FictionWinter2018

Get Free – J.T. Bushnell

The market where Stoyanka Ilieva sold her family’s eggs and turnips since becoming a woman last year was still a frightening place to her, full of hairy-knuckled men who made allusions that both thrilled and horrified her as they dropped hot coins into her palm, and so she was already apprehensive the day she noticed an unusual scene unfolding in the muddy lane at the market’s edge. At first she saw only the crowd of peasants but as she drew closer she discerned the women at their center. They were taller even than she, with painted faces, and they wore strange, beautiful clothes that emphasized rather than concealed the look of undernourishment for which Stoyanka’s parents were constantly punishing her. Their hair was loose, tended by women with more desirable figures, the kinds that danced through Stoyanka’s imagination while she bit starchy potatoes. With their eyes closed, the painted women looked as wild and serene as sleeping wolves, and their presence seemed ominous in the gilded half-light of the new day. She touched her stick to the mule’s flank to hurry it along, though she couldn’t help gazing in fascination at the spectacle until she made the mistake of meeting eyes with a spectacled, white-stubbled egret of a man. His bony face, turning as she passed, filled with such recognition and yearning that she trembled violently, then pretended not to notice as he chased her down the lane, cursing the mud and calling to her in a svelte, burbling language she did not understand.

Back at her cottage, this man spoke to another man who told the family in plain language what he wanted, and it was all so strange and upsetting that Stoyanka lost the battle to keep tears from splashing her cheeks. Her father was skeptical until the man spilled paper money onto the table. Then her father turned, taking her hand in his, which was thick and dirty. He looked into her face with rheumy blue eyes and asked her to consider the duty her brother had fulfilled by joining the army, and the courage it required of him. He told her to do it for her brother, and for her younger siblings, and for her poor old parents, who lived but by the grace of God. He even called it a miracle, though with the Soviets gone, the curtain to the West suddenly lifted, he assumed that this was simply the way of things now, foreign men arriving at the market to instruct you how to milk riches from the teat of capitalism. This was, of course, before the arrival of the billboards, the music, the magazines that made him comment at the tavern over his rakiya, “Free? Yes, free to destroy ourselves!” Stoyanka was by then gone, borne thirty thousand feet above a glittering immensity of ocean she had never seen from the ground, missing her brothers and sisters and, despite the feelings of betrayal lodged in her chest like broken blades, her mama and her tatko, though she was ashamed to miss even more ardently her pig Boris Yeltsin, and the chickens, and even the mule.

When she finally returned five years later, however, she found in these same animals nothing but ugliness and stupidity, and, Jesus H., she couldn’t wait to tell Bryce about the smell. She already felt irritated to the point of petulance at having to wrestle herself into a scratchy dvuprestilchena, and the only thing she felt upon seeing her gray-haired parents was rage. She invited them to join her in America anyway, as she had planned. They refused, begging her instead to return home with her riches, and her past coalesced into a sparkling diamond of hatred. Return? To this? A week earlier she’d been in Fiji, lounging in turquoise waters, fixing the camera with the smoldering expressions that came to her as naturally as the photographer’s praise. What other expression was possible when you were young and beautiful and practically naked, the world’s attention lapping against you as warmly as the tropical waters that licked your thighs, an ecstasy moving so heavily in your chest that your body opened with real lust, not for the photog, but for the whole of the West, its intoxicating wealth and beautiful men and fantastic drugs, and your power, at age eighteen, over everyone, and the belief that it would last forever?

 

The photos from Fiji appeared in the swimsuit issue of a sports magazine that had a circulation of more than twenty-three million. It made her a household name, recognized by audiences as unfamiliar with high couture as Frank Tanner, a strip shovel operator, and his adolescent son Mikey. That year they were living in Morenci, Arizona, a company town where the residential motel’s pool was a concrete hole with colorless, fly-speckled water, as if to match the great pit to the north, a three-mile gouge in the colorless hills, two-hundred-ton trucks crawling at the bottom like ants. Even so, to Mikey Tanner, the son, the pool seemed like a gift from God. Women in bikinis were a marvel he had recently come to appreciate, and that summer he’d spent many breathless afternoons watching them push themselves dripping onto the concrete skirt and plod wetly by, trailing perfumes of coconut oil and chlorine, running fingers under the elastic along their backsides.

