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Saint Marty, Pray For Us.

Used to be me and the old man, sitting by the record player during starless nights of August, heaving our prayers against the backdoor glass and up into rainless skies for one listen from God Almighty. Drought, wed pray. Sin, wed pray. When one woman or another came unstuck from our gravity and drifted out to Little Rock--we kept praying. Whippoorwills going off in the dark-outside like storm sirens. Warning about dryness instead of rain, the waste of dead yellow fields in yet another season of drought.

Used to be you could see him hunkered over the ancient record player with a zippo in his hand, wielding it as a flashlight. You could see him bone-weary in the glow, a face in perpetual slow motion. Hed reach for the needle by faulty light, lowering it shakily but gently, like it was when we found those orphaned calves on the backside of the Gallman property starving for first colostrum; here wed go, me and him, gentle-finger out for their muzzles, gentle-guiding them to the nipple of a bottle. Hed set the needle with the same tenderness and stare at it for a time while the zippo warded off the darkness. And hed wait for the first words from that lowly saint of trail-songs. For Marty Robbins to come crooning out of the speakers and into the living room.

All day I face the barren waste, without the taste of water.

The song would infuse his consciousness, shaped in his mouth like another prayer. "Even Texas wouldn't be this dry, as dry as it is now," he'd say, lighting a cigar and leaning back into the armchair. The West hadn't vanished from our minds, but to him it might as well have been extinct, a world he'd never step foot in again. The old man was coming to terms with this extinction, all true cowboys having faded into black and white. Their phantom herds known only in memory of blown dust, the faint smell of manure. That world was gone and he was gone from it, but he'd still wear his Stetson on cock. Rarely a day when the corners of his mustache weren't twisted into whiskery horns.

Yet the zippo would draw him shapeless from among the shadows. Some migrant prophet summoned from such a parched and forgotten land--even in memory there is no refuge. The only vestiges were the ballads, calling the wanderer to worship. Songs written, it seemed, with sole regard for a derelict cowboy--in desperate times offering salvation, articulating for him the sacredness and fear of being stranded in the barren waste.

In the photograph that sat beside the record player, my mother leans into him with what must have been bright red lips, pressing those lips under his ear. And from the picture his eyes reach through the black and white, blazing through overgrown future to see what he could never see. Straining to glimpse the juncture at which time loops back on itself, all things reconciled. And in it he's smiling as though he's found that place, somewhere beyond the black and white, beyond the thirty-two years of coming up empty.

"I need you to take me to Sparkman's Ridge," he said one day when I'd come home from work. He was sitting in his chair with his denim suit coat hanging husk-like from his thin shoulders. His bolo tie drawn to perfect length.

"What's in Sparkman's Ridge?"

"Man's got a big calf down. Grass tetany. I heard him call it in to the radio this morning on Call-and-Sell. He says if a man's got the gear to get it up and haul it off, then that man can have it free of charge."

I sat at the kitchen table and watched the cars shuttle down Briggs Avenue. The short lawn he'd tried to call a yard ever since I'd moved him into the townhouse--it too was parched to nothing. "I doubt grass tetany, as dry as it is," I said. "I have a hard time believing there's enough grass to cause it."

"We'll get the calf well, Son, regardless of what's wrong, the way we used to. Some ole plowboy didn't know what he was talking about, probably. Just needs some electrolytes and shot of B12."

I had worked all day and was home for the sole purpose of getting a few hours of sleep before the crew set out the next morning for Collinsville. My job seemed to always hang in the balance with the ebb and flow of the housing market. Outside, the lower mountains were beginning to turn brown and maroon, a gentle shiver of wind blowing over them. The yard maples had begun to turn too, going on ahead into fall while the hickories lagged behind. An abbreviated and premature fall. The result of the driest summer on record.

On our table, dampened with grease, were admitting papers for Rose of Sharon Nursing Home. I scanned them restlessly and turned them facedown so I could spare another day without addressing them. "The trailer's tires are probably dry-rotted," I said. "It'll be two hours up and back to go get it out of storage." He sat undeterred, working the tips of his whiskers with his finger and thumb. "Plus, Dad, where would you keep the calf?"

"I'm way ahead of you. We don't need a trailer for the calf. Your Bronco will do just fine, put it in the back of it. And this yard is fenced in. The landlord would let us keep a dog if we were so inclined. Why not a calf? Not nearly the mess or the noise a dog would make."

