Dr lo ying

I knew we were only going khổng lồ Rulo to make up for his getting so drunk he slept in. Rulo was an apology.

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*

Phil và Dale were too drunk lớn pick me up when they said they would that morning. I didn’t know Dale was coming so I was only mad at Phil. I texted him, “Dude, not cool” from the conference center in Nebraska City where I was a visiting lecturer.

They showed up three hours late. I’d already checked out of my room, briefly having an altercation at the front desk. They’d tried lớn bill me extra because they thought Phil was my spouse, which he most certainly was not.

I met Phil on a volcano thirteen years ago. The volunteer trip was packed with sing-songy optimistic youth from across upper-middle-class North America. He was the only other teenager struggling with the no smoking rule.

I was seventeen and sitting at a long wooden table reading Charles Bukowski’s The Pleasures of the Damned when he introduced himself. Looking bachồng now, I can see why Phil pegged me as someone he’d get along with. He told me he was from Nebraska & that his dad was a real-life poet. He pointed at my Bright Eyes shirt and said he personally knew Conor Oberst. He was trying lớn impress me.

It worked. Until then I’d never lived anywhere outside of Fonthill, Ontario—a conservative sầu small town predominantly known for electing a home-schooled 19-year-old as a member of provincial parliament. I didn’t know there were poets who weren’t dead or that you could just know Conor Oberst the same way you know the mail carrier or the cashier at the corner store. As an extension of knowing Phil, I came khổng lồ imbue Nebraska with an esteem similar khổng lồ what someone more cultivated would’ve attributed to 1920s Paris.

He was beautiful. Thinnish. Curly wheat-blonde hair. A thắm thiết drawl. Well-dressed but ungroomed so his good looks seemed totally accidental.

There was never any romance between us. We’d joked about having a sđắm say wedding so I could get American citizenship và he could throw a buổi tiệc nhỏ but his girlfrikết thúc asked us not to lớn. Our friendship was simple but cchiến bại. We made each other laugh. We had the same spirit. Something in both of us resisted containment. I saw my childhood in his Omaha. He saw himself in my stories of Fonthill. We both listened khổng lồ Saddle Creek. He was my brother.

I still wonder how my life would be if I’d stayed in Omaha last year, a place where, for a month, I’d easily, temporarily fashioned a happy life for myself, instead of returning to lớn Toronkhổng lồ where I’d always felt stuck and unhappy.

*** 

When the boys finally appeared in the parking lot in a rusty pickup, they had Sushi with them. Sushi was the name given lớn the three-legged pug by the Insta-ho she was rescued from. It was the only name she’d answer khổng lồ when she arrived at Phil’s house, extremely traumatized. She was the most amicable creature I’d ever met; cuddly, quick witted, unfalteringly loyal with an astounding memory for each person she encountered. When I opened Phil’s front door after a year away, she greeted me with a stuffed beaver like a little diplomat.

“I’m sorry. I fucked up and lost my phone. But we’re going lớn Rulo.” Phil had bags under his eyes và smelled like my father, a functional alcoholic who died when I was twelve.

I couldn’t contain my smile when he said Rulo. Even if everything in his body toàn thân language—his slumped posture, his faded expression & the way he anxiously ran his hands through his hair—indicated he didn’t giới thiệu my eagerness. I knew we were only going to lớn Rulo to 3D for his getting so drunk he slept in. Rulo was an apology. He didn’t want khổng lồ go to lớn Rulo. I did. 

Dale also smelled lượt thích my father but ten times more father-y. “Hey girl, wassuuuuppp…” He was wearing his unikhung of camo but had switched from a tie-dye tee khổng lồ a plaid button-up.

Dale had soft dark eyes and gorgeous blaông xã hair that fell beneath his toque in loose curls. He was always covered in dirt & paint. He looked lượt thích redneck Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He frequently showed up khổng lồ Phil’s house unannounced to nap on the couch và then leave sầu. 

A year ago, during my first trip lớn Nebraska, Dale had held my h& right before he leaned over the bar và guzzled booze from the tap while the bartender had her baông chồng turned. The staff at O’Leaver’s Pub made hlặng take out the garbage & as they laughed at hyên ổn, he laughed at himself. Outside, he’d asked me about why I was in Omaha and, mistaking his midwestern niceness for earnest curiosity, I started blabbering on about sexual assault. 

“C’mon man, that’s not what you fuckin’ lay on a person.” 

