“Living Things” by Landon Houle

Lewis and Mozelle were making finger whoopee again.

That’s what Lewis told Bev, anyway. Bev didn’t know where he’d come up with this term, finger whoopee. Maybe a relic from his own youth. It was too sweet, after all, too innocent to have come from Natalie and the other girls. Bev was sure they would call it something else, something a lot nastier.

All right, Bev said. She yanked up the blinds. Then, in that brightness, she pointed at Lewis, said, Get out of here.

To his credit, Lewis tried to hustle, but he was slow in sitting up, in pushing himself off the bed. He was eighty-six years old. Mozelle was seventy-three. Both of them were in their underwear, which, of course, because they were lying in bed together, was against regulation. When Lewis bent over for his pants, Bev saw the ugly scar on his leg. It looked like something that would happen in a war, but Bev knew it was from Lewis’s hip replacement.

Mozelle pulled the thin sheet up around her chin. She started to whimper. Sorry, she said over her bottom lip. We didn’t mean to.

Lewis fumbled with his zipper. Speak for yourself.

Lewis, Bev said. Please.

Lewis couldn’t get ahold of the little metal tab. Bev watched him grabbing at nothing. He said, She meant what she was doing plenty enough a minute ago.

I’m sure she did, Bev said.

You need a contract these days, Natalie said. Signed, sealed, and delivered.

Bev knew Natalie’s voice, but it took her a minute to register the new hair, a dramatic red curl that Natalie pushed back with a long green fingernail.

Better ask for an ID, too, Natalie said, patting Lewis on the back. We don’t want you getting yourself on the registry.

Natalie, Bev said.

Natalie bent to zip up Lewis’s pants. Come on, Mr. Lewis. They’re about to spin the big wheel.

Bev could hear the television in the dayroom, the announcer describing every detail of a brand new Harley Davidson. Then the indiscernible voices in the crowd. They could have been yelling about anything.

I’ve told you about those nails, Bev said. Natalie and Lewis were nearly out of the room, and Bev’s words tumbled out in a rush. She meant to sound authoritative, but even to her own ears, there was the warble of panic. You’ll scratch the residents, she yelled after them.

Natalie had Lewis by the elbow. I think somebody’s winning big today, Natalie said. I feel it.

Mozelle’s crying had gotten worse. She was breaking into all-out sobs. She and Bev were alone now. It’s all right, Bev said. It’s okay.

I didn’t know what he was gonna do, Mozelle said. We were just going to the show.

I know, Bev said. Let’s get you cleaned up.

She helped Mozelle out of her bra and underwear and got her situated on the plastic stool they kept in the shower. Natalie and the other girls used the orange antibacterial hand soap for baths, for shampooing, for everything, and they didn’t seem to notice how it dried out the skin. Bev, though, brought her own shower kit, and soon the air smelled like vanilla.

Mozelle did some of the work, and Bev helped her wash the soap from under her arms and breasts. When Bev first started this job, nearly twenty years ago, she felt a little uncomfortable with the exposure, the touching, the intimacy. But it didn’t bother her anymore. She didn’t really think about it. Even bathing herself had become a chore, something like washing a car.

When it was done, Bev turned off the water and helped Mozelle stand up. Slow down, she said. Easy, she said, she always said, as Mozelle took that dangerous step from the ceramic tile to the rug.

Mozelle kept her balance. Water dripped out of her hair and down her face. She licked it from her lips, and if she was still crying, Bev couldn’t tell. With the towel, Bev wiped Mozelle’s face first and then worked her way down. She was careful not to press too hard. An old person’s skin was like paper and any old thing could cause Mozelle to bleed.

Smells good, Mozelle said. Like birthday cake.

Bev smiled. She was drying Mozelle’s feet now. She noticed fungus growing around Mozelle’s big toe. It’s got a silly name, Bev said. She meant the soap. A Thousand Wishes it’s called. Isn’t that stupid?

A Thousand Wishes, Mozelle said.

Here you go, Bev said. She held out a fresh pair of blue underwear.

Mozelle braced herself and stepped in one hole and then the other. Bev pulled up the elastic band and made sure it wasn’t twisted around Mozelle’s waist, which was still amazingly narrow. Mozelle had been Miss Sweet Potato 1952. She kept a photo of herself by her bed. There she was in her crown and sash.

