Thomas Dodson

It was a humbling thing, asking for help like this, needing it so badly. But removing his hat, brushing flakes of snow from brim and crown, Guy knew there was no other way. His neighbors’ fields, already stripped of corn and soybeans, would soon be a single plain of snow, patches of winter rye the only green for acres. Cold winds would blow freely across all that flatness, gathering strength until they reached the stand of pines at the edge of his apiary. The trees would provide a break, and he could wrap the hives in tar paper to keep out the frost, but it wouldn’t be enough. His bees, what was left of them, they wouldn’t survive an Iowa winter. He needed to take them west.


Mr. Hyde wrote digestive system on the board and Ronny Trezzo’s hand shot up. Hyde turned to face the class, then froze when he saw Ronny already had a question. The classroom was quiet except for the burble from the aquariums along the far wall and Ronny’s impatient grunts as he pumped his hand in the air. Hyde leaned back into the chalkboard as if to brace himself. I’d been in classes with Ronny before and had never known him to be a curious student, but that year in Hyde’s Life Science class he’d started sitting in the front row and asking questions. If evolution was real, why did people have to invent shoes? How much food would you have to give an elephant to kill it? What would happen if you shot an atom bomb with a bow and arrow? At thirteen, Ronny was already five ten and thin but tough-looking, with a head of dark, matted curls. Hyde was half a foot shorter than Ronny and tended to answer his questions as if humoring a superior. Ronny’s hand stayed raised, and Hyde let his shoulders slouch as he almost whispered, “Yes?”

Ronny cleared his throat and said he actually had two questions. First, he wanted to know how our bodies told the difference between pee and poop. Second, he was curious if the two ever got mixed up, pee coming out of a butt or poop coming out of a peehole.

The students who usually laughed at Ronny’s questions looked at one another with their mouths hanging open, trying to read from each other’s faces if they’d heard him right. Hyde’s bald head turned a velvety shade of red while Ronny waited for an answer, a chewed-up Bic poised over the open notebook on his desk.

Salt Land

Many things lay buried beneath the fields of the Gillie farm: splintered seed dibblers tangled in sorrel root, Ute arrowheads, their edges chipped by plows, snapped cattle bones, and the rusted heads of severed scythe blades and spades. Those things were shallow, no harder to find than the bottle of bourbon Harlan hid beneath the bench seat of his mud-caked truck. Every family in Kester had them, relics revealed with little more than the scratch of an uncut fingernail.

Exit Seekers

Even before I open my eyes, I smell smoke. At first I think I’m still dreaming—too many memories of my time under the stars, when everyone smelled like smoke or sweat—but then I see Cecil’s outline over by the open window. He’s sitting in his wheelchair with a blanket over his legs, and I can hear the oxygen machine chugging even as the haze from his cigarette settles around us.

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Instructions to the Living from the Condition of the Dead

The door hinges creaked, and the thudding footfalls of his family shook the beams. What were they doing here today, the day before Thanksgiving? Voices, the crackling of grocery bags, firewood clunking in front of the hearth (because they thought he was too old now to carry it from the barn himself). They swarmed into every corner of the parlor and the kitchen with no thought to the most important question, the same this year as every year: Who had brought the goddamned cheddar? Indeed. Two years ago he’d put his foot down and said he would no longer provide! So this year would be the same as last year: crackers and hummus from California.

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