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By T.J. Berry
Granite requires my baby’s eyes. Only one of them really, but that’s still one more eye than she’s gonna give. That granite already took one of mine.
I may have only one eye, but I’m a worker, not a taker. I have three jobs. First and most importantly, I’m a mama to my baby girl. She will always be priority numero uno. Secondly, I do remote transcription for a vet in Albuquerque when their regular people get behind. And third, I have a side agreement with a few of the guys in this town that keeps me in tax-free cash. God bless America.
I’m never going to be like Mama Tracey, who sits out front of Dell’s General Store holding out her mug for cash. People give it to her too, paper money like fives and tens, cause she gave both of her eyes to the granite.
They took the first in fifty-two after she was born. The other she volunteered in eighty-eight when pickings were slim in town and the rocks started to collect their due.
I could give my second eye in place of my baby and collect fives and tens too, but I bet there’s not room in front of Dell’s for both me and Mama Tracey. She’s wide in the hips and also people will think I’m a copycat and give me less. Anyways, I have my Nightlee now and lord knows you need at least one eye to take care of a baby.
I’m walking up the steps to Dell’s, which is why I’m thinking on Mama Tracey. There’s a ramp, on account of all the townies missing eyes and toes, but I like to take the stairs. Just to show I can.
Mama Tracey puts down her mug when I come around. I wonder how she always knows it’s me coming up the steps. Maybe she can hear my flip-flops making a particular sound on the wood, like that blind superhero. Or maybe she can hear the old guys stop talking so they can at stare at my boobs.
The four old men who park themselves at Dell’s are siting on either side of the entrance. They’re not panhandlers officially, but they’re always begging for your time and attention when you just want to walk on by. I don’t have to wait long for them to quit loving on the second amendment and start loving on me.
“You want an ice cream, Miss CassieLyn?” asks one of the old guys.
I adjust Nightlee onto my other hip so I can give him a full-on look that says to take your ice cream and shove it. He knows very well that I’m lachrymose intolerant and I’ll be farting like a dog if I have ice cream.
He laughs and I’m annoyed because he’s teasing me. I could shut that garbage down by telling his shriveled friends that he likes a pinkie up his ass when I blow him on Tuesday nights, but I can’t do that because public relations is a big part of my job.
“No, sweetie,” I say.
“You going shopping, honey?” asks another old guy, staring at my legs.
“I came to ask a question,” I say, stepping up onto the porch so that Nightlee’s fuzzy head doesn’t burn in the sun. “I want to know how to switch rocks.”
All three of them answer with outraged little puffing sounds through their thin lips.
“Your baby belongs to granite,” says my Tuesday night appointment, whose name is Jack. The old guy smell up here is making me want to gag–and I almost never gag. “It’s a damn shame. Her blue eyes remind me of the sea off the Amalfi coast. I was there in forty-six,” says Jack.
One of the other guys points to his foot.
“Born to marble in the lean years. Gave two toes before middle school. Navy wouldn’t take me, so I packed parachutes in El Paso.”
I move Nightlee back to my other side because damn if they aren’t revving up to recite their list of injuries, which starts with the parts they gave to the rocks as babies and ends with mole biopsies and gallbladder removals.
“That’s nothing, I had dentures before I was thirty for all the teeth they took for the breccia.” This guy clicks his false teeth up and down, showing the pink crescent of his gums and I have to bury my face in the sweet shampoo smell of Nightlee’s scalp to keep from throwing up.
Mama Tracey chimes in from her chair.
“I can’t see a thing on account of that damn granite taking both my eyes.”
They murmur their approval.
The third guy smacks his walking stick on the porch with a loud rap. He raises his eyebrows and then opens his mouth to show off a crooked stub of a tongue in his cavernous mouth. He waggles it around with a slapping sound.
“I guess Dickie wins,” says Jack.
“Dickie always wins.”
“Goddamn that limestone.”