I watched him struggle to make his case. Gauntness about him that seemed eternal, him all bowed-up on himself and his bones uprooting from his skin like wings that never fully developed.

His decline had begun with his back, the joints of his spine coming unhinged when he'd fallen from a colt he was breaking, well past the age or agility required by such a task. Then later it was his hip, shattered in three places. By the time I'd found him barefoot in January, lost on the backside of the old place with his hat in his hands, it was advancing dementia.

He was most often way out there on his pills, pills he took to make him sleep, to quit the pain that rode hard up his spine. Old Timer's disease, he called the other part, the way everybody back home in the valley called it. Say it with me, I used to say, Alz-heim-ers--and yours isn't Alzheimer's, it's just part of aging. But something about that description--Old Timer's--made sense for him about everything that was happening to him. As if he were taken by the same hard cold and damning sorrow as all the cattlemen who'd come before him, all the ones gone too soon. Beaten down and shell-shocked from seeing the creation coming undone around them. And if he had nothing else to cling to, he at least shared the same disease.

"And if you get the thing well, what then?" I said. "This lot isn't but a third of an acre. Not enough for grazing, you know this."

"We'll feed hay then, Son. Just get the calf well enough to fatten him up. Then we'll take him to the sale, cash out by Christmas, and me and you can take us a little vacation to the mountains." He studied me for any expression that might resemble agreement. "No worse than a big dog," I could hear his voice become a plea.

"Your name isn't on the lease, mine is. This place is a bargain, Dad. We won't find anything better when they evict us."

With great effort and thoughtless groaning, the kind of groaning your body makes when it no longer chooses its own course of action, he leaned forward, plugged in the record player. Nearly breaking the needle, he finally laid it in the groove he was looking for.

When I hear the rain a comiri down. It makes me sad and blue.

Twas on a rainy night like this that Flo said we were through.

"You can pout if you want, Dad. I've got to get to Collinsville in the morning to hang sheetrock." I rose and undressed right there and walked to the bathroom for a shower. I closed my eyes in the steam and remembered the call I'd gotten from him the night I found him barefoot at the old place-the pills and dementia had turned his mind to Camp Red Mill and a younger him coming up the valley clean and open, stirring a herd of what they used to call brush cattle, stray cattle who'd hopped their fences long ago and had carved out an existence in the sticks. Generations of them hanging on there in the thickets, and him cutting them with his sorrel gelding until they thundered on up-valley toward the farm.

"This is a fine time to forget heaven," he'd said to me over the cellphone, lost in hallucination of those wild, herding days. "Easy money when I get these heifers to the sale, Son."

But after I'd talked him down, he complained about his ankle being swollen. I drove the six hours west only to find he had broken it trying to climb over a fence, looking for those ghost heifers in his delirium. So I moved him back east, where his people had originated. Into the townhouse on Briggs Avenue where the sirens of the city could be heard from our living room. Each night feeling the scold of his glare as he stared out toward the lifeless skyline.

When I walked out of the bathroom and into the living room, he was gone and so were my keys. From the corner of my eye I could see him through the window outside backing the Bronco down the driveway. I pulled on my boots and ran out to stop him, but when I'd opened the passenger door he merely leaned over and said, "Get in." There's a certain mindless devotion between a son and his father. The kind of thing that keeps you up at night. You try to make sense of it if you can, try to figure where you went wrong, or where he went wrong, or where the world itself had gone off the rails. I'd gone forever doing my best to be the Rowdy Yates to his Boss Favor, right there with him as he tended his many herds. Ramrod, he used to call me. So I jumped in the Bronco, feeling suddenly enslaved to whims I'd hoped were long dead in him and in me too.

We came into the hill country near Sparkman's Ridge as the day was ending. Into dreary land clinging to the clouds and poor cattle picking among the dirt, braced for fall winds in their overcoats of bones. There were boulders inlayed along the terrace rows, their granite skulls shining. A land impoverished long before any drought.

The Bronco was an '85 model, and from the cassette player Saint Marty sang about a big green tree where water's running free and waiting there, he sang, for you and me. My ex-wife had been into Dylan. Fleetwood Mac. I'd gone along with her musical tastes for the span of our marriage. But on the night she left me, I couldn't help but feel that whatever DNA had been in the old man to drive a good wife away had also manifested itself in me. So I bought a fifth of liquor and rode around town with The Saint on cassette. Feeling, too, as though all goodness in life would eventually succumb to the curse of our bloodline.

