Len Kuntz

Gladiolas

          Mother is talking to Dad and he is not listening even though he nods and tamps out his cigarette and lights a fresh one, shooting new gray smoke over his shoulder like fire extinguisher spray. 

My brothers are hiding in caves. 

No one has caught a fish yet.

            “Why do you always have to ruin everything?” she asks him but he doesn’t hear because he’s not listening, and so he says back, “That’s good.”

            There is a tattoo of his name on his arm, right on the bicep.  He said he got it in prison but I don’t believe him, even though the letters are loopy, crude and sad-looking.

            She says, “Even out here, you snore.”

            Once, she brought home a professional wrestler and he lived in our house for a week while my father was out of town fixing combines and broke-down Peterbuilts.  At first I liked the wrestler with his long locks the color of just made popcorn.  Then, after a while, I didn’t.  I didn’t like him at all.

            I was not so quick then.

            I am still not.

            But presently, in this scene, I am eleven and we are somewhere outside of Liberty Lake and later on I will think what an interesting name that is for a body of water, ripe with symbolism or potential foreshadow, but for now--because I am eleven and sad and alone despite being on this trip with my family, because I am eleven I am thinking nothing—I don’t get sidetracked.  I am eavesdropping not to learn anything, because I know all the horrors already, but I am listening in just because I am bored and do not like fishing or camping or playing Hide N Seek on the craggy hillside where my brothers would likely pull out their pellet guns and shoot me should I try to escape.

            Mother sights me, squinting as a frig of cigarette smoke bites her eye.  Her white glasses have pointed tips.  Her hair is fake fawn, a “fall” it’s called, a fancy name for a wig.

            Her bathing suit is two pieces with a pink pattern even though the flowers are gladiolas.  One of the flowers winks at me.  Another sticks out its tongue.  Gladiolas are like a lot of people I know who are fond of subtle tortures.

            Mother was pretty once.  I saw.  I saw a picture of her from a beauty pageant.  She was thin with white skin and a perfect smile that must have taken her a long time to make.

            “Why are you always so gloomy?” she asks me.

            The easy questions are the ones I never answer.  That’s why teachers have a hard time with me.  Sometimes I take the words in their sentence apart and shuffle them.  Reordering is fun and full of possibilities.

            Dad sucks a swig of Old Milwaukee.  It is his last drink of beer until he opens a new can and the spray spits down his naked knee.

He throws pebbles at me, then gets bigger rocks and aims for my feet.  “Dance,” he says.  “Go ahead and dance.”

            It’s not so bad, I think.  I can dance.  Camping is silly, but even stupid things can be fun.  Tonight the sun will go down again.  I’ll either have dreams or I won’t.  There are so many different ways to be a family.

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State.  His work appears widely in print and online at such places as Literary Laundry, Cirque Journal, Staccato Fiction and also at lenkuntz.blogspot.com















 
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