2016 Barrett Winner
4th Place Malik Clifton
I didn’t look back as I untangled myself from my fathers’ grasp, and bolted for the front door, losing my vintage Zeppelin T-shirt for the effort. I blew through the threshold, unintentionally, but satisfactorily taking the screen off its hinges along the way. I tripped from the impact sending a cloud of red dust billowing into the air, as I smacked the so loose dust. I placed both hands flush on the ground pushing up with all my might. The fall had hurt my hip, not my head I knew why I was running and I knew why I couldn’t stop. I had barely taken another step, stopping briefly to wince from the pain, when I heard his voice from the door way,
“You get back here, you little shit”.
I hadn’t known I could move so fast, to be fair I had never tried, never had a reason to until now. My bare feet pounded the dirt loudly, as I made my way up the path away from the farm. I hadn’t known just how much I hated how far back the house set from the road until now. What would I do when I got to the road anyway hitch hike? Hide out somewhere for the night? Get hit by a car? I couldn’t see anything past the corn which grew like grass around our house, and was 20 times as high. Yeah getting hit would be the most logical thing to expect, and maybe it would be for the best.
“Turn your ass round boy,” my father said,
Whatever waited for me at end of the road was much better than what was behind me. Even death. I barreled toward the street I could only imagine how sore the soles of my feet would be afterward. They were hitting the ground hard enough to send shockwaves through my calves.
“Please don’t hurt em Guffy, it’s not his fault!”
My mother’s voice strained out in the distance. My mother’s figure stood perched in the illuminated rectangle which I made out as the doorway of our house. The singular light source left the normally bright red paint, and vibrant white carnations that adorned the front side of the one story farm house, dim and lack luster. It was fitting It’d be such a pitch dark night the last time I’d see this house because that is how I’d remember it from now own. She seemed to be heaving for air, it was too far to tell. Her mouth was a gape as she leaned forward in her scream, her favorite dress, the one with the white lilies was ripped at the neck.
“Was she crying?” I thought.
The feeling of uneasiness that had rose inside of me at the sight of her distress, but was quickly replaced with the pain of her betrayal.
“Her tears weren’t for me, they were to wash away the guilt.”
I pulled my eyes away from her, feeling my heart drop as they fell upon my dad who seemed to be half way between the house and me. His left hand still clenched the tatters of my favorite shirt. In his right, the now splintered bat he had bought me for my first little league game. He clutched the ruined remains of what I held dear, it was an almost gallery worthy shot. His sandy blonde hair danced rhythmically in response to his stride his weasel like face was beet red and his chest lounged and contracted wildly, struggling for each breathe. Smoking had done me better in that one moment than it had for him in 20 years.
I turned my face forward looking for any sign of asphalt in the dark of night, the thumping sound trailed off and then went dormant. “Had he given up, finally?” It didn’t matter at this point, a translucent oval of light came into view, and it was my beacon to freedom. I pushed my legs as hard as I could. The deep thumping of my bare feet against dirt, turned in to a loud slap as they met the road. I tried to stop running, but my momentum kept me stumbling forward. I over shot myself half way into the ditch on the other side before my legs cooperated, I bent forward taking short deep breaths, trying unsuccessfully to compose myself. I made it to the street and I didn’t get hit by a car,
My torso glistened with sweat as I tramped ever forward, under the luminous oblong pillars. Hands jammed tightly into my front jean pockets, as the occasional speeding car’s careless breeze failed to cool me.
“Piss ants” I thought, “It was the least they could do for me”. Though in their absence the road felt eerie. My movements were like a river, but my mind was an ever churning chute of molten rock endlessly folding in upon itself, refusing to surface. On Tuesday In biology we’d learned that when sweat evaporates, it cools the body, and I was drenched and half nude in the middle of a Nebraska autumn. Oh for it to be Tuesday again, so I could feel my dirty blonde hair be tussled by my father’s hand as he moved toward the coffee pot and I stuffed my mouth with eggs and toast. The combination of mental images made my jaw ache even more than already did, though I didn’t reach up and touch it. “Maybe I deserve this”.
