Run Like Flint

“If I say GO, run to beat hell across the watercress field and don’t look back, got it?” This is Rico’s quick training. Flint, fifteen, feather light and fearless, is his leader. “You see that barn ahead?” says Flint. He twists Rico’s head to face the tattered red building off in the distance. Rico’s eyes tear from the bright sun deposited overhead its shingled arched roof. “You enter that opening, “ Flint says, pointing to a rotted hole at the base of its side, large enough for a thin retriever to squeeze through.

“What if I get stuck,” Rico asks. “You game or not?”asks Flint as he flips out the handgun he’s harboring in the waist of his pants. Rico nods and wipes the sweat from his face. “What if the eagle dives down and takes my head off?” Perched high in the branches of an old
Oak an eagle guards her eaglet. “She’s goin nowhere, idiot. Are you gonna follow through or not, cuz if not, I’ll get someone with guts.”

“What about the cows?” Rico asks. “Fuck this, “says Flint. “Okay, okay, “ says Rico, “I’ll do it. When I get inside, I open the stalls and the barn doors, right? Then I’m done. The gun’s mine?” Rico wants one more look at the Smith and Wesson .357 tucked in Flint’s pants. Flint pulls it out once again and points it at Rico’s head, then at the eagle’s nest. “You’re fucking crazy, Flint,” says Rico. “Are you sure Swanson’s gone, and this is just a joke. No one’s gonna get hurt?”

“Swanson’s down in the cities trying to sell his bull, but if you stall any longer he’ll be back before we get this done. Now or never.” Rico slides out of his overalls, and bares down to his skivvies. His fleshy pre-teen body reveals a bad case of goose bumps in the sweltering heat. “No shooting, right?” says Rico as he glares in Flint’s eyes. Flint’s pointing the gun at the eagle. “Sure would like to ruffle her feathers a bit,” he says. “You promised no shooting,
Flint,” says Rico. “I’m no fool, “ Flint says, “now go. If I hear anything or see any movement up at the house I’ll fire once and yell ‘Go, ‘ otherwise you just open the doors and let the cows run.”

Rico dashes across the field, squirms through the hole tearing the flesh on his back and within minutes the heavy barn doors swing open. Rico hears a gunshot but can’t get out. The cows are nervously chewing and mooing, blocking the door. His arms are scratched and stinging. Gunshots are nonstop now. Rico crawls back to the opening and works his way out. Off in the distance is Flint, running through the watercress field with the eagle
soaring overhead. Old Swanson’s retriever is on his heels. Rico sees Flint toss the gun as the eagle dives. Shots fire from the house. Rico yells, “What about me?” Flint screams, “Go.”


Restless Feet

“Restless feet lead to restless minds,” Mr. Hall tells our class, pointing to Evelyn Wells who, in second grade, spends afternoons in front of our class with Merriam Webster’s Dictionary weighing down her small, arched feet. Evelyn reads comic books and her hero is a mouse.
While reading them, she swings her legs and shakes her feet, almost like she’s trying to break into the panels that hold her stories. Mr. Hall tells us that we need to let go of our fantasy worlds; “Are you mice, or are you men?” he asks. That’s a silly question; no one here is a man.

I watch Evelyn from the front row of where I sit. She stares over me, never moving except to blink, which she does only seven times a minute. I think I can hear tiny bones underneath the huge pile of words snapping like Pixie Sticks in between classroom snickers. Her toes
must be webbing under the pressure, or worse, her feet are flattening like Julian Divacio’s, our neighbor, who, in spite of being a man, disqualified as a soldier.

It is 1967; at home Mama takes a pill every day to prevent another baby from bursting through. She has five of us that are restless, while dad comes and goes like most. Today I come home and tell mama that Evelyn Wells spends afternoons covered in books, and she says from behind her cover, “You could learn something from Miss Evelyn.” I look at the
book Mama’s reading, In Cold Blood, and I think of Evelyn’s feet turning cold underneath the weight of words everyday. What happens when blood turns cold?