Dickie rests his chin on the top of the walking stick with a smug smile and I guess if you’re going to have your tongue carved out before your first birthday, then at least you should be able to one-up your friends.
“Anyways,” I say, eager to get away from the self-congratulatory torture roundtable. “How do I get Nightlee another rock besides granite?”
“Well,” says Jack, “There’s an order to things, CassieLyn. You can’t just choose the rock you want. Everybody would pick shale and the other rocks would come after the rest of us.”
“I’m not asking for shale,” because that would be ridiculous. Shale requires hair and anybody with half a brain would be willing to go bald instead of blind. “But if granite can wait a few months, Kaidence is having her baby in December–”
Jack reaches behind his chair for the Calendar. I let Nightlee pull tiny fistfuls of my hair and shove them into her mouth, even though it hurts like a bitch, because it keeps her quiet and I need to focus on this negotiation.
The Calendar is one of those big jobbers that spans a decade, one year on every page. Jack’s marked the due date for each rock in tiny little block letters that they don’t teach us how to make at school any more.
“Well,” he says, tracing the months backwards to last year. “It’s been twenty-three months since granite had an eye.”
“The longest granite ever went without was twenty-six months,” says Toeless.
“Right, but Kaidence’s baby comes at twenty-seven months on the granite. Isn’t that, like, within the martian of error?” I ask.
They’re quiet for a bit, looking back and forth with little smiles. For about five seconds I think I have a real shot. Then the mute one shakes his head, quick and snappy like a drill sergeant.
“Dickie’s right,” says Jack. “We can’t chance it. The granite could come for anybody. You’d be risking everyone’s life. We can’t allow that.”
“Think of the common good, CassieLyn.”
“Take one for the team so everyone wins,” says Mama Tracey and I suddenly feel all ganged up on. “We all gave our due.”
“And then some,” says Jack, waving toward Mama Tracey, who nods even though she can’t see him wave.
They’re all fuckers. Especially that Jack, who owes me at least a little leeway, considering the places my mouth has been on him. I tilt my head like I’m concerned.
“I gotta mention, Jackie, that I noticed a bump on your prostate when my finger was up there the other night. You should probably get it checked out. For the common good.”
Jack’s mouth flaps open and his friends whoop and holler, all except the mute one who bangs his stick on the wooden porch.
As I leave the porch my heel misses the last step. I sort of slip-slide and come down hard, kneeling on the packed dirt. It’s a depth perspective problem on account of my missing eye. But Nightlee didn’t fall because I’d never let go of her no matter what.
“Don’t hurt yourself, Miss CassieLyn,” says Jack in a singsong voice that makes my arms go all goose bumpy.
I lift my middle finger over my head and hold it where Nightlee can’t see, as I don’t curse in front of my baby. I’m going to have twenty minutes free on Tuesday nights from here on out, I guess.
Schist requires an ear, so Kaidence probably won’t swap for an eye, but I’ll kick myself if I don’t ask. A missing ear is easy to work with, just grow your girl’s hair long to cover it up. And since they only slice off the outside part, not the guts inside, schist people hear just as well as anybody else. You always find a way to work around the pieces they take off you.
Kaidence’s trailer is at the back of the Shipyard, which is just a trash dump with a fancy name. As I pick my way around old tires and broken bottles, Nightlee starts making little grunty noises. I realize I should’ve brought a bottle with me.
I knock on Kaidence’s door and her boyfriend Cody answers. Now I learned at the regional high school, where we all got bussed to an hour each way, that there are two kinds of Codys in this world. One is the type with white teeth who runs track and is a mathlete or some other activity that doesn’t require stitches. That type of Cody won’t give someone like me the time of day.
Then there’s this other type of Cody, who shoots himself in the leg showing off his new rifle and decorates one entire wall of his bedroom with empty Crown Royal bottles. That Cody will be all over you, but he’s an anchor who’ll drag you down. I don’t know if there are other types of Codys in the world, but I haven’t met one yet.
Cody Tigh was the second kind of Cody.
