I shot God right out of the sky. He poked his gray beard from between the white clouds, so I took aim and shot Him. He fell end over end from his palace in the sky until he hit the ground with a thud and groaned. Dark blood poured from his throat wound, especially when he tried to speak as I dragged him by the sandaled foot away from the forest clearing.
I’d picked the time of day when there were no worshippers and showed up with my shotgun to wait. Three days I stood waiting in the early hours of the morning until the others came to pay tribute. Then I’d hide my gun and scuttle off before any could see, but on the third day, I was rewarded for my patience. He showed the tip of his beard and BAM! I got him.
The other villagers would stumble from their huts soon to see what the commotion was about, so I dragged God into the thick of tree and brush. I crouched down to cover his bloody mouth, to wait for them to leave. They arrived in twos and threes, children in tow until they were all there. They all tilted their chins toward the sky to look for Him. After many minutes without His grand appearance, one by one, they closed their eyes.
Then the prayer began. Each person hummed that same, unvarying note of prayer. My sweating cheek pressed against God’s sweating cheek, and I could hear the weak gurgle of blood in His throat.
All their faces were pointed toward the sky. None of them saw god blood staining the brown earth beneath their bare feet.
The sun was climbing its way into the sky when the crowd finally broke up to make their breakfast and do their daily chores. Once all of them were gone, I pulled God by the scruff of his neck further into the dark woods.
I took him to the cave as planned. I got out the twine I’d woven myself, as The Law demanded, to bind His hands and feet. His limbs first turned red, then white when I tied them tightly with my rope. Then I carried the cut logs into the circle of stones at the mouth of the cave. After adding some leaves to the pile, I struck a match to start the fire. The whole time He watched me with big, wet eyes. His mouth gaped open. His teeth were pink with blood.
As the heat of the flames grew, I took out my hunting knife to shave his head and beard.
His lips were damp with spit and blood. He rasped out the words, “My son.”
I pulled my knife from his scalp and fiddled with its tip. There was no pain when the skin of my finger split and a fat, red droplet came out.
“This here knife is sharp. I won’t cut you none.” The shaving took much longer than planned because I was extra careful.
When He was finally bald, I frowned. He looked small with his naked head and face. I cut the robe off His body and the sandals off His feet. His body was pale and wrinkled. He kept His knees pressed close together. I had to look away.
Then I brought out the roasting spit. I had to gag Him because He kept trying to scream, but made this awful wheezing sound instead. I kneeled with my face close to his. For the last time, I closed my eyes to whisper, “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” Then I kissed his forehead. My lips lingered against his creased brow. Then I strung him up on the spit. I didn’t take my eyes from Him as He cooked. From time to time, I turned Him, so it would be an even roast.
When He looked done, I set to eating Him. He wasn’t large, but it was going to take a long time and a lot of eating to finish Him off. I ate for hours. I had to take breaks in between so that I wouldn’t throw up all that precious flesh. My chewing was meticulous, each bite measured. There was a certain rhythm to it, though I did not speak a single word. Some of the most ancient and powerful prayer is silent.
My belly became heavy with god meat. When I was done eating, I lay on the earth, sprawled in the twilight. Soon the fire would be my only light. A murder of crows dipped low and gathered around me. I let them pick the last bits of gristle from the mound of bones at my side. They fought over the scraps, cawing at one another. Then they flew off. I watched them with wide eyes. Each of them was now a little god. A spark of divinity was nestled in the bellies of each of those birds, just as it was nestled in me.
Before the sun came up, I buried the god bones in the cave, far from any light, so they could do no mischief in this world. Then I made the trek back to the village. I stood there at the tree line and took in this place where my entire life had been spent. The cluster of huts was made of good, sturdy wood, but each of them looked small and awkward. There were no decorations on the doors, no coverings on the dirty windows. Child and chicken squatted in the dusty earth together. Laundry lines were strung outside some huts. Ratty jeans, wool sweaters and old dresses hung from them. The city folk dropped box loads of their unwanted clothes at the bottom of our mountain each year. We took the clothes, even though we didn’t want to, and now they hung off our bodies and outside our homes.
