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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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By JanParker




Julia jiggles the water level dial of the old washer. There’s a trick to making it stay in place and she has no more vice grips for the job. The hot-wash knob stripped out years ago, so she clamped it tight with her last pair of pinchers. Now, the blue arrow of it points only to cold. Julia compensates by bragging. Ahead of the times she croons, but today, her mood takes a dive. The Load Level Indicator just spins freely in her hand.


“This damn thing,” she says, hanging her head over the hole. Fumes from her husband’s garage clothes rise up. Rigorous vapors of gas and oil and rotten soil attack her. Tears spring to her eyes as she glares into the full metal drum.


As if it’s a pipeline to his ears, she yells into the washer, “James, you better get your ass in here and fix the knobs on this machine!” The reverb from the drum inspires her. She storms out of the laundry room and walks fast through the house. She jerks open the screen door and slams it shut on purpose. It slaps the door jamb, twice. The dog looks up. The cat slinks away. Julia draws in a breath and hollers, “James? Where the hell’d you go?”


Her voice rolls over the yard like mercury, spilled. The dots of her words skip and play along the path to the shed where James no longer stands, working on the shackles of his ’65 Stang, but where he lies helpless in the dirt instead. The victim of a sudden stroke, he cannot move, but he clearly hears the voice of Julia.


“James Fletcher, you best answer me now!”


Though his good eye is fixed and staring, James’s brain is smoothly calculating the spatial distance from his head to the edge of the sandy path. His fluid thoughts judge the curious perspective that lying in the dirt gives to the regular placement of his tools, his shelves and the tables in his shed.


Again, Julia’s voice spills through the grass. The sound of it slips like silk into James’s ears. He tries reaching her by the strength of his telepathy: Julia, I’m down here, honey - on the ground. Come help me up, alright? He still can’t move a muscle.


Julia hops off the porch. Her legs strum across the yard like sticks on a drum. She’s on a mild rampage, but in James’s mind, she’s daintily waltzing toward him. He thinks here comes my angel and against all odds, his lips form the initial tic of a lopsided smile.His heart hammers erratically, but he thinks there’s no one more beautiful than she, his wife, his lover, his girl, Ju-li-a.


After seeing James, Julia’s mind squeezes into a terrible panic. She races from the shed back to the house. She’s got to call—is it 911 or 919? She can’t get her thoughts to work. She’s never seen her husband all fainted out before and staring like the dead, but she knows he isn’t dead—she saw him smile, she thinks; and his eye nearly blinked, and that’s all you could ever ask of a fella’s one good eye—for it to blink and be normal, a normal good eye, normal/good, normal/good.


Her footsteps keep time with her words. She takes the stairs, first stumbling and then not. She flings open the screen door. It pops against the outside wall. The daisy-laced bulletin board falls down. The chalk stick breaks into a dozen dusty pieces. The cat stares at her backside, receding quickly.


The phone—the phone—where is the phone? Julia races through the house, her feet unsure of the layout she’d walked for twenty years.


There. In the hall. On the table. Cradled. Waiting. Go pick it up. Dial.


The receiver conks her on the cheek, but Julia doesn’t care. She rings zero, not 911. There is a voice on the other end. “Operator. May I help you?”


Julia adjusts the phone, but can only cry, “Tell them they’ve got to come, quick! Take James to the hospital; fix him. He is my husband. Please!”


She races back to the shed with a glass of water. It’s only half-full when she arrives. James’s good eye actually sees her when she flops in the dirt beside him.


Whoa, she’s moving fasthe thinks. She better slow down or she’ll take a spill.James tries to speak, but only one side of his mouth give a little tremble. Julia sees this. She bends over him, her body, the slip of a willow.


“What is it, James, what?” Julia brushes back his hair. He tries, but only a slurred gurgle emerges. “You ought to rest now, honey,” she tells him. Julia’s afraid he’s burning up his brain. James keeps at it though: whisper; whisper; whisper.


“Alright, tell me then. Tell me what you want.” Julia places her ear to the side of James’s mouth that actually moves.


“I. Want. Y-you,” he barely says and the words plow into her.


With the grace of night descending, she collapses on his chest. He is the earth and she, the stormy sky.


The dog pants in the driveway. The cat sprawls along the edge of a step. James loves to feel the weight of Julia on him. His heart beats steadier now. He hears the woop-woop of an approaching siren.


They load him into the ambulance. Julia sits at his side. His good eye surprisingly winks at her. She blushes. The paramedics pretend not to see. They will talk about it later.


Inside the laundry room, the dial of the Load Level Indicator suddenly clicks into place. The washer fills with cold water and it cycles like a new machine.


The EMTs close the ambulance doors. The siren woop-woops again and they book it on down the road.


The cat falls asleep on the sunny porch. The dog snores in the shed.