By Justin Carter

(Illustrated by Emily Horn)

Rose turns the television off, grabs a blanket, & throws it over the screen. She tucks the corner of the blanket under the VCR. David is watching through the screen, she thinks. He’s sitting in the nuclear plant drinking beer & fucking some guy & they are watching me & laughing at me & saying I’m dumb, so I’ll cover up the screen, she thinks. Out loud, she says I don’t want the screen to get dusty so I’m putting this blanket over it. A cat jumps on top the television.

Rose does the laundry, then makes a pitcher of tea. She calls Amelia. They talk about Amelia’s son & his job teaching English in Korea. They talk about Rose’s son & his job working on an offshore oil rig. Rose says my head hurts, I need to see a doctor because it has hurt for two weeks. Amelia says maybe David’s poisoning you, then laughs. Rose thinks why the hell would you say that, but says no, he would never do that. She thinks he probably is though. She is quiet for a long time. Amelia says what’s wrong. Rose says nothing, I need to go feed the cats. She hangs up. She gets the feather duster from under the sink & dusts the shelves in the living room.

David comes home. He sees the blanket over the screen. Why is this here, he says. I want to watch the Rockets game, he says. Take it off. Rose walks over & takes the blanket off. Sorry, she says. I didn’t want it to get dusty. She looks at David to see how he reacts. He knows why I put it there, she thinks. This is a test. She keeps looking at David. Bring me a beer, he says. How was work, she says. It was shitty, he says. I was in the sandblasting yard all day. Rose thinks is that what you call it. She says do you want two beers, I want to go outside. Sure, David says, get me two beers. Rose walks into the kitchen & gets two beers from the refrigerator. She hands David the cans. He grunts. On television, the Rockets are losing to the Lakers by 15 points. Rose thinks about her first date with David, to a different Rockets game. They sat at the top of the stadium. David did not pay for her hot dog. The Rockets lost. After the game, in the car, David took his pants off & kissed her. Rose thinks about this as she watches Kobe Bryant dunk the basketball on the television.

She walks outside. In the yard there are seven trucks but only one has an engine in it. She grows flowers in three of the trucks. She hides a bottle of Xanax in one of the other trucks. She goes to one of the trucks with the flowers inside. Some of the flowers are dead. She picks a live one & puts it in a flower pot & puts the pot on the front porch. She walks to a fenced-in area that her dogs live in. There are seven dogs. Four of them are strays. One is missing a leg. She pets one of the dogs. A tear falls on the dog’s nose. The dog licks its nose, then licks its ass. She picks up a small baseball. She throws the baseball. The dog runs after it. Halfway to the ball, the dog turns around & looks at Rose, panting. Rose walks back into the house.

David is still watching basketball. The beer cans are crushed & empty on the floor. David is not wearing pants. Where the fuck did you go, David says. I need another beer, David says. Why didn’t you get it yourself, Rose says. You’re the fucking woman, David says. I don’t want to be the woman anymore, Rose says. I want to kill you, Rose thinks. I want to take a large knife & slice your body into little pieces & feed them to the dogs, she thinks. David stands up. He walks into the kitchen. He steps on a cat & the cat makes a loud screeching sound & jumps onto a chair. The chair is covered in plastic. David hits Rose.

David walks to the refrigerator. He opens it & takes out three beers & a pitcher of tea. Do you want some of my tea, Rose says. David looks at Rose. He walks to the sink & dumps the tea out. He opens one of his beer cans. He walks back to the couch & sits.

Rose thinks about her father. She thinks about the arm he lost in 1974 in an apartment in Beaumont while trying to build a pipe bomb. I wanted to blow up the nigger church, she remembers him saying. She thinks about how he kept talking about Vietnam. She thinks about coming home from school early & opening the door to the house & seeing a tall man with a bushy mustache sitting naked on the couch, holding a book with the word anarchist in the title. She thinks about three years later, the night her father swung his remaining fist into her mother’s face & said he’d kill her & the kids. She thinks about getting into the car & the six-hour drive & the Willie Nelson tape playing the whole time. She is about to think about the last time she saw her father, in a hospital bed surrounded by tubes & missing a leg by then, but before she can think about that David stands up & punches a hole in the wall. Rose does not ask why. Instead, she thinks I need to go to Home Depot again & buy more paneling. I can charge it on his credit card & he can punch it again & I will charge it again & we will keep doing this until the night he decides to kill me. David walks out of the living room. He slams the door. Rose walks outside.

She walks down the path next to the trailer that leads to the river. She walks off the path & opens a metal box hidden under a bush. She takes a prepaid cell phone out of it & calls her mother. She does not use the house phone because David has bugged it. She tells her mother that David is gay now & her mother asks why she thinks David is gay now. I just know it, Rose says. It’s a conspiracy. Is this about your father, her mother says. No, Rose says. David is not your father, her mother says. Rose wants to say yes he is & he only touches me when he hits me & I want to leave but he will find me & kill me but she does not say any of these things. I’m going back inside, Rose says.

