Power Failure

Back to Issue 12

By Jordan Humphrey

++++++For the first time in three years, Lou is driving back. Rural Virginia. A two-lane highway ribbons through hayfields lined with barbed wire fencing. Here, a huddle of grazing cows; there, a small country church. Then suddenly, there’s water, a cascading stream paralleling the road—the east fork of the New River—where, as a boy, he watched his father bait hooks, pinching apart worms in huge, calloused hands. This is the place he grew up, his parents too, working hard the days till they tumbled into wealth, Jackson Gas, middlemanning fuels to over half of the valley. 

++++++As he approaches the town limits, his stomach turns. It’s Friday evening. Early February. His mother’s 50th birthday. He should have come back sooner. He’s got nothing to show for having stayed away. No published papers, no conferences lined up. He squeezes tight the wheel and presses onward. One after another, telephone poles stitch together the countryside, the wires all drooping and tangled. This is a land with limited horizons. The old plantation-style houses—poverty buried under a frontage of wealth. 

++++++In the distance, gray clouds slide the ridgeline, smothering daylight. Lou has agreed to be at his parents for dinner, though agreed isn’t quite the word. Five days earlier, his mother asked him to come for her birthday dinner, reminding him exactly how long it’d been since she’d seen her little boy. There’d been tears in her voice, those shaky vowel sounds and conspicuous sniffles. 

++++++At the start of his drive, he stopped in Richmond, getting a bouquet of lilies and a silver music note for his mother’s charm bracelet. Every Wednesday afternoon, she would go off to church choir rehearsals, that one activity she did for herself. He’ll be happy to see his mother again, happy she’ll be happy, the whole family together. But the last time he saw his father, the old man’s temper came out. “Everything I built,” his father had yelled across the breakfast table, “just letting that die to go study old books.” 

++++++With a mile to go, Lou pulls into the family-owned gas station, one of four in the region: Jackson Gas, We Deliver. He throttles the rubber handle for the last few cents, getting the meter to a nice even twenty, then pulls on his jacket and heads inside. Three years and the store hasn’t changed. Carl’s still working the register, shaved head and bright blue eyes, the alcoholic-turned-bodybuilder. They’d been classmates in school before Carl dropped out. He’s flipping through a car magazine and twisting a red sucker in his teeth. 

++++++“Well, well, if it ain’t the city slickin’ Lou.” 

++++++Lou nods. “Hey, Carl.” 

++++++“Still doing that history stuff?” 

++++++“Yep, still doing the history stuff,” Lou says. “I see you’re back on sugar.” 

++++++Carl holds his sucker up to the light. “Fifteen grams of protein and not a single gram of sugar. Amazing what’s on the market these days.” 

++++++Lou pays for the gas, adding a pack of Camels and some spearmint gum. He pops two pieces from the plastic, tosses them both in his mouth. 

++++++Carl points his sucker at the door. “You heard about the storm?” 

++++++“You mean the dusting of snow that’s predicted?” 

++++++“I don’t care what the papers say, all I know is the old-timers been coming in the whole afternoon, buying up bread and milk like the world’s fixing to end.” 

++++++“That so?” 

++++++Carl looks down at his magazine, flips another page. “Suit yourself, city man.” 

++++++Outside, Lou sits down at the picnic table where every summer of high school he’d eat his lunch while staffing the store. He blows into his fists, his fingers cold, his stomach queasy. He tacks the already-flavorless gum to the underside of the bench and lights a cigarette, a habit his parents have never approved of—and rightfully so. A sickle moon hangs in the west, dark clouds moving like a slow wave toward it. That would be something: the one night he comes home turns into the storm of the century. He’ll park on the road, just to be safe. By the end of the weekend, he’s supposed to submit a paper he’s worked on too long to abandon: “The Economic Motivations of the Third Napoleonic War.” Halfway through his Ph.D. and already he feels pigeonholed, his passion squeezed into specificity. 

