“Jeff, look at all those dead people on the side of the hill. Look at ‘em, quick!”
THE YEAR was 1997. I sat in the backseat of a tiny Toyota Corolla with my perfumed, slightly purpled hair Granny Hamlett as my neighbor. She was seated directly behind my dad at the wheel whose eyes searched for fellow road warriors and interstate truckers to shake his head at.
My mom rode shotgun, her long fingers indented in the side of the seat cushions holding on for dear life. She’d press an imaginary brake pedal whenever a big rig ran up beside us. Her chest would fill with air and her back straighten.
We were coming off 81 en route to Radford to visit my sister at college. She had just moved in about a month or so before.
“Where? Say what?” I said to my grandmother as I removed the headphones to my Walkman.
“Up there,” my grandmother pointed, starting to laugh. “Look at ‘em.”
A large stainless steel cooking pot with its lid removed sat with us at the table like a mute friend, as did a paring knife. Before us a bucket full of raw green beans.
IT BEGAN on a dirt road off Highway 40, when the paranoia began to shape him, indenting his mind like long digits kneading clay. He was convinced someone was entering his home when he wasn’t there. He had suspicions as to who it was.
“I’ve got something for them,” he said. “You can’t see it on this side, but they won’t pick this lock more than once.”
We made our way around back into the dark through cobwebs under the house, stepping up onto empty wooden crates and opening a hatch in the floor he had sawed out.
“It’ll be the last time they come in my house,” he said, pointing to the front door.
A clear line of fishing string ran from the doorknob to the trigger of a loaded shotgun.
Hardened bread crumbs burst into fine white powder, sprinkling to the ground. Seeds crack under the weight of jaws clinching, and in an imperfect circle the birds gather round the old man and strut mechanically, their fat necks jerking. They welcome him as if he is one of their own, and he in turn accepts their embrace
One afternoon the two of us found ourselves walking down an orange dirt path behind the house. The dirt was hard, baked under the gilded heat of the mid-day sun, and it crumbled under our feet like carrot cake falling off the edge of a fork.