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The Day of the Dead

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The next morning Justin left off early to watch the game film with the team. He was in a rush, running late, but he was back at the house well before lunch. Wayne was out in the field with Holly and Rebel by then but had left a note in the kitchen, afraid that if he didn’t rope his grandson now, the boy would disappear again to somewhere. There were no quail planted in the field yet. Wayne was just letting the two dogs roam and enjoy themselves.

About a half hour after his truck had pulled up Justin finally came out to help. He’d changed from his practice clothes into jeans, a corduroy jacket. They stood there in the field together. Wayne watched Justin watch the dogs for a moment, and then the boy turned to him. “Did you go and see Coach last night?” he asked.

“Sure I did.”

“What did he want?”

“For me to come meet the team.” When Gibson had asked Wayne for the favor, he’d also asked that Wayne keep his plan secret from Justin. He didn’t want to spoil the surprise for the boys, but Wayne couldn’t care less about that. Besides, he’d told the coach no.

“You?” Justin asked.

“Not just me. But yeah.”

“Why?”

“So he could talk about being a good teammate.”

“What?”

“A boy named Louis Carpenter was the first black kid to play for Homer. I was on that team myself. Your coach thinks it’d be a good idea for the two of us to come and meet y’all. Motivation for your last game.”

Wayne glanced over at Justin. His grandson looked horrified.

“Don’t worry. I told him I wasn’t up for it — but I suppose come Tuesday you’ll be seeing Louis at practice with or without me, so don’t tell anyone, OK?”

“OK,” said Justin. “Thanks.”

“Sure.”

“I mean, it’s not that I don’t —”

“No,” said Wayne. “I wouldn’t have wanted my grandfather embarrassing me neither.”

Justin started to say something, but Wayne waved him quiet. Holly and Rebel were at the far end of the field now, almost a hundred yards off, running the fence line that separated his property from the Christmas tree farm. It was time to have Justin maybe plant some birds, but for the moment it was nice to shoot the breeze, have him captive.

“That Mexican still out here with his flashlight when you got home last night?” Wayne asked.

Justin nodded. “Why do you let him do that anyways? They really eat those things?”

“That one does, I guess.”

“He’s like an Indian or something?”

“I’m not sure.”

In the spring, Justin would graduate from high school, but he would never leave Homer — not really, not to call some other place his home. That summer he would test for his CDL and start driving a dirt truck, and a year or so later he would upgrade to bigger rigs. He’ll marry and have a daughter, another young father in a line of young fathers. And then, when he’s 23, a maid will find his dead body in a motel in New Mexico. All of that will play out soon enough, but on this day Wayne’s thoughts are on the past, not what might come or will come. He’s telling Justin things now that his own grandfather used to tell him. That armadillos are a nuisance that scar the land with their diggings. That they eat any clutch of quail eggs they might be lucky enough to stumble across.

Maybe the egg thing was true and maybe it wasn’t, but if some Indian wanted to kill those little dinosaurs that was fine by Wayne — even if it had been years since his field had last seen a wild quail. When Wayne was a boy there were still plenty of coveys to hunt. That was before people started changing the way they worked the land, trading rows of corn for thoroughbred pastures, bean fields for Christmas tree farms. And before — worst of all for the quail, maybe — the great explosion of the fire ants, the quail-massacring descendants of those first invaders, the ones that had come creeping down the mooring rope of some South American cargo ship decades and decades ago, carrying their queen along with them like some insect Cleopatra. The dogs Wayne was paid to train were all mostly owned by rich men now. Men who would use them to hunt pen-raised, released quail in private preserves for $300 a day or more, neither dog nor master ever knowing what it was like to live in a time when a hunter with a birddog could hear the bobwhite whistle of a far-off covey and move across the land freely, pushing through farm after farm without ever seeing a posted sign or even an anthill.

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  • H. V. Stephen Larsson

    H. V. Stephen Larsson

    What a joy to read actual quality lit, to read a real literary short story, a piece within which each element contrives to accentuate the whole—one of the more obvious examples being the psychology of dogs to provide insight into the protagonists awareness, which would obviously spill over into his awareness of human beings. What a setup, what a good opening, a real exposition. This story is packed with such pregnancies of thought, each strengthening the whole. As with any fine art, it takes a couple of good perceivings; in this case, readings, to catch all the nuances so they naturally combine to create an aesthetic depth of awareness. And the subject matter, published when police versus minority relations, fanned to flame by media, is so strongly in our consciousness, shows courage on the part of The Saturday Evening Post. An aging, southern, rural white man, pressured into giving false testimony for the new attitudes of upcoming generations, pressured into espousing attitudes he neither believes in or cares about, is, at this time, a powerful subject to develop literarily. Plus, what a wonderful ending. The discerning reader is left hanging with the thought of what they would say in a few minutes, in this tense, untenable situation, if they were the protagonist who is stuck in it. My thanks to Skip Horack and this publication.

  • Bob Sagan

    Don’t you people ever provide a piece of fiction (“The Day of the Dead”) that includes some sort of conclusion? It seems like such a waste of time reading through a story that leaves the reader up in the air. I realize your readership is older, but I think they have enough time left to read and appreciate a reasonable denouement before they kick the bucket.

  • mary

    I receive the paper copy of the Saturday Evening Post and was reading the short story by Skip Horack. What happened to the story’s ending? I’m missing pages 88 and 89 of my latest paper edition and the story’s ending is also missing from the internet version. What gives??