a belly flop like that would be the best thing in the world right now. For him, probably. Me? Just let me turn up my headphones, turn them up so I don’t have some faraway voice saying, Nell, baby, it ain’t much unless you let it be. Maybe we’ll go back to the playground and sit on them swings, go down them slides. But right now we can’t. They need you. One day you’ll remember and think about how you ain’t let it be anything at all. Lord willing, you will.
The television room smells of sweat and piss, so I open the back door and let the cool wash the scars across my cheek. I take a breath. You can see the barn clearly from here, stained wood halfway between warping and cracking, a single light noting the double doors. The pine trees stand guard. I know my dad wouldn’t have it any other way.
We’re watching The Fugitive, but Dad actually falls asleep long before the credits. When I look up a glass is turned over in his hand, the water dripping down his sweatpants.
He doesn’t stir. I ease the glass from his grip and throw an extra blanket across his chest, roll it up under his chin. Then I crash against the couch and turn my headphones up until my ears cry.
When we left the hospital, a doctor named Jody tried to tell me what to do. Not for the first time, neither. Insulin, make sure there’s some. The wounds, clean them. Cream, for his feet. How much will all this cost? My first question. Really, it was the only question. Dad needed specialists and specialists needed money, and why was I the one making these decisions? I was just the younger daughter, the scar-faced one, the girl they kept hidden away. Just hearing Jody’s voice was enough to make me think of my mother and sister and how they weren’t here.
I remember my dad sprawled across the backseat, the only hair he had left pushed wildly to one side. We were driving home and he’d been asking about the barn and if I was taking care of them? No, I wanted him to know. I was not. My fingers ran across the card in my pocket, the one signed “Ruben Phillips.” I’d pulled it out at an intersection to inspect it, careful to hide it from Dad’s sight. For a moment, I even thought about showing Dad the card. There was no use, though, arguing about these things with him. Wasn’t even worth trying.
Dad was moaning when we veered into Rite Aid and as I stepped out of the car, he offered to pay for the prescriptions.
“You need enough for food,” he’d said. I knew he didn’t mean cereal and pizza.
A man had exited Rite Aid just then, carrying a small plastic bag and a jug of milk. His daughter was piggybacking. She had a hair twisty in her hand and was trying unsuccessfully to snap it against his neck. It made me recall Saturday mornings when I’d been younger, when the smiles came freely, when my dad would take me to a jungle gym that sat on a hill above a pond. He’d send me to the swings before vanishing with his bucket. Sometimes I waited hours for him to come back.
“Club team wants to travel this year,” I’d told Dad. The father and daughter had been getting into their Camry. “I told Coach he’d have to take me since you can’t.”
I remember Dad’s hand sounded like sandpaper against his face. Were those tears he’d been wiping away?
I’d been staring at the ground when a red-haired woman in heels hurried out of Rite Aid and I could hear the little girl laughing, yelling Momma, Momma, look what I did! Look! Dad was saying something but I wasn’t listening. I watched the woman climb into the passenger seat, saw her daughter on her lap. The car pulled out and past us, some Disney Sing-Along wafting into the night.
Inside Rite Aid, I punched a box of Cheerios again and again until they spilled across the aisle. Some kid with a rattail asked if I needed someone. Some help. I handed him the prescriptions. He watched me like a man would a rabid animal, untrusting, his eyes dancing from my scars to my hair, to my shoes and back again to my scars. I clawed at the shelves and started screaming about lunches for school and who was going to make them? Who was going to get up and make them now?
The following morning Jody from the hospital comes to the house. We sit at the kitchen table and she asks for coffee. I fill two glasses of water and while she doesn’t make a sound I can tell this frustrates her. The bags beneath her eyes are pulling at her skin, cheeks sunken like mortar wounds. Worked through the night, you see, but wanted to check on him before she went home. She expects a thank you for it. I play with my lacrosse stick and put my headphones on instead. Jody’s eyes level at me as she takes a long breath, waits.
Eventually, a piece of paper slides across the table and a few moments later my stomach hits the floor. Jody says our money has run out. Insurance has had its fill. There’s nothing left. I drink the glass of lukewarm water.
“And this next set of treatment? These surgeries?” Jody hands me another piece of paper. “He definitely needs ‘em, Nelly.”
The bank, I ask, what about the bank? Jody shakes her head. More bad news spills out of her, a whole lot of big numbers and weird words that I don’t quite understand.