++++++Back on the road, Lou tries out the radio. Nothing but advertisements and Christian worship backgrounded by radio fuzz. From the two-lane, he turns onto the long gravel road, where three years earlier, he’d sped off after the fight with his father, kicking up rocks and not once looking back. He remembers it all. The way his father had stood up from the breakfast table, fists pounding the table, the silverware shivering.

++++++At the road’s dead-end, his childhood home shines against a dark ridge of trees, four porch lights and a lamppost out front. A two-story house on a raised lump of earth, a set of shutters at every window, as thin and purposeless as a pair of parentheses. The lawn looks manicured, even in winter, the grass kept tidy, the hedges cut at perfect right angles. In the driveway, there’s a new fishing boat, balanced on a silver trailer. His father’s life has always seemed to him like a long line of collecting bigger and better stuff, as if to prove how much one man could care for.

++++++Before Lou can open the trunk, his mother is calling his name from the front porch. She shuffles down the steps in socked feet and slippers. She seems thinner but still so precisely maintained. Permed hair, ironed pants, a green scarf draped over her neck in perfect symmetry. She throws her arms around him, her sweater smelling of cinnamon and synthetic pine.

++++++“Good to see you, Mom.”

++++++“You’re here,” she says. “You’re really here. You don’t know how happy this makes me.”

++++++“I’m here,” he says, noticing there’s no truck in the driveway. “Where’s Dad?”

++++++“Oh, he’s just doing an errand for work. You know him, not finished till the work’s finished.”

++++++“The night of your birthday?”

++++++“He’ll be back any minute,” she says. “Really, any minute.”

++++++He looks down the quiet, empty road.

++++++“Come on,” she says. “Let’s get you inside. You must be tired, hungry. I’ve got a ham in the oven and it’s just about ready.”

++++++He looks his mother in the eyes and smiles, then remembers the flowers. “Wait, wait,” he says, moving to grab the vase of lilies. “These are for you.” When she takes the flowers to her nose, the tears start immediately. She’s always cried enough to make up for the men of the family.

++++++Inside, the foyer’s walls are covered in pictures of the family from a decade ago. His entire childhood seems stored in this place, sealed like a jar of preserves, the air still saturated with the warm, starchy smell of homemade bread and the musky scent of his father’s work jackets. His mother has prepared his room as if expecting back the boy who left for college: there’s a Lego magazine, a toothbrush, and a towel folded into thirds. He unpacks his few possessions: his laptop, his notebook, the stack of secondary sources he’s been using for research. He pops in two pieces of gum, then goes to wait in the kitchen.

++++++Lou asks if his mother needs help, but she tells him everything’s ready. And she’s right. The table’s set with cloth napkins, the nice silverware, the navy-striped china from the corner glass cabinet. At the table’s center, there’s framed photos of the family together and birthday cards from years past, all propped up around the vase of lilies. He adds his small gift to the meager display, wishing he’d gotten more. His father probably has done nothing for the occasion—no card, no gift, a whole day spent at the office without so much as a passing thought of her birthday.

++++++When the truck’s diesel engine rumbles up the driveway, Lou considers going outside. Greeting his father before his father greets him. Setting the tone with something civil, something to say “just because we’re not friends doesn’t mean that we’re enemies.”

++++++Through the windows, he can see his father staggering up the sidewalk, struggling to carry a wide blue cooler. For as long as Lou can remember, his father has liked to be seen working. Lou recognizes the cooler: it’s the old fishing one with the squeaky hinge and that salty reek of live bait, the one his father’s used for decades, more proud of the that thing than just about anything.

++++++Lou holds open the door as his father hobbles inside.

++++++“Thank you kindly.”

++++++Lou nods.

++++++His father sets down the cooler, stands up slowly. He looks worn out, sweat on his brow and purple pouches beneath his eyes, a boxer after a long fight.

++++++“Well, it’s good to see you, son.”

++++++The word son feels belittling, like a pat on the head. “And you, as well.”