“Is Kaidence here?” I ask, standing sideways on the stairs so that Nightlee is on the far side of me, because you never know what the second kind of Cody is liable to do. And also, Cody Tigh has a particular interest in my Nightlee.
“Maybe.” He draws the word out real long to make sure I know he’s gonna make me work for it, but I’m not playing today. I back down two stairs, making it look like I’m leaving.
“Okay. I’ll come back.”
“She’s here. I’ll let you in if I can hold the baby,” he says, smiling at me with blue-stained teeth.
Now I have a carborundum on my hands, because on one side I do not want to give my baby girl to Cody Tigh who is a liar and a cheater. And on the other side, he’s kind of Nightlee’s father so I think I am required by law to let him and her have a visitation.
After a minute, I hold Nightlee out under her armpits. Cody glances over at the window of the trailer, but the tv is up loud and Kaidence isn’t going to look up from her shows.
He takes Nightlee from me and squashes her against his chest like he’s holding a biology textbook. She meeps and squirms.
“Not so tight. Just hold her bottom half. She can sit up by herself.”
He touches Nightlee’s cheek.
“She’s pretty soft.”
A muffled voice comes from inside the trailer.
“Code, did you get my smokes?”
Cody shoves Nightlee back at me so fast that her head knocks me in the mouth and she squeals.
“Dammit Cody, be careful.”
I ruffle her fuzz and find two little imprints from my front teeth. Not bleeding, but swelling up all red.
Cody is in the house like a shot and I follow him. He rummages through a plastic grocery bag on the kitchen table and tosses a fresh pack of cigarettes to Kaidence on the couch. She looks over her shoulder and her eyes go like slits.
“CassieLyn, you have no business being in my house.”
“I came to ask you something.”
She ignores me and whacks the package on her palm for a good long time. The trailer smells like mildew and everything’s buttery yellow from the sheen of old smoke. I was here years ago, when Kaidence’s mom and dad were alive and the place was kept up. Her dad died when the gneiss was left for too long without a nose. People say that three-ton hunk of stone dropped right out of the sky onto his Cavalier.
Kaidence lights up. Smoke drifts past beams of sunlight shining through a dozen tiny holes in the living room wall. Someone’s been trigger-happy with a shotgun. I’d place my bets on Cody.
I sit on the corner of the couch, putting my knuckle in Nightlee’s mouth to keep her quiet. Kaidence leans back and rests a hand on her belly to remind me that she also has a baby from Cody Tigh.
“I talked to the Calendar boys and they said we can trade rocks, schist for granite, as long as you’re willing,” I say, trying to make it sound more official by bringing up the Calendar.
Kaidence makes a sound like the air coming out of a balloon and takes a long drag. I can see her eyes say no before her mouth says anything.
“You are stupider than they say, CassieLyn. No one would trade an ear for an eye.”
“I can pay.”
I have a dozen twenties saved up. Plan A is swapping rocks with Kaidence. Plan B is a bus ticket to Albuquerque.
Kaidence puts her head back against the couch.
“Jee-zus, that’s an insult. I’m not raising up a half-blind kid for two hundred dollars. No offense.”
A roach skitters across her thigh. Her pale skin twitches, but she doesn’t swat it away. I stand up, hoping none of the bugs are on my clothes. Things that crawl on you in trailers are sometimes hard to get rid of.
I turn to see Cody Tigh behind me, holding his hunting knife.
“If you aren’t giving the baby’s eye to the granite, you have find a replacement,” he says, picking at his thumbnail with the blade, “You giving your other one?”
My stomach clenches. I fight the urge to step back. You never show a Cody you’re afraid or they’ll tail you like a coyote until you’re exhausted and weak and they take anything they want.
“Definitely,” I say, leaning so close that I can smell blue raspberry Jolly Rancher on his breath. His eyes widen. “I’m gonna use the same knife they used to carve that big-ass hole in the middle of your face.”