Finally, she says something about our house, the mortgage.
I take off my headphones to give myself a moment to think, but SportsCenter is playing in the back room and this is the fourth time I’ve heard it this morning. Dad must’ve fallen asleep again. Jody taps her foot. She waits patiently until, finally, she prepares herself to speak.
“Don’t know where she is. Don’t care.”
I refill my glass until the water sloshes against the edge. It’s a game, really, seeing how close you can push it without spilling. I’m spinning the glass on the table and Jody has her fingers steepled, her eyes on the pink flaps of skin across my cheek. Before she can ask what I know she’s going to ask, what everyone always wants to ask, I let the glass spill.
In an instant, Jody leaps back and grabs for her bag. She’s cursing, frantically wiping the floor with paper towels, her bangs falling over her eyes. I watch. The empty glass rolls across the table.
“It was a snake.” The water puddles at my feet. I don’t move. “In third grade. He told me I could hold him. He told me it wouldn’t hurt me.”
Jody isn’t listening. She’s rambling on about cancer and diabetes and gallbladder disease and all the side effects and how, maybe, just maybe, we might need to sell the house, we wouldn’t be the first, and when she dumps the paper towels into the garbage and walks to the kitchen sink, her face reeks of pity. She asks about the rest of our family and I think about our cousins. Can already hear the excuses on the phone, the plans they can’t break, the weatherman and his storms, and the money, oh the money is really tight right now, Nelly. My sister, Paris, she can’t leave Ohio, and my mother, of course, and I can’t really blame her for disappearing, either.
Water drips off the table. Watching it is mesmerizing in a way. Like a heartbeat it slows and struggles until, finally, it gives in and the breathing stops.
Jody is leaning against the cabinets, staring at the barn in the backyard, and it doesn’t surprise me when she says, “You can’t sell them?” I have to snicker. The absurdity of it.
He told her. He must have. In the hospital, she spent nights with my father. She changed his bedding, checked his vitals, brought him water. Being completely helpless makes you say things you normally wouldn’t, surely, even secrets an old man had sworn to keep.
Though Jody doesn’t believe in faith, she says, she does believe in having something to live for. It keeps your spirit alive. That barn might’ve been the only thing in the world that kept your daddy breathing, this woman wants me to know, and in a weird way I can’t deny it. Once Jody realizes how that sounds, however, she apologizes profusely.
“It just seemed like a lot more than a hobby is what I mean. Sometimes we need that. We all got things keeping us going.”
“Talk to him if you want,” I tell her, fingering Ruben’s card in my pocket. “But it won’t matter.”
Jody peers into the back room and watches for a moment as Dad sleeps. Then she washes her glass and grabs her coat and I put down the lacrosse stick and walk her to the door. On our front porch, she takes my hand, shakes it, then hugs me.
“What happened here?” She wants to know.
“Are you okay, honey? Do you need help?”
I want to tell her about the crash, how my mother came out of it and buried herself in the basement, how she stopped talking. Wanna tell her about the cold flashes, the goose bumps, the vomiting and screaming, how my father spoke of her as if she was dead. I wanna tell Jody how my mother pleaded with him to sell what’s in that barn and he said no. How my mother vanished that week and how my father collapsed a few days later and how all of this is karma, sister on probation, mother gone, father sick, and me, 17-year-old me, here feeding him, creaming his feet, washing his scars, changing his clothes. I nearly tell her about Ruben Phillips and how he asked this girl, “What d’you think he’d rather have? His life or his snakes?” But I don’t because that right here, that’s the issue. Since I’m not really sure.
When Jody says she’ll check on us in a few days I say thank you out of custom because, really, what did she do other than translate bad news? Then I shut the door and listen as she descends the steps. Then it’s a car sputtering, driving away. Soon I’m staring out the cloudy windows at the naked street. There’s a brown-rimmed bush leaning against the side of the front door. Someone needs to trim it.
“Neeell.” His voice.
It takes a few minutes to bring myself to the TV room but when I finally do, I cringe. He looks worse today. Face pale as heartbreak, eye sockets hanging like dirty laundry. Legs swollen, purple veins crisscrossing. Toes twisted like dead roots. And that smell.
Even the small motion of pausing the TV pains him. “What she say?”
“We talked about the surgeries.”
He raises a brow. He knows. “So too much then, huh?”