I’d settle for one, Mozelle said

Oh yeah? Bev buttoned Mozelle’s shirt. It was a lightweight denim poorly painted with lopsided jack-o-lanterns and black blobs meant to be cats with their hair standing on end. It came in the mail for Mozelle, a gift from a granddaughter she’d never met.

Mozelle closed her eyes like she was praying, and she said, I wish me and Henry would have gone to see that monkey like we were supposed to. I wish we hadn’t done what we done.

Bev said, That sounds like two wishes.

Mozelle opened her eyes. She looked straight at Bev. For a minute, there was no sound at all save for the television in the other room, and there with them, the showerhead leaking. Then Mozelle took a deep breath and blew in Bev’s face, as if what she saw was the smallest of flames, a lick of fire that twisted and flickered before it would go out completely.

*     *     *

Later, at the front desk, Natalie and another girl Trish were filing their nails and flipping through a magazine. It was true that for some, the job came with a lot of down time, but Bev always found something else to do: a form to fill, a pan to empty, a gown to change. Her mother said she had busy hands. Busy hands, Bev said and repeated like a mantra to anyone that was around, made the day go faster, but no one ever agreed or said otherwise. It seemed like no one was ever really listening.

Natalie and Trish were talking about a new music video they’d seen, a rapper with a name Bev didn’t catch.

That one girl, Natalie said, on the car?

Total skank, Trish said and turned the page. Hoe if I say so.

People were always bringing magazines to Twilight. Sometimes there were boxes stacked taller than Bev outside the door. They must have thought that’s all the old people did—sit around looking at Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and OK! As if being in a nursing home was like waiting in a permanent doctor’s office. But really, the residents hardly ever looked at the magazines. The girls looked at them, and then their kids cut them up for art projects. Trish’s son was working his way through twelve years of National Geographic. Trish said he was going to be a scientist.

But Baby D, Natalie said, he’s looking good!

Know what I’m saying? Trish said, and she thrust her hips back and forth so that the chair rolled against the counter. She and Natalie doubled over laughing, and then they saw that Bev was watching.

Trish looked back down at the magazine, but Natalie said, That’s your problem, Bev. You don’t have enough Baby D in your life.

Bev held her pen with both hands like she was afraid somebody was after every little thing she had. What’s Baby D?

Trish snorted.

Danger, Natalie said like it was obvious.

And love, Trish said.

Well, Natalie said. Not love exactly.

Then what exactly? Bev said. Bev whined. That’s what it sounded like—whining while everyone else laughed. Bev felt like she didn’t know what people were saying anymore. She couldn’t follow the track of things, but it didn’t matter. The girls were already on to something else. They were talking about Iva, a resident who apparently had a full-blown orgasm during physical therapy.

I said get her up off that table, Natalie said. Let that therapist put his magic hands on me.

Bev felt a rising heat coming up from her neck. She had a tendency to break out in hives, great red splotches that caught people’s attention. She lowered her chin, pulled at the collar of her shirt.

It was getting toward midday, would be lunch soon. In the dayroom, the game shows had faded into soap operas. It was the men who really dialed in to Young and the Restless and especially Days of Our Lives. The women all nodded off or stared out the big glass door as if they’d had enough romantic drama for one lifetime.

*     *      *

After work, Bev went to the Walmart. She needed—what? Lightbulbs and a sack of frozen broccoli.

Driving out to the bypass, she was nearly fatally overwhelmed by the realization that these items were on opposite ends of the store. Work hadn’t been especially taxing, but lately, Bev was always exhausted. She felt like she never had the energy to do anything anymore. Her roots were showing, for example, and she’d have liked some new, bigger pants, but when she thought of putting on the gloves for the hair dye or going to the store to try on slacks, she just wanted to pull her hair back, put on a pair of sweats, and lie down on the couch with a bag of Doritos and a jar of peanut butter. Maybe, she thought, this was what getting old was like.

A couple of months ago, Bev’s mother had died. It wasn’t unexpected. Her mom was sick for some time, lymphoma that was there and went away and then came back again. Bev’s father had been dead for nearly ten years now. At Twilight, Bev saw people die all the time. She hadn’t expected to take her mother’s passing so hard, but maybe she had. Something, at least, was bothering her.

Bev’s girlfriend, Stacy, said that a period of mild depression was a completely natural response to the death of a loved one. Stacy had decided that she wanted to become a paramedic. In August, she had enrolled in some courses at Tech. Her favorite class so far was psychology.