I watched them. Women searched for eggs or got water for the breakfast fire. Men cleaned their guns to go hunting or worked on repairing a leaky roof. We didn’t need much when we could turn toward the sky and see the face of God. We didn’t even need a church because its walls hid the stars from us and muffled the words that God spoke to us. I had followed The Law, and by its spoken scripture passed through the generations, I was their God. Soon I would be the one they’d search for in the clouds. The one they’d strain to hear. The one they’d love and obey.
I stepped forth into the village. Darrell and Sullivan were sawing wood to make posts for the fence God asked us to make four days ago.
“Morning, Sullivan. Darrell.”
Darrell nodded without looking at me. Sullivan showed me all his teeth. “Where you been, Jackson? We ain’t seen much of you the last few days.”
“I been around.”
“Millie said you was out all night. She thought maybe you was ate by a bear.” The boy was still grinning.
I spread my arms wide. “Do I look like I got ate?” My mind was full with the curve of Millie’s back, the smoothness of her neck. “That woman got quite a imagination on her. Don’t you worry none about her.”
He looked over his shoulder at my hut, his smile fading.
I said, “Shit. Maybe I ate me a bear.” Sullivan started laughing that he-haw donkey laugh of his. “Maybe I done ate the biggest bear in all the damned world.”
Darrell barked without raising his head, “Sullivan wipe that shit-sucking grin off your face and get back to work. If your old man can get the job done, I don’t see no reason why a pup like you can’t dig in.”
“Sorry, Pa.” Sullivan rushed back to his father’s side.
Darrell turned a squinty eye on me. “And you, Jackson. Maybe you need to go check in with your wife. Make sure you’s allowed to play outside with the men.”
I felt no anger at his words, as I once would’ve. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll help you fellows out and tend to my wife later.”
“Suit yourself. Just quit all that damned yapping.”
I wanted to work. I wanted my body to move and strain and sweat. After a couple of hours, the heat of the day forced me to take my shirt off, and every now and then a breeze would rush past me. My body was the body of a god. Later I stood in the cool darkness of my hut, watching myself in Millie’s full-length mirror. There were a couple cracks in it from when we moved a few huts down into this one. That was right after Millie and I got married. My chest and hair were wet. The bittersweet odor of hard work filled the air around me.
I was the same size I’d always been. My arms were no bigger. My legs were no longer. There was no new glory in my presence, but I was stronger. Powerful god blood rushed through my veins, giving me a new strength. I would never get tired or sick. My body would never need medicine. No bones would ever crack. There would always be hard work to get done, and I could always do it.
My wife’s image appeared in the mirror behind me. Her long, brown hair was up in a bonnet. Her flour-dusted fingers rushed to cover her mouth.
“Jackson! Where in the Almighty Lord’s name were you? I been worried near to death.”
I crushed her small body to my sweating chest and kissed her. My reaching tongue tasted the dry flour on her lips. “Oh, my Millie. My Millie,” I whispered to her. As I kissed every inch of her face and neck, my hands pulled at her apron.
“What are you doing?”
My roaming hands stopped, and I looked at her confused, dark eyes. She kept blinking away bits of hair that had slipped from her bonnet.
“I want to see every part of you, my Millie. All of you. I want to touch every part of you.”
Her mouth opened. “But that ain’t proper, Jackson.” Her small hands clasped the throat of her dress.
“Trust me. You’s my wife. There ain’t a bit of shame in what we do.” I kissed her gently until she let me lead her to the bed, which was just an old mattress on the floor, but it was enough. I took off each piece of clothing slowly, reverently.
Right now, a god would worship her and her body.
I put my face between her legs, and she gasped. It was a shocked little sound. Her knees were rigid for a while, and her hands clenched the sheets. Soon, though, her breath came fast and little noises escaped her, though she tried to quiet them. It wasn’t long before she let loose that final cry, with her fingers gripping my hair.