The old man leaned over and turned the volume up as we ascended Sparkman's Ridge. He rolled the window down and spat into the wind where all around was gray and rainless. "Your mother was a Catholic. But thought it superstitious to pray for rain," he said. "She'd never seen what I'd seen as a kid, though. Never seen that granny of mine, dancing foot-to-foot out on Scalded Knob, wearied for a single raincloud." The images had often come to him in faded chapters of flesh and mud. Memories of blood sprinkled and cattle bones buried by wind, a crying child lain at its mother's feet with dust caked in its lungs. A whole country back west, sucked skyward. "If she'd seen a world parted on either side of a mule-and-plow," he said, "dead-old, dry land coughed to the skies, then she would've come a lot nearer to believing."

He began to shake in the driver's seat. Tears I never saw when I was young appeared in abundance as if they'd been dammed for too long. "But your mother liked Texas," he said. "More than she ever let on. I think she missed the cattle when she left for Arkansas."

They'd had lean years, lean pockets to go with the years. She'd been plagued by his unflinching devotion to the land, even as the land had begun to turn on him in those days, rendering us destitute--Your true lover, she'd said to him one night as she wandered dispassionately from the house and out into the cold.

As we drove, he and I reached for the shared recollection of that night before she'd left for good. I was a child and he carried me in his arms while we looked for her in the dark. We found her sitting on a plank above the head-catch in the barn while the cattle had come in to eat. When she'd finally seen us watching her, she beckoned me to climb up and join her and she held me there in the cold.

The old man gripped the steering wheel tighter while I steadied his other hand on the gearshift. "She was a perched angel," he said, remembering that scene, "watching the calves eat, casting blessings on their heads."

We found the address the man on the call-in show had given and we drove down a red-clay road to a doublewide. On either side of the trailer there were t-posts supporting a three-strand, barbed wire fence. Past the sagging fence we could see a good-sized calf, maybe a month old, stretched and heaving on the ground.

The door opened finally after we'd knocked several times and a shirtless man greeted us. "I heard your call on the radio," the old man said to him. The shirtless man stuck out a hand and introduced himself as Kenneth and pulled on a sweatshirt. Kenneth stepped out onto the crumbling steps and spat a thin drool of tobacco. A thick man carved from the rocks themselves.

In the doorway behind him, a tall young woman stood leaning. Slender-faced and green-eyed. "This is Pearl," the man said. "My daughter." Pearl lifted a few fingers in a cautious wave and watched as her father led us out into the yard and over to the fence. There was no gate that I saw, so we stepped gingerly over the wire and into the field. "This little bull was one of the best you've laid your eyes on when he was throwed," Kenneth said. "Now, I can't get him up for nothing."

The old man studied the calf. Though he'd often forget his own medicine regimen, he could remember every home remedy and veterinary salve he'd ever tried. "I don't think it's grass tetany, though," the old man said. "That calf's scoured." He walked near the calf and knelt beside it. He stroked its sides and worked his fingers in the soft valleys between its ribs. The calf tried to raise its head but couldn't muster the strength. "Free to a good home, you said?"

"Yeah. I can't bear to watch it suffer," Kenneth swallowed hard. "There's his momma," he said, pointing to a yellowed Charolais who eyed us from the field. "I'm taking his momma to the sale. And I've been of good mind to put a bullet in him."

"Don't do that. If we can't get him well, then we'll do the deed for you." The old man looked around. "I think me or you or the boy can get him up on his feet. But since he ain't on our property yet, I'd rather we defer the toting to you."

Kenneth turned and whistled toward the house. "Pearl," he called. "Pearl's stronger than me and you put together. She sits up with old people for a living. Just had a man she was sitting with to die. Big fat feller, weigh near three-fifty. She could help him up onto the toilet by herself."

Pearl was pulling on a pair of muck boots as she walked out to the yard. She came and stood beside us. Nearly six feet tall with a frame given to a few curves that gave her a certain worn beauty. With the three men taking turns steadying the back end of the calf and Pearl guiding the front, we walked the calf wobbly to the wire and slipped him under. Pearl, in a single motion, heaved him up and into the bed of the Bronco. The calf tried to stand but collapsed hard against the metal side and bawled in that forlorn way of giving up, making no sign that hed try again.

The old man shut the tailgate and stood back wiping his brow. "I tell you what old buddy," he said to Kenneth, "if we get him well, I'll give you fifty dollars of the cut, for having to watch him suffer." Kenneth nodded his head and shook the old man's hand.