He puts up his hand without thinking, checking that his prosthetic nose hasn’t come loose. It’s still on tight, but I see the split-second flash of fear in his eyes. And he knows that I see.
“Get out,” he says with a hitch in his voice and I feel triumphant and awful at the very same time.
On the walk home, Nightlee is full on crying so that every damn person in town stares at me and thinks about what a terrible mother I am. I stick my knuckle in her mouth again, but when she sucks and comes up dry, she screams even louder.
As I pass Dell’s, there’s a crash that sounds like train-on-train action from the lot behind the store. The old guys hit the deck and people come trotting out of every building on Main. Nightlee is startled into silence by the kind of booming vibration that you feel in your heart.
“What the hell was that?” asks Mama Tracey, picking herself up off the ground.
I’m guessing people are just pretending they don’t know, because we’ve all heard that noise before. It’s the sound of one of the rocks smashing into a house.
I come around Dell’s and take a minute to figure out where the trailer used to be, because I can only see the basalt, standing on its small end like a skyscraper.
It’s nestled in the new guy’s place. He was passing through last year and found our little town so very welcoming that he stayed the night. We’re good at making strangers feel at home. Spend one night here and the rules say you’re in the rock rotation, just like the rest of us.
When we told him about the requirements, he laughed and refused to give a finger to the basalt. I thought maybe some of the men would hold him down and take it from him, but they said it was fine to wait. Based on the Calendar, that rock had plenty of time on it.
They even offered him a trailer for free. I think he was glad to have a place where no one questioned who he was or how he ended up here. Which is not too great a criteria for picking new neighbors.
Every day those men on the porch at Dell’s would remind him to give the basalt his finger. Tick tock… the rocks only wait so long. But that guy, he dicked around playing his guitar, fishing the stream, and drinking PBR in his yard.
When it got close to a year, they warned him that the basalt was nothing to mess around with. The longest the basalt had ever waited was fifteen months, so time was a-wasting. This week, he’d just about made up his mind to give his right pinkie–which you don’t need for strumming–when the basalt decided it had waited long enough.
That’s one thing we do know about the rocks. They don’t always come for us in a particular order, but they do love them some newcomer blood.
Around the back of Dell’s, that monstrous rock has dropped straight through the top of the trailer, blowing the walls down flat like the petals of a daisy.
It sits in what used to be the kitchen. A pair of legs splays out from underneath–like the wicked witch but with cowboy boots. We tried to tell him.
“Idiot,” says the man next to me, holding a pair of bolt cutters with nine fingers. “Shoulda just gave it.”
Even on my bad side, I feel his stare on Nightlee. If granite doesn’t get its due soon, it’ll come for her or anyone with an eye left.
“You know they’re careful about it,” says the bolt cutter man in what he thinks is a soothing voice that makes my butt tingle. “They’ll put her to sleep and like a real operation. Doctor Inez takes good care that nobody gets an infection. They’ll make the socket look real nice. Even better than when you were a kid.”
He reaches out to touch Nightlee’s head and I yank her away. He spits his chew onto what used to be the bathroom wall, kneeling down to pull off the dead man’s boots. He positions his cutters and starts crunching off toes one-by-one. No one knows for sure if recently alive parts count for anything, but we’re not going to pass up the opportunity to try.
I see my dad near the edge of the crowd. Our eyes meet for a second and I hurry away from him, but he’s faster because he’s not carrying a twenty-two pound baby.
“You give that granite your girl’s eye, understand?” he says into my ear. I smell his cologne and it smells good and terrible. I stop walking even though I don’t mean to.
“Get out of here, Ed,” I say. “You don’t have claim over me no more.”
Nightlee reaches out and grasps a strand of his greasy hair, pulling him closer to her wet face.
“Hi baby,” he says in a gentle voice that makes my breath stop moving.
I pull back, but his hair is all caught up in her fingers and we can’t go anywhere.
“Get off,” I say. “I’m not giving the granite her eye.”