Then I pulled her on top of me and slid inside. At first she was clumsy, her face unsure. My hands guided her, though, until we were both moaning. Sweat trickled between her breasts. As she sat on me, I could see all of her. My wife was beautiful. I hadn’t realized how beautiful until now. Though I was a god, she was the one I would pray to.
Again, I stood before the mirror. My wife dozed nearby. Her bare leg poked out of the wrinkled sheets. I squinted at my naked form, turning this way and that. The scar was still on my ribs from when I fell into those rocks at the bottom of the ravine. The smooth, pale marks still lined the back of my fingertips from the time I tried to help Mama with the vegetable cutting when I was little. There was still the barest hint of the gash above my eye from when my brother, Tommy, and I got into that fight when he wanted to move down from the mountain.
Everything about me looked the same. I glanced over at Millie. Her wet hair was stuck to her forehead. I could still feel her thighs squeezing my hips. I could still smell her skin. I could wake her up and show her my love again. My face and hands were the same. My whole body was the same, but I was not the same.
After quietly dressing, I left Millie to sleep away the afternoon. The hunting party was gathering, so I joined them. We had been out together many times. We each took a sector and tried to bring home at least two deer between us. This time I took the north sector, Sullivan took the west, Adam the east and Roberts the south.
I climbed a tree until I found a decent perch. With my rifle cradled in my lap, I closed my eyes and called silently to the deer. I stretched my will out like a net that pulled the large-eyed creatures to me. I envisioned the feel of their fur, the smell of their musk, the wet sound of their breath. The chanting of my mind lulled them into a trance and seduced them like dreaming sleepwalkers.
Leaves rustled beneath me, and I opened my eyes to a doe nibbling off branches. Slowly, with no noise, I raised my rifle to my shoulder. Without any words, I told her she was safe.
Then I shot her.
She died quickly, but I didn’t come down to claim my prize. Instead, I closed my eyes and again began my call. It worked much faster this time. I heard the animal below me within a matter of minutes. This time, I did not open my eyes. I aimed my gun, using the sounds below to guide me. The deer’s heartbeat was a beacon, guiding my hands. I fired twice for good measure and smiled when I heard the second creature fall.
When I opened my eyes, Sullivan lay on the forest floor with blood seeping from his mouth and chest. My gun dropped to the brush below me. My hands shook as I tried to lower myself to get to Sullivan. The sudden weakness in my hands spread to my whole body, and I slipped out of the tree and onto the hard ground. My legs didn’t work, so I dragged myself to the boy. He was close to the deer I’d shot. It looked like he’d been kneeling next to her when the bullets hit him, one after the other.
His eyes were wide and unblinking.
I didn’t know gods could weep.
Kill and die, yes, but not weep.
Sullivan’s seventeenth birthday was only a few months away. On that day, God would’ve tested him. He would’ve been sent into the forest with no gun or knife, and he would’ve been tested. God would’ve even spoken to him if he were a special boy. Sullivan would’ve come back a man and married Sarah or Elizabeth, the girls of age in our village. He would’ve built their hut alone with his own hands, and it would’ve been theirs until death parted them. In the spring, she would’ve prayed to be struck by his whip stained with the blood of a goat so that God would bless them with a child. There would’ve been many revelers and many whips, but Sullivan’s would’ve found his wife. I know. I would’ve made it so.
But he was dead.
I didn’t know gods could grieve.
I willed him to life. There was nothing in this or any other world that I wanted more than for him to be healed. The love of my wife I would sacrifice. I called for his spirit to return from the river of the dead. My entire being heaved him back from the depths of those waters. The boatman tried to drag him down below again, but his long fingers loosened when the God of the Mountain strained against him. With perfect clarity, I saw Sullivan gasp and sputter.
But he was still dead.
His eyes stared straight up into the sky. His lips were parted. Someone could have easily mistaken the expression on his face for awe.
I left him there.