When the three of us went baông xã khổng lồ Phil’s, I sat on the cold stairs in the front yard until Dale was gone & didn’t talk khổng lồ hyên for the rest of my trip. Phil didn’t invite him over. Without further conversation, he knew not lớn invite himself in or nap on the couch until I’d left the country.

As I’d unloaded my suitcase in Phil’s kitchen after arriving for this trip three weeks ago, I heard a knoông xã on the backdoor. “Hey girl, wassuppp…”

I recognized Dale’s drawl. He was shaking a jar of weed in the window. I turned the knob & he pulled me inkhổng lồ his chest in a long hug. He smelled like melted plastic and cheeseburgers. When he used the bathroom the scent of cheeseburgers permeated the modest bungalow. He pulled out two minuscule bottles of Jameson from a pocket inside his jacket and we took shots in the living room at ten in the morning before he collapsed into lớn his nap.

I wanted khổng lồ remember hlặng as he appeared in that moment, only a nose and a mouth wrapped in a perfect cocoon of camo. He heard the camera on my phone because I’d foolishly left the sound on.

“Are you saving that for the spank bank?” He grinned.

Later, on the way khổng lồ Baker’s Supermarket where I needed khổng lồ buy shampoo và conditioner, Phil made the decision to instead turn into lớn O’Leaver’s for a quiông xã drink & I instinctually knew there’d be no supermarket & I wouldn’t be showering that night.

The bar wrapped around the bartender, Jodeen, lượt thích a rectangular C. Old records had been stapled to lớn the wall but Dale’s eyes were narrowly focused on the tap and its proximity to lớn Jodeen.

I confessed khổng lồ Dale, “I didn’t expect lớn see you again after the way things left off.” 

“You couldn’t get enough of that hot Nebraska ass, wassuppp…” 

“Like you’re not into me.”

Under the counter, he folded his hand into lớn mine lượt thích I was an instrument he used lớn play và just decided to pick up again.

“You’re making me hard.”

“Oh yeah, you want to know how I’d suck your dick?”

He did, so I told hyên. A quiet fell between us.

“Do you want to see my rabbits?” he asked.

I did.

He let go of my hvà khổng lồ retrieve sầu his phone from his pocket và show me photos of the rabbits he’d killed. They were lined up in a neat row in the back of the pickup.

***

In the conference center parking lot, Dale eyeballed my blazer & nametag as he loaded my suitcase into the back. The blazer is a thing I wear to lớn signify that I’m no longer the farmer’s daughter from Fonthill, Ontario. Instead, I am a serious academic. Except my hair was braided in pigtails lượt thích Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, one braid obscuring my name và the words Visiting Faculty.

Nebraska City disappeared behind us as we pummeled down a highway between field after field. Sushi nestled inkhổng lồ Dale in the backseat. I passed hyên a can of Coors from the half-finished six-paông xã at my feet before opening one for myself. Phil already had his beer tucked between his legs beneath the steering wheel. The corn harvest had passed. All around us the l& lay flat và golden in the sunshine.

“It’s warm,” Phil observed as Sushi made her way from the backseat to lớn my lap and then khổng lồ his. She looked lượt thích she was trying to drive sầu the pickup. 

“Global Warming,” I remarked.

Dale piped up, “I’m all for it! 2020! Say stuff just to piss people off! Wassuppp…”

“We need to lớn stop by St. Deroin so Dale can renew his hunting license,” said Phil. “It’s a ghost town with a nature reserve. You’ll lượt thích it. Then we can head to lớn Rulo.” 

I was troubled by gnawing guilt. The boys had told me there was an abandoned cult compound out in Rulo. I think to impress me with their knowledge of Nebraskan secrets. And I’d been impressed, slipping back into lớn my embarrassing writerly impulse to lớn follow stories, and nagged them to take me. 

It wasn’t extraordinary for them lớn propose long drives in the abstract. I don’t think they often played host. Omaha didn’t attract many Canadian tourists. Phil and Dale were listing places we could go: Kansas City because Phil had never been, Chicago khổng lồ surprise Phil’s ex-girlfrikết thúc, the ranch in Iowa where we’d flipped a truông xã the year before. Sometimes when Phil was excited he made promises that were hard to deliver on: last year he’d said we’d drive sầu lớn Arkansas, Texas, New Orleans.

