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We Go Hiking A Lot

Story by Alida Dean (Read author interview) September 18, 2023

Art by Susan Holt Simpson

My boyfriend’s ex-wife abused him. The first time he told me about it, I was giving him a ride to Salamanca, New York, so he could buy a forty-year-old dump truck. He stared out the window at the half-frozen Allegheny River and described how she’d tried to tear off his testicles. How she poured hot soup on him while he was sleeping. How she chased him down the road with her black Volkswagen Golf. He tried to assure me that because she had recently been hired as an Assistant Professor and didn’t want to lose her new job, she was unlikely to violate the restraining order he’d filed against her the previous summer. Still, I should be careful. Her license plate starts with H-S-X, he said.

When she was trying to run him over, he sprinted into the forest, and ended up staying there a long time. He ate huckleberries, acorns, drank water from a stream. He balled his shirt up into a pillow and slept on a bed of moss. Mornings, he chewed the stems of sassafras leaves to freshen his breath.

I have a history of punishing the wrong people. When I dropped him off at the gas station where he’d arranged to meet the owner of the dump truck, I was thinking I might not see him again. I liked him, but he was damaged goods. He set his metal tool box down so he could hug me goodbye with both arms. I felt his heart through his wool sweater. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.

The dump truck’s forty-one now. We go hiking in the Adirondacks, the Catskills, the nature preserve behind our house. Wherever we go, he leaves the trail to forage. I’ve watched him eat fistfuls of ramps, fiddleheads, bitter crabapples, even chokecherries, which are supposed to be poisonous. I always offer to share my trail mix, but he only stares at the combination of peanuts, dried fruit, and chocolate like he doesn’t understand.

About the Author

Alida Dean’s short stories have recently appeared in The ForgeNashville ReviewNinth Letter, and Soft Punk, among other venues. She earned her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati and is a lecturer in the Writing Department at Ithaca College. She also teaches online fiction workshops through the nonprofit Literary Cleveland. Her agent is currently looking for a home for her debut novel, I Don’t Think I’ll Miss You Much.

About the Artist

Susan Holt Simpson is a freelance writer from Kentucky.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-One
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