I made the old man take the passenger seat, much to his dismay. After he'd climbed inside I handed my information written on a card to Kenneth. "Dad's age has caught up with him. We may not get the calf well, but in any case, give this to Pearl." I looked back to the field where Pearl was now herding the momma cow into the makeshift barn. "I've got my hands full trying to just get Dad well," I said. And I said, more to the empty clouds and more to the shadows of early night than anyone else, "But I guess I'll put him in a home." I could imagine us there in a tiny room at Rose of Sharon, with a commode on stilts and the TV blaring Maury Pauvich. Perhaps a crucifix nailed to the wall. I could imagine the few birds and squirrels playing outside of his window, and him wishing to God that all life forms beyond the window would somehow transform into Hereford cattle. And that look exchanged between Judas and the Son of Man when the two of them learned what it means to betray a friend, and what it means to be betrayed by one. How the two feelings are so eerily akin.

I finished the house in Collinsville that weekend and came home to see the old man in the yard with a bottle full of electrolytes pressed into the calf's mouth. The calf heaved and rolled around in the puddle of milky-white shit he'd made in the grass. "Go get the pill gun," the old man said. I came back with a pill the size of a blackjack loaded in the gun. As instructed, I shoved the barrel down the calf's throat and ejected the pill into his gut.

"Come now," the old man told the calf. "You're gonna make it."

There was little about the animal that indicated any kind of resurrection. I was already picturing the hole I'd dig behind the shed for his carcass. "What do you want to name him?" I asked, ruefully.

"Supper," the old man said. "You know better than to name them."

We got the calf to sit up and called a win for the day and ate a late lunch in the dim kitchen. Outside school was letting out nearby. Our street was the crossover from it to the highway. An unending stream of buses flew past with kids pressed to the windows, pointing at the calf in the yard. The old man placed his fork beside his plate. He was hopeful. "These old country people don't know the first thing about cattle. He was ready to shoot and bury eight hundred dollars."

"Or he was slicker than you think," I said. "Found a sucker to do it for him."

The old man dismissed me with a wave of his hand and finished picking at his pork steak. He walked to the refrigerator and found the bottle of B-12 and loaded the syringe with the liquid. With a dirty finger-and-thumb, he squeezed the air from the needle and flicked it awake and hobbled out.

On the next morning, the calf stood for the first time. The Saint was going strong in the living room; having moved on from the barren waste, he was now singing about his 160 acres of pure, green heaven as Pearl came up the driveway and walked to the door with her bags in her hand. I met her at the front door while the old man was in the yard forcing more electrolytes and cornstarch down the calf. She gave a smile as best she knew how.

"Daddy says you want to hire me to look after your dad."

"Well, I was thinking maybe a trial basis at first. He's not under the persuasion that he's in need of a caretaker."

"I won't be no trouble for him." She stepped inside and looked the place over. All the marks of two lonely men, evident in every pair of dirty underwear strewn like animal skins. "I can wash a dish or two," she said. "I know my way around a washer and dryer." She looked to be late-twenties. Calloused hands that gave way to skin as soft looking as her dirty-blonde hair. We walked outside to where the calf had crumpled again on the ground and the old man sat beside, whispering in its ears.

"Dad, you remember Pearl," I said.

The old man stood proudly with his hands on his hips. "You come to check on his progress? You tell your daddy that we're half-way there."

Pearl looked at me, then at him. "I've missed him something awful." She looked at me again; we exchanged silent cues. "I think I might stay around a few days to see how he does. Might learn a thing or two from you, Mr. Parsons."

The old man hacked a dry cough. "He'd be doing a lot better if it were to rain. Rain nourishes all of God's creatures." I'd been holding my breath, so I exhaled sharply, realizing the old man inhabited a world where he could conceive of young women coming to live with old men and their animals for no other reason than to learn a few things. Perhaps such a delusional world I might someday be obliged to inhabit myself.

"You religious?" the old man asked, when the three of us sat down together to eat our breakfast in the living room.

"When I need to be," Pearl said. "I's raised wet-headed Baptist. Been a long time out of church though."

"I pray," the old man said. "But I ain't been much for church either." He stared out the window to where the calf was rubbing a sore in the dirt from trying to stand. "My wife's religious. Into all that candle-burn-ing and incense and such." He pointed to the photograph beside his chair. "If you look," he said, "you can see the rosary twisted around her hand." I couldn't remember ever noticing it before. So I leaned forward to examine when Pearl lifted the photograph from the end table.