I hand him a glass of water just as he breaks into a coughing fit and I can almost see the water go down his neck.
I’m unsure what to tell him. I don’t want him to call someone, a doctor, insurance company, a friend, family. Every time that happens he loses his strength and gets to mumbling and saying weird things, crazy things, and it’s embarrassing. That’s when everyone freaks out and I start getting calls non-stop as if people actually care. That’s the worst part. Not unless it feels like Dad’s about to move on to the next parade do they call, not unless they feel their conscience in a vice grip and feel they need to make one call, one 15-minute call to square them with God, where they ask about school and why a girl like me is still playing sports and I’m supposed to answer like they won’t forget it all a few hours later.
What Jody said about the house seems pretty pertinent, though. I tell him. He tries to shrug it off by saying there’s no way, no way we’re going to lose this house and that we’ll find a way to get the money. I actually believe him until he twists his mouth and…here it comes, the tears and the sobbing and the outsized, swollen eyes. I try to say something funny, anything to break the moment. Eventually he throws up his hands in a can you believe this? motion and then chuckles because that right there, that’s the most activity he’s had in probably 72 hours. It’s enough to make one corner of my mouth turn up. When he catches me, he waits, watches, his brow raised as if he’s edging me on. C’mon, Nell, baby. It’s okay. I don’t smile.
His own grin fades after a time. Turns the movie back on. Harrison Ford is wheeling a kid through a hospital, asking if it hurts to breathe and what his name is, and the kid is answering back “Yes” and “Joel” and this makes me sigh.
“Do you ever watch anything else?” I ask.
There’s an urge to leave, to grab the keys and the truck and just drive. Find the highway, turn off the phone and drive. Drive until the radio turns static, until the hills merge with the sun, until the air cuts and the steam drifts off the roads. But in the end my feet don’t move. I’m not my mother. Not my sister, neither.
Dad asks for another blanket. I’m tossing one over his waist when he shakes his head. Points to his feet.
“Can you cream ‘em first? They’re cracking.”
I grab the bottle of Nivea and squirt out a half-dollar-sized portion. Rub my hands together.
Five minutes later, his mouth is open and he’s sucking in air like we’re running out of it. He’s asleep.
I pause the movie, breathe in the silence. Outside, the gloom of an early morning shower is starting to fade, the heat now soaked and sticky and misting the barn in a vapory jacket. Normally there are birds fluttering around the barn, sheltering within the nooks. Right now, they must have better things to do.
With my hands on my lacrosse stick, my mind wanders, my eyes drifting toward sleep. Soon, the deep greens of the school fields are all around me. I search for my teammates but find only shadows, rough and dark, shadows and dust. My coach’s voice, it’s right here, right beside me, lush and deep and warm and I’m running. Sweat pouring. Knees bloodied. The crack of my stick. A referee’s whistle. My cleats rip through dirt and it splashes over my eyes. Practices and games and travel and games and practices. Remember? Remember?
Coach’s voice, I can hear him, shouting Nelly! Nelly! His face, though, his face, I can’t see it. Can’t recall it. Shadows and dust. Lacrosse, and everything that goes with it, it’s all melting away like a puddle on a warm summer day. It’s almost a relief when I hear another voice and open my eyes.
“Nell. Hey, Nell. Why’d you stop it? Where’s the remote?”
Dad’s voice. His face is contorted; the man winces whenever he sits up. He has four blankets spread across his body, and the odor from the pail beside him is starting to become unbearable. But no, he needs the remote and he needs the movie and when I cross my arms and fall back against the couch, it almost feels like I’m the one strapped to a hospital bed.
I close my eyes and wait. When the movie starts, again, I slam a fist against the cushion.
He takes a sip of water, leaves the glass suspended in mid-air, his other hand against his chest. His brow furrows. Dad’s eyes might be locked on the television but I can tell he’s not really watching.
The movie is on and the movie is the best way to act like none of this is happening. Mom is here and Paris is here and Dad is still going to work every day, building condominium complexes and corner offices for retired police officers, and when he gets home he’s out here enjoying a beer and a movie. The papers Jody left on the kitchen table aren’t visible, and outside the rain is not coming back and the birds aren’t muzzled. All of this, a dream.
“You can’t just disappear like that.”
Told myself I wouldn’t talk about Mom, not with him, not anymore, but once I start the words spill out.
“There’s no way. She wouldn’t have left on her own. Where did she go?”
