an online showcase curated by Maya Kóvskaya


by Ron Rindo



Every Tuesday night my mom and stepdad, Dolores and Ed, go to marriage counseling, though they lie and say they’re going out to dinner. Dinner at Dr. Freud’s, I call it. Ed used to be a drunk, and while his liver bobbed in a bottle of E&J, Dolores had an affair with her boss that lasted over two years. How I know this doesn’t matter. The point is, they lie about everything.    

This particular Tuesday Ed is already dressed, sitting between Adam and me on the living room sofa watching the end of “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” his favorite show. He wears a rumpled blue sport coat, wing tips on his feet, and he smells like he took a bath in Old Spice. Apropos of nothing, he says, “Marriage is like an old car. If you don’t maintain the son-of-a-bitch, she’ll break down.” Dolores is in the kitchen smoking a cigarette as she irons her flowered blouse. She doesn’t love Ed, but she’s agreed to therapy if he moderates his drinking, so they’ve chosen stasis over bliss because, I guess, seeking bliss is too exhausting.

I’ve got Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance open on my lap, and Ed keeps glancing over to make sure I’m not reading. I have an attitude problem, Ed says, and he’s right. I hate that asshole. In fact, in the company of my parents, I am so filled with rage and revulsion I feel as if blood is about to gush from all of my orifices.

I read a lot and that keeps me alive, but when the T.V. is on, Ed expects all eyes on the screen. He’ll swat my head and say, “Hey genuis! You too good to watch T.V. with this family?” Or, in a philosophical mood—after four cans of Budweiser, for example--he’ll say, “You’ll never get anywhere in this world, Joseph, if you spend life with your goddamned nose in a book.”

When the newspaper reports on some eighteen-year-old kid shooting his old man, I’m not one of those people who wonder how something like that could happen.

The doorbell rings, and our babysitter skulks into the living room, part of the little humiliation drama Ed and Dolores have been directing. The sitter’s dark hair is streaked blonde like a skunk’s tail, her eyes are shadowed black, and she has a silver ring in her lip, a bar through her eyebrow, a crystal stud in her nose.  The dozen rhinestones up one of her ears look like a shiny, segmented caterpillar. Airport security would be a real bitch for her, but I doubt she’s ever been too far from town.  

“Boys, say hello to your babysitter,” Ed says. She chomps her gum like a camel chewing cud and stares at me.

“Her name’s Dakota,” Mom shouts, from the kitchen.

“Hello, Dakota,” Ed says, lifting his blubbery self from the sofa. “Good to meet you.” He shakes her hand and heads for the kitchen, craning his neck to get an eyeful of Dakota’s ass. She’s wearing tight jeans ripped out at both knees and a low-cut black t-shirt with “BITE ME” across the chest in silver sequins, above a red-sequined apple. She’s so thin she looks like pantyhose stretched over a coat hangar. A tattoo—vines, thorns—climbs her neck and curls around her throat.

Mom told us Dakota is putting her life back together after some trouble with the law. Victimless crimes, she assured us. Nothing to worry about.

Adam is ten and I’m fifteen, and we resent having a sitter at all, not to mention Miss Goth Teen Felon of the Year. A few weeks ago, while Ed and Dolores were away, Adam lit the curtains on fire while shooting a roman candle out his bedroom window. Since then, three weeks running, they’ve hired a babysitter. The first one left when I brought my rat snake into the living room and tied a white mouse to one leg of the coffee table. Adam shot the second sitter in the leg with his Airsoft pistol. Dakota, Mom assured us, would be tougher. Don’t fuck with her, Mom said. She’s done time.

“We’ll be home around eleven-thirty,” Ed says. “Stay out of fucking trouble.”

