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John Young




Shirley and I relaxed on the porch, a bucket of freshly picked green beans at our feet. Mama hid in the shadows of the oak tree where she pretended to rake acorns, again. She wound up there every afternoon, fingering her and Daddy’s names carved in that tree. Those hot, lonely summer days chafed the skin and wore on southern souls.


Mama removed the sun hat daddy brought home after his last trip and fanned herself. “You never know, darlings, he just might appear like any other day, like the sun in all its glory.”


Once mama started that dreamy talk, we disappeared.


The pond was a few minutes walk. Close enough that mama let us alone there, but far enough for us to feel we’d escaped a little. I always ran once I could see the water. Overalls, socks, and underwear trailed my dusty wake. Daddy had tied a rope to an old oak tree, and I’d hit it fast before diving in, my hands firmly holding my hat.


I made a little raft last summer, fashioned after the one in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I loved it when ol’ Huck and Jim floated down the river. I could lay out there for hours, hat cocked over my eyes and dream about escaping down a river. Adventure even brought me to school for two weeks without missing one second. My teacher said she was surprised I could read. I said I was surprised she assigned something worth reading.


Shirley grew modest this summer, blushing with her underclothes on as she waded in shallow water. She shuffled through the shallow waters, scattering creatures from the cloudy pond water. A black and red striped water snake wiggled right underneath my raft.


“Holy smoke, Huck’d love that!” I shouted.


“Samuel, do you think he cares about us?”




“No, Daddy.”


Not only had Shirley become more modest this summer, she developed an awful habit of worrying.


“I don’t know. I guess so, Shirley, but ain’t it hard to know that?”


“Why does he always leave us?”


“You know what Daddy says—that’s what a man’s gotta do.”


Shirley wrinkled her face. It’s the same look she gave me this summer when I went skinny-dipping. I figured she wouldn’t get naked any more because she was becoming a woman. I knew I should start being a man, but I wasn’t ready to follow the path my daddy'd set for me rambling back roads months at a time. Yet, I figured this talk had to do with Shirley growing up, so I gave it some real thought.


“I don’t think Daddy knows how to be happy. When he’s around mama and she’s singing and smiling like she does, he looks at her like she were plum mad, like he don’t know there’s nothing to be happy about.”


“What about us?”


I didn’t know how to explain this to Shirley. I didn’t understand it myself, but I remembered something my schoolteacher said: ‘Things are as they are. Sometimes, it’s best to let life come as it will.’


“Just let it come, Shirley,” I said, stretching out on the raft.


Shirley stayed quiet for a while. She climbed from the water and sat on the bank.


“I don’t think I can, Samuel. Just let it come. I want daddy to do things other daddies do. Go to carnivals. Go for long drives with the family. Tell stories before bed.”


She tossed a rock into the water, sending a frightened turtle onto my raft. It stared at me, apparently surprised at finding company, and then shrank into his shell.




We were back from the pond and washing beans when a car rolled up our dirt road. My aching back tightened when the horn sounded. The old Cadillac parked--the unmistakable bullhorns on the hood--and out stepped my daddy like a bear in spring. I could hardly believe he’d come. Shirley and I ran to him and he scooped us up. I put my ear against his chest to find a heartbeat but there was just wheezing lungs. Mama was bent over, laughing and clapping under that same oak tree.


Daddy lifted my Huck Finn and tousled my hair.


“Boy, the hair under yo’ hat is mo’ like Finn’s. Looks wild as a bull.” I took my hat back, angrily stuffing my hair back best I could.


Something different stirred in me. Let it come, I thought.


After supper and a bottle of whiskey, Daddy announced his plans.


“I’m headin’ out west to Nevada,” he said. “Woman, don’t you start whinin’.”


Too late. Mama had buried her face in a napkin. I motioned with my eyes to the porch and my sister nodded. We were at the door when Daddy called.


“Boy, don’t you walk away from me. I’m in charge here. As long as I walk on this earth you’re beholden to me. Your wide-eyed wonder ain’t no match for what I seen.”


I nodded but kept on out the door.


Shirley sat on the porch, feet dangling over the edge. I sat on the steps and leaned against a post, sulking in the cricket songs.


“Samuel, I don’t want Daddy to leave.”


“I know. But there’s no stoppin’ him.”


“Mama could.”


“Let it go.”


“She could!”


“How, Shirley? How’s mama gonna stop him?”


Shirley started crying. I knew what Daddy’d meant about whining. My face burned at Shirley. A tornado twisted in my mind. I didn’t know how to stop it, so I let it come.


The next morning, I sat shotgun with my Daddy. A bloodstained handkerchief muffled his cough as we pulled away. He tossed pills in his mouth and stared at me until I looked away. In the passenger mirror, I could see Mama on the front porch, waving. Shirley was there with my Huck Finn pulled down so I couldn’t see if she was crying, but, if I ventured a guess, I think I’d know.


She’d let it come, too.

JOHN YOUNG shares...

JOHN YOUNG lives in California.  His work has been published in numerous places including The Chiron Review, Edifice Wrecked, Flashquake, FlashShot, Heavy Glow, Laughter Loaf, Lunarosity, Mytholog, The Pedestal Magazine, Susurrus, and Versal.


My story began as an exercise I learned from writer Bruce Holland Rogers.

After reading Jane Kenyon's poem "Let Evening Come," I focused on words that struck me and started writing a story using them in consecutive sentences. After five rewrites, Kenyon's inspiration morphed into this story about a young boy's unavoidable fate by inheritance. I am very much a fan of Mark Twain's writing too and consequently, many of my rural stories feature boys like Huck Finn. If you would like to read more about his  writing and other projects, please visit: JOHN YOUNG, writer.