And I know he knows. He must. Her cousins, her sister, she must have gone to someone, anywhere to get away from Dad. Anywhere, maybe, to get away from me.
“She never even said goodbye.”
It’s supposed to feel like a relief, letting it all out. That’s what they tell me.
“We never helped her. Why didn’t we?”
The accident. Her drinking. The rehab.
“Where did she go, Dad? She stayed in the basement and we never did anything, you never did anything about it. Why didn’t we help?”
I don’t feel relieved at all.
“Why wouldn’t you sell the snakes, even just some of them? She asked. I remember. She asked you and you said no.”
It’s exhausting. I’m tired. All I want is an excuse. Don’t need a reason, don’t even need it to be true. Just let me know you’re trying.
Dad doesn’t answer, though. Grimaces in an effort to keep his lips locked. No one speaks.
Walking out of the room feels like I’m climbing a mountain
That night, I wait until I can see the black of his mouth. Dad is not a deep sleeper but I won’t be gone long.
Outside, I walk with my arm outstretched, the bag dangling in front of me. The crickets sing beneath a moonless sky and it takes my eyes a moment to adjust. When they do the barn stands lonely. It’s not the size of it that flutters my stomach, nor is it the stench. It’s the burning on my cheek, the scars. I’m sweating.
Nervous Nelly, I can still hear my dad. They won’t bite. See? Not so bad.
He tried. God knows he tried. Paris at least had the stomach for it. And my mother looked at them as a necessary evil. “Better than gambling,” she’d say. But at least with gambling you could do it from the privacy of your own living room. Some nights my father skipped dinner to come out here with fresh food and I wouldn’t see him again until morning. Most playing cards aren’t poisonous, either.
I breathe carefully. When the door groans, I quickly slip inside, stabbing at the light string in the same motion. It’s never encouraging, this sight, these rows of containers and boxes and cages. They’re stacked to the ceiling. All the dirt, the cords taped to the walls, the wire piled in the corners. The smell hits hard enough to wipe the firmness from my face.
I reach for my headphones. Feel nothing. Dig through my pockets. Check my hoodie.
I dump the bag on the ground and peel my pockets inside out.
Nothing. No headphones.
Going back to the house seems like the sensible move but the last thing I want is to open this barn door twice. I’m already here. And not coming back.
My movements are calculated. I know they sense me. My dad used to say that all the time, chuckling when I’d go to sleep holding my knees against my chin.
There’s Shiloh, the corn snake. Brutus, the kingsnake. A row of ball pythons named after famous presidents, garter snakes my dad never bothered to name because they all look the same. One albino red tailed boa named Ghost. He always fed them first, dropping dead mice in by the tails.
Toward the back of the barn there’s a fenced enclosure with a key hanging on a post beside the door. I pause at the entrance, run my hands over my pockets out of habit. When I finally step through, the fence creaks.
It’s a dinner bell.
The hissing that follows, that coarse, throated hissing…it’s uncomfortable enough to make me dance. Then they get to rattling and I rip the string right off a bulb I pull it so hard. When the light hits, they move. Up against the glass, tongues flicking, reaching, their dangerous, black-pitted eyes following me as I move. Headphones, I hear myself wondering. How? How’d I forget?
One fully-grown king cobra is potentially worth thousands. My father has two. One coral snake could fetch nearly half of that if the coloring is right. My father has four. His mambas, his vipers, his taipans, all of them, rare killers, all of them, worth money.
Then there are the rattlesnakes, maybe a dozen of them. They climb over each other to get at me and the sound they make…without headphones, I feel naked.
He’d once described it like taking a cold shower, my dad. The water sets off every bodily sensor and rather than get used to the temperature, your instincts kick in. You start doing things without even knowing you’re doing them.
And so I move quickly out of pure necessity, distracting the snakes with a stick. It’s effective enough, though the dead mice barely hit the cage floors before the snakes strike.
The last cage sits like a throne against the back wall. It’s twice as large as any of the others, and though I can’t see much in the shadows I know the glass is faded and moldy. No one ever cleans this cage, not even Dad. It’s not worth the risk.
I point a flashlight. The cage’s water bowl is low, dirty. I see broken strands of skin.
There’s a lamp on a table beside me. What I see when I turn it on makes me freeze. I blink, rub my eyes to make sure. No. No. No.
The cage is empty.