I’m talking too loud and a few lookie-loos peel away from the dead man and come to watch us instead.
“I didn’t raise you a fool, CassieLyn. You give that eye or the rocks will come for her.”
“They’ll come for all of us,” says Jack, walking up behind me. “Get your girl in line, Ed.”
I untangle strands of gray-black hair out from between Nightlee’s fingers. The loops pinch tight when I pull and she howls.
People press in on all sides of me.
“Ed, we can’t have this. There’s an order to things,” says Toeless.
“If she won’t give it willingly, we’ll have to take steps. The rocks are moving a lot these days and the granite isn’t going to wait.” Jack drapes his arm around me, but turns to face my father. “You don’t want it to be like Linda, Ed.”
The way he says my mother’s name, my throat gets all tight and tingly. I clear it a few times and try to cough the hurt out.
“CassieLyn,” says Jack, reaching up to brush his thumb across my eyebrow that frames a big, smooth hole. “Just a quick nap and it’ll be over. I promise she won’t feel anything. You don’t want to end up like your mama, do you?”
He pulls a funny face and Nightlee giggles. My outsides are frozen in place, but my insides are throbbing in time to my heart. I feel like I’m thirteen again, moving to this tiny desert town with my parents. Mom has a new job as a third-grade teacher and I’m hearing some made-up story from the other kids about rocks that fall from the sky and the body parts everyone gives to keep them from killing. I’m hearing my mother’s screams as people grab her outside of school one morning. They already have a substitute teacher lined up. I’m meeting my mother at our front door the next day. She looks down at me, groggy and mute. Her hands shake so hard as she packs up that half the clothes stick out the sides of her suitcase. I’m screaming myself hoarse as my blank-faced father hands me over to the people who gather in our yard. I’m thrashing against the callused hands of four grown men pressing my arms and legs onto a metal table before the IV makes everything go white. I’m waking up under a patchwork of bandages and gauze, turning my head when my father whispers that I did a good job and I’m safe from the granite now.
If I don’t agree, they’ll pluck Nightlee right out of her playpen in the middle of the night.
“Okay,” I say quietly. “But I get to bring her in.” I stop talking and press my lips together so no one sees them shake.
“Good girl. We’ll do it tomorrow, as soon as the doctor gets in.”
I nod, because that’s all I can get to come out of me.
My father puts his hand on Nightlee’s head and I have to fight myself hard to let him keep it there.
“It’ll be all right, CassieLyn. You’ll see.”
His eyes are wet, but mine are dry. That’s how you can tell I’m the stronger person. He gave in to them when I was thirteen, but I won’t ever give in for my Nightlee.
The crowd breaks up and shuffles toward home for dinner and television shows and turning down sex for the tenth night in a row. But I stand behind Dell’s for a minute, listening to a nearby dog echo Nightlee’s hungry howl. Something moves behind me and again there’s Cody Tigh, leaning against a stop sign watching us, still picking his nails with that hunting knife. That boy must have the cleanest nails in Cibola County.
“You want my help, CassieLyn?” he asks. I can barely hear him over Nightlee. I turn toward home and walk as fast as I can.
“I do not.”
Cody’s footsteps fall in line behind mine.
“I know you’re going to run away. Probably got a bus ticket to Albuquerque. But I’m telling you it doesn’t work that way.”
Cody Tigh was born here and they took his nose when he was too little to make a fuss. He likes to lord his knowledge of the rocks over me and all the other newcomers.
“They’ll find you and drag you back unless the granite gets an eye,” he says, sheathing the knife.
People are looking out of their windows, watching us pass, on account of Nightlee and Cody’s big mouths. Like father, like daughter.
“Shut up,” I say, turning and walking backwards. “Everyone can hear.”
“I’m saying you need a replacement eye. So the baby doesn’t have to give up hers.” He grabs my free arm and pulls me toward him.
With both hands occupied, I’ve got nothing left to hit with, so I twist my arm around his until he has to let go.
“You get off me. Leave us alone. You can’t have my other eye.”
