“Nothing but Rust”

He tells her she doesn’t need to come all the way out there. Though all the way out there is no further than the clothesline where once she trucked and hung load upon load.

She throws open the screen door, and she’s wearing her apron and the sneer she took right after the last operation. He knows that grin from Germany, knows it’s born of suffering. She bares her teeth and rests all of her considerable weight away from the new hip.

You don’t need to come all the way out here, he hollers. What little air he has in his chest burns. The day is hot and still, and he’s too old for this shit in any weather. He can name many men whose sons—grandsons, even—would be at this chore. His own son is seventy-three miles away, hitched to a computer and some task ‘Drum doesn’t understand.

‘Drum will be dead soon. This he knows well enough. He’ll leave the place to the boy even though it’s likely to be divined up and set with trailers. Maybe this is best. Maybe they should have done it themselves back when they sold the last cows. Mama and Baby. Baby demented so that even grown and old and on her way to slaughter, she still tried to suckle.

She was always on him to get rid of those cows, to clean up the place. With a little work, she said it could be as pretty as a picture. And in this way, she loved the land more than he ever could. Before she got so bad, she ripped up carpets and painted things he never knew could be a color besides wood. She carried on about junked cars and what she called his trash piles.

To him, those piles were like bank accounts only safer. Nothing but rust could happen to a pile of scrap metal, and even then it’d still be worth something to somebody someday.

She doesn’t hear him or else doesn’t care because here she comes and already getting on him. The last thing we need. Full of trash as is. Too old to be out here in this.

And he knows it’s probably true what she says about the boy not wanting any of it for anything. This isn’t his land, and his name on a paper won’t make any difference.

But somewhere along the line, ‘Drum passed the point, and without the hunting and the gathering and the mounding, there isn’t anything else.

Fool, she calls him.

All that metal, a truckload of sheets and joints catches the sun and turns it into a hundred more. It’s enough to blind a man, and he flinches when her hand emerges from a dark and shifting place. Her fingers are cool on his cheek, and he knows he isn’t dead yet, but even still, she’s too late in the warning. She’s too late when she says he’ll hurt himself.

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About Landon Houle

Born in Brown County, Texas, Landon Houle currently lives and works in South Carolina. Her writing has won contests at Black Warrior Review, Crab Creek Review, and Permafrost, and her story “Travelers” was recently named a Pushcart Prize special mention. Other work has appeared or is forthcoming in Baltimore Review, Crazyhorse, Natural Bridge, Harpur Palate, River Styx and elsewhere.