The pool was closed, however, on the chilly February day that Mikey came home from school to discover his mother facedown on the carpet between the beds. He watched her back rise and fall a few moments, then dropped his pack and undertook what was now a familiar routine, starting with the jug on the counter, its clear liquid as caustic as gasoline as it swirled down the bathroom sink. He emptied the little bottles in her purse next, and he was searching under the bed for hidden bottles when he spotted his father’s magazine wedged by the nightstand like a secret. It was slick and glossy and reeked of cologne, and Mikey sat cross-legged on the floor to flip its pages, pausing every few minutes to confirm his mother was still breathing, until he reached the photo of Stoyanka Ilieva. She was reclining into a mirror of water at dusk, breasts spilling from her top, nipples visible beneath the thin wet fabric. Her neck cords were taut, her lips parted, her eyes fathomless. Mikey studied the photograph, stupid with longing, until it had imprinted itself on him as surely as a caregiver upon an orphaned animal.

It was a photo he would return to often in the coming weeks and months, a photo he returned to even after Stoyanka Ilieva claimed the magazine’s cover the following year and appeared in twenty-three of its pages, by which time Mikey’s mother had finally succeeded in drinking herself to death. The tragedy only deepened the photo’s hold on him, inciting a recollection of better times, when he’d been able to keep watch over his mother while she lay prostrate but breathing on the carpet of their motel in Morenci, Arizona. By then they were living in the Beltzhoover district in Pittsburgh, but he’d carried the photo with him, as he would carry it the rest of his life, first physically and then in memory, to Colorado and West Virginia and Saskatchewan and Texas and North Dakota, from school to school and job to job and one wife to the next, like a thread that collected the loose beads of his life as they continued to fall away while he wasn’t watching.

And it was to demonstrate this fidelity that Mikey, now Mike, asked the guys one morning, as they sipped beers in the crusty snow of a Minneapolis parking lot, who their get-out-of-jail-free cards were. The guys needed an explanation, so he explained: “Like for my second wife it was Johnny Depp. She ever gets a chance with him? Hey, go for it. I can’t get mad because he’s her get-out-of-jail-free card.” The guys were game. Everyone was in a good mood as the cold morning light crawled up the concrete bowl of the stadium. It had been a long week wiring a commercial building back in Milbank, South Dakota, and they were flush from the nice payday, except Lenny, who was on the plumbing side of the operation. So they scratched their chins and sipped their beers and began to discuss the matter, cataloguing possibilities, parsing nuances, selecting answers. Mike kept adding twists that sent them through the whole process again—all-time choice, modern-day choice, one-night-only choice, ongoing choice—because he wanted to show that in every permutation, his own answer was always the same: Stoyanka Ilieva.

“Mine would be Roxie from dispatch,” Lenny said.

Lenny was a nice guy, but sometimes he needed explanations that others didn’t. Mike told him it had to be a celebrity. He said, “Try telling Erica you wanna get with Roxie from dispatch if you have a chance, see what happens.”

They all laughed.

“Roxie, though,” Lenny said when it died down, casting a significant look around the circle. “If I wasn’t married.”

Mike drained the rest of his beer and threw the can clattering into the truck bed. “Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you can’t look.”

“Look, hell,” Lenny said. “Close your eyes in bed, you can be sleeping with any woman you want.”

The other guys sunk a little deeper into their parkas, adjusted their koozies and mittens. One said, “I had a woman like Erica, I’d keep my eyes open.” Everyone seemed relieved he’d said it.

“Yeah, she’s a good one,” Lenny agreed.

“But that’s the seven-year itch for you,” Mike said. “Doesn’t matter who you’re married to. No one’s immune, believe me.” He peeled another can from the sixer by his lawn chair, then added, “Including Erica.”

They all laughed except Lenny, who said, “Thanks a lot.”

“It’s true. Just ask who her get-out-of-jail-free card is. She’ll have an answer, guaranteed.”

 

That afternoon the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Green Bay Packers 23-20 on a 52-yard-field goal from Blair Walsh, “The Athens Assassin,” as time expired from the clock, giving the Vikings sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Lenny Bishop slapped wild high fives with Mike and the other guys, then pumped his fists and screamed as the stadium roiled around him in collective ecstasy. By the time he was delivered home that evening he was still so keyed up and beery that he was capable of nothing except following Erica around the house, telling her about the game, while she picked up toys and hauled laundry hampers and prepared tomorrow’s lunch for DJ and tucked Gracie in. He continued to talk while she dug through drawers in their own bedroom, but when she peeled away her dumpy housework clothes, and he saw the hourglass of her figure, he was in a mood to appreciate it, even after she’d unhooked her bra and scratched the folds beneath her breasts, which hung deflated and sack-like and streaked with white slashes, as if they’d been clawed. He kissed one and then the other as he pulled her toward him, and after a few tense moments of resistance and indecision, she crawled naked beneath the sheets and embraced him.

