His boots lay down a path through the Timothy and Queen Anne’s lace. This tall, tall boy, with his long boy-legs, muscular basketball player’s legs, strides through the meadow as warblers alight on stalks of ironweed, then lift again and call out.
The dog sniffs the bases of fleabane, goldenrod, bull thistle, then zigzags and looks back, making sure I’m following, making sure I’m still there. The dog knows the boy still needs me sometimes to lead the way, knows there are dips, crevices, brambles and briars, awful places to trip, get snagged, fall. He knows burrs will catch in his webbed Lab paws. He knows he could be swallowed by a groundhog’s burrow pipe—a den of three or four holes. Still he dashes back and forth before the boy.
The birds are thrilled, chirping and trilling, seeing the boy ahead of me carving a path of his own.
I say “turn around,” but this tall, tall boy of mine keeps his back to me, the hem of his T-shirt lifting with the wind. He knows the act of turning around to smile for the camera will lose this moment, will drag us away from the now.
(This story first appeared in Pure Slush’s tall…ish issue, vol 11, June 2016 and then at NFFD’s Flash Flood, June 2017)
Jolene McIlwain’s recent work appears online or is forthcoming at Cincinnati Review, New Orleans Review, West Branch, Litro, Janus Literary, Prime Number, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and elsewhere. She’s had stories nominated for Pushcarts and Best of the Net, and her flash was selected for the 2019 Best Small Fictions Anthology as well as a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction award and semifinalist for American Short Fiction’s Short(er) Fiction contest. She lives with her husband, son, and elder-dog, Hank, in the Appalachian plateau of western Pennsylvania.
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