Dakota sighs and flops into Ed’s recliner, one leg hanging over the side. She kicks off her sandals. A marijuana leaf is tattooed on the top of one foot, and her toenails are painted black. A tinny, thrash metal song starts up—“Angel of Death,” by Slayer--and she digs inside her purse and pulls out a cell phone. “What,” she says, flatly. Pause, loud gum chewing. “No.” Pause, more gum chewing. “Look, I’m babysitting these two kids, and if I don’t watch them, they might kill somebody.” She flips her phone closed and jams it back into her purse. “Asshole,” she whispers.

“We have never killed anyone,” Adam says. He’s short and what some people call chunky, with a sprinkling of freckles across his nose. When he frowns, he gets a little “V” in the fat of his forehead.

Dakota looks at me, stares at my hair, which I haven’t cut or combed for over a year, then lets her eyes drift down to my arms and chest. I lift weights in the basement every day, curls, military press, bench press. As a little kid at school in the winter, I used to pack my hands in snow. Recess lasted fifteen minutes. My hands would turn white and hard, like claws, and I’d start seeing stars. “You’re quite the muscle-head,” Dakota says, to me.

“Joey doesn’t talk,” Adam says.


“Not to adults,” Adam says. A childhood shrink called it selective muteness, meaning I could talk, but I chose not to. Ed used to knock me around a bit when I got mouthy. He used my head like a punching bag.  He’s been half-way sober six years, but a dick all my life.

“How old is he?” Dakota asks.


She snickers. “Fifteen? Geez Louise.” She taps her head with a finger. Adam belly laughs.

I pull a firecracker and lighter out of my pocket. I hold the firecracker between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand, flick the lighter with my right.

“Don’t do that,” Dakota says.

I light the fuse, hold my hand toward Dakota. She turns her back, jams her fingertips into her ears. The firecracker blows with a sharp snap that echoes off the living room walls, sending shreds of smoking paper and powder all over Dakota and onto the carpeting. My fingers feel the way your face feels when someone slaps it really hard. The room smells of smoke and sulphur.

“Asshole,” Dakota says.

I put the lighter back into my pocket. Adam pulls out his own lighter, snaps a flame.

“Want to get high?” he asks Dakota.

“You get high? What are you, like, in second grade?”

“Fifth!” Adam protests. “I’m short for my age, all right? Don’t be so rude.”

“Smoking stunts your growth,” Dakota says. “No wonder you’re a dwarf.”

“Bite me,” Adam says. “How old are you anyway?”


“Would you show us your tits?”

Dakota narrows her eyes. “If you want to see a girl’s tits, dickhead, the last thing you should do is ask her to show them to you.” She grabs the remote from the arm of the sofa and scrolls through the stations. “I’m not going to sit around here with you idiots all night watching T.V,” Dakota says. “Let’s get out of here.”

I write the note: “Dear Mom and Ed. The criminal you hired kidnapped us. If we’re not back in a week, call the FBI.  Your erstwhile son, Joseph.”

“Erstwhile?” Dakota says, nudging me with her elbow. “What are you, some kind of braniac?”

I smile at her.

We pile into Dakota’s 1997 Pontiac Sunbird and roar away. Dakota lights a cigarette, passes one to me and Adam, and the inside of the car fills with smoke until we put down the windows.  I ride shotgun, and I’ve got my arm out the window, the cool, June evening air streaming into my shoulder. Adam’s in the back seat, coughing up smoke, bobbing his fat head to Metallica.  When I turn off the music, both Adam and Dakota scream at me.

“Let’s just chill,” I say.

“He speaks!” Dakota says.

We drive forty minutes into the country. 

“So sunshine,” Dakota says. “Are you depressed, or is this whole silent thing just an act to get hot girls?”

“I hate my fucking life.”

“You ever try killing yourself?”

“Thought about it.”

Dakota rolls her eyes. “Everybody thinks about it. You get up on a chair with a rope around your neck?”

I shake my head. “Strangulation would hurt like a motherfucker. I’d go up on a skyscraper and jump, pass through the sidewalk into whatever is waiting on the other side.”

“Might be hell,” Dakota says, “going that way.”