The sun was setting, and I ran to the worship place where I shot God. By the time I got there, my breath was heavy. The beating of my heart filled my ears and fingertips. I searched for the exact point in the sky where God had stood. My feet stumbled about. I wanted to be directly beneath where God looked down upon me. Branches flogged me. Bushes tripped me, but I plunged deeper and deeper into the thick of them.
When I thought I was close, I stopped to look before me. I had wandered into a holy place, a forbidden place. The tower reached high into the night, its zenith lost among the clouds. I had not seen it since I was a child. The tower was old, its stones loose and moss-covered. God had set it before us and told us not to enter. It belonged to Him alone. In all of His creation, this was the only thing He bid us leave to Him.
In the fading light, my fingers searched the cold walls for an entrance. The wet wood of the door gave when I tugged. There were many, many steps. It was hard to see in the growing darkness, but I took the steps two at a time. The stairs could’ve crumbled beneath my weight and the walls collapsed upon me, but I would’ve kept climbing.
When I reached the top, my god legs were shaky. My breath came in huge gasps. Up so high, the thin air was chill and moist. It was a room. A big bed stood in one corner with moth-eaten sheets strewn about. A fancy, embroidered rug, dusty with age covered much of the stone floor. There was even an easel propped near a glassless window. Glass jars of drying paint surrounded it. I had to walk close, squinting to make out its painting. It was a view of the village from above. Almost hidden in the shadows on the floor was another painting. I pulled off the piece of cloth covering it. Underneath was the face of an old man. Someone had slashed deep into the canvas. His eyes were huge and glassy. It was a portrait of the man who told us he made us and gave us The Law. It was a portrait of the man I’d killed and eaten.
My eyes darted around the empty room, and I backed into a corner. I stumbled over something. Looking down, I saw it was a chamber pot. It was filled with human waste that had sloshed over the sides when I kicked it. The taste of his flesh was in my mouth.
Spit flooded my mouth, and I threw up.
Then I ran from the tower. I wanted to rip each stone from its foundation until it tumbled to the ground. I wanted to knock over the village supper tables and scream the truth to them. They would not believe. Not ever, not even if I showed them the bones in the cave. My Millie, my beautiful Millie, would claw my eyes out and spit in my face for blasphemy. I know because yesterday I would’ve done the same thing to her.
No, instead I would go back to them and explain that Sullivan’s death was an accident. They would believe that. They could forgive that.
The boy and deer were exactly where I left them, with Sullivan gazing up at the stars in the heavens. The look on his face made my insides hurt. I gently closed his eyes because the sky was empty. Then I lifted the deer onto my back and carried it home.
The torches were lit. The supper tables were set. Sullivan and I had made more than one of those tables. We’d cut the trees down and sanded the rough wood smooth. Now I couldn’t tell which was which. I heaved the deer carcass onto one of them. The villagers hollered and cheered. Adam and Roberts slapped me on the back. In her excitement, Millie kissed me on the mouth. Her lips were dry. It was forbidden for a woman to aggress upon a man, but it was a time of celebration. The hunt brought back meat. Some were dancing in the torchlight while others clapped for them.
Even now, I was in the silent woods with the stillness of Sullivan’s body. I could not leave.
“The only thing make this night better is if my boy got hisself a big, old buck!”
Darrell stood near me. Putting my hand on his shoulder, I drew him close.
“Tell all them to stop carrying on,” I hissed. “This ain’t no time for a party.”
“You making no sense, boy. Speak clear.”
“Sullivan’s dead.” Bits of spit landed on his stricken face. He blinked mechanically. I nearly lost my feet, dropping to my knees before the old man.
“It was a accident, Darrell. He wandered into my sector.” I stuttered, tears dripping from my chin onto my shirt. “I shot him. Darrell, I shot him. It was a accident, I swear to you.”
People were listening. Roberts organized a search party. He handed out torches, lanterns, and flashlights. I led Darrell and the others into the forest. I could’ve found my way without any of their light.