"Pretty," she said. "She pass away?"

"In a sense," the old man said.

"They've been divorced a while," I said.

Pearl nodded kindly. "It's a hard-living, doing it all alone."

"He's up the same creek," the old man said, pointing to me. "The very same creek. His wife left him for Little Rock, too. Same as his mother left me."

"At the same time?" Pearl asked.

"No," I said. "Just a coincidence." But I struggled to believe my own words.

"What do you reckon it is about Little Rock?" the old man said.

"I've never been," Pearl said. "In fact, I've only been out of the state once. When my daddy went to buy calves in Piedmont."

"Your daddy been in the cattle business long?" I asked.

"No. He wouldn't be in it at all if it weren't for me. I'm taking classes at the junior college to be a vet's assistant. Got a heart for them I reckon."

"My wife loved the calves. I know that she did," the old man said. He stiffened in his chair as a wave of sadness began to come over him.

Pearl watched him for a moment as if waiting to see how complete the fit was, then she stood and walked to his chair. She clutched his elbow and helped him to stand. "How about a rest, Mr. Parsons? You've been working hard this morning." The old man didn't protest, already lost to himself and his surroundings. She walked him to his room and I could hear as she shuffled him into bed. Then, she came out of the bedroom and stood watching the calf outside. "That little one needs some shade," she said. Without bothering with any courtesies she went to the door and out into the yard. She began constructing a makeshift canopy from a tarpaulin and a few loose boards.

When she'd finished, she stood back and admired her work. And in that glimpse of woman and calf, I could see another epoch of time. One where the old man and me had long since surrendered to our brokenness and left behind our fledgling calf empire to Pearl.

I got used to the idea of having a calf in the house. Two hundred pounds by then, standing often at the foot of the old man's bed, bawling loudly to wake him. Then the meeting of eyes, sloe and sad, but furious with survival. The old man had gotten the calf to take a bottle regularly and with great vigor, while Pearl had put the house into decent enough shape so that when the calf would come running through the living room and slip on the hardwood, there was only the thud of his body and not the sound of anything breaking. She had also managed to learn the schedule on which the calf took its pitiful pisses, as she had with the old man, and she'd lead the calf out into the yard when it was time. I would come home to see the three of them in the yard and Pearl grooming the calf while the old man watched from the porch. "Come here, Little Marty," I could hear the old man call to the calf.

The scours had slowed and the calf had begun to fill out nicely. He pranced around the yard as any dog would, and hed come over to the old man and rest his head in his lap. We spent the next month watching him grow, horns budding from his head. A healthy plumpness that offered us visions of the husky calves he would someday sire.

But as fall slowly became winter, the old man grew stiffer and more senile. Hed watch us outside as we cut wood for the fireplace. Pearl was as nimble with an ax and chainsaw as she was with the old man. Together wed feed the furnace while the calf lay near the hearth with his hooves banging about in a sound of dull ivory.

And with the coming of cold weather came the end of my job. The crew disbanded for the winter but with more talk than usual about our boss drifting closer and closer to bankruptcy, jobs wed never know again except in lines for our pathetic, word-of-mouth resumes.

I sat up one night alone in the living room, the old record player quietly scratching out The Saint's dirge, Utah Carol, the calf snoring next to me on the floor and the television going, the volume turned low. On the screen a suited woman marched back and forth across a map of the country devoid of any color. She waved an erratic finger over our region and there was talk about long-standing records broken for lack of rain. We could expect more of the same, she was saying. We'd had some brief windstorms with the cold front moving in. A few drops here and there, but there was nothing, nothing to slake the thirst.

The old man had kept his pills on the end table near his chair, beside the photograph of my mother. Little amulets of unavailing ritual, aligned so perfectly. I thought about the money running low and how sooner or later I'd have to talk with Pearl about it. Maybe she could find a rich person who was burdened with far fewer absurdities than we were. I thought about what the experts were saying about a bursting housing bubble and unemployment soaring by the day. About the mindless craving for rain and for land when you have so very little of it yourself, and no one who could understand your thirst. And you can say that you move on from a failed marriage, but you cannot say that you learn a damn thing from it--there were two women in Little Rock who once bore our name, the family name, had failed as our saviors and left us to rot in whatever holes they believed us to have crawled into. And no one could blame them for it either.