The boys grew quiet on the subject, their expressions increasingly repulsed by my blossoming curiosity. It was apparent to me that something had been left unsaid. Whatever had happened in those farmlands all those years ago was so unspeakable that the boys didn’t even bother lớn try & explain. Instead, they returned khổng lồ their beers, signaling to me khổng lồ stop asking so many questions.  

***

There was no one in the permit office so Dale slid his application for his hunting license inkhổng lồ a lonely blaông xã mailbox. We split a pachồng of Marlboros between us as Phil swerved between the trees. Dale expressed his anguish at lost trees—maybe they’d been eaten by deer but he suspected they’d been burned down by the rangers. 

“You sound really upmix about missing trees for someone who loves global warming,” I noted as he lit a joint.

He exhaled và responded, “Wassuppp…”

“Why didn’t you talk lớn me over Christmas?”

***

A week earlier, over the Christmas break, I’d messaged Dale. Phil had flown khổng lồ New Jersey khổng lồ visit his sister for the holiday, leaving me alone in Omaha. On Facebook chat the message lớn Dale had gone seen, but unacknowledged. I partly wanted lớn see Dale for love of all-things-Dale but, more pressingly, I was scared.

An English literature graduate student, with whom I’d had one conversation about modernist poetry, sent me a tuy vậy he wrote about me. Then a poem he wrote about me. Then, finally, a message about how knowing someone as lovely as me had made it easier for hyên to lớn kill himself.

He knew I was staying at Phil’s house. My phone only connected to 9-solo in Toronkhổng lồ. Everyone in my Nebraska-circle was on vacation. It wasn’t that Dale was particularly noble or chivalrous, but that he was the only person left in Omaha.

I resented that one person had the power to redefine an entire city for me, an entire state even.

My paranoia fueled my imagination about what this grad student, with his embarrassing tweed jacket and his ugly thiông xã glasses & his bullshit love for bullshit T.S. Eliot, could be capable of. I didn’t message Dale more than once because I didn’t want khổng lồ come across as needy even if I was in need. The house seemed larger without people in it. I kept checking the front window to lớn see if the grad student’s oto was parked outside. None of the guns on the wall were loaded. At night, I slept with Sushi cradled to lớn my chest like a newborn. She was a good dog. She was a bad guard dog. I was frightened và alone.

Dale had a way of speaking slow và fast at the same time, drawing out his vowels but leaving no spaces between words, “Oh damn, I gotta get better at that thing. I don’t say nothin’ to lớn nobody, wassuppp…”

I turned to lớn face hlặng in the backseat. “I think it’s because you’re scared of girls.”

To this Dale offered only a grimace.

“I bet you lượt thích my pigtails,” I added, slow và deliberate, “& that scares the shit out of you.” The cold of his fingers slid from my left shoulder, across the back of my braid, neông xã, other braid, lớn my right shoulder.

We stopped along the shore of the Missouri River. Phil filled a paper cup with water for Sushi as Dale pointed out the best fishing spots for this fish or that fish. A group of tourists from some eastward thành phố huddled around hyên ổn. He named what had changed and what had stayed the same, where the embankment had swelled & where it’d retreated. 

I pulled out my phone lớn take a video, “Tell me what river this is, Dale.”

His mood shifted. “I don’t know.”

“Oh, leave him alone,” hollered Phil. “You know he’s afraid of girls.”

“There ain’t no river,” Dale asserted as navy waves paddled southward behind hyên ổn.

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***

On the outskirts of Rulo, we stopped at a Runza drive-through lớn get burgers, Sushi charming the cashiers in the window, before pulling into a liquor store beside a hardware store.

Phil tossed the butt of his smoke out the window. “There’s a good reason they put the liquor store beside the hardware store.”

“To murder women?”

“No,” Dale shot baông xã, a little offended. “To make it fun to build houses!” 

As we drove on, the land stretched outward lượt thích a glorious yellow cape. We turned onlớn a dirt road. I gripped the seat beneath me, remembering last year when Phil và I’d accidentally flipped a truông chồng in a farmer’s field, hiking three hours baông xã khổng lồ camp.

“Dale slept in your bed last night, so when we get baông xã we’ll have sầu khổng lồ change the sheets,” said Phil as the truck bent inkhổng lồ a sharp turn on the muddy path.

“I jerked off all over it,” added Dale, the fields growing into bushels of great dead crop that caressed the sides of the truông chồng. They reminded me of my grandparents’ orchard in autumn, the fertile hills of Niagara. I’m not from here, I had to lớn remind myself, as I saw familiar memories in this new place to lớn which I pledged no allegiance & where I had no previous history.