Bev pulled into the parking lot, which was an almost terrifying expanse of asphalt. The Walmart was only a couple of years old. When they built it, they had to push down a square mile of pine and a bamboo grove. In the place of these old trees, they set in some maples, which were still so spindly, they had to be held up with ropes.

Bev got out of the car and locked the doors. She was crossing over toward the store when she passed a woman in a Redskins sweatshirt. The woman had drawn-on eyebrows and seemed vaguely familiar. A resident’s daughter, maybe? How are you? the lady said.

Fine, fine, Bev said, and even though she thought she knew the woman, she kept walking. Really, Bev didn’t feel fine. Really, she didn’t feel any better than those dying, propped-up maples.

She passed through the automatic doors and headed toward the hardware section. Walmart was nearly more than Bev could handle, but there was also something thrilling about it. There was, in that place, everything a person would need to make her life better. Coffee makers that brewed one cup at a time or a whole pot. Lotions that filled in and eventually removed wrinkles. Wax cubes that promised to make your house smell like that perfect fall sky. The combination of excitement and terror was something like riding a roller coaster, which Bev hadn’t done since she was a teenager.

Her heart pounded, and her mouth went dry. She grabbed a Diet Mountain Dew out of the fridge by the checkout lines. You weren’t supposed to open drinks in the store, but she did it anyway. She took a long drink and belched.

Later, she would think about going to the store, and she’d have trouble remembering what all happened and in what order. Under those bright lights, with the distant chime of the register, things seemed possible. It seemed possible, for example, that you could buy enough of all the right things to transform yourself, and isn’t that what Bev wanted? Some kind of transformation? That feeling the girls were talking about?

Music played from the ceiling, and Bev wondered if this was Baby D. She’d been so tired earlier, but now, as she listened to the beat, to the unbelievable rush of the lyrics, she was experiencing a surge of energy. She was headed back to the hardware section for lightbulbs, when a display in the center of the aisle caught her attention.

Bev could feel her eyes moving in the sockets. She could feel a pulse in her throat. The EastPoint Fold ‘N Store Table Tennis Table. Sets up in minutes! the box said. It’s so small, you can do whatever works for you!

She took another slug from the bottle. There was caffeine in that drink, to be sure. More caffeine, in fact, than most sodas, but what Bev was experiencing was stronger than that. The urgency she felt came from a deeper place, the part of Bev that dared to hope for something more than what she saw in the world, something more than what she felt, more than she herself was.

She screwed the cap back on and took hold of one of the boxes. It was heavier than she thought, and she wouldn’t be able to get the other things she’d come for, but that stuff didn’t really matter. What mattered just then, what was absolutely essential for reasons Bev would have had a hard time explaining, was something out of the ordinary, was dragging this box halfway across the giant store. Sets up in minutes! she read as she heaved and shoved. Whatever works for you!

Need some help? a man said. He didn’t work there. He was just a man.

Bev shook her head. Nope, she said. I got it. I got it now for sure.

*     *     *

When Bev unlocked and opened the front door, Stacy was on the couch under a pile of books and papers. She had the TV tray set up in front of her, and there were more books on top of that, and on top of everything was a spiral notebook in which Stacy seemed to always be scribbling very important notes.

Here I am, Bev said.

Yeah, Stacy said, and she moved her head, but her eyes stayed on the paper. She continued to write. Did you get the stir-fry stuff?

Bev felt strange, like some integral part of her face had sprung loose. I got something else, Bev said. She stood in the door, which was still open. Come see.

Stacy kept writing. Just a minute, she said. She was talking to herself.

Bev blinked and touched her temple where there was the beginning of a terrible headache. What?

Prions, Stacy said. Misshapen strands of protein that make neighboring proteins morph into the wrong shape.

Oh, Bev said. Yeah.

Bev had taken science classes for her CNA, but she didn’t remember whatever word it was that Stacy was saying.

Come on, Bev said. It’s a surprise, and she was trying to sound excited. She was trying to feel what she’d felt, what she thought she’d felt, in the store, but the exhaustion was creeping back. Her head was really hurting.

Finally, Stacy got up and made her way to the door. Together, they went out to the car, and Bev popped the trunk, and she might have been revealing a dead body for all the enthusiasm Stacy showed. Ping-Pong? she said.

It’s not Ping-Pong, Bev said, and there was the whine again. It’s—she read the box, she pointed to each word—an EastPoint Fold ‘N Store Table Tennis Table.

Stacy crossed her arms. She looked at Bev. Ping-Pong, she said.

