SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page


Story by Cherie Hunter Day (Read author interview) March 27, 2012

art by Gay Degani

Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance. —Confucius

In this neighborhood the houses are built close together and properties are separated by six-foot-high wooden privacy fences but some things can’t be kept private. Sounds travel easily through the canyon. Arguments are like smoke—the way it clings to rough surfaces and blackens the exterior stucco.

The next door neighbor is a pudgy, middle-aged man with short-cropped hair graying at the temples. Dressed in a white sleeveless undershirt, he sits for hours beneath a sun umbrella on his patio with his caged finches. Their sharp twittering never changes no matter what tune he whistles.

His wife is shy and never smiles. When she isn’t at work, she spends hours in the backyard hunched over her plants. Once she asked me to keep an eye on their place while they were on vacation. She wanted me to remove the advertisements that canvassers left wedged in their door and rearrange the shoes on the front step so it would look like someone was home.

A tinny tap, tap, tap draws me to the window. The husband has dragged a stepladder under the lacy green canopy of the fifteen-foot-tall mimosa tree that his wife nurtured from a sapling. He’s three feet off the ground whacking the tree with a chef’s knife. Chunks of bark fly everywhere. He came prepared with a pair of safety goggles over his thick glasses. As the knife sinks deeper in the soft wood he pounds the knife’s spine with the backside of a hatchet. Blow after blow the spine begins to shine. He stops periodically and reaches into his back pocket for a white handkerchief to knock the woodchips off his goggles and dab sweat from his reddened face. After chopping for an hour he finally takes a break, but he returns almost immediately dragging a small exercise trampoline. He sits down on the trampoline in the tree’s shade and finishes his Diet Pepsi. Then he resumes pounding the knife now lodged deep in the wood. A couple times he climbs down, walks around the tree, and grabs a hold of one of the low branches. He jostles the tree and finally hangs free, lifting his feet off the ground. It isn’t too long before the treetop yields with a crackly sigh. He’s cut clean through four inches of wood in less than two hours.

Any part of the canopy, with its powder-pink flower puffs, that doesn’t fit into the trashcan he throws over the back fence into the canyon. He finishes the job early next morning using his trusty chef’s knife to cut the remaining tree trunk so that it’s flush with the ground. The six-foot trunk is then sidelined beside the garage where several triple-thick trash bags are also waiting for the next trash day.

It’s been six months since I’ve seen or heard his wife. During that time he’s lost nearly thirty pounds and wears cargo shorts and graphic tees when he struts around his backyard. Contact lenses have replaced the dark-rimmed glasses and his jet black hair is slicked back in a pompadour.

About the Author

Cherie Hunter Day currently lives in Cupertino, California. Her prose poems and flash fiction have appeared in a number of journals including Mississippi Review, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, and wigleaf. She has been a finalist and Editors’ Choice four times in the Mid-American Review Fineline Competition.

About the Artist

Gay Degani has been nominated here and there for Pushcart consideration, Best Small Fictions, and a few various and sundry honors including the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). Her micro “Abbreviated Glossary” appears in the anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fictionedited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. She occasionally blogs at Words in Placeand is currently working on another novel of suspense.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Five

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

The Hybrid Flash: How to Dual-Wield Genre

Book Now!

The Hybrid Flash with Erin Vachon

In this webinar/workshop, you will harness the experimental power of hybrid flash. You will discover the intertwined history of hybrid and flash, and read published flash crossed with image, poetry, and creative nonfiction. You will learn the rules of each genre, so you know how to break them.