As he moved inside her, however, he got the sense that she didn’t want to, not really. Her movements and noises had a quality of deadness that let him know the pleasure was just a charade, that the only thing she felt was anticipation for their act of love to conclude. It drained his desire. So he closed his eyes and imagined she was Roxie from dispatch. That did the trick. Afterward, however, he was haunted by the lie of her performance, and by what Mike had said that morning about the seven-year itch, and he wondered if she ever had to resort to the same kind of fantasizing he did. Had she been imagining it was some other man thrusting himself into her just now? Some celebrity?

He told himself it didn’t matter, but the old rage of insecurity swamped him, and he wanted to bash the other guy’s face in, whoever he was. Let it go, he told himself. But instead he turned and asked Erica who her get-out-of-jail-free card was.

“My what?”

It was only after he’d started explaining it that he saw the danger. For him and the guys it was like buying a lotto ticket—pure fantasy, one in a billion—whereas for her it was more like choosing a job opening she was qualified for.

And so he was relieved when she disavowed the whole idea: “There’s no such thing as a get-out-of-jail-free card,” she said.

“Did I say it has to be a celebrity?”

“Just because someone’s a celebrity doesn’t mean it’s okay to cheat.”

“But like, if it’s a chance you can’t pass up.”

“I can.”

“Just, if you had to choose someone.”

But she continued to refuse, her voice flat and exhausted, as if they’d been through the same conversation a hundred times before, and so Lenny continued to press her, because her answers seemed a lot like her sex noises, a charade to keep her real feelings hidden. They were a lie, and that meant she had a secret, and the secret, like always, was his inadequacy, his failure to please her, his blue-collar work and lack of education and softening midsection, his remaining in Milbank rather than sliding across the continent with her one direction or the other toward some chic metropolitan coast, as they’d talked about in high school, dreaming up their futures. The secret was that she could’ve had anyone, and she’d been wrong to choose him. He knew it and she knew it, and yet there she sat with her false modesty, claiming to be innocent. It was so infuriating that finally he could do nothing except chuckle and shake his head. “You must think I’m a real chump,” he said, sitting up.

When she didn’t answer, he said, “You go whoring around with Tyson Cornwall and then expect me to believe—”

“Jesus, Lenny. That was eleventh grade. Let it go.”

“—and then expect me to believe you don’t ever think about other men?”

She too was sitting up now, voice lively as she argued, but the more she denied it, the bigger a liar it made her, and the worse her secrets became. And when he finally hit her—open-palmed, a glancing blow that was nothing like the movies because she put up her arm and jerked her head away—it felt good, it felt like proving he wasn’t the weak and oblivious cuckold she took him for, though he also watched himself with a kind of horror, thinking, Oh God, I’m one of those. After she drove away, the latter feeling swelled, slowly replacing the righteous anger that left him stalking from room to room, fuming. By the next afternoon, racing from one plumbing dispatch to the next with Gracie and her coloring book riding shotgun, he was calling Erica every hour to lambast himself and apologize, racked by the greatest fear of all—that she would finally leave him.

And she almost did. Three days passed before she returned. Even then she wouldn’t speak to him. That was all right, he decided. He deserved it. All he could do now was show his love and submission by washing the dishes and slapping together sandwiches for the kids and folding their clean laundry into misshapen stacks. “Never again,” he kept telling her. “That wasn’t even me, Erica. It was like someone else grabbed the controls. It was a devil inside me.” All of which was true, though he also knew that no matter what he did or said for the rest of his life, this would just be one more thing she held against him, and the feeling it incited let him know the devil was still in there, stomping around, lancing organs, and that he would have to be careful to keep it sealed in that dark cavity no matter how much damage it wreaked, which he managed to do when the first words Erica spoke to him, after a full week of silence, were, “Mine’s Jesse Evans.”

“Your what?”

“My get-out-of-jail-free card.”