That thought dammed the flow, stopped the churning, settled the dispute, and, for a time, I stood there on the edge of a cliff, in the middle of the road. It had to be quite a bit of time because I didn’t even see the head lights on the horizon that had turned me into a deer, but there I stood staring down the long red striped hood of a brand new Mustang GT.
“Daniel s’at chu?”
I peered back into the driver side window.
“Boy the hell you doin out here wit no shirt or shoes!?”
I felt my eyes get hot again, eruption was imminent, but I didn’t want it to be now or here or in front of a damn pastor.
“Huh, get in the car,” he sighed and leaning over to pop the lock,
More a stream than a river, I made my way around the trunk to the passenger side door. I tugged at it hesitantly, weighing my factious options.
“Get in the car, or walk to uncle Jace’s in Florida, get in the car or grow wings and fly to Liverpool”
“I ain’t got all night boy!”
I swung open the door as wide as it could go and flopped down on the leather interior. Much to his dismay I hoped, his words were just convenient logs for the fire when it started, no it was more a tornado and his platitudes were simply more debris.
“So this some type of senior rite of passage thing?” Pastor Quaid said
I sat in silence my elbow pressing down on the door jam and my fist propping up my head.
“Grew up in Mullen myself, over there we would have to dine and dash at one of the local diners, pretty stupid thinkin bout it now”
I watched his hands go on and off the wheel, as he spun his tale, left than right, and sometimes both at the same time.
“No!” I hollered
My back straightened as quickly as my response leapt out, and I smacked my head on the cars roof.
“I’m sorry. Just please not home!”
“I can’t be ridein round wit a shirtless boy in ma car in the middle of the night, People’la start to talk, whatever ya going through wit chu folks I can help ya’ll sort it out”
“No if you take me back he’ll kill me. He already kissed my jaw wit da bat and tore the shirt off my back. All over da-dang ol note. I can’t go back, I won’t!”
I could feel his eyes bore into the side of my head as I slouched down in my seat rubbing the crown of my head.
“Fine, where to then?”
I felt the magma ever ready to become lava and there was only one place it made sense to happen.
“Can you take me to Devon’s?
“I can get chu within a mile, but dat’s the best I can do, got a trunk full of pamphlets need foldin, and a sermon need startin’”
ping ting ping ping I readied the fifth pebble, but by the time I had drawn back his upper body had filled the panes dimensions. His ebony skin glowing in the bright yellow back lighting. He disappeared and, in that moment, I felt empty, before the braided rope ladder unfurled down to my instinctively waiting fingertips. Of course, my body would know better.
I threw my left leg over the windowsill, then righted myself and stood straight up awkwardly swaying post exertion. Shedding my mirrored southern diction in the process, I didn’t need it anymore. With Dev I was safe. “I wonder do all white boys climb through your windows half-naked and ready to go” he said eye’s stripping the small amount of clothes I had left.
For a fleeting second, I forgot why I came, his seductive tone plucked chords within me like a professional harpist. My brain raddled, and in half of a second, I remembered; how we had become friends after in the 7th grade when I knocked Nick Greebs two front teeth out his mouth for taking his glasses, and how I’d threatened to go on a hunger strike in the summer of 81’ if our parents didn’t put us in the same camp, and how last year the football team had won the championships, and he was so happy that as soon as we got alone, he told me he loved me. Then reality set in and then gravity, and as pretty as they were, sweet memories can’t stop explosions.
“They found the fucking note, Dev!”
“The one you slipped me in Ms. Lowes class”
“Laundry, it was in my pants”
He was up off the bed and pacing the area rag, in what seemed to me a single movement, as if analyzing the possibilities, it was clear he needed time to process, but lava can’t just go back to being magma.
“After my mom told my dad, he flipped his shit, and started in on the abomination before the lord and, not my son crap.” I had moved around to the bottom of the bed, in front of his closest to have my own pacing/flailing room.
“The more I tried to talk. The more pissed off it seemed to make him, and…and then he gave me this look like I was a stranger in his home”
Dev had stopped his pacing to peer at me with concern, and for a second I stopped to share in it.