My heart is pounding and I can barely hear myself think above the whooshing in my ears. I watch Cody’s hands to make sure he doesn’t take out that knife again, since he seems dead set on taking my good eye tonight.
He holds his hands up like he’s surrendering.
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“You keep following me like we have business, but we do not,” I say.
“We kinda do,” he says, looking first at Nightlee, then at me.
“You have not once taken an interest in this baby, so don’t pretend you’re suddenly going to become the Bill Cosby father of the year.”
Cody shoves his hands in his pockets so deep that the change rattles at the bottom.
“Things are different now. I mean, maybe they could be,” he says so quietly that I almost don’t hear.
I don’t know what he’s offering, but if it’s him asking to move in with me because his pregnant girlfriend is tweaking all the time and taking his cash, well he is greatly mistaken.
“I don’t believe you, Cody Tigh. People don’t change and nobody does things just to be nice.” I shoo him along. “You get going now to your Kaidence and lie in the bed you made for yourself. Me and Nightlee are not your concern.”
I spin on my heel to make a big exit and of course my flip-flop gets all twisted and comes off. I bend over to fix it and Nightlee, suddenly upside down, is stunned into quietness. I hear Cody’s voice, very soft, right before he heads back to the Shipyard.
“I’ll make you believe.”
And the hair on my arms is standing up again.
At our place, Nightlee takes her bottle cold, sucking down formula with her eyes closed and cute little groans coming out after every breath.
While she eats, I put together a go-bag for each of us. We have to get out now because that Cody Tigh will dog you until you give in. And we have an appointment in the morning that I have no intimation on keeping.
I don’t have a car, but there’s a bus stop an hour outside of town. I was hoping to leave Sunday afternoon, when everyone’s glued to their televisions watching football, but it’s cooler to walk there after dark anyways. We’ll get to Silver City by dawn and on to Albuquerque.
I pull the folded stack of twenties from inside a sock and hope it’s enough for a ticket. I don’t know how much tickets are or if there’s even room on a bus for a stroller.
I pack so many cans of formula that the stroller basket under Nightlee scuffs against the road. I’m wearing my high boots with thick socks because even though I have a blacklight for picking out scorpions, I don’t have three D batteries and Dell’s is closed.
The sun is down and the blackflies dive-bomb both of us. There’s no way to keep the mosquitoes and no-see-ums off either, but at least it’s not completely dark. The moon is mostways full, so I can see the centerline of the road.
An animal brays in the distance. It’s a thick sound, all hoarse with pain. There’s something big getting attacked out there in the desert. A group of coyotes can take down something the size of a horse when they all work together. As a group, they’re stronger than the individuals that make it up. Even weak ones missing toes or tongues are dangerous when they’re in a pack.
My skin prickles as I see two headlights shining away from me up ahead. Up at the granite that makes me nervous anyway, for obvious reasons.
The animal cries again, low and gargling, like it’s choking on something wet. I fix my eyes on a bright spot on the horizon–the gas station near the bus stop–and move as fast as I can. I put my boot down and something slithers out from under it. I shiver, but keep on walking.
We’re passing the granite and I notice that I’m holding my breath. There’s something moving on top of the huge slab. It suddenly makes sense–the sounds I’m hearing. Someone’s killing an animal up there, which is stone cold stupid because if the rocks took animal parts, I wouldn’t be trotting down this road in the dark stepping on god-knows-what right now.
The animal yells again, but it doesn’t sound like a horse. It’s moaning like a person. I wish I’d greased up the stroller wheels, because they’re squeaking like the door of a haunted house right now, calling all sorts of attention to us.
Headlights light up the granite. It’s a flat slab, tipped over on its side, like a table about chest high. Someone’s on top of it, curled up in a fetus position like they’re doing a cannonball into a stone pool.
I watch to see if they make a move towards us, trying to keep those squeaky wheels from getting snagged on tumbleweed bits.
