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Hawesville, Kentucky

Story by Nance Knauer (Read author interview) September 15, 2005

Art by Marty D. Ison

Six weeks after they rip my guts out, remove anything female and staple me back together, I follow you up the mountain. Your boots fly from rock to log to the muddy gravel along Jeffer’s Creek. You run that trail like you’re twenty years old again. I limp behind you, stop and tear a splinter from a red cedar stump and suck it dry. The snap on my jeans is open and my belly spills out like a blister. Something hurts inside, something itches like crazy and I want to tell you to wait, but watching you leap and climb leaves me mute.

When you reach the top and wave, my face is red from the hollow furnace that is now my body. I don’t know what else to do, so I unsnap my shirt, the blue one you said was too small for you, and I stand in the noon sun. My hands form clumps behind my back, dirt clods I can’t break. I squeeze harder.

“Can you make it?” you ask, “or should I come back down?”

“I’m a little tired,” I say. “Just give me a minute.” Sweat runs along the gullies of my neck. Look, I try to say, look at what they left me. Is it enough? But you’re holding up a bleached skull as big as your fist and yelling, “The eagles must be back.” I can feel the wind pull at my nipples.

The doctor warned you, said “Leave her alone! Give her time to heal.” You never listened to doctors before. You never slept so quietly. I start walking toward the first scramble, curl my hand around a vine and breathe away the ache between my hips. I hang your shirt over a low branch.

“Give me your hand,” you’ll say when you reach down to help me over the last buckle of limestone. What if I do, and what if I stand close to you on that narrow ridge and pull your fingers to the puckered seam that runs across me like a frost crack? Will I still be able to hear the clawed apart bones of dead rabbits snapping beneath our boots?

About the Author

Nance Knauer is a transplanted southerner who gathers wool all day and knits it together all night. Published at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, now dealing with the fame of it all.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Ten of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Ten

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