“he told me to get out, and I’m pissed so I go to my room to pack my stuff and he follows me and as I throw clothes into a suit case, he just keeps yelling and spitting and asking who wrote it and…”
“And what did you tell him!?”
“Did you tell him I wrote it?”
“What, what’s it matter?”
“It matters! My dad talks to your dad and if my dad finds out I’m fucked too”
“…No I didn’t tell him”
He collapsed on the bed with relief. The dark blue spread, I knew all too well, deformed under his weight, as his hands masked his face briefly. He leaned up looking carefree.
“That’s good”, he said exhaled sharply, and tossed to baseball he’d been fiddling with sense I crawled in the window.
“Good? I’m homeless and that’s good? My father disowns me and that’s good? My little brother had to watch me be hit with a bat and that’s good!?”
“You know that’s not what mean I’m just saying what good would the both of us being ass out due”
“…well what do we do?”
The room feel deafly silent as we both tried to compose our rebuttals, I could hear the prince record I had heard being turned down around the 3rd pebble again.
“If you hadn’t passed me the damned note in the first place, it wouldn’t have been found”
“Why did you keep it!?”
“Ms. Lowes was making her rounds. You know she would have made me read out loud”
He moved like a rip tide, an endlessly predictable movement that seemed to drag on for an eternity. He stopped just before I’d imagined the rug would have combusted, and deviated into a the top drawer of the nightstand we’d carried to his house together a half a mile from the Wilson’s moving sell, and came up with a roll of 10s.
“With this you should be able to get a room at Shirley’s for about a week until your parents cool down. I’ll take you in the market truck.”
“What? Where’d you get that money?”
“It’s from one of the scouts from FSU It’s an incentive for me to come play ball for them”
He shoved the money into my limp hands, as I felt my lava flow begin to harden.
He stopped half way into the closet and looked at me blankly, and it seemed his turn to erupt. “What do you mean no? What the hell are you going to do then? You can’t stay here. Your dad’s gonna call mine any minute. Do you think I’m gonna get swept up in this? Think about me for a change. Dammit!” He punctuated his rant with the stomp of his foot, and the mirror raddled so much I thought it’d shatter. He breathed in deep clutching the Adidas, I’d gotten him for his birthday. After a brief stare down, he tossed them in front of me, and went back to his search for something or another. I suddenly knew how all those ears of corn I’d stripped over the years must have felt.
Before I knew it, I was in the cab of the truck the oversized dark blue flannel he’d also given to me blowing in the wind. He was saying words all the while, but they lay dead on my shoulders. I was too busy fantasying, I thought of picking up the hotel room phone and dialing up Mr. Andrews, and telling him how I’d snuck into his son’s room at least three times a week in the dead of night for the past 11 months. Devon would probably drive back out to the hotel and finish my dad’s attempt to beat my brains in. In rosier tangents, we’d embrace each other in our mutual exile, and move to New York City. I’d get certified as an electrician and he’d be a Gym teacher. We’d live in a decent sized house just north of a bad neighborhood. He’d cheat on me whenever he felt the itch, in our own bed, as he looks upon his football trophies. Taking out all his; anger, hate, disgust, and regret, on his pilfered lover. All so he could stomach to look at the man who’d destroyed his dreams every day of his life.
I blinked slowly staring out the window as crops passed us by, and then a long stretch of hills. The gas station, then the post office, what came next again? The bus station, and suddenly. My heart felt resolved.
“Take me to the bus depot instead”
“What? What for?”
“For myself, for dad, for mom, and for you, for once”
He looked into my eyes for longer than a person driving a truck probably should have, and flicked the turn signal without even looking.
I bought a ticket to Tennessee and took a seat smacked dab in the middle of the rig. I sat there finally fully feeling the bat, and the door, and the aimlessly walked miles, and his scorn and my scorn in tandem, and my brain felt more of a cloud now and my movements and the buses synced. There I sat on a ride to a strange place I’d picked at random, with $240 dollars in my pocket, a tattered heart, and an immortal spirit.