It’s different, Bev said. I think it is.

Bev stared at the man on the box. He had black hair and incredibly white teeth. He looked like a male Barbie. I thought it’d be fun, Bev said. She squinted against the pain.

Your head, Stacy said.

It’s okay, Bev said. It’s all right.

I’ll make some tea, Stacy said. She wrestled the box out of the trunk.

I’m just tired, Bev said.

Get one end? Stacy said. They took hold of the box. You’re right, Stacy said. Stacy was trying. It’ll be fun.

Stacy had one end, and Bev took the other, and, like pallbearers, they carried the box together.

*     *     *

Every Friday before Halloween, the fifth-grade class from Black Creek Elementary came to trick or treat at Twilight Nursing Home. It was one of those community outreach initiatives thought up by an ambitious first-year teacher who was no longer a teacher at all but instead worked as a part-time hairstylist who mainly just stood outside of the Klip and Kurl smoking Basic Menthol Light 100’s. Still the tradition was carried on by a group of haggard veteran teachers who, if nothing else, appreciated the chance to get out of the classroom.

They pushed the kids ahead, through the big glass doors and into the foyer that smelled like a nursing home, like coffee and white gravy and other less appealing fluids. And these boys and girls who had, that morning, been beyond excited to dress up as superheroes and magical fairies and glittery kitty cats were now petrified of what they were seeing—the masks which were really not masks at all but ancient human faces sneering in confusion, pain, or else, a desperate attempt at joy; yellowed claws reaching out to pinch fat cheeks; and there, too, was all manner of amputation and scar and removal of nonessential parts like noses and the tops of ears, places where cancer liked to bud and bloom.

A few kids actually turned and ran away, and they had to be corralled and sternly spoken to by the teachers. Imagine she’s your grandmother, one teacher said. Imagine she’s you eighty years from now.

Watching from the front desk, Bev wondered if there was something instinctual in the way the kids responded. She had a dog once that got into a pack of M&M’s. He’d eaten the colored coating off all the candies but had left the chocolate. He seemed to know it would hurt him, just as these kids, so new to their own lives, seemed naturally repelled by those so late in theirs.

Yoohoo, Natalie was saying. Apparently, she’d been trying to get Bev’s attention for some time and was now shaking Bev by the shoulder. You got that candy?

Sorry, Bev said, shaking her head. Yeah, she reached under the desk. Here.

She handed over the candy they kept hidden. They couldn’t trust the residents. Some would eat it all at once, and others would squirrel it away. Just the other day, they’d found forty-nine Shasta sodas hidden in a closet, and Lewis was real bad to hide bananas. Everywhere you looked—under the sofa cushion in the dayroom, on top of the tall cabinet in the PT room, even in the shower—there was a banana in various stages of rot and decay. Food hoarding was a common problem. It seemed like the residents were stocking up, preparing for something big. An apocalypse, Bev thought.

Reluctantly, the kids stepped up to the wheelchairs and held out their bags. Some of the residents dropped the candy like they were supposed to. Others just fiddled with the wrappers, then ate whatever was inside.

Mozelle stood apart from the others. She was holding something, a wadded towel. The hoarding. The finger whoopee. The issues with physical therapy. You couldn’t put much past the residents. Mozelle might just be holding a towel, but the towel, Bev knew, could just as easily be covered in something like poop which would, Bev knew, not be good on a day like today, in front of the already scared children.

Bev came out from behind the desk and edged her way around the group until she was standing beside Mozelle. She was about to say something when Mozelle spoke first. You’re not gonna make it, she said.

Bev jerked her head around. What?

I said I can’t wait, Mozelle said. Her eyes were low, and she was rocking back on her heels. I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait.

When Mozelle and any of the other residents who suffered from dementia seemed confused, it was better just to play along. It’s like dealing with a sleepwalker, Bev had explained to Natalie and the others. It’s better not to wake them up. Over the years, Bev thought she’d perfected the kind of responses that avoided both agitation and contradiction.

You seem pretty good, Bev said now, at waiting.

Mozelle went on. It’ll be our turn soon, she said. Mine and Lewis’s. She looked back in the corner, where Lewis was slouched, dozing on the plaid couch. Beneath one of the pillows was the black tip of a banana.

Mozelle turned around to study the children. They’re so young, she said.

Makes us even older, Bev said. She worked her lips into what was supposed to be a smile but wasn’t exactly.