When David goes to work the next morning, Rose covers the television again. She covers the stereo too. There is a red light glowing around the power button that she has never noticed before. He is watching me through that too, Rose thinks. Watching & laughing & fucking. She goes into the bathroom & washes her hands & tries to take off her wedding ring but the joints on her finger are swollen & cracked & start to bleed. She gets a Band-Aid out of the cabinet & looks for anti-bacterial ointment but cannot find any. She puts the Band-Aid on without ointment. She starts to walk out of the bathroom but stops. Wait, she thinks. What if he is hiding his gay pornography in here. She stands on top of the toilet. She looks on the top of the shelf above the toilet. She does not find pornography. She finds a bag with white powder in it. Her eyes get very big & she jumps off the toilet. Shit, she thinks. I think that is cocaine. She looks around to see if anything in the bathroom is recording her.

No, she thinks. There is nothing. Why would they want to watch me in the bathroom. They would think that was gross. There is probably a microphone in here somewhere though. She walks back into the living room. She does not say anything because she knows David is sitting in an office at the plant blowing his manager & listening to everything that is happening in the house.

She walks outside & thinks about calling her mother. Then she thinks her mother might call the police & she thinks about the last time the police had come there, after one of their dogs had bitten a woman’s face. The dog was put down. The entire time the police were there Rose bit her fingernails & prayed the policeman would not open the door of the broken down truck in the driveway & find all the stolen Xanax bottles in the floorboard.

When the policeman left she had drilled a hole underneath the seat & hidden the bottles inside it. This will be a better hiding place, she’d thought. Now she thinks I wish David had found a better hiding place.

She walks into the storage shed & pulls out a bag of weed. She rolls a joint & smokes half of it & laughs. She puts the other half back in the bag & puts the bag back into the drawer with the hammers & metric rulers. She thinks about being stoned during her father’s funeral. She thinks about going behind the church with David, smoking three joints & giving him a blowjob before the service. She thinks about her mother, how she wasn’t there, how Rose was the only family member there, how the man with the bushy mustache sat three rows over & wore a black suit with a red tie & had a beard. She tries to remember if the man looked at David & if David looked at the man. She wonders why she’d given

David a blowjob instead of fucking him & if that had been the start of everything. She goes back into the house. She goes in the kitchen & brews a pot of tea. She opens a window to get fresh air. A cat jumps out the window. She smokes three Virginia Slims while she waits for the tea to finish. The tea finishes. She drinks one cup & puts the rest in the refrigerator. She orders a small pizza from Dominos. Thirty minutes later she walks to the door & takes the pizza & sits at the kitchen table & eats it. She puts the pizza box in the trash can. She washes a few dishes.

David comes home. What’s for dinner, he says. Nothing, Rose says. I thought you would get something on the way home. We have no groceries. Go buy something. She takes adrink from her tea cup. Fuck you, David says. I’m going to McDonalds & getting a goddamn burger. He walks to the door. He sees the pizza box in the trash can. You sorry motherfucker, he says. He hits Rose. He kicks the wall. He walks outside & gets in his truck. He pulls out of the driveway. Rose goes into the bedroom & sits down. She punches her leg seven times.

She goes out to the shed & finishes her joint. She thinks about the night she went to a bar with David & he got drunk & fucked three women that were not her & maybe he fucked a man too. Rose thinks about walking home & being picked up by a man in a green Ford truck & the wrong turn they took down a dirt road & the angry sex. She walks back into the house & sits at the kitchen table & smokes two more cigarettes. She finds a broom & sweeps the kitchen floor. She thinks about the time she snorted a line of cocaine at a party.

She was in high school & was naked & drunk & did not think it was a bad idea. She walks in the bathroom & looks at David’s cocaine & thinks about the way it made her feel, when she snorted it, like a fountain of sparks. Is that how David feels, she thinks.

The phone rings. Rose answers. It is her son’s boss. I’m sorry, he says. George is gone. He was working in the boiler room & something blew up. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, he says. We’ll send you his things. We will pray for you & your husband. Rose does not speak.

She hangs up. She sits in the living room & looks at the television. It is still covered by a blanket. A cat jumps on her lap. She does not pet it. After thirty minutes she calls David & the phone rings once then goes to voicemail. She smokes another joint. She thinks about getting her prepaid phone & calling her mother but it is later & she does not want to wake her mother up. She walks in circles in the driveway. She goes inside & lays down. She draws stick figures in a notebook. She stands up & walks into her son’s room. She opens a tattoo magazine on his floor. She looks at the pictures on his wall. She goes back to her room & lays down.

At 3 a.m. David comes home. Where were you, Rose says. Shut the fuck up, David says. He does not hit her. David falls asleep. Rose looks at the ceiling & counts the little bumps on the ceiling. She gets to 319, then stands up.


justin carter lives in bowling green, ohio