I shrug. “Couldn’t be any worse than living with Ed and Dolores.”

Dakota says, “I’d OD on heroin.”

“That shit scares me,” I tell her.

Dakota smiles. “You get over that.”

Gradually the windshield is smeared with a gouache of the bodies of insects and moths. Dakota tells me about her trouble with the law. Heroin possession at age thirteen. Solicitation. Vandalism.

“What did you vandalize?”

She laughs. “I put dog shit in the shake machine at McDonald’s. And then I poured motor oil in the fryers.”


“My boss was a filthy lying dickhead motherfucker,” she says. “I was in love with him.”

Dakota slows and crosses over a small bridge, pulls into a narrow, gravel lane that snakes down a small hill into thick woods. At the end of the gravel is a tiny, dirt parking lot and a rusty green truck with a topper on the back, rear bumper sagging, loosely wired to the frame.

“Come on,” she says.

We leave the car and follow her on a path through the woods. Mosquitoes whine in my ears. The full moon hangs over our heads, a perfect, glowing circle. We enter a grassy field lit by fireflies, and just ahead we can see moonlight sparkling on gurgling water. Our shadows move like dark ghosts creeping beside us. Dakota leads us to the riverbank maybe four feet above the waterline, and downstream we can see the silhouette of someone standing in the current waving a fly rod. 

Dakota whistles softly three times, like the calling of a mourning dove. The man turns and splashes upstream a couple steps toward us. “What the hell?” he says. “’Kota?” He turns on a flashlight, shines the beam in our faces. “Is that you?”

“This is Doug Fassbender ,” Dakota says. “He’s the manager where I worked at McDonalds, before he fired me. He used to be my boyfriend.”

“What the hell are you doing?” Fassbender asks. He’s got a dark beard, and he’s wearing a white cowboy hat and shiny, green rubber waders that come halfway up his chest.

“Hey, you called me,” Dakota says. “Remember?”

“I wanted to make sure you were all right.”

“Bullshit!” Dakota says. “You wanted to fuck me.” She looks at me and Adam. “We used to meet up in that parking lot and he would rape me in the back of his truck.”

“Why don’t you shut the hell up?” Fassbender says.

“We’re leaving, asshole,” Dakota says. “We’re going to visit your wife now to find out if she likes doggie style as much as you do. Maybe Adam and Joey can play with your kids.” She turns her back to the water, pushes past Adam and me. Fassbender shouts after us: “Stay away from my house, you ratty little bitch.”

Dakota breaks into a run, and Adam and I follow her. We enter the woods again and take the path to the parking lot. Dakota sits crying with her forehead against the steering wheel. I open the glove box, rummage around half-packs of cigarettes, tampons, a lighter, a hairbrush full of hair, some crumpled up clothing.

“Stay out of my shit,” she says, suddenly. I close the glove box. Her face is streaked in eye shadow and mascara. “If I went to the cops,” Dakota says, “that asshole would go to prison.”

“How old is that dude?”


“Then do it,” I say. “If the guy’s such a douche, he deserves it.”

She shrugs, then points to the glove box. “I think I have a knife in there. Wrapped in the underpants.”

I open the glove box again and find it. A Swiss Army pocketknife. I hand it to her, and she opens the main blade.

She walks to Fassbender’s truck, kneels by one of the back tires. She jams the tip of the knife against the muddy sidewall, but nothing happens. She pushes harder. Still nothing. She gives me the knife.

I hold it like I’m going to stab someone and jam the tip as hard as I can into the sidewall. It’s tougher than I expected, but I saw at it using both hands and in a few seconds I’m through. Foul-smelling air rushes from the slit in the rubber, and the rear of the truck drops as the tire goes flat.

Dakota goes into the woods and comes back with a thick stick twice the length of a baseball bat. She climbs up on the hood, swings the stick down at the windshield, once, twice, three times, leaving three sunken spider webs, each the size of a basketball.

