Off the Beaten Path

by JP Reese


Father Unick makes love to Dick’s elegy from the stone pulpit. Prayers for the dead man are decanted like sacrificial wine. We four, three exes and one current, perch quietly, past beatings undetected, broken bones healed, elation unnoticed by the well-dressed mourners.  For better or worse, we gaze through Unick, having exhausted our year-long discussion of the power of latent anger, the solutions we could have chosen.  A heady idea, these choices one can make.

We could have been pulp. Buried. Compost.  Maybe there in that wood. Instead, the bastard’s life was over before he could throw another punch. The arrow exploded skin. Eve’s always been a fine shot, and Sally and Dick’s final hunting trip a brilliant strategy. Flaps of bloody belly hung through Dick’s torn camo. Birds startled as the weapon whistled its Darwinian intent through air followed closely by odd, woman-sounding whoops that echoed over the deserted hunting ground. Dick toppled to the loess, a goon unfit for survival.  Drool wet his chins as a great, mortal roar beat the blood-misted air.

Ex-wives and widow, we congregate. Diddle our rosaries. Spit-shine the twenty-third psalm through Altoid-scented breath. Afterward, other people’s tongues move thickly with, “terrible accident.” and “Yes, just awful.” Our Oakley’s shade glances that compare old bruises. Practiced deceit directs our muscles in bodies freed of torment by Eve’s deeply planted barb. We pat people’s hands, wipe away tears.

Later, as one, we empty Dick’s urn over the waterside cliff. Back at the church, Father Unick counts Dick’s money– his lucrative cameo concluded. Sally, Dick’s last punching bag, has access to the accounts. We share a final chance to fondle, sift through Dick’s ashes for bits of bone and toss them into the sea. Broken pieces of charred fist sink to lie on beds of sand. Our smooth worry stones are cast after them.  Stepping over old scars on the path, we lock arms and head toward a smoky single malt.





JP Reese has poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews and writer interviews published or forthcoming in many online and print journals. Reese is a poetry editor for THIS Literary Magazine and Associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. Her poetry chapbook, Final Notes was published by Naked Mannekin Press in spring, 2012. Reese’s published work can be read at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty.



9 thoughts on “Off the Beaten Path

  1. Christopher says:

    “pieces of charred fist” — excellent

  2. Gill Hoffs says:

    Beautifully painful – a rich piece and a memorable one.

  3. susan tepper says:

    Whoa! This is a knock-out (don’t mean to pun) but it was so unexpected and searing and strong and sad and clever. Father “unic” and “Dick” are funny names to use in a tormented piece such as this, and they added a certain grim twist. Loved this!

  4. MaryAnne Kolton says:

    Tough and tender. Such excellent work, my friend.

  5. […] Off the Beaten Path – JP Reese […]

  6. Mia Avramut says:


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