++++++“It’s been a while.”

++++++His father thrusts out his hand and they shake as if making a business deal, his father squeezing the bones of Lou’s fingers in his overly firm grip.

++++++While his father readies himself for dinner, Lou helps his mother add the finishing touches to each dish. Dishes placed on potholders, ice clinking in glasses. So different than his Richmond dinners with plastic utensils and take-out containers. For her, this is an art. She blankets the basket of rolls, garnishes the ham with a few sprigs of rosemary, humming while she works.

++++++When his father returns, he plops down in his chair and sniffs at the food before bowing his head and praying the same words he’s prayed for the last twenty-five years, adding at the end, “And we thank you, Lord, for bringing our son home, safe and well, after all this time.”

++++++After all this time. Lou’s planning a response, when his mother quickly inserts, “Yes, like your father said, we’re so happy you’re safe and well.”

++++++Lou smiles at his mother, then starts to fill his plate from the home-cooked feast. His father keeps quiet, while his mother begins her usual round of questions, using the first-person plural: tell us about your history writing; tell us about the program; tell us about that girl you’ve been seeing. He knows what they want to hear and answers accordingly, skimming the surface of worlds he’s never been able to translate. He tells them everything is fine. What he does not say is that his writing has stalled; that he feels like an imposter; that the woman he’s seeing is substantially older, a career academic, polyamorous, with no interest in marriage.

++++++“And what about work?” his father asks. “What are you doing these days, for work?”

++++++“He has his schoolwork, honey.”

++++++“Right,” his father says. “And how about this summer?”

++++++Lou wipes his mouth on the stiff cloth napkin. He has long ago given up trying to explain his professional life to his parents—teaching assistantships and research grants, much less the abysmal state of the academic job market. “What about this summer?”

++++++“Well, we’ve got an office job for someone smart. Hard work but good pay.”

++++++“I can’t,” Lou says, “but thanks.”

++++++“What do you mean you can’t?”

++++++His mother butts in, “Honey, it’s probably just that girlfriend of his.” She turns to Lou, “We used to be your age, we understand.”

++++++As best as she can, his mother keeps the conversation polite, steering them through the evening, filling the silences with family memories and gossip she’s heard from Wednesdays with the women’s choir. At one point she says, “You know, I remember the last one of these, these ten-year things. I was turning forty, a whole new decade and a family to share it with. It was warm that day, and you two were playing catch in the backyard while Granny Faye and I got things ready. I had to call y’all in about a dozen times, just to get you to come eat.”

++++++As the memory settles, his father catches his eye, “You still have that glove?”

++++++“Still have it,” Lou says, certain it’s somewhere in storage. “Just haven’t had much time.”

++++++“Haven’t had time, huh?”

++++++“He’s got all that homework,” his mother says.

++++++“Well, don’t use a glove, and it’ll go to waste.”

++++++“I’m sure it’s fine,” his mother says.

++++++“If you’re not using it, you gotta keep it in a dry place. And every so often, wipe it down with some leather cleaner, or it’ll go to waste.”

++++++“Got it,” Lou says.

++++++“It’s a nice glove, so take care of it—”

++++++“I think he understands, honey,” his mother interrupts. “And before you boys get too carried away about baseball, I think it’s time for dessert. Who’s ready for carrot cake?” She stacks up their empty plates. Lou gets up to help, but she tells him to stay seated. His father doesn’t move. They sit, facing each other, a table apart, the yellow bulges of lilies between them. After a stretch of silence, his father asks, “Much traffic on the drive?”

++++++“Pretty clear the whole way.”

++++++“And how’s the little Camry treating you?”

++++++“It’s fine.”

++++++His father leans in, “You worried about driving back in the snow?”

++++++“I’ve driven in snow before.”

++++++“They’re saying it could be three or four inches.”

++++++“I’ll be fine.”

++++++“How’s the tread on your tires?”

++++++“I said I’ll be fine.”