Maybe he’ll be an astronaut, Mozelle said. She might have been talking about Lewis. She might have been talking about one of the little boys. She might have been talking about no one Bev could see. Like Neil Armstrong, Mozelle said.

So when the world ends, Bev said, he can just put on his suit and get in the rocket and go someplace else.

This was not the right thing to say. Bev was feeling the familiar ache deep in her mind. Headaches, Stacy said, were a common feature of depression. But this wasn’t the regular dull throb. This was a hot and sudden popping.

Mozelle kept talking. Whatever he does, she said, he’ll be a hero.

Maybe he will be a she, Bev said. Mozelle reminded Bev of her own mother. In a way, this was a good thing, and in other ways, it most certainly wasn’t. Just now Bev was grinding her teeth.

He can do anything he wants, Mozelle said. He has his whole life ahead of him. See?

Mozelle lowered the towel, cradled it out and away from her so Bev could see what she held, that what she held was nothing but the towel itself, and of course, it wasn’t surprising—the fact of there being no baby—but what Bev felt in that moment was a greater kind of shock, a burst of tragic disappointment that was bigger than Mozelle, that was bigger than Bev, that was bigger than all of them.

There was, it seemed, for something so powerful, no other form than violence, and so in that second and the next, it was almost natural to Bev that her muscles would tense, that an arm with a fist would swing up and away from her side and toward Mozelle, toward everything that in that moment drew up such a fury. It was only normal to rage against the real and pure terrors of the world that Mozelle and the empty towel and Twilight itself seemed to gather and thrust at Bev until she shook, until she very nearly collapsed under the weight, the threat of it all. No child in that room was ever so afraid.

And so it seemed right and, in fact, predictable for Bev to finally fight back, for her to, at last, strike out at the myriad forces against her. What was not expected was the other hand, the stronger hand, and those sharp nails which pierced with precision and intent, and Natalie saying Miss Bev, and Natalie smiling, and Natalie catching Bev before it was too late. Natalie saving Mozelle from what would certainly have been a crushing blow. Natalie so sweetly asking Miss Bev to please get back to the desk, to please get the children some more candy before there was some kind of—ha, ha—trouble.

*     *     *

What Bev needed, Natalie said, was a good vacation. She slid over a damp curled issue of Country Living, what she called a white woman’s magazine. There was a picture of, sure enough, a white woman, a blonde, with a basket on her arm. In this basket was a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. A grinning man was beside her with a red-and-white checked blanket under his arm. He looked like the man on the table tennis box which still sat unopened in the middle of the living room floor. Bev had tripped over the box on her way to work that very morning. She read the magazine headline. You only live once! Natalie stared and clacked her nails against the counter like she was waiting on something.

I’ve always wanted to go to Asheville, Bev said and said again at home that night with Stacy, and the second time she said it, she almost believed it. Asheville was mountains and pine trees and that day, when Bev should have been doing her paperwork, she’d read on the computer that there were even bears. She’d never seen a bear before, and she was pretty sure Stacy hadn’t either. If they ended up spotting one, Bev was sure it would be magical—like seeing Mount Rushmore or Niagara Falls, other things she hadn’t done. There was so much.

She told Stacy they had to go. This weekend. Maybe she could take off Friday.

Stacy had a test coming up. There was no way she could go. She’d planned on studying.

But Bev looked so dejected, so utterly deflated, that Stacy finally relented. She’d take Bev somewhere if it was that important, but not to Asheville. She couldn’t go to Asheville, but maybe they could go over to that new restaurant, what was it called? Ceiling? Shingle?

The restaurant was twenty minutes away, but it was away, and this was good, Bev thought. This was something. She wore a flannel under a green sweater, and Stacy had on an FDNY t-shirt and a pair of men’s cargo pants, and both of them seemed mightily underdressed for this place called Roof, which was—it turned out—a rooftop bar meant for what Hartsville called its young professionals.

Women wore heels, and the men had on jackets, and Bev and Stacy stuck out, Stacy said, like sore thumbs, but no one made a move to kick them out. So they ordered fruity mixed drinks and stayed.

It was cold. The building was only a couple of stories, but still, up here, the wind seemed to blow harder and from a different angle. Stacy’s hair was very short, but Bev’s whipped around her face, and she kept having to pull it out of her mouth.

They drank their drinks, which tasted something like snow-cone syrup. Bev watched a couple near the edge of the roof. The man swirled his drink around and said something that made the woman laugh. She stepped out of one of her shoes, put her hand on his arm.