I go to the basement and grab all of Mama’s books off the shelf, tie them together with my jump rope and balance them on my feet as I sit facing the photos of my parent’s wedding. Dad’s shoes glare floppy, shiny and new. I think of the mouse. Mama’s are hidden underneath white chiffon and layers of lace. Their faces stare over me, and their eyes never blink. I try to sit still for what seems as long as Evelyn’s afternoons in front of us all, counting the seconds and my blinks. My eyes weigh down with water, and my feet feel numb. I am practicing to be a soldier for Mr. Hall’s army.

The next day after class I ask Evelyn if her feet are numb, if the act of staring makes things seem smaller than what they are, like when you look in the rearview mirror of your mama’s car at what’s behind you. I think Evelyn might learn something from me. I tell her that Merriam Webster defines Mickey Mouse as, “insignificant, lacking importance, annoying petty.” She looks me in the eye for the very first time, a cold, bloodless look before brushing past me. Then her restless feet, like weapons, lead her out of the room embracing her comic books, only to reenter her world of fantasy where mice lead men.


Ash Thursday

"There's always going to be someone who is the naughty judge, someone
who's going to be the governor who double-crosses the people, and
there has to be a me. If there isn't a me, we're in big trouble.”
--Abbie Hoffman

“When Easter falls on a Thursday, I’ll go to church,” Thorn said. No doubt in his mind that due to the tsunami, global warming and the death of Abbie Hoffman decades earlier that stranger things have occurred. I settle in and pray. This is the man I agreed to honor seven years earlier before the Justice of the Peace, on a Monday. Although the tsunami hit on a Sunday, and Hoffman died on a Wednesday, I don’t quite understand the significance of Thursday, but I am elated that he has agreed to enter the house of worship on any day of the week.

I pull out the calendar and tell him that next year looks promising. That Good Friday lands on a Tuesday, leaving the Rise two days following. I tell him not to make plans to go golfing, or to a rodeo. He squirts the last of the Jameson out of the plastic Ketchup bottle he’s converted into his hip flask and swings his head back into the moonlight. “Give me a pen. Gotta write that one down,” he says, then he’s out cold.

I drag Thorn’s soaked bones into the house and let Mike, his wolfhound, lap him a sponge bath, then I drag him to the couch and turn off the lights. As I lay in the bed with the thin wall between us, I once again settle in on prayer. “God take me to heaven before too many Thursdays pass.”

That night I dream the strangest thing. I’m outside with Thorn, tucked under his arm and listening to the contentment in his chest, just like years past. He tells me Abbie Hoffman and he wrote a song together once for Kinky Friedman. Says that the Kinkstah was dating a woman named Twink, and she loved the song. She performed an interpretive dance that made the song come alive but Kinky just blew the whole thing off. “Jesus was a Jew.” I said. Thorn looked at me and said, “Rhonda, so help me, this Jews for Jesus thing you got cooking is not going to get you elected governor.”

In the morning I tip-toe around the house, not wanting to induce more head banging for Thorn than needed. I say my daily devotions and right in the middle of them Thorn wakes up and says, “It’s Thursday, get your clothes on, we’re going to church.” I run to my closet and grab a sundress. We’re out the door in less than five, with Mike on our tails. We walk up the hill to our cornfield, Thorn with his flask and a bag tucked under his arm. “Sit,” he says. Mike and I do on command. He opens the bag and out flies white ash, covering the stalks with a glistening twinkle as they hit the morning dew. “Thorn breaks out in song, I am moving to the rhythm and as Hoffman flies free, so do I, while at church on an early Thursday morning with my Jews. ______________________________________________________________________

Suzanne Nielsen has never had an address outside of Minnesota a day in her life. It wasn’t until recently, when phone numbers advanced to 10 digits, that she thought of herself as an important contributor to a system held accountable. This is when she became a notary public. She carries her stamp with her at all times just in case of emergencies.

Nielsen teaches creative writing at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and Metropolitan State University. Her dissertation explores the question: what makes a good writer a good teacher? It’s yet to be officially notarized.