++++++“Well, you can stay as long as you like. I hope you know that.”

++++++There is something surprising in his father’s tone. A hint of kindness, of genuine care. Lou relaxes into his chair, the latticed back cradling him. “I figure I’ll stay till about lunchtime.”

++++++His voice sounds strange; he can’t remember the last time he used figure as a verb. When his mother returns with the dessert plates, she asks, “You two get to talk?”

++++++“Not just yet,” his father says.

++++++“About what?” Lou asks.

++++++“We’ll talk in the morning.”

++++++“Talk about what?” Lou looks at his father. “Is this about the family business again?”

++++++“We’ll talk in the morning.”

++++++“Tonight,” his father says, “is your mother’s birthday, and we’ll focus on that.”

++++++“Right,” Lou mumbles.

++++++They light a candle on the table and attempt to sing happy birthday. His father brings the cake from the kitchen and presents it as though he’d baked it himself. He cuts and serves the cake—his one contribution to her birthday—and she makes sure to thank him multiple times, as if he deserved an award for his effort. Lou pushes his poorly wrapped package in front of his mother. When she holds up the small music note with a shriek of delight, he forces a smile, then leaves to go outside.

++++++Out on the back deck, the night air is cold. The breeze scratches at the vinyl siding, rattling the gutters. The moon has been swallowed by a thick layer of clouds. He lights a cigarette and sits down on the steps. Just beyond his father’s tool shed, the remnants of a tree fort hang from a cluster of oaks. He’d built it himself in middle school, hammering every nail through every board. His father called it “an eyesore.”

++++++His mother slides open the glass kitchen door. “You okay?”

++++++“Yeah. I’ll be in soon.”

++++++She stands in the doorframe, watching him smoke.

++++++“Sorry I still smoke.”

++++++He can hear her sniffles in the dark.

++++++“And sorry for leaving.”

++++++She pads across the deck, then sits down beside him. “I’ll take one of your cigarettes.”

++++++He raises an eyebrow. “You really want one?”

++++++“Why not.”

++++++“I didn’t know you approved.”

++++++“Well, tonight, I approve.”

++++++“Alright, then. Let’s get the woman a cigarette.” Lou pulls the carton from his breast pocket and shakes one loose. “Here,” he says.

++++++She takes a short drag, then exhales a thin line of smoke. “We’re both really glad you’re here and that you’re staying the night, and that charm you gave me, the music note, I just love it.” She holds out her wrist and jingles her bracelet.

++++++“Did Dad get you anything?”

++++++“Well, no, not exactly, but—”

++++++“Not even a card?”

++++++She takes a drag from the cigarette. “There’s been some changes in your father’s health.”


++++++“It’d be better for you two to talk.”

++++++“What kind of changes? Is it cancer? Lung disease?”

++++++“No, no, nothing like that.”

++++++“Jesus, Mom, what kind of changes?”

++++++She pulls a sleeve back over her wrist, turns to Lou. “He wouldn’t like me telling you this, but it’s just all these trips to the doctors. They want him to go from one appointment to the next, tests and scans, simply because he forgets a little something every now and again. Not the long-term stuff, no, he’s got the memory of an elephant. I mean, you can ask him who won the world series a decade ago…”  

++++++She keeps talking, but Lou feels something cracking open inside him. “Is it Alzheimer’s?”

++++++“Could be, or it could be nothing. They’re not sure about anything just yet, and you know how he is, stubborn about going to the doctor’s.”

++++++Lou stamps out his cigarette on the deck’s cold wood. “I’m sorry, Mom. I had no idea.”

++++++Standing up, his mother wipes her eyes and readjusts her scarf. She squeezes his shoulder, the way she did when tucking him in as a boy. “Well, I’m thrilled about my new charm. A music note. I’ve never had a music note before.”

++++++In the morning, Lou wakes to a knock at his door. His father yells for him to get up. Not anger but urgency. When Lou checks his phone, it’s half past seven. He pulls the covers around him and moans. “What?”