We’re mostways past the granite when the moaning person puts out an arm and drags themself to the edge of the rock. They ease down the side feet first. As the headlights catch them around the waist, I recognize that ass. It’s Cody Tigh.
He turns frontways and his pants are spattered with a spin art of blood. He can’t seem to lift his feet properly and his boots catch in the sand. He falls to his knees, shirt all soaked. He presses a rag to his face and stares into the headlights with a blank look like his mind isn’t completely there. He leans back against the granite and stops moving. I hear his heavy breathing from thirty feet away.
Cody’s other eye is still open, but doesn’t move when I wrestle the stroller closer through the sand, not even when I nudge his leg with my toe. His hands have dropped into his lap, but the rag sticks to his raw eye socket, hanging there like a limp white flag. The moonlit outline of a tiny, bloody ball sits on top of that great big rock.
“Damn you, Cody. What the hell did you do?”
He turns toward the sound of my voice and I brace my knees a little, ready to drag that stroller back to the road if I have to run.
“You don’t have to go now, CassieLyn. You both can stay.” His words sound like they’re rasping through half a bottle of whiskey. And really, I don’t blame him for that, seeing as what he’s undertaker here tonight.
There’s a sizzling sound, like those fajita skillets they bring out at a fancy restaurant. Cody’s eye is smoking in the moonlight on top of that granite. Hand to God, it sinks right the hell into the top of the stone. Sucked into the rock like a drop of water into a dry sponge. Makes me wonder if you could wring out the rock and get all our parts back.
I take a big sigh full of cool night air and catch a little no-see-um in my throat that makes it go tight. Or something like that. I clear it away and make a speech to that boy marinating in his own blood next to the granite.
“While I am very much grateful for your generosity toward my Nightlee, we’re leaving anyways.”
“Take me with you.” The blood is drying fast. When Cody talks the smears on his cheeks flake off onto his hands like a tiny red snowfall.
“No, honey. You’re dead weight. I will take your car though. Just borrowing it until you get better, understand? You can’t drive until you figure out depth perception anyways. Trust me. When you’re all fixed up, you come find me in Albuquerque and–.”
He raises one shaking hand to interrupt me and I lean down close to his ear, smelling that penny red reek of fresh blood. He opens his mouth and I’m suddenly dreading what he has to say that’s so important he has to gouge out his eye to get my attention.
Being so close, I can see the seam between his prosthetic nose and rest of his face. I feel a pang in my belly. It’s not right when people give more than their due. Folks like that end up begging on the stoop like Mama Tracey. Thinking on that makes me put my finger across his sticky lips.
“Shh. I believe you, Cody Tigh,” I whisper. Under my finger, the corners of his mouth rise and I see his blue raspberry Jolly Rancher teeth.
Nightlee doesn’t wake up when I move her from the stroller to the back of Cody’s car. I shove the rest of our stuff in the trunk, on top of fishing gear and a couple of rifles. The keys are in the ignition and we’ve got half a tank of gas and $200 cash.
Cody holds up his hand as I put it in reverse. I don’t know if he’s saying goodbye or asking me to wait, but I keep going anyways and under the dash I give the finger to that big old rock that I never want to see again.
As we turn onto 152 North, I call Jack and tell him to go get Cody from the granite. If he stays out all night something’s liable to eat him. Save him from one coyote pack by handing him over to another. Sometimes, you just can’t win.
I’m ready for Jack to yell at me, but he’s quiet and respectful, like maybe he imagines I dug out Cody’s eye myself. Let him keep right on thinking that.
The radio is loud, playing a song about a man who lost his love then found her again. I flick it off and listen to the coyote pack get farther away instead. I’ve got a lot to think over. Apparently, there is a third kind of Cody in this world. I believe I have just met one of them.
About the Author
T.J. Berry has held various jobs, including political blogger, bakery owner, and a disastrous two weeks in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror from the outskirts of Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries. She is a 2016 graduate of the Clarion West writing workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix and at PodCastle.