The cage is empty…
Immediately, my eyes dart to my feet. I point the flashlight against the back wall, check the floor, other cages. The heat rises in my neck and cheeks. Want to know the most uncomfortable feeling in the world? It’s being watched.
I imagine Herc pulling himself out from wherever he’s hiding, uncurling his body like a hose and wrapping it around my neck, black splotchy skin like pools of molten lava, and I apologize for how busy I’ve been. Issues, I tell him. Family problems. I imagine he doesn’t care.
Herc is an anaconda, the yellow species. No, not the really big kind you see in movies. But he’s still almost 10 feet of illegal, bone-crushing predatory evolution.
His cage’s lid sits undisturbed, almost like he closed it to cover his tracks. No trail on the floor, neither. For one fleeting moment something comes through me, telling me maybe, just maybe, my eyes aren’t working right and that Herc is still in there, caged and silent. I drop a dead mouse beside the water bowl just in case.
It’s when I bend down and shine the light beneath the desk that I lose hope.
That’s where I see eyes, glimmering, steely eyes looking back at me. Waiting. Watching.
I take a few deep breaths and push my stomach into its rightful place. Hear myself talking to him, to myself, using the words like a guide. They come out stumbling in a voice that isn’t totally mine. Prodding at him with the stick doesn’t seem entirely smart, but it’s the only option I have. Herc curls tighter to make it more difficult, and when I relent and poke at his face, he lashes out with such speed I stumble backwards, Herc retreating into his corner like a boxer waiting for the bell, his eyes never leaving me.
Trying again seems hopeless, even stupid, but I try nonetheless. This time Herc breaks the stick and that’s enough to make me stop. I collapse against the far wall, legs wobbly, my hands trembling. There’s a brick in my head. It’s weighing me down. It’s not my fault, I admit. It’s not my fault. I don’t need to fix it, not me. Not me.
Herc isn’t moving. I get the feeling he’s smirking. I glance at his cage for only a moment, then back at Herc. Why? I wonder. Why? Why? Herc watches. His tongue flicks.
We sit there for what feels like hours, me running a finger through the dirt, Herc curled tight in the corner. Outside, the crickets’ crescendo falls and begins anew. Within, the heat clothes me, the hissing like a cloak. Finally, my eyes start feeling heavy and I ask Herc what he wants? Is this it? This right here?
I look at the empty cage, the rows, hear the hissing…the whole damn mess of this place, and I realize I can’t stay here. Not anymore. Not like this. The flashlight drops and I stagger away, feeling sick, nearly forgetting to lock the fence before realizing it probably doesn’t matter anyway. If Herc wants out, a locked door won’t stop him.
The hissing trails me all the way back to the house.
I’m in the bathroom trying to hold down dinner when I remember the card. It’s wrinkled up beneath some briefs and a packet of loose quarter rolls in my top dresser drawer. I grab the phone and dial. He picks up on the fourth ring.
“Is this Ruben?”
“You gave me your card a few days ago. You said call if I needed something. Do you still have the money?”
“I don’t have much time. Can you come by in 20 minutes?”
Ruben had been a senior in high school when I was a freshman, a tattooed, pinball-headed wasp of a kid with four fingers on his right hand. Back then, he couldn’t have picked me out of a lineup. Now? He knows me. Knows I’m hiding something, too. Even gave me his card the last time I went to his shop and said if I ever needed something done, you know, like really needed something done, he’s my man. Said he had cash too.
From across the house, my name comes out haggard.
When I come to the back room, Dad’s in the middle of some bumbling conversation with himself. His eyes are half-closed, his lips chapped like scales. He motions for me to sit down.
“Herc got out,” I interrupt.
He’s not listening. “It was hard ‘cus–”
“Once she had the accident–”
“I don’t care. I don’t care.”
He raises a hand to silence me and starts in on something about life not being fair and how when he was growing up his mother never let him slip up. I look into the backyard at all the drunken pine trees in need of a good bath. I look beyond and imagine the jungle gym, me with my lacrosse stick, on the swings, the slides, mornings slinking into afternoons, my dad finally emerging up the hill with his bucket.
“We ain’t gonna lose this house,” he’s saying. “I know you wanna help. But it can’t all be on you.”