++++++“Get up, son. Power’s out in the King Street neighborhood. Twenty or thirty families in trailers. No source of heat.”

++++++Lou had hoped to get an early start on his writing, but that was before last night. “I’m up,” he says. “I’m coming.”

++++++Through the window, the yard is barely recognizable. Maybe a foot of snow. The world is a cloud of white lined in shadow. Down the hill, his car is buried—snow on the fender, snow on the windshield, little mounds of snow on the side-view mirrors.

++++++He dresses quickly, dresses warm. Pajama pants under jeans, his button-down and lightweight jacket. The nylon shell feels flimsy now, inadequate. If it ain’t the city slickin’ Lou. In the kitchen, his mother gives him her thick mittens, then helps him into his father’s Carhartt jacket. “And take this, just in case,” she says, handing him a rolled paper bag. “Two sandwiches and two bags of chips, an apple for you and a Kit-Kat for your father.”

++++++In the mirror by the door, Lou sees himself in the odd bundle of clothes, half-his-father and half-his-mother.

++++++“You look fine,” she says, her voice energetic. “You’ll be fine out there.”

++++++Lou smiles back. “And you,” he says, “seem a spritely young fifty.”

++++++She laughs. “Must’ve been that cigarette.”

++++++Outside, his father’s shoveling parallel ruts down the driveway. He seems upbeat, made more alive by being needed. He’s draped chains over the tires and filled the truck bed with propane heaters, jugs of water, and that blue fishing cooler. Lou steps into the snow, feeling as if he’s setting off on another journey, just like those Wednesday afternoons when his father picked him up from school. The two of them headed off to kill time, panning the river for gold or taking the metal detector to the old battlefield. The old battlefield—that shared joy that birthed his academic pursuits, the other joys that would come to drive the two apart. 

++++++But this is different, he reminds himself. Not a father-son adventure but another day of work, the family business hired to deliver food and fuel in emergencies, profiting off folks in need. As they head down the driveway, the truck in first gear, his mother waves them off. When they’re halfway down the gravel road, Lou can see her in the rearview, still watching, still waving.

++++++“She seems happy this morning.”

++++++“She is,” his father says. “She’s happy you’re here. We both are.”

++++++“I’m happy I could help,” Lou says, surprising himself.

++++++They take it slow on the gravel road, looking out at the uncanny world. A delicate architecture of curving white road merging with wilderness. As they approach the two-lane intersection, his father slows to a stop, then puts the truck into park. With the engine idling, he stares down at the little hand-drawn map on his knees, squeezing his fingers one after the other, the way he does when he’s nervous. He turns the map ninety degrees, looks back at the two-lane.

++++++Lou’s first thought is about whether or not his father knows that he knows. There’s a chance his mother relayed their talk, but there’s an even better chance she said nothing.

++++++“It’s the King Street neighborhood,” Lou says.

++++++“I know,” his father says defensively.

++++++“I could Google it?”

++++++“We gotta go a certain way. The back roads are useless in this snow.”

++++++“Does it take us through downtown?”

++++++“Hell if this map knows.”

++++++Lou softens his voice. “Could I see it?”

++++++His father studies the paper once more, then tosses it to Lou. “Your mother drew this, and I can’t tell a damn thing what she means by any of it.”

++++++Lou flattens the paper on his lap. “It’s okay, it’s just a little hard to read.”

++++++“It’s the cursive handwriting. I told her to write legibly.”

++++++“It’s okay. I can navigate.”

++++++His father nods, trying his best to smile. “Thank you kindly.” He takes the truck out of park and grips the wheel in his hands, knuckles wrinkled and smeared with grease. In a calm voice, he tells Lou everything he knows about driving in this kind of snow.