We parked in front of a sign that read No Trespassing. It was tied in the middle of a chain that hung between two wooden posts on either side of the dirt road. Dale hopped the chain with ease but Phil seemed reticent to go inside. “Are there people there?” asked Phil, trying lớn not sound afraid. 

I was more brash. “Are there people still living there? Do they have sầu guns? What if they hotline the cops on us? I’m not American.” 

“Naw,” said Dale lighting another joint, “Sign’s just so insiders can keep outsiders outside but ain’t nobody toàn thân goin’ khổng lồ get ya, little girly. Nobody’s here.”

Sushi scurried beneath the chain while Phil stepped over one foot at a time. I opted lớn duck beneath the chain lượt thích the dog while Phil & Dale lifted it over my head to honor my humanity.

“Just don’t tell anyone we were here,” Dale added. “The locals aren’t big on folks comin’ here and gettin’ into their itty gritty.”

Dale comfortably navigated the path lined with thiông chồng woods, pointing lớn the talon tracks & proclaiming there’d been a parade of wild turkeys, pointing at spots of shit và saying “deer” or “coyote.”

Phil and I followed, but Sushi lingered at the sign, whimpering lượt thích a toddler who’d just tumbled on the floor and was more startled by the sudden jolt of gravity than actual pain or injury.

“Soosh,” Phil called and hit his thigh. “Come here Sushi!” She ran to him but her skip was a beat slower than normal. She seemed nervous as she circled around Phil, sniffing fallen branches. She barked at empty air. “Sushi, stop barking,” said Phil. “Something’s got her spooked.” Phil had a habit of expressing his feelings by attributing them lớn Sushi. 

Along the path lớn what was once a compound, I envisioned my aunt. She hasn’t interacted with news outside her church in over three decades. I pictured her modest skirt, her hair fashioned into a pragmatic bun of grey ringlets, carrying a bag of grains lớn my uncle whose beliefs are so extreme he’s only allowed khổng lồ preach lớn those with late-stage Alzheimer’s in the Christian Fundamentadanh mục retirement homes. Yet, I wasn’t from there. I had khổng lồ keep reminding myself, this was my first time in Rulo.

We passed a silver silo with a faded sign mfs Stor-Age The World’s Grainkeeper before arriving at a grey aluminum building with a rusted-over baby xanh door that was freckled by bullet holes. There was a fork in the dirt trail with one route going around the building and inlớn the woods. Phil followed the other path, which stopped at the three cement stairs leading khổng lồ the baby blue door. The wheat crept up the grey metal siding. An industrial sign reading FARM STEEL had halfway fallen and hung on a crooked angle near the middle of the roof.

Phil haphazardly climbed the three steps and opened the door. A burst of light. Sushi pummeled forward but was startled to lớn find there was no floor on the other over. She squealed và Phil caught her before she could fall in. He held her close, pressing her heart to his & kissing her brow but she was inconsolable, wriggling và gasping in his arms, so he slowly lowered her feet to the ground. She retreated backward, screeching as if she’d been burned.

“This is fucked,” said Phil, again picking up Sushi & backing away. 

My stomach hurt. I’d never seen her behave sầu lượt thích that.

As I moved toward the building, Dale stepped backward and turned away, as if the sun setting over the hills were more interesting to lớn hyên than these relics of some forgotten sham-religion.

I reached out my hand. The door was cold as I opened it. Another burst of light. 

Inside, the floor had entirely given way lớn the floorboards beneath. Half of the posterior wall was missing so the framework—wooden rectangles adorned with dangling electrical wires—had a shadowy overlay that shifted inlớn new eerie shapes as each cloud changed the angle at which sunlight entered the building. Perhaps it could be guessed there’d been a flood but, truly, no natural disaster could tài khoản for the pattern of destruction inside. It was as though something not of this earth caused the structure to implode. Sushi was still crying. 

This place, this breathtaking expanse of country, what some had called Heartland và others’ God’s Land, was not responsible for the maleficent possession that I’d sensed, the wind blowing pebbles in peculiarly precise circles around my boots. Something deeply unnatural & evil had transpired here. I could feel it. 

“Dale, how long did the cult live sầu here?” He’d been singing Willie Nelson with his baông chồng turned to lớn me. 