When we got there, crows were all over him, their black wings spread wide. They were eating away at his slack hands and the bloated skin of his face. I screamed and frantically shooed the birds away.
“Get ahold of yourself, Jackson,” Darrell said, gently pushing me aside. “My boy is sitting beside the Mountain God, listening on the pleas of Flame, Ocean, and Sand. There ain’t no need of your pity. Not now.”
Darrell leaned over the face of his dead son. He clamped his mouth over Sullivan’s nose, breathed in deep and held it inside his belly. Again and again. He wanted to bring inside himself the last breath of his son, to keep it alive. But I knew the wind had carried it away hours ago.
The old man stood up, holding his son’s unfired gun. His knees cracked. “Let’s take him home, friends.”
The men of the village and I carried the body home. Sullivan seemed much heavier in death. We laid him on his own cot in his father’s hut. The space seemed too small, the ceilings too close, though Darrell’s hut was the same as all the others. Women came in with buckets of river water to bathe the body. Millie was with them.
A neatly folded stack of clothes sat next to the bed. Those torn hand-me-downs were all he had in the world. I found a couple of whittled wood figurines under Sullivan’s bed. He had no gift for carving. Anyone handling the one that was probably a bear would get a splinter. I wanted to keep it.
Millie took the figure out of my hand. “Lord, that ain’t supposed to be a wolf, I hope.”
With closed eyes, I shook my head.
My voice didn’t work at first. “A bear.”
“No, sir,” Darrell said, his face suddenly very close to mine. “We done found some book in one of them clothes boxes at the bottom of the mountain. My boy loved to look at the pictures.”
He leaned past me, gently pulling the book from underneath Sullivan’s pillow and stiff head.
“It’s a water bear with no fur like we don’t got in these parts. He said it come from a place where the folks got dark skin.” Darrell leafed through the pages without looking at them.
Millie closed the book, taking it out of Darrell’s hands. “We’ll deal with your boy’s things tomorrow. Go on and get some rest now.”
Darrell and I stood in silence outside the hut. The village was mostly quiet now.
“I don’t blame you none,” Darrell said. “That dumb shit ought not have been in your sector.” His face was wet, but he quickly knuckled away the tears. Before I could think of anything to say, he walked off into the dark.
So I went back to the hut I shared with Millie. It didn’t feel like home anymore. The shadows were unfamiliar. Everything that happened in there meant something different now. With all my clothes on, I lay down on the mattress. I didn’t sleep. Hours later, Millie tiptoed in, undressed and crawled into bed beside me. I pretended to be asleep.
When the sun came up, I opened my eyes. There was no blessed forgetfulness. I remembered everything.
I must have slept because Millie had unbuttoned my shirt, and now she was unbuckling my belt. I grabbed her small hand, holding it away from my body.
“What are you doing?”
She shrugged, a little smile on her face. “I thought you might like it.”
I squeezed her hand. The bones inside it moved. Her expression didn’t change. “You got no respect for the dead, woman?”
“He ain’t our dead.”
I dropped her hand and sat up, turning away from her. My shaking fingers tried to button my shirt.
“One day you’re on fire for me, and the next I’m a ugly sheila.” She stood, snatching bits of her clothes off the dirt floor. “You ain’t allowed to mourn if it ain’t your kin that died. Unnatural, that’s what The Law says.”
“Fuck The Law,” I whispered.
She made a lot of noise leaving, but I didn’t look at her. I couldn’t.
I sat there in the growing light and heat with the door open. People bustled about. They went to morning prayers, though their God would never look on them again. By The Law, the closest thing they had was sitting in this hut.
But I wasn’t telling.
Roberts came in with a shovel in each hand. He grinned. “It’s time for the burial, buddy. Give us all a hand.”
I nodded, taking a shovel from him. Roberts blathered the entire way to Darrell’s hut, but I didn’t listen. The men of the village were there. His home had been gutted. All his things were clumped outside the hut. Darrell just stood there. He looked even older now.