“Wow,” Adam says. “You really hate this dude.”

“You don’t know shit,” Dakota says.

We see a flickering light coming up the path from the woods and we race for Dakota’s car. She starts it, jams it into gear, and spins out of the parking lot, roars up the gravel lane and back out to the road.  She’s got the gas pedal to the floor, the speedometer ticking up over 70 miles an hour. “Angel of Death” starts playing inside her purse. “Can you get that for me?” I reach into her purse and answer.

We hear Fassbender shouting, cursing. Raging. I hold the phone to Dakota’s ear.

“Now he’s really pissing me off,” Dakota says as she slams on the brakes. The car jerks hard and goes into a slide. We spin sideways, the front end crossing the median. I throw out one hand, brace myself against the dashboard.

We come to a stop with the rear tires in the ditch, the headlights shining halfway up the pine trees across the road. Dakota mumbles something and punches the gas again, and the Sunbird spits gravel and shimmies back up to the road, the muffler roaring. We’re headed back to the river.

Dakota barely slows down as we reach the turn. The rear end swings to the left, flattens a couple small trees, then the tires catch and we blow down the tree-lined path going maybe forty, forty-five. I’ve got a hand on the dash. Then Fassbender appears in his rubber fishing waders like a zombie in a horror flick, the headlights boring in on his legs, his arms flailing as if he’s someone on a log, losing his balance. Dakota screams as  Fassbender’s body folds in half, slides up the hood and windshield and disappears over the top of the car. Dakota locks up the brakes and we slide to a stop. From the back seat Adam is shouting something I can’t understand. In a panic Dakota shifts the car into reverse, and we’re lurching backward. The car bucks once, twice, like it’s gone over two big logs. Adam keeps shouting, “Stop the fucking car! Stop the fucking car!” Dakota turns the wheel and the back end angles into thick brush. We hear the screech of branches against the doors and the undercarriage, and then we’re stopped, exhaust billowing through the windows.

Dakota pushes her car door against brush and branches with her left shoulder and runs to Fassbender.  We find his bloodied body slumped and bent in on itself, crimped in the middle like a fortune cookie. Both legs bend hideously at the thigh, and one sharp, white bone pokes through the back of his fishing waders like a giant, bloody needle.

Dakota wraps her arms around his head. She pushes her mouth against his hair and cries. In the bit of moonlight that filters through the trees, I can make out the shine of the one eye still nestled inside his skull. Blood gurgles and bubbles softly from his nose.  The other side of his face is caved in, the jaw pushed two or three inches to the side.  His lips are torn off, and with his front teeth exposed his head looks a bit like a skull.

Dakota’s teeth start to chatter. I can hear them clicking inside her mouth. She rubs the tears from her face with the back of one of Fassbender’s hands. Adam blubbers and sobs. I throw an arm over his shoulders. After about ten minutes, I go back to Dakota. She has her cell phone in her hand. “I don’t have a signal,” she says, and hands the phone to me. It doesn’t matter. I shine the phone light on Fassbender’s face. His one good eye is frozen open. He is as still as a rock in the moonlight. My chest quivers. I swallow back the bile that rises into my throat.

“We should call the police,” I tell her.

Dakota’s body shakes as we walk back to the car. The front bumper is shattered in the middle. A few pieces lay in the leaves.  The hood is dented and crimped. The windshield is cracked but intact, and one of the wipers is missing. I drop to one knee and check under the car. It doesn’t seem to be leaking oil or antifreeze. We get in and sit in the dark, listening to Dakota shiver and chatter. She is crying so hard she sometimes stops breathing.

Eventually, she reaches for the key in the ignition, and the car rumbles to life. The headlights come on. She wipes her fingers under her eyes, her cheeks smeared with mascara and blood. She shifts into gear and rumbles back to the road, where we’re soon driving into the night, moths and other insects flashing through the headlights. I hand her some tissues from the glove box, and she cleans up her face.
No one says anything else until we’re inside the carwash in Wautoma. We watch swirling white foam swish against the windows under rotating felt pads, like giant spinning mops, followed by heavy, deafening blasts of water, and the gentle mist of a spot-free rinse.  