++++++The main strip through downtown has been plowed over once and covered again with snow, the sidewalks lined in grand four-foot mounds. While Lou studies the map, his father studies the landscape, no sounds between them but the shushing of wipers and the jingle of chains. They pass the diner where, some weekends, they would go to get cheeseburgers, huddled together in a little booth, passing the red squeeze bottle back and forth, drawing lines of ketchup on each golden fry. The lights are off, the chairs flipped upside down, the door handle draped with a “CLOSED” sign. Across the street is the one-room museum. Dinosaur bones and Civil War relics. A plastic display box devoted to the bronze mouthpiece of a military bugle he and his father once found down at the river.

++++++“You remember Wednesdays?” Lou asks.

++++++He doesn’t mean it as a test, but his father’s brow furrows. “Wednesdays?”

++++++“After school, when Mom had choir.”

++++++“Oh, right,” his father says. “Wednesdays.”

++++++Lou doesn’t believe him. “What do you remember?”

++++++“Back when you were in elementary school, I had to help you climb up into my truck.”

++++++Lou leans back. “I was really that small?”

++++++“Sure, you were. Smaller than other kids, but a smart little feller. You loved any kind of learning. Nature, wars, you name it. Your mother and me both thought if you ever came back, you’d make a good teacher.”


++++++“I know you got your own ideas about things, but there’s open positions. The middle school and high school, both.”

++++++Lou wants to say something but doesn’t know where to begin. He leans against the passenger-side window, the glass cold against his cheek. As the town fizzles out, they pass the last of the buildings. The brick Baptist church they attended each Sunday. A mechanic’s garage, its silver doors pulled shut. His father’s office and the empty lot, a sign that reads “JACKSON GAS” in big red letters.

++++++Another mile and then without any prompting, his father taps the brakes and turns left, eyes squinting up at the snow-covered sign.

++++++“I don’t know if that was our turn,” Lou says.

++++++“Sure, it was. Just wraps around up there.” His father points ahead, but the road continues straight, both sides lined with run-down houses, the railroad tracks on the hill to the right.

++++++Lou looks at the map. “It was the next turn.”

++++++His father keeps driving.

++++++“Dad, it was the next turn. Another half a mile.”

++++++His father pushes the gear from second to third, glancing at Lou disapprovingly. “So, you’re the expert now?”

++++++“Dad, I’m just saying that we—”

++++++“That we’re lost? Is that it?” 

++++++“No, I’m saying that you—

++++++“That I don’t know my way around a place I spent my whole goddamn life.”

++++++The windshield wipers brush back and forth. His father keeps driving, his eyes looking out at the narrow road like a man who’d rather drive off a cliff than admit being wrong.

++++++Finally, Lou says, “You see those railroad tracks?”


++++++Lou raises his voice. “Right up there, that hill up there.”

++++++“And what about ’em?”

++++++“There’s no wrap around. We’re stuck on the wrong side.”

++++++Staring up beyond the houses at the snow-covered tracks, his father seems puzzled, his face contorted, an eyebrow raised. The truck slows and slows, then stops. The engine idles, the windshield fogs.

++++++“I’m sorry,” his father says. “Everything went fuzzy again.”

++++++Lou looks at his father. There’s something different in the old man’s face. The hard lines of his forehead have creased into wrinkles, his eyes like long dark tunnels. “It’s fine,” Lou says, making his voice soft. “Really. It’s fine.”

++++++His father lets go of the wheel, squeezes his fingers one after the other. “I suspect it ain’t.”

++++++“It’s okay. It was just one small turn.”

++++++“Suspect it’s only gonna get worse.”

++++++Carefully, his father turns the truck around, going forward then reverse on the narrow road, using the rutted tracks to get a good grip, driving safer, slower, a total lack of certainty.

++++++At the T junction with Main, the plowed road spools out in both directions. One way leads back to his parents’ home, the other to King Street and then onwards to Richmond. Both roads seem equally bleak, each lined with endless mounds of crusted snow. For a moment, he imagines two futures. In one world he’s the dutiful son, a middle school teacher who cares for his family, in the other he’s set free from his father’s long decline, the burden left solely to his mother. Each road seems haunted by the other, scarred by the one left behind. As his father turns toward King Street, Lou begins again to navigate for his father.

