BY RUSTY BARNES
I’m alone at the picnic, playing in the gray ash inside an iron tire rim. Daddy’s with her, somewhere, in the woods, says to be good while he has a smokey-jokey-tokey. I pick up a coal, which burns me raw, like a scream, and Daddy comes jogging, cigarette jiggling in his lips, I can’t see her, Missy Marilyn, but I know she’s there, like his shadow.
Daddy holds my fingers in his dirty hand, sighs. He says “It’s like napalm, for chrissakes.” He pours warm Budweiser on my fingers, and Missy Marilyn comes in, hooking her strap back over her shoulder. She stubs her cigarette out, holds me down on the picnic table, hums as Daddy knifes the burn-skin gently away with his KA-Bar. She wraps my fingers in soft gauze from the kit in the glovebox and it hurts bad , bad like a broke bone. I cry for Mommy.
Missy Marilyn pats me, says “S’ok, bitty-boy. I’m Mama now.”
Later that week, Daddy, all beer-smell and sweat, rips the gauze off, with my new skin.
Rusty Barnes grew up in rural northern Appalachia. He received his B.A. from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and his M.F.A. from Emerson College. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in many journals. After editing fiction for the Beacon Street Review (now Redivider) and Zoetrope All-Story Extra, he co-founded Night Train, a recently reinvented literary journal, which has been featured in the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and on National Public Radio.
Beautifully painful from opening sentence to the closing.
Surprising, the ending, yet so real.