I reached for one of the bottles of painkillers and dumped a couple of the tablets into my hand and rolled them around, prayerfully. I swallowed them with a half bottle of whiskey that I'd been polishing. I fastened the lid tightly on the pill bottle, but when I went to place it back on the end table, I drunkenly swept my hand across the photograph and it fell loudly to the floor, breaking the frame.

Pearl appeared from the hallway. The cotton whatever-it-was she was wearing as a nightshirt seemed to hang just below her hips. Its faded cloth gave way to her bare legs, genuinely muscular, not from time at any gym but from days in the field and days spent lifting old men and women, people the same as my father, who'd made camp in the barren wastes of their minds.

She had not fully awoken, only startled by the sound of the bottles and the picture frame crashing to the floor. "Everything okay?" she said, when she first realized it was I bumbling in the night and not the old man.

"Yeah. I guess so," I said.

I was trying to stand as she stepped into the living room. I couldn't stop watching her and how the cotton whatever-it-was seemed to end so breathlessly at the top of her thighs. The pills had begun working and I staggered forward to gain my balance against the chair, brushing against her in the process. I wanted to apologize for it, wanted to curse myself for it, wanted to pull her to my lips.

She gave a smile, sleepy and unaware. "Glad it wasn't your dad," she said, and turned away to her bedroom. When she'd gone, I slumped in the chair and unzipped my pants and began that lonely ritual whose source always is and always was the first sight-and-shadow of that woman in the hallway. But the calf came over and nudged me, so I took it as a sign for both of us to move on from that moment and I opened the door to let him into the yard.

He skittered out of the doorway and onto the cement porch. I considered maybe the greatest miracle of all was a house-trained calf. I'd never in my life dreamed of anything close to it. He made his way out beyond the hickory tree and nipped for the few grass blades and did his business while I reached back to the stand beside the chair and swigged the whiskey. Cars, with drivers who'd probably spent too much of the night doing the same thing I was, passed down our street to avoid the cops on the main highways. The calf stood watching them in the moonlight, raising his resilient little head in the dry, cold air.

On the January night of my father's first hallucination, when he'd footed it out to the old place alone with a broken ankle, watching and praying for those heifers to return from fantasy, he had nearly wandered over the side of Nixon's Bluff. I'd found him crouched there near the ledge looking up at me in pain, so I hoisted him over my shoulder like soldiers in the thick of it and set out across the pasture with his pale legs nearly aglow, dangling over my chest. I could now feel the weight of him from days gone by, his chest hammering with the beat of a tractor's engine, could smell the bitterness of his fearful breath even as I watched the calf graze a little closer to the street. Until he was in the street. The gate having been left open in November wind.

For all the pills could do, I raced halfway across the yard in my mind but not in actuality, and marred in recollection about how an old man could've broken his ankle, hopping a fence, and still have walked the half-mile across the property without knowing it was broken, and when it's late at night and there's not another sound for miles, you can hear the sick-shattering of bone and bellowed agony, and I could feel the riven flesh as I knelt to the dead and bloodied calf in the street where the drunk had not even bothered to slow down. Had not paused to marvel at such a miracle grown from parched soil and concrete, only swerved to right himself between the ditches, and sped on into the city.

Pearl and the old man were roused by the screech of tires and the terrible noise of the whole ordeal. Or had even heard the sound I'd screamed, one that comes to me now in memories that don't feel like my own. They watched through the window as I came toward the house, with faces of children caught out in a storm and realizing, perhaps for the first time, that the universe has no benevolence to offer but in its indifference it is set to cull and cull and cull as it so wishes.

When I'd dragged the calf inside, Pearl was sitting upright in the armchair with the old man fetal in her lap where any of us sick-wound-ed would long to be. Him sobbing, her sweet-hushing his old mouth, her so royally adorned and barefoot. The fur slick with blood, the tongue spilling from its mouth, I draped the calf on the rug at her feet.

He calls them from across the great void, drifting on into slumber most days. Calls them in a trail-song. And they rush on by us in lovely stampede, milk bags swinging like church bells. Christened in muddy royalty their crowns of flies. The whole of life is in this song--the high tenor, the low alto, the heartstring plucked for a final tune. And sooner or later we stand in the yard, in the middle of downtown, with our palms turned upward as tiny altars, dancing foot-to-foot, and one of us says she thinks she feels a couple of rain drops, and the wild sedge grows free from the concrete even if she's wrong, and we call to whatever gods, to God and any saints thereof, pleading our case as though anyone cares to hear it.
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Author:Dillon, T.S.
Publication:The Carolina Quarterly
Article Type:Short story
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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