“I told him I would die for him,” Dakota says. “But he died for me instead.”

“Not exactly for you,” Adam says

“Shut up, Adam,” I say.  

“We used to meet at midnight at an old quarry like fifteen miles from here. We’d sneak in under the fence, take off our clothes, and jump feet first into the dark water, eighty or ninety feet below.  What a rush! Doug said in that spot the quarry was almost a half-mile deep, but that our love went even deeper. We’d climb back up the bluff and jump again. Then he’d put a blanket down, light some candles all around us, and we’d have sex.” She looked at me. “I’ve been happy maybe three or four nights in my life, and those were the nights.”  She pulls forward and the car shakes as the powerful, forced air dryers push rivulets of water from the hood and windshield.

“I’ll take you home now,” Dakota says.

“You can drop Adam,” I say. “I’m staying with you.”

“Why? ” Dakota says.

“I want to.”

Ed and Dolores aren’t home yet when we let Adam back in the house. He’ll be fine, he says. He won’t say anything. Nothing worse than seeing Dolores have a nervous breakdown.

Dakota drives away, and I can tell from the turns she makes that she is taking us back to the river. She reaches across to me, asks me to hold her hand. It feels small and cold in mine, our fingers intertwined, and sometimes she rubs a thumb gently along the top of my hand.

“I’m scared,” she says.

I nod. “Me, too.”

I think we both hope that somehow, magically, we’ll discover Fassbender has changed his tire and driven home, or that maybe time had reversed itself and he’s still in the river, fishing, and all four tires on his truck are still full of air. You know it isn’t logical, but when bad shit happens, brains trick us into wishing. When we reach him, just after midnight, his body is crumpled where it had been. His blood has dried and darkened some, and he seems smaller, deflated. In the shine of the headlights, two white moths flutter around his hair.

“I can’t leave him here,” she says.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” Dakota says.

“We can call the police. It was an accident. You didn’t mean to kill him.”

She shakes her head, slowly. “I wanted to hurt him, though. He hurt me, and I wanted to hurt him back.” She begins crying again. “I want to drive around with him for awhile.”

Even with the door jammed all the way open and the front seat pushed forward, it is a bitch getting Fassbender into the back seat of Dakota’s Sunbird. I expect his body to be stiff already, but moving him is awkward, like carrying an inflated kiddie pool full of water. We move him incrementally to the car, then I lift him through Dakota’s door and slide him into the back seat, where she takes his shoulders and guides him in. Dakota pulls one of those shiny, silver mylar emergency blankets from her trunk and covers Fassbender with it, and then we use leaves to wipe the blood from our arms and hands.

“We should take him to a hospital,” I tell her.

Dakota hugs me. She presses her body against mine, her face against my sternum. I can smell her hair, and I can feel her breasts against my ribs, the bones of her hips against my thighs.

Then she pulls down on my neck and kisses me, her mouth gently working my mouth slightly open. The gloss on her lips tastes sweet, like vanilla.

“I should have dated boys my own age,” she says, as she releases me.

“You still can,” I say.

She smiles weakly and shakes her head.

Dakota drives for about twenty-five minutes into Redgranite, a small town cleaved in half by the main highway. She turns down a county road, where the grass and weeds growing along the shoulder are four feet high. The road curves past a horse farm, a half-mile of bright, white fencing that seems to glow in the dark, and then she slows and stops by a long, gravel driveway that leads to a small, blue ranch-style house with a T.V. antennae on the roof. Four skinny trees stand in the yard, each of them staked on three sides. A basketball hoop hangs from a pole beside the driveway, and a red tricycle rests on its side in the front yard beside a small, plastic wading pool that sits like a wafer in the grass. Dakota stops the car and turns off the ignition, opens the windows.