As many men could fit crowded inside. The rest waited their turn. We dug up the hard-packed earthen floor with our shovels. When we reached the soft soil underneath, we got down on our knees and scooped out the dirt with our hands. Men came and went, taking turns. I stayed the whole time. Soon, there was a hole much bigger and deeper than we needed.
Darrell brought in a box of Sullivan’s possessions: the clothes, the book, the figurines, and his gun. That was all. He handed it to me and stood aside. I took each item out and dropped it into the pit. The book landed open, its pages bent. When I got to the water bear, I tried to palm it.
Roberts took hold of my wrist, still smiling. “We don’t want no zombi coming back, looking for his stuff, eating from our stock, do we?”
Everyone was watching.
“Do we, Jackson?”
I wanted to laugh at him or chew out his eyes, but I just shook my head.
“Then kindly help us along.”
Running my earth-stained fingers over the wood figure, I hoped for a splinter, at least, to keep with me. Instead, I tossed the water bear in with the rest. Together, we sprinkled handfuls of dirt into the hole until it was a full, pregnant mound. Then we packed the earth with our boots.
When I ducked outside the hut, they were cooking up venison from the doe I’d killed, but the smell of the animal’s roasting flesh sickened me. I went home and rocked in the one-armed chair in a darkened corner of my hut. My mother had given Millie and me the chair when we were married. It reminded me of her. I sat in her lap when I was young, and she would tell me stories of God, of his murder of the old God, his battles with the lesser gods, and of the beasts he commanded. She would recite The Law to me. After she died, I often sat in the chair to feel close to her. Now I wanted to smash it up for kindling.
My wife came home after the feast. Her cheeks were flushed from the fire or dancing. She lit a candle. Cupping the flame, she sat across from me on the bed. In the candlelight, she smiled. Her lips and teeth were stained with red wine. I had to look away.
Millie set the candle down on the floor between us. Then she undid her bonnet. Reaching my hand out, I touched her long hair. It was not as soft as I remembered, but still so soft. The flickering light cast deep shadows under her eyes.
“What do you want from me, Millie?” I wanted to weep in her lap.
As I sat in my mother’s chair, my wife kissed me, and I let her. The smell of alcohol on her breath made my stomach clench up, but it also made me wish wine flooded my belly and head. She put her lips against my neck, my cheeks, and my eyelids.
Between kisses she said, “We need us a baby already…People going to suppose I’m barren…My moon cycle is right, Jackson…We could make life tonight.”
I grabbed her chin hard. Then I shoved her down. She landed on the bed, and the candle went out.
My breath came hard and fast. I couldn’t see her, but I wanted to pick up the chair and break it over her prone body. I wanted to rip her hair out and hit her face.
“Don’t you never talk like that again. You listening to me? I ain’t going to hear no more of your baby shit.”
Her quiet sobs filled the dark. I swung the door open and slammed it behind me. I had never felt such a vicious rage before. That night, I slept on the cold forest ground, hoping it would cool the heat of my insides.
In the morning when I woke up, my skin and clothes were moist with dew. I thought of Millie sleeping the night alone in our bed, crying her eyes raw. I had hurt my wife. My beautiful, perfect wife. I felt ashamed, but I didn’t feel wrong.
Today was set to be Sullivan’s funeral. Everyone was expected to go, including me.
I didn’t want that.
I wanted to sit alone in the woods forever, become a hermit, and hunt berries at night. I wanted to run down the mountain to wherever my brother, Tommy, had gone. I wanted to become like the city folk with their new clothes and automobiles. I wanted to forget everything I’d done and everyone I knew.
I wanted to believe again.
None of those things would ever happen.
The whole village gathered in front of Darrell’s hut. Sullivan was wrapped in a yellow shroud because he died before he became a man. The women had sewn it. Millie helped them. I couldn’t look away from that brilliant, golden shroud. The body rested on strips of wood that were bound together. I volunteered to help carry Sullivan on his makeshift raft. Even though many men shouldered the boy’s weight alongside me, he still felt so very heavy.
