SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Jennifer Shipley (Read author interview) December 16, 2014

art by Brenda Estill

I know what’s up when Hoyt heads out to the barn at night, slop bucket in hand, to check on Sally the brood sow and her seven piglets. He knows I’m in my room getting ready for bed. He hopes he’ll catch a glimpse of me through the flimsy curtains, undressing, walking around half naked hanging up my clothes and slipping into my nightgown. “Mercy, mercy, Jesus,” he’ll say, looking toward the light. “Why must you tempt my sorry soul?” but then he’ll remind himself he’s my stepfather now and has a duty to keep me on a righteous path. He needs to know what a teenager is doing in that room with the doors closed, now doesn’t he?

He’ll set that bucket down—the pigs can wait. He’ll sneak over to the juniper tree and hide just beyond the rectangle of light shining out from my window, being careful not to step in the gravel surrounding the propane tank. His approach won’t be blocked anymore by the tangle of brambles that had guarded the house; he whacked them down last week saying they’d become a fire hazard. Upstanding man that he is, he’ll fight his perverted urges as he moves closer—”Stop me, Lord . . . Save me, Lord . . . Get thee hence, Satan”—but his feet won’t listen. With his eyes fixed on my window, he’ll creep through the darkness matching his movements to the croaking of the crickets, one slinking step at a time until his outstretched hand touches the clapboard wall separating him from his sin; he could still turn away.

But the light will beckon. And he’ll hear gospel music playing on the radio . . . Just as I am, Lord, just as I am. Could she have taken the Lord into her heart? “Oh, Jesus.” He’ll take that last step, tucking himself up tight to the house, his head inches from the open window. He’ll smell the lavender sachets hung from the curtain rod to ward off the hog stench and then, if the Lord doesn’t intervene, Hoyt will lean a bit to the left, letting his one good eye peek in as the curtains lift and fall in the night breeze.

Tonight, I’m going to give him something to look at. I have a kitchen chair pushed over to the window with my latest canvas—a painting of a Dal sky, cerulean blue with white clouds—propped up on the seat. A golden window frame floats mid-air, and in that window frame I’ve painted a giant eye—brown, like Hoyt’s—but with a rectangular goat’s pupil—like Satan’s. And up in the corner, on the puffiest cloud, sits Jesus . . . melting. Is this what you wanted to see, Hoyt? Look what you’ve done to Jesus!

What he won’t see is the bottle of corn oil and jar of pink glitter I’ve dumped in the stubble below my window. He’ll walk away unaware that a fairy princess trail is following his every move. In the morning, Mother will see the pink sparkles all over the kitchen floor and say, “Girls, what have I told you about using glitter? Look at this . . . it’s even on my new doormat!” But then she’ll crouch down to inspect the damage and see the oily bootprints. She’ll follow them back to the bedroom where Hoyt’s black and tan cowboy boots, their swirling stitches embellished with pink glitter, will be perched against the doorframe. “What did you do to Hoyt’s boots?” she’ll say, glaring at me.

And I’ll say, “Come with me, Mother. Let’s take a tour of our lovely yard.” We’ll hear Sally and her piglets squealing, thinking here comes breakfast, but we’ll ignore them and follow the glittering trail straight back to my bedroom window. “See for yourself,” I’ll say and maybe this time she’ll believe me.

About the Author

Jennifer Shipley was once a landscape architect but has always been a writer. Born in Ohio and raised in Texas, she now lives and works in the Pacific Northwest.

About the Artist

Brenda Estill received her BFA in painting (with distinction) from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Alberta. She has exhibited her artwork in several galleries and has her paintings in private collections in Canada and the USA.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Six

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