Thomas M. Atkinson | River’s Edge

After dinner we sat on the couch with his arm around me and watched a TV show that was supposed to be funny about some fat guy married to an impossibly beautiful woman.  Arnett passed out by the first commercials and when the second commercials came on I slid out from under his arm and turned off the TV. I’m still not sure how much I planned it, or if I even planned it at all. It just sort of happened. I got the handcuffs and the key from the night stand drawer. Arnett got them from some catalogue. They were supposed to be fun in bed, but the one time he put them on me wasn’t much fun. I threw the phone and the key in the pond when I got the duct tape from the shed, and I still had the zip tie threaded through my belt loops. I hobbled him with duct tape then rolled him over easy to handcuff his arms behind his back. He started to wake up a little bit but it wasn’t until I cinched that zip tie hard between his jaws and around the back of his neck that I had his full attention. He was trying to cuss me then, but with his teeth out and that zip tie tearing at the corners of his mouth, I couldn’t make out a word.

I’d always thought if I ever had Arnett in a position where he had to listen, I’d have lots to say to him, tell him all the ways he’d hurt me and what a son of a bitch he was. I didn’t. I just beat him till he was bloody and before every punch, I said, “Are not.” Then I jammed my wrist when I caught him square and he pissed his pants.

I packed up a few things, another pair of jeans and a waterproof camouflage coat with a big pocket on the back that I filled with underwear and socks and a t-shirt, and Arnett’s old sleeping bag that he takes hunting every fall and never gets washed, a lighter and an envelope full of old photographs. He just lay on the floor in front of the couch breathing heavy and squinting at the floor. I think he was just hoping I wouldn’t come back over there. I didn’t, but on my way out I took his teeth off the table, and I don’t know why. I left the front door standing open and called back in, “Least you had a bite to eat.”

I ran through the woods playing firefly tag, racing from one to the next along the path, and it wasn’t long before I heard the pack of wild dogs come over the ridge. I could hear them, close by, following along beside me in the brush. They must’ve smelled the blood on my hands, but they must’ve smelled something else too, because I never saw them, and soon I heard them double back. I followed the light off the creek all the way back up into the park.

When I got to the stable, Spite was right where I left him and he looked up like he’d been expecting me. I watered him and let him eat his fill while I double bagged a sack of feed and wrapped a curry comb, a brush, and a knife up in a towel. When we were ready to ride, I walked him over to Arnett’s truck. While he stood and watched I opened the hood, and unscrewed the oil filler cap, then I unhooked the old bungee cord holding down the battery and poured the acid down into the engine. From the time I took Arnett’s plate out of the oven, to when I threw my leg over Spite, whispering soothing nonsense, wasn’t even two hours, and I knew we had two nights and a day before anybody even thought to come looking.

When the moon gets up, I’ll swim him over to Ohio. And when we get to the other side I’m going to look back one last time and throw his teeth in the river. We’ll cut up through the stand of corn we can see on the bank and eat our fill. It’s high summer and the fields are full with corn and cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries, watermelons and high grass. We’ll work our way north, edging a little west, sticking to the tree lines when we can and crossing the open fields at night. There’s two hundred miles of Ohio, then we’ll hook through Michigan and cross the St. Clair into Canada above Detroit. Once we get there we can take our time, work our way around west through Ontario and try to make Alberta before the snow flies. I hear there are lots of ranches in Alberta.


This story first appeared in the Indiana Review.

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  1. When Some of the Best Novels Are ‘Little’ | Official Web News - January 18, 2015

    […] Prizes and have won more awards than I have room to list. Some can be read online, including “River’s Edge,” “Standing Deadwood,” and “Blue Highway.”More book recommendations […]

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