He closes his eyes and snickers like he too is thinking about better days, like he’s down again by the pond with his bucket and gloves, and he’s catching snakes that squirm and writhe and bite, oh they bite so often, and I don’t even care that he never played with me, don’t even care about all the afternoons I spent waiting by the swings. I want to be left alone. I want to run to my room and bury my face in the pillows, let their heat wash over me, let myself fall asleep and never wake up.
At some point he finishes whatever it was he was trying to say and there’s expectancy in the air, for a response, some type of sign to prove he’d said his piece and that I was on board with it. I’m not, though, whatever it was, and as I’m walking out of the room his wobbly voice comes after me. “Shut the light at least.”
I flick the switch and the room goes dark. He’s asleep within seconds.
I’m on my bed listening to my headphones when car beams flood my room. I hear gravel scatter. Someone’s pulled into our driveway. I don’t wait to see if Dad is awake.
Ruben is unpacking a few container tubs when I walk out to meet him. His shaved head gleams beneath a streetlight and he has a beard that’s grown so long it curls around his face. He’s chewing gum machine-like and asking all types of questions. I grab his arm and tell him those containers, those ones right there, they won’t be enough. That makes him eye me suspiciously. “I can always come back,” he says.
“I need the money tonight.”
“I’m only paying for what I take.”
It isn’t until I open the barn doors that it registers for him. In his eyes, his body. It hums. Ruben moves swiftly from tank to tank, his nose against the glass like a 7-year-old. I toss him the flashlight and he starts naming them. Milk. Racer. Indigo. Garter. Coachwhip. His voice grows hysterical, his breaths hurried. He keeps looking back like he’s expecting me to tell him it’s not real, none of this is. But I say nothing. Don’t move, neither. I keep a palm against the door. Herc probably hasn’t moved, but either way I’m not stupid enough to risk it.
When Ruben gets to the end and sees the open fence, he stops, pointing emphatically, his eyes shining like giant marbles.
“Anyone know about this?”
My mother. My sister. Jody, I guess. She might know my father collects snakes out of some sick childhood habit, yet there’s a big difference between admitting that and admitting you own dozens of illegal poisonous serpents. My father was…is a private person. Some folks collect things to show them off. He collects things to keep himself from showing off.
The hissing swells as Ruben’s flashlight jumps across the walls. I start doing math totals in my head. How many snakes. How much money. How much money Ruben will actually pay me tonight. My mind starts wandering to the doctors, their pens and papers, the smugness they wear like a tangy draft. I push the thought away even as it keeps coming back and soon I can’t stop myself. The hospitals are gone, all the nurses and doctors too and there’s Dad, his swollen legs filled with blood and water and mucus, and I think about them exploding and see Herc wrapping around them, doing it easy, a mercy.
There’s a tapping on my shoulder. Ruben is asking about the monocled cobras, the monocled cobras, Nelly! He’s putting rolls of bills in my hand and telling me he wants them, wants all of them, that he’ll be back in a few hours with a bigger truck and that, oh my Lord, he just can’t believe this! His voice echoes, and after I allow myself to be pulled to the driveway, his car’s engine sounds oddly calming as he drives away.
It isn’t until I get inside my house that I realize there was no mention of Herc.
In the back room, my dad is snoring loudly, another glass of water turned upside down across his blanket. The Fugitive is on its final scene. They’re lugging Harrison Ford into a police car in handcuffs.
I watch Dad, expecting him to wake up. His bottom lip twitches like a half-blazed flame, his open mouth a yawning. On the floor, the bucket needs to be cleaned. The smell stings.
“I’m selling your snakes,” I say, though I’m guessing he can’t hear me. “We need the money.”
In that moment, the way my dad’s body seems to shrink makes me nervous that maybe this wasn’t the right thing to do. Maybe we should’ve waited. Maybe I should’ve lugged this man out to the barn, this man who was once my father, left him there and set the snakes loose. Maybe that’s what he wanted all along.
I turn the television off and stare at the blank screen. The wind flutters against the screen door. The air breathes. My dad snores. I close my eyes and picture Herc. He’s slithering through the grass somewhere right now, searching for water. I know it. I can see it. I can see the moon drifting into sunrise and there he is. The birds are cackling. The air is harsh. The wind grows soft. I realize I’m smiling.
Sean Sweeney has been published in Wilderness House Literary Review, 3Elements Literary Review and Mind Murals. He received a B.A. in English from Springfield College. He also graduated with a master’s degree from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2010. Currently, Sean is an editor for Complex.