It’s deep summer. I’m in the side yard helping Dad trim the bushes next to the house. He’s using the shears, and they gleam as they snap off the ends of the thin branches of the hedge. The twigs spiral to the ground, where I rake them together and lift handfuls of pale green leaves into the waiting bushel-basket. Mom kneels quietly by herself in the shade by the garage, working a hand spade in the lily bed. Her head, wrapped in a flowered scarf, is bent to her work. I see the white pencil of her cigarette dangle from her lips as she works. The cicadas whine above us, weaving their sound into the heat and humidity, and I’m sweaty bored. I hate yard work, but I’m the only son at home, so Dad says I have to do this before I can go swimming today. I sigh and tug the oversized work gloves he gave me up my twelve-year-old arms. We don’t talk much while he works.
Like most of the houses in our neighborhood, ours is rimmed by greenery. During breakfast this morning Dad said he wanted to trim it all up before he has to drive to Pennsylvania on business. He works the shears with an angry energy, the trimmings pop, twirl and fall, and I rake them into piles and put them in the basket. Once it’s full, I get to leave for a few minutes and dump the basket in the alley next to the garage. I take my time, and toss rocks at the neighbor’s trash barrel until I hit it. When I return, there’s already a mound of cut branches on the ground in front of him. He gives me a look over his shoulder. He works the shears faster than before, and the bushes shake as he assaults them. I put the basket down, pick up the rake and stare at the road as a car goes by. The air is Hoosier thick. I wipe moisture off my glasses with my T-shirt. I feel sticky and drowsy while I wait for him to finish where he is working and move down the hedge so I can rake where he is standing. His breath is coming in big puffs. I watch beads of sweat dripping off the end of his nose.
Huffing hard, he finally takes a step back and digs into his back pocket with one hand. I move around him and rake the trimmings into a pile while he wipes his bald head with a white handkerchief. He jerks his chin up and snaps, “You missed one.” I look over to where I was raking but I don’t see it. I take a hesitant step, afraid to move, but more afraid to do nothing. “Over there!” He barks and points this time, to my left, the handkerchief waving under his finger. I still don’t see anything. I feel blind… and stupid. The blood rises in my neck, and ears. The green of the summer grass matches the green of the hedge, but most of the twigs have fallen into the bare dirt under the bushes. Why can’t I see it?
I look left, right, then back and forth in front of me, by the hedge, at my feet. Nothing. I take another faltering step in the direction he’s gestured because I feel a need to do something. I sense his glare and start to get desperate. It must be here, but I still don’t see it! I turn my hands over and shrug. “Where? I don’t…” I start to say as I look at him.
Without a word he drops the handkerchief and comes at me. His face is twisted and hard. His light blue eyes suddenly look like ice. He reaches out to grab me! I drop the rake and duck, sliding under his meaty hand. I slip by him, careful not to step on the handkerchief, and I fly! Inside my dream, I’m a bird, and my feet are wings – I am a blur of motion. He had his chance! I dash across the yard for the street. I am filled with speed and a brilliant vision of escape. For an instant I think, he’ll never catch me!
“God-DAMN it! Come back here!” his voice is loud behind me. My dream-bubble pops. If I keep running, it will be worse when I come back… and I have to come back. I have nowhere else to go. I’ve won the race, but there isn’t a finish line. I’m already slowing down as I look over my shoulder and run off the curb into the street. Mom sees me running without looking, and screams, “Patrick! STOP!”
It’s too much. Both of them yelling at me. Why isn’t she on my side? I think. My face drops. I put on my mask. I slow to a stop before I get to the middle of the road. There aren’t any cars coming. But Dad is. I lift out of myself and watch from somewhere above as he steps off the curb and grabs me by the scruff of my neck. He pulls me off the ground and hauls me back to the hedge. On the way, I see the twig. I see it sharp and clear – a beacon. It’s almost shining as he pushes my face down into it. He twists my head with his hand. I smell its sappy fragrance as my teeth push into the grass around it. My glasses fold back and push into the bridge of my nose, my eyes. I smell the grass, the dirt. I taste them.
“See it NOW?!” He pushes me one last time and lets go. I pull myself onto my knees, panting, fumbling with my twisted glasses. “Pick it up!”
Without a word I pull off the gloves and pluck the twig off the ground. It’s limp and broken. It sags in my hand as I lift it. I drop it into the bushel-basket and watch it land with a slow little bounce. It looks tiny where it rests at the bottom of the empty basket, the split wood stretching upward around it like walls.
About the Author: Patrick Dixon is a writer/photographer retired from careers in teaching and commercial fishing. Published in Cirque Literary Journal, Panoplyzine, Raven Chronicles, and the anthologies FISH 2015 and WA129, he is the poetry editor of National Fisherman magazine’s quarterly, North Pacific Focus. Patrick received an Artist Trust Grant for Artists to edit Anchored in Deep Water: The FisherPoets Anthology published in 2014. His chapbook Arc of Visibility won the 2015 Alabama State Poetry Morris Memorial Award.