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"Three Dead Grass Plants”
by
Shelby Graham

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Clifford Henderson

Stuck

Clara sits with Emma on the porch swing. The swing is not suspended from a porch but from the railroad-tie vigas that jut out over the ramshackle adobe house that Les, Clara’s lying-cheating ex, built with his own bare hands. There was never any money for a porch, but Les said that was no reason not to have a porch swing, so, before he ran off with Darla Ryder, he hung one right next to the kitchen so Clara could gaze out at the changing colors of the Manzano mountain range while smoking her Marlboros.
      Mother and daughter sit quietly looking out at a distant thunderhead and its flashes of veiny lightning, thinking about pulling the sheets off the line. The day is just starting to cool off, the creosote stink from the railroad ties more or less dying down.
      Clara takes a long drag on her smoke, doesn’t even notice when the long ash drops onto her pilly lilac bathrobe. Her Dearfoamed foot just keeps on persuading the old swing to swing. Can’t even see Les’s brick path anymore, she thinks to herself, sunk so far down into the dirt. It was the last thing he did for her before running off twelve years ago. Laid a bunch of his antique bricks, bricks he’d collected from all over the country, in a path leading out to the laundry line so Clara wouldn’t have to dirty up her feet. Even though you can’t see them, she knows the bricks are down there, feels them underneath her every time she walks out to the line. She has a good mind to hire some kid to dig them out. See if they really are worth all he said they were.  
      “Storm’s blowing in,” she says.
      “Yup,” Emma says.
      Clara was just shy of nineteen when she pushed Emma into this world. Emma is now fifty-three and has lived in this house her whole life, except for the ten wasted years she spent finding out that the big bull-rider boyfriend was more of a big bull-shitter boyfriend. The second Les ran off with Darla Ryder, she moved all his shit out of his den, hung some lace curtains, and made it her bedroom. Never dated again. Says it’s too damn much work. Plus, her mama needs her. She’s wearing her Grocery Warehouse uniform. Like most days, grabbed herself a tumbler of  sweet tea and plopped down on the swing as soon as she got home from work. Her nametag is peeling. Has been for months.
      The sheets flap in the wind.
      Clara is of the opinion that it’s time to pull them off the line. She doesn’t like them getting covered in red dust. Lord, if her whole life hasn’t been nothing but cleaning up red dust. Only thing is, she doesn’t want to be the one doing the pulling. Her daughter has two good legs, and the rent she pays doesn’t cover much more than the heating bill in the winter and the air-conditioning one in summer. She doesn’t understand why Emma doesn’t get herself a man. She could be good looking if she put in the effort. She’s big-hipped, sure, gets that from her grandmother, but some men like a woman with meat on her bones. Clara, herself, back in the day, could have had any boy she wanted. Then she went and bet on the wrong horse. Her and Les had some good times, though, before they went bad. And she got a house out of the deal, which is more than she can say about some folks.
      Emma’s opinion on the sheets is there’s still a good fifteen/twenty minutes before the rain rolls in. She’s wore out from a day of cashiering in a pair of Payless shoes she should have known better than to buy. Her feet are killing her, her ankles all swollen up. She knows that Clara wants her to take in the sheets, of course she does. From the second she gets home everyday, Clara is on her about something. I should just move, she thinks, that would show her how much I do around here. She’d be begging me back in a week. It’s not the first time she’s had the thought, nor will it be the last, but somehow, in all these twenty-some years, she’s just never gotten around to packing up her stuff and moving on.
       “One of these days I’m gonna hire one of those good-for-nothing boys hangs at the Circle K to come dig out Les’s bricks,” Clara says. “See what I can get for ’em.”
      Emma snorts. She hates that brick path—or what's left of it. It was clearly designed by someone who never did a lick of laundry in his whole entire life. It wandered. Who in their right mind ever wandered out to hang a load of laundry? Said he made it that way so he could use up all the best bricks. He was always making such a big fuss over those bricks, taking the family Chevy for days at a time, going to brick swap meets, leaving Clara no way to get to the grocery store, Emma and her brothers no way to get to school but hitch the farm to market. He’d come home, the back bumper dragging in the dirt it’d be so heavy, and pluck a brick from the trunk. “All the way from Greenfield, Massachusetts! See how it says PRAY on it? But that don’t mean pray pray. Means it came from the brickyard of Robert E. Pray. Worth twenty bucks, easy. I got it for six.” And so it would go, brick after brick after brick. Some he’d keep; some he’d swap.
      A roll of thunder rumbles in the distance. A meadowlark on the phone wire bursts into song. Apollo, the pit bull, beats up a cloud of dust scratching at a flea behind his ear. Besides the eight blissful weeks he spent as a pup suckling his mama’s teats, he has only been off his chain once before in his sorry life, and that’s when the vet cut his balls off, because, as Clara puts it, I don’t care if he is chained up. Don’t mean some bitch can’t get at him.
      Clara got him for protection, says nothing like a barking dog to scare the robbers off.
      Emma can’t imagine what in the house is worth stealing, but she feeds the dog every day, once in the morning, once at night. Cleans up his poop once a week.
      The sheets snap in a sudden gust of wind.
      “That does it,” Clara says, and digs her slippers into the dirt to keep the swing from swinging, but she doesn’t get up. She still wants Emma to deal with the sheets.
      Emma rolls her ankles. Listens to them snap crackle pop. “Could blow past.”
      “It won’t,” Clara says.
      “Might.”
      Emma nudges the swing back to swinging with the tip of her Pay-shit shoe. She’ll bring the laundry in. Will make the beds too, hers and her mother's, just like she does every Wednesday. But it can damn well wait.
      A jackrabbit bolts from behind the half-dead mesquite tree by the shed. Apollo lurches up and barks, once, twice. He knows better than to pull at the chain; it leads to nothing but a yank of the neck. 
      “Damn dog,” Emma says.
      “Wait ‘til he keeps us from getting robbed,” Clara says. “Then you’ll be singing another tune.”
      Another gust of wind flips the sheet all the way around the line.
      “You still say its going blow past?” Clara says.
      Emma sees no reason to respond. They’ve still got a good eight minutes before the rain.
      Apollo settles back into the dirt that is his home, wondering if tonight he’s going to get table scraps for dinner or kibble. He hopes it’s kibble.

 

Gail Rich Award Winner, Clifford Henderson is the author of four novels published by Bold Strokes Books. Although she hates the whole idea of authors having to brand themselves, if she had to brand herself she’d say her novels are about making peace with whatever mess her characters get themselves into, and always include at least one lesbian because, well, why not? Her novels have garnered various awards including ForeWord Magazine’s Gold Medal Book of the Year, an Independent Publisher’s Book Award, and a Golden Crown Literary Award. When not writing or hosting her writing salons, she and her partner Dixie Cox run The Fun Institute, an improv school for adults.

In Celebration of the Muse
Jean Walton Wolff
Patrice Vecchione
Dena Taylor
Lisa Simon
Dee Roe
Joanna Martin
Cindy Knoebel
Rosie King
Helene Simkin Jara
Kate Hitt
Clifford Henderson
Carolyn Brigit Flynn
Sigrid Erro
Margaret Brose
Carol Brendsel
Barbara Bloom

Featured Artist
Shelby Graham

 

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