 

Jesse Evans was an American actor who had risen to fame as a co-star in a long-running family comedy in the 1990s. After a period of minor movie roles and guest appearances, he was now back in network television, starring as Detective Blinker in a sci-fi crime procedural called Out of the Woods, which was about to start filming its second season in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon. The residents there weren’t happy about it. Last time it had been such a headache—closed streets, snarled traffic, floodlights and fake gunshots at three in the morning—that when the notices appeared in the lobbies of their buildings, some decided to leave. Such was the case for Kristina Collins and her husband, who were fleeing to Hawaii for six weeks, provided they could find someone to water their plants and take care of their five-pound Yorkshire Terrier, Seymour. They made a call to Facebook for volunteers, explaining all this, and the first response came from Kristina’s old friend Erica Wozniak, now Erica Bishop.

This initiated a torrent of messages in which they proclaimed their joy at reconnecting and asked about each other’s lives, and when it came out that Erica’s husband had hit her, Kristina offered not only the house-sitting gig but also the plane ticket. She didn’t mention anything about tickets for DJ or Gracie, whether from oversight or intention Erica couldn’t say, and after such generosity she couldn’t bear to ask her old friend for more. Over the next few days Erica scoured discount travel sites, even called a couple airlines to plead her case, but the prices were impossible. The kids would just have to stay with Lenny. And why not? Hadn’t he brought this on himself? Hadn’t she given every day of her life to them since she was twenty years old? When she made the decision to go alone, a rush of excitement hit her like a bump of some powerful drug, then blossomed into a euphoria of freedom and escape.

“Mine’s Jesse Evans,” was the only hint she gave before disappearing.

In Portland the air seemed to vibrate with possibility. It was a short walk downtown, where artists and activists were hiding behind every corner, strip clubs and marijuana dispensaries sitting next to other businesses like their equal, punks and bohemians everywhere she turned, tattoos and piercings and long beards and armpit hair, men wearing dresses, men kissing men. Her old friend’s neighborhood was all chrome and glass and rounded edges, upscale shops and fair-trade bistros, river views in one direction and skyscrapers in the other, the excitement of it all enhanced by the TV crews rushing around beneath floodlights and a crane. Trailers appeared on the sidewalks soon after, and then the stars were out on the streets too, shouting and gesturing and running off like children playing a game in a soup of soft lighting. And even here in the big city, where there was so much strangeness and beauty, even in her tired outfits from Walmart, even approaching thirty years old, she commanded attention everywhere she went, catching eyes like a net caught fish as she trolled the streets with Seymour. The little dog trotted fearfully at her ankles, startled by every sight and sound, while she dragged him onward, buzzing with the same impetuous high she’d felt as a teenager, sneaking out for a party that would have music and alcohol and cute boys who wanted to put their hands on her.

Then one afternoon she glanced into a café, and there in line, surrounded by three young men who talked and laughed with the nervous deference of suitors, was Jesse Evans. His black hair was swept sideways and his vigorous face shined with some bracing skin product. He looked exactly as he had in the nineties except more chiseled and athletic. He was very handsome. Before she could think about it too carefully, she scooped Seymour into her arms and went in. Jesse Evans was watching the three men with a tired smile, one she knew well, having employed it herself to fend off unwelcome advances. When the famous eyes fell on her, though, the boredom in them vanished, and his smile changed into another she knew, the one used by the men who made the advances, a smile that said he intended only kindness, though desire pooled in his eyes like a joke he wished he could share.

“Does it bite?” he asked, offering Seymour his fingers.

“I don’t know,” she said. “He’s not mine.”

“I’m Jesse Evans.”

“I know who you are. You’re my get-out-of-jail-free card.”

She couldn’t believe she’d said it. It was pure panic. He only laughed, though, and then so did she, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world for him to ask what kind of coffee she liked and then go strolling with her toward the park. Up close she could see the signs of aging that didn’t show on television—the thin skin and fine wrinkles at his eyes, the rubbery creases in his forehead, the preternatural blackness of his hair. He was still ravishingly handsome, though, and she could feel herself falling under a spell she hadn’t experienced in years.

She was sobered that evening by the sight of his trailer, which from the outside was just like every other trailer she’d ever seen. It had the same crank stand and tire blocks, same taillights and orange reflectors, same white plastic siding with dust thick enough to write your name in. Even inside, for all its opulence and luxury, its lavish décor and expensive furniture, its marble and hardwood, it still had the same thin walls and pinched hallways and feeling of impermanence, and it transported her right back to that awful week in Tyson Cornwall’s trailer, when she’d been so mad at Lenny she would have done anything to hurt him. Take away the glamor, she thought while Jesse Evans was thrusting and grunting on top of her, and you had the truth—it really was just a trailer, and Jesse Evans was just another man who wasn’t Lenny, and she was just a cheap adulterer, no better than she’d been in eleventh grade, no better than the trash on the daytime talk shows she wouldn’t let DJ and Gracie watch.

