Johnny America




In the back room, Jess arranges nails by length. Counts and re­counts met­al af­ter met­al prong, keeps an in­ven­to­ry. Nev­er us­es them.

“Save the long ones for my cof­fin,” I say.

He shoots his pale brown eyes at me.

I slam the jars I’m hold­ing on­to the counter. The cu­cum­bers I’ve been pick­ling turned pur­ple. I’m tired of the in­ad­e­qua­cy of the rec­om­mend­ed or­gan­ic prod­ucts, the am­bi­gu­i­ty of nat­ur­al ingredients.

Jess ap­pears at the pantry door. His fists clenched, cheeks red. He stomps his left foot. I raise my eye­brows. He storms out the door to the mid­dle of the yard, drops to his knees and pounds the ground. He’s pound­ing too hard. I run to his side and grab his arms. He bruis­es eas­i­ly. His hands turn blue from the blows. He clos­es his eyes.

“Let’s walk,” I say.

I yank him to his feet and we walk, through the corn, to the side of the un­paved road hors­es pull car­riages on. We spot a man with a beard, blue trousers, shirt and black, wide-rimmed hat. He’s stand­ing in a field across the road, gaz­ing at the sky. Jess points to him. I tell him it’s not po­lite to point. He glares at me and I apol­o­gize. We com­mu­ni­cate the on­ly way we know how.

The man turns his head and sees us. Jess takes a step back. The man smiles, walks to the edge of the road and we look at each oth­er. He glances be­hind him, then back at us and waves. Jess hides be­hind me, grips my hips with his blue hands. I wave back. The man grabs his hat and runs in­to the field, keeps run­ning un­til we can’t see him any­more. Jess teeters on the side of the road. Strains his eyes. He looks up at me.

“He had to go,” I say.

Jess takes my hand and we walk home.

In the back room the nails are scat­tered across the floor. Jess’s log­book of num­bers is torn and scrunched in­to a ball. He peers over my shoul­der and rings his hands. I gath­er the mess and place the nails in a red tool box I bought for oth­er things. He does­n’t at­test to the mix­ing of the nails. He’s washed his hands of them.

I dig through the cup­boards, find crayons and an old sketch book that I used to write recipes in. I could nev­er draw. I hand them to Jess. He drops to his knees on the kitchen floor. I wash the dish­es. The sun sets over the pond I had drained to save his life. My stom­ach grum­bles. I want to eat out, steak, baked pota­to, sour cream.

The school bus stops at the end of our dri­ve­way. The red lights bounce off the win­dows. Jess bats his eyes to the rhythm. He loves the colour red. told him if he be­haves him­self, I’ll get him a fire truck. He does­n’t like fire. I look back at the pond, the sky. The sun’s set­ting too soon. School kids lum­ber down the road and in­to their homes.

“Jess, I want to move to the city.”

He pounds his fist on the linoleum. I shove my foot un­der it. He lunges to his feet and opens his mouth like a li­on. It’s per­fect­ly round, a toothy full moon. Wide but silent. I lead him to the couch, turn on the TV. Through the win­dow I watch a man get out of a small sil­ver car and cut branch­es from a fir tree. His lips are mov­ing. Jess’s eyes close. I turn up the vol­ume on the TV, the buzz puts him to sleep. His head drops to his chest. He sput­ters as he snores.

The evening air is cool. I but­ton my cardi­gan, shove my hands in­to my pant pock­ets, tuck my hair be­hind my ears. The man’s suit is neat­ly pressed, car gleam­ing. His hair is a lit­tle longer in the back, around the ears, wavy. It looks like chocolate.

“Are they for a girl?” I ask.

He jumps and turns around, drops the trim­mings on­to the grav­el shoul­der of our new­ly paved road.

“You scared me.’

“I’m scary?”

“No.I don’t know.”

I kneel down and pick up the branch­es, I can see my re­flec­tion in his shoes. My eyes are sparkling and my lips are fuller than I thought. He’s tall. I reach up to him and hand him his cut­tings. It’s not my tree so I don’t care what he’s done. It’s the earth­’s tree, let’s see how it han­dles him. There’s a suit­case on the back­seat of the car.

“If you add red branch­es to the fir, it looks pret­ty. I can get you some, come out back with me.”

“This is good.”

“Just give me a minute, I’ll get you some.”

When I run up the dri­ve­way, I hear his car pull away. There’s no point in watch­ing him go. Jess is not on the couch. The TV’s turned up­side down. A stream of smoke drifts out its back. I un­plug it and put my back to the wall. I lis­ten for foot­steps, heavy breath­ing. In the mir­ror I no­tice the back door flap­ping in the wind. I race to the door. The clouds are brew­ing over my head, con­spir­ing, telling se­crets, spread­ing rumours.

“It’s not true,” I scream.

There’s no sign of Jess, noth­ing, no moans or sobs lop­ing out of the tree house he built twen­ty years ago for a son that nev­er hap­pened. He was so in­dus­tri­ous then, but does­n’t hide in his handy work. I run through the corn fields. I don’t like it when things tow­er over me. Jess is small and I pre­fer small men. I can’t tell if it’s my breath or the corn’s heav­ing in my ears. The husks are proud of them­selves. I’m not obliv­i­ous to their re­marks. I hear their whis­pers but can’t make out what they’re say­ing through the thun­der of my steel-toed boots on the hard ground. When I find him — that’s it. The corn and the clouds are eye­ing me in the way women eye each other.


I can hear snort­ing, the clip clop against asphalt.


The wide-rimmed hat that sat on the nice man’s head lay up­on the road. He is nowhere in sight. The tail-end of a horse dis­ap­pears over the hill. In my bare feet I run across the road af­ter it. My gut’s scream­ing, telling me there’s a prob­lem, a big prob­lem and the horse and the hat­less man are not hap­py. When I reach the top of the hill there is noth­ing but dust in front of me. That man should nev­er have waved to me across the road, he should have kept his eyes avert­ed. Jess does not re­act well to an­oth­er male’s pres­ence. I think of the man in the sil­ver car, and the over turned tele­vi­sion. The sun stretch­es across the opaque sky. In the clouds I can see the backs of angels.

Filed under Fiction on March 20th, 2007

Care to Share?

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.