Isn’t it dangerous, Bev said, to be so close to the edge?

But Stacy wasn’t really listening. She’d pulled out her flash cards. She must have felt Bev watching her. What? she said. We’re just sitting here.

Bev licked her lips. They were sticky from the drink.

Here, Stacy said. Quiz me.

Bev took the cards. She opened her eyes wide. Then she squinted. What are, she read, the characteristics that distinguish living things from nonliving things?

She flipped the card over and took another drink.

Stacy closed her eyes and counted off on her fingers. There’s six, she said. Made up of one or more cells.

Check, Bev said.

They metabolize. They grow. They are able to respond to external stimuli.

Bev nodded. Check, check, check.

They can—Stacy hesitated. They can—

Adapt to their surroundings, Bev said.

Stacy’s eyes popped open, and when she turned, Bev saw a real flash there, an unfamiliar anger. Don’t tell me, Stacy said, and Bev thought of the bears in Asheville. She’d read that playing dead was the right thing to do if you were being attacked by a grizzly. But if you’re being attacked by a predatory bear, you should fight for your life.

She stared at Stacy, a woman she sometimes called her partner. Stacy’s eyes were closed again, and she’d started back at the beginning of the list, and now she was stuck. Now she needed help. All right, Stacy said. Stacy was giving up. What’s the last one?

Bev looked down at the card. She read, They can reproduce.

Stacy’s hands were fists, and she beat them against her head. Then she actually slapped herself, hard across the face. I knew that, she said. I knew that all along.

Bev reached out, but before she could touch Stacy, before she could say anything, Stacy was picking up all the cards and jamming them into her pockets. There were so many compartments and loops and zippers in those pants, Bev had joked about Stacy carrying bullets and grenades. Like, she said, you’re going into combat.

Stacy slid off the stool. I gotta hit the head, she said.

Where are you going? Bev said, even though Stacy had just told her. Everything moved so quickly, and Bev’s mind was sluggish. She was still thinking about explosions. She shook her head, willing what was inside to catch up with all that was happening. Hey, she said, I’ll go too.

But Stacy was already gone, already behind the door that led down into the restaurant. Bev took her drink and slid off the barstool. The glass was cold in her hand, and she felt a deep chill in her chest. She walked to the edge of the roof.

Reproduce. Respond to stimuli. Adapt to surroundings. Bev remembered studying something like that when she was in school. Surely she had. Sometimes Bev was as forgetful and confused as some of the residents at Twilight, and there were times when she wondered if everyone around her wasn’t just saying whatever wouldn’t cause trouble, whatever wouldn’t wake her up.

That weekend, it was supposed to be sunny in Asheville. Here, though, the sky was gray, and the wind still blew, and with it came a few drops of very cold rain. Soon it would be winter.

Stacy had gone to the bathroom. Of course she had. But she must have also forgotten something in the car because there she was on the street below. Bev could see the top of her head, the white shine of her scalp beneath the short hair. Stacy would make a good paramedic. Once, she’d found a baby squirrel under a tree in the backyard. Bev was certain the squirrel wouldn’t make it, but Stacy had nursed the little thing with a bottle until it was ready to live on its own. Everywhere Stacy looked, she saw something worth saving.

There was a time when Bev had felt that way, too.

She hadn’t told Stacy about what happened with Mozelle. She hadn’t told Stacy about a lot of things. Maybe now was the time. If she told it right, she might even make Stacy laugh.

Bev wanted to call out to Stacy. It would have been strange for them to see one another from such an angle. Bev meant to wave or blow a kiss or stick her thumbs in her ears and wiggle her fingers. She meant to do something, but her voice must have been lost in the cars that passed, in the mounting wind, and as Bev watched, she saw Stacy leaning up against the car. She saw her pull out the cards. She saw her reading the words, memorizing the terms.

Bev stumbled back. She was losing her balance. She was trying to say, I’ve got to tell you something funny. She was trying to say, Slow down. Easy.

Landon Houle - Author PhotoOriginally from Brown County, Texas, Landon Houle currently lives in South Carolina where she teaches creative writing at Coker College and works as the fiction editor of Raleigh Review. Her writing has won contests at Black Warrior Review, Crab Creek Review, and Permafrost, and her essay “The Plains We Cross” was listed as a notable in The Best American Essays. Other work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Baltimore Review, River Styx, Harpur Palate, The Long Story, Sonora Review, and elsewhere.