We walked with slow, measured steps to the river, dripping homemade wine onto the soil in our wake. We lowered the litter onto the riverbank, and Darrell tipped spoonfuls of dirt into his son’s open mouth.
The old man’s voice was gritty when he spoke into the silence. “I wish his eyes was open, so he could get a look at the sky one last time.” I put my hand on his back.
The women spit three times over their left shoulders. I watched Millie spit, hoping our eyes would meet, but she kept her gaze on the ground. We collected some dry twigs and arranged them around the body. Then we lit Sullivan and his shroud on fire, setting him adrift on the river. Everyone but me closed their eyes and hummed that single note of prayer in the back of their throats. I watched them pray, and I watched Sullivan burn. Then I closed my eyes and hummed with them.
The gathering slowly broke up, heading to the village for the party. I turned my back to the stragglers and dry-heaved from the stink of Sullivan’s charred carcass. I rinsed my mouth and cooled my neck with handfuls of river water. Millie was just now walking home, so I followed her, trying to decide what to say.
She went to our hut, and for a while, I waited outside the closed door. I knocked, then waited some more before going inside. She was curled on the bed with a limp, gray pillow across her chest. Her eyes were so big. I stood with my back against the door.
“I’m sorry for what I done, Millie. I shouldn’t have hurt you like that. I won’t never touch you in anger again. I promise.”
Slowly, I moved closer to sit on the far edge of the bed.
“I was confused before. Now I ain’t. I want to make a baby with you, if you’ll still have me.”
Her fingers gripped the pillow until her knuckles paled. “Now?”
I swallowed the bile that fought to climb my throat. “Yes, ma’am.”
Her fluttering hand reached for me, and I kissed her. We took each other’s clothes off. Millie’s breath was quick and moist on my face. I stretched my body on top of hers. Her thighs clenched me hard.
As I entered my wife, I wished it was dark outside.
I buried my face in her shoulder, feeling the blood pulsing through her neck. As my hips ground against her, she moaned.
“I love you, Jackson. Tell me you want this baby.”
“I want it.”
“Tell me you trust God.”
“I trust Him.”
Her whisper was breathless. “Tell me you love me.”
I couldn’t. I was ready to tell every lie there was, but not that one. Not yet.
Amanda Rodriguez is a queer, first generation Cuban-American and an environmental activist living in Weaverville, NC. She holds an MFA from Queens University in Charlotte, NC. Her writing can be found in Germ Magazine, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Mud Season Review, Rigorous, and Stoneboat Literary Journal.
5 Questions with Amanda Rodriguez:
TD: Tell us a little about this story? Where did the idea come from?
AR: I grew up in the small town of Buckhannon, West Virginia, and now I live in rural North Carolina. I’ve always been interested in the darkness and grit of southern storytelling. I wanted to write something that tapped into a fictitious version of the long history of myth that is part of mountain culture. As a Catholic turned atheist, I’m also particularly fascinated with religion and the concept of losing faith.
TD: Who is your greatest writing influence?
AR: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As a Cuban-American, I feel deeply connected to the Latin American tradition of magical realism. There is power in including ourselves in stories that seek to exclude us. There is power in reclaiming oppressive dominant narratives and rewriting reality.
TD: What is your favorite place to write and why?
AR: I tend to enjoy writing in public spaces, particularly coffee shops. There’s something about making myself invisible while others are loudly living life that sharpens my concentration.
TD: Favorite word?
AR: This one is tough! My favorite word changes and has more to do with the way the word sounds and feels in the mouth than the meaning. However, lately I’ve become enamored with words for concepts that we all understand but that we don’t have in English. For us, writers and book lovers, a good one is: tsundoku from Japan, which means buying a book and leaving it unread in a stack. One of my personal favorites is the Swedish fika, which means having coffee (and often sweets) with friends.
TD: Do you have a favorite reading ritual?
AR: I have an old lady rocking chair in front of my bedroom window. I sit there with a book, a blanket, my TBR shelves above my head and a snoring mastiff underneath my feet.