Crickets trill in the fields. A few lightning bugs flit over the road in front of us, blinking amber-green.

“That’s his house,” Dakota whispers. She begins crying. “His wife’s name is Janet. He’s got a little boy, who’s seven, and a little girl who’s three. Jake and Emily. They’re really cute. When we first started seeing each other, and I couldn’t stand to be away from him, I’d steal my mother’s car and drive out here. I just turned fifteen. I didn’t even have my license. I’d hide in the tall grass and watch the house. I could see all of them walking around. In summer, when the windows were open, I could hear his wife singing “Baby Beluga” to the kids in the bathtub. I could hear them laughing. Sometimes when they put out the lights and went to sleep, I’d lay down in the back seat and sleep, too.”

She puts her forehead against the steering wheel and sobs.  

“It’s not your fault,” I tell her. “He messed all of this up, not you. Adults shouldn’t get to fuck things up and blame kids for it.”

Dakota starts the car, but then she turns off the ignition. “Can you check the oil for me? I’ve got a couple quarts in the trunk if you need it.”

I lift the hood and check and everything’s fine, but when I try to get back into the car, the door is locked. Dakota calls me around to her side of the car. Her window is slightly open.

“I’m sorry,” Dakota says. “I can’t take you with us, Joey. You are the sweetest boy I ever met. Remember that.”

“Come on,” I say, “open the door.”

“I can’t,” she says.

“What are you going to do?”

She shifts into gear. “Was I your first kiss?”

I nod. She smiles. “I’m so happy about that,” she says. “Don’t forget me.” She drives away, the red tail lights get smaller and smaller in the distance.

It’s after one in the morning, and I am probably an hour’s drive from home. I can walk out to the main highway and probably get a ride from a trucker, though honestly, the way I’m feeling, it’s possible I just might hitch a ride in the other direction and keep on going. It is a fantasy, I understand that, but so much of life is, really. I think some people come to believe the secret of life is learning to live with that. I think now maybe it’s the opposite.

I look up the Fassbender’s driveway, at the single, pale dawn-to-dusk light glowing on the front porch. Slowly, I walk through the front yard toward the house.  My feet leave a trail through the dew clinging to the freshly-mown grass. I lift the tricycle back to its three wheels, then step up on the porch, sit with my back nestled in one corner. An opened box of colored chalk is near one of my feet, and I can see where a child has been drawing on the concrete, smiling stick figures in orange and blue, a small, smiling stick cat in purple. Fireflies flash over the road and field. From the woods across the road, I hear the hooting of an owl, and further in the distance, the rumble of trucks on the main highway.

I pinch my eyes closed. Miles away, I know one fantasy has come to an end, and another is taking its place. A red Sunbird rumbles through the night toward the upper cliff of an abandoned granite quarry. Maybe Dakota gets out once to look at the fence her car will have to break through, or to look down at the glint of moonlight on the water. But probably not. She probably sits inside the car in the dark, holding Fassbender’s cool hand. When she hits the gas, she does so without trepidation. She’s afraid, of course, but she’s also committed to being with her lover for all eternity. The windows are open, and the car blows through the fence, covers thirty or so yards of granite, and is airborne, wheels spinning against open air, the Sunbird dropping, nose first, into the blackness, until it hits the water. It cleaves the surface with a heavy hiss, and the car slowly descends, flips, and comes to rest on its roof a half-mile below the surface.

In the morning, I will meet Janet Fassbender, and I will tell her everything I know. We all live in a fog of lies. We come to wear it like a shawl, and we don’t realize until too late it’s strangling us. Because I have been unhappy—because unhappiness has been at the core of my soul for so long—I will be able to help her understand Dakota, and maybe, even, her own husband. Choices made in our unhappiness clarify us, even if they do not dignify us.

I close my eyes and tip my face toward the East. I want to be certain to see the sun when it rises in the morning.





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