++++++After his father turns back onto Main, Lou navigates them to the King Street neighborhood, his directions clear, his words gentle. Up by the trailers, a fire burns inside a circle of rocks, a few jacketed men standing around the waist-high flames. His father explains the plan: while he delivers propane heaters, Lou will distribute water jugs and food from the cooler. 

++++++Lou gets to work, trekking up and down the hill, from truck to fire pit, carrying water gallons, two per hand. After a few trips, some of the men by the fire help, Carl among them, a little boy tagging along at his knees, those same bright blue eyes. Without a word, Lou and Carl lug the fishing cooler up the hill together. As a line forms, Lou sits down by the fire, his body exhausted, his mind unexpectedly calm. In the soft morning light, the logs sizzle and blacken, bowing their flames to the air.

++++++After warming his hands, he lights a cigarette on the red-orange coals. A teacher? he thinks. And here of all places? But no, he can’t; there are things he must do. Books he’s dreamed of writing—that passion for history he’s followed since childhood. He’d worked so hard to leave this place. The top of his class, a full scholarship. He’d shaken off his accent, bought nicer clothes. Had learned to be a better kind of man: different, good, considerate. 

++++++On the other side of the fire, Lou spots a group of kids, hauling pieces of cardboard on their heads and shoulders. He follows them up a hill and into a grove of trees, losing his breath, light-headed. About halfway up, Lou rests against the rough bark of a pine, looks to the top where they laugh with excitement before disappearing down the other side. Growing up, there was nothing better than the first sleigh ride in winter. The running start, the rush of downhill, the sting of snow crystals on your nose and cheeks.  

++++++Lou looks back down the hill, concerned about his father though he wishes he weren’t. The blue cooler sits by the fire, turned over on its side, the food all gone. The truck’s still idling, fuming white smoke, the doors ajar, the cab empty. He looks along the rows of trailers: the little boxes in the midst of decay, each with a rotting porch, wooden railings crumpling from the passing of time. He worries his father might have gotten lost again, wandered off into the woods like a wounded animal headed off to die. 

++++++From above, Lou recognizes the brown Carhartt jacket and then his father, sitting near the fire on an old bus seat, the vinyl ripped by the elements and dotted with burns. When Carl walks past, his father holds out a handful of Lemonheads and Fireballs, just as he had to Lou when he was a boy. It was the one thing Lou had looked forward to on those long Wednesday afternoons at school. The thought of them now makes him salivate, and he feels himself swept back to those afternoons with his father, the truck’s soft rumble and the windows rolled down. The Fireballs’ red-hot shells and sweet white centers. The candy not unlike the man who handed them out: that explosive exterior coating some solid bit of saccharine pleasantness.  

++++++As Carl walks away, his father puts the unclaimed candy back in his pocket and sits there, alone, ten feet from the fire, pretending to warm his hands, looking around with that same puzzled look he had in the car. After a minute of this, his father kneels down next to the empty cooler and towels out the interior, the walls and corners. He seems small from this far away, small and almost childlike. 

++++++Lou looks back at the kids sledding. As they slide the well-worn grooves, they trust their bodies to gravity, hooting and hollering the whole way down. They’ll climb the hill, huff-puffing up the slope, only to descend again, countless times before dusk falls. He wonders how to live like that—trusting the way the body bends to external forces, enjoying the thrill of throwing yourself wholly downhill. And then—always again, until darkness—to look back up, from where you came, and make the trek all over again. 

++++++Lou walks back to his father who sits, now, snow falling gently on his hard, wide shoulders.


Jordan Humphrey is an M.Div. candidate at Yale Divinity School. He has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Hollins University and a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jordan currently lives with his partner, Lucy, in Connecticut. When not in class, he enjoys walking in nature and spending time with chickens.