“I’m uh not sure uh maybe fifteen years. Maybe longer. I don’t know.” 

“How long ago was that?” 

“Eighty-five sầu. It’s been a while.” 

I think if I’d known then what I know now I would have sầu behaved differently. I don’t think I would have pushed lớn go in the first place, nor accepted the trip as an apology. I wouldn’t have sầu been so presumptuous as lớn believe the reason Dale wasn’t looking at me was that he was afraid of girls.

***

In the early 1980s, Michael Ryan, a White supremacist with a distrust of all earthly authority, especially the government, founded the YHVH cult on Rick Stice’s farm in Rulo, Nebraska. Rick’s tư vấn of Michael Ryan, who’d honed his views by studying the Christian Identity Movement, was strongly informed by the financial hardship that hit his family as the American economy was becoming less dependent on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Rick’s wife had received a terminal cancer diagnoses và he was at a loss for how lớn support his three children. As many vì in times of desperation, Riông chồng turned khổng lồ God.

Rather quickly, Michael Ryan attracted a following of 21 members. They stole farming equipment from neighboring communities khổng lồ tư vấn themselves và stockpiled weapons—30 semi-automatic rifles, 15 machine guns, 150,000 rounds of ammunition, $250,000 worth of stolen farm machinery, several hundred bags of charcoal for making bombs—to lớn fight the Battle of Armageddon which they believed would take place in Nebraska. 

As Rick’s wife died, Michael secured four wives of his own. The leader became increasingly agitated & paranoid. Each day, he’d read from the list of names of children on the compound và pichồng one lớn reprimvà for whatever he could argue had angered Yahweh: generally small, accidental infractions like speaking out of turn or breaking the bvà of a watch. He’d lash out at women who looked at hlặng the wrong way and eventually separated them from the men entirely, forbidding communication between genders. The women were barred from using the communal telephone và made to lớn wear dresses, while the men were promoted lớn privates, princes & high priests. 

Finally, Richồng approached Michael to lớn say that he was uneasy about the messages he claimed to be receiving from Yahweh. The leader, who’d grown jealous of Rick’s ownership of the farm, eagerly demoted hyên ổn to lớn the status of slave sầu & chained hyên ổn outside.

Michael then insisted Rick’s five-year-old son, Luke, was a child of Satung because he’d cried too much over the death of his mother. In a photograph published in the Falls City Journal, Luke Stice has thin light hair, sweet downturned eyes, and oversized ears that protruded from either side of his pudgy cheeks. 

 Michael wrote “666” on the boy’s forehead in bright red. He declared Luke was not a boy but a dog. He called him “doggy” as he took off his clothes, forced hyên ổn to roll around in a snowngân hàng & antagonized hyên ổn with a bullwhip. He called hlặng “mongrel” when he shot hlặng in the arm with his .30-06. He wrote “DOG” on Luke’s back before repeatedly submerging his head in the warm bathtub. He ordered his parishioners to abuse both Riông chồng & Luke, going so far as to lớn force father & son to lớn fellate each other while other members watched. 

Not long after, Michael found himself fighting with one of his followers who he believed to lớn be jealous of his archangel spirit. As he stormed out of the trailer, he casually grabbed five-year-old Luke and threw him inkhổng lồ a book shelf, breaking his nechồng. His father was again chained khổng lồ the front porch to ensure he wouldn’t hold hyên or comfort hlặng or take him khổng lồ a hospital.

Luke died alone that night. The following morning, Rick swaddled his son’s toàn thân in a yellow blanket. He buried hyên where Michael said Yahweh had instructed: in a shallow grave sầu in front of the hog barn. 

The ideology that Michael Ryan used to justify his abuse of Luke also manifested in the doctrines he instilled in his own son, Dennis. Dennis cried when his father prophesized they’d have to kill for Yahweh in the Battle of Armageddon. He said he was afraid. To this, Michael shouted “Dammit, you’ve gotta be willing to kill for God if that’s what God wants.” He passed his gun lớn hlặng & added, “Son, one day when all this is over, when Armageddon is over và I’m dead và gone, then you can sit under an oak tree và cry over having to kill so many people. Until then, I don’t ever want you to cry again.”

Shortly thereafter, Dennis shot James Thimm, a loyal follower, in the face. James survived the gunshot wound but was tortured by Michael và Dennis for days—they broke his bones, raped hyên, forced others to rape hyên