Though who was stopping them now?

Afterward, nude except for her bra, sticky with sweat, lying alone under the plush duvet while Jesse Evans urinated loudly into the toilet, she thought about them, DJ and Gracie, sitting at home with Lenny, asking where she was. She could see the way Lenny’s expression would betray his fear and befuddlement while he told them whatever he told them about her absence. By the time Jesse Evans appeared in the doorway, all tanned skin and sinuous muscle, his long penis hanging obscenely between his legs, she was quietly weeping.

He observed her for several long moments, then went to the kitchen and brought back a platter of melon balls, eating them slowly while she cried, watching her as if trying to decipher some important foreign custom. After several minutes he said, “Your husband can’t get upset. Isn’t that the whole deal?”

“But my kids.”

He remained standing, in some confusion, and then said, in a hesitant voice, “What about them?”

Her response was to throw back the sheets. “I shouldn’t be here,” she said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Stay a while.”

But she covered herself with the embarrassment of a virgin as she rushed around, collecting her clothes, then stalked around the trailer calling desperately for Seymour. It was all so melodramatic that Jesse Evans, still standing naked with the melon platter, didn’t know whether to offer a few trite words of consolation or some advice on her acting, since that was what it had to be. All day her eyes had sparkled with the same joy and mischief as all the others, hadn’t they? Or had that just been a performance for the paparazzo who’d been following them? Was she a better actor better than he gave her credit for?

She finally found the dog trembling under a seat in his media room and heaped apologies upon it as she rushed from the trailer. He almost called out for her name and phone number but it was too absurd. She was a cute one, and he would have liked to see her a few more times, but her outburst troubled him, and anyway, he had to be back on set at five the next morning. It would be nice to sleep alone.

 

The paparazzo, Lorenzo P. Salazar, sold the photos of Jesse Evans and his mystery woman to Us Weekly for just over eight thousand dollars, and the magazine ran a cover bubble of them kissing in the park for no other reason than the woman’s striking Nordic beauty, which the editors enhanced only slightly. The issue was printed the following Monday and then began its slow crawl toward each region’s newsstands and subscribers. The New York printing reached Staten Island by Tuesday, where Stoyanka Ilieva, a subscriber to this and many other celebrity magazines, barely noticed the photos. She was too busy with her weekly search for familiar faces, torturing herself over the friends and former colleagues still appearing in L’Oréal campaigns and “Fabulous over Forty” features, until she felt adequately depressed to justify the little white tablet she was craving and ride away on its ray of light. It was Saturday before the Chicago printing reached Milbank, South Dakota, where Mike Tanner, browsing the covers in the checkout line over his lonely provisions of TV dinners and beer, at first didn’t realize who it was in the bubble; then his recognition snapped, and he was still thumbing its pages, feeling sorry for Lenny but also wondering what size check the magazine might cut for some reliable information, when the clerk asked him, “Anything else, sir?” This and other copies circulated among many networks of acquaintances in town until Lenny Bishop, after pressing Roxie from dispatch about her recent frigidity, took the one she pushed at him and saw the nightmare he had summoned into existence with his worry, a fact he knew instantly, without thought, just as the ancients knew they had summoned the terrible wrath that their volcano god spread through the sky. He raced home, speedometer touching 100, and nearly tore the front door from its hinges, though the place was empty again. After Erica’s two-week disappearance, she had returned for four days with a little dog named Seymour before disappearing again. Her mother had called her about the magazine, and she’d packed DJ and Gracie into the car with only what they could carry, her fear like an ice bath so cold she felt she was both hyperventilating and unable to draw a breath. They were now living on a little farm outside Wilmot under the protection of her father’s rifle.

The Los Angeles printing reached Portland by Wednesday, and a producer tossed the flapping magazine against Jesse Evans’ chest, asking him to milk the scandal for a little more publicity. Jesse Evans tossed it back, telling him not to believe tabloid trash, but later he bought his own copy and studied the photos alone in his trailer. They confirmed exactly what he remembered, a day of happiness and high times, the woman’s face full of eagerness and attraction, and so he was freshly troubled about the despair that had concluded the affair, the baffling explanation she’d offered before rushing out: “But my kids.” He tried to forget the episode, filling his calendar with world-class restaurants, courtside seats when the Lakers came to town, savage workouts surrounded by mirrors. He brought new women to his trailer, including a twenty-two-year-old who tried snapping a trophy photo of their post-coital nap, which seemed at once so trivial and so revolting that it left him despondent. What was the point of such lurid documentation? What, in fact, was the point of any of it? His exciting schedule was like a fireworks show in the night sky—dazzling, then fading quickly, leaving a void stretched above him as black and murky as the awareness of his own mortality.

He found himself searching for the woman with the dog, wishing he’d asked her name, her phone number. Often he recognized her haircut or posture at the edge of the set and let the director curse at him while he rushed to her, though the woman usually turned out to look nothing like her. Even after he’d returned to the sun-soaked glories of Los Angeles, he thought he saw her at the Avalon, on Venice Beach, in the Playboy mansion, though by then he knew it was impossible. Us Weekly had followed up with the details—her name, her hometown, her husband’s threat of violence against him, which he was currently litigating. He didn’t doubt the man’s sincerity, which was the only reason he hadn’t boarded a plane for South Dakota.

This unaccountable preoccupation with the woman was enough to provoke him into a luncheon with his ex-wife, and though they talked with animation about the dilemma between cosmetic surgery grotesquery and the horrors of natural aging, the conversation left him unsatisfied, like water when you wanted a martini or salad when you wanted a steak. He didn’t dare mention the woman around his longtime girlfriend, an unknown actress who through the years had come to accept his tabloid affairs and red-carpet appearances with other women as an inevitable part of his profession, as she’d accepted the black crescents under the fingernails of her previous boyfriend. The closest he came to mentioning it was to make vague complaints about the compromises of fame until she told him, her dark brow twitching, that the role of victim didn’t suit him. He wished he could talk about it with his mother, who’d died of brain cancer in his twenties, or with his father, whom he’d never known.

Finally he called the one other woman in his life who seemed worth talking to, though they hadn’t spoken in—who knew how long? He dialed with trepidation, assuring himself that the thousands he paid annually for her silence entitled him to an occasional conversation for free. Even so, she sounded shocked to hear from him, then suspicious of his motives, and in her disapproving silence, his distress about the woman with the dog sounded hollow and absurd.

When he mentioned what the woman had said about her kids, however, he got a laugh of recognition. “That’s the way it goes,” she responded. The levity in her voice was tempered by utmost seriousness, and it became clear to him why he’d called her.

As if reading his mind, she asked, “Do you want to meet him?”

His answer came from the same dark well as his despair: “Yes.”

“He’s seventeen,” she said. “I can’t make him.”

“Does he know who I am?”

“He’s heard of you. He knows you’re an actor, same as anyone else.”

An anticipation he’d never known settled upon him as he prepared his Malibu home for the visit, ordering deli and cheese platters, an Xbox and games, a new net for the tennis court, an emergency pool cleaning. On the appointed day, however, he wasn’t nearly ready, half-shaven with a towel around his waist, the cleaners still running their vacuums upstairs and food still stowed in the fridge, when the doorbell rang two hours early. He rushed around in a panic, not knowing what to do, wanting it to be perfect, before deciding that such a candid state would make a fine reception—better, perhaps, than the careful one he’d been rehearsing. And so he rushed for the entryway, still in his towel, shaving cream smeared over his cheek, heart full of nervous joy, and when he opened the door on a tall brute in coveralls, his first thought was that the boy looked awfully old for seventeen. Even when the man stepped forward, and Jesse Evans saw the copper pipe in his fist, and took in the name sewn over his breast, and understood why he looked vaguely familiar, he couldn’t dispel the idea that this shouldn’t be happening now, and that it wouldn’t happen, because the good part of his life was only just beginning.

 


 

Author Bio: J.T. Bushnell’s fiction has been featured in The Mississippi Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, New Madrid, Meridian, The Greensboro Review, The South Carolina Review, Natural Bridge, and Redivider among other journals. He also contributes essays about writing to Poets & Writers, The Writer, and Fiction Writers Review, at which he was a contributing editor from 2011 to 2014. He received his Master’s from the University of Oregon, and currently teaches writing and literature at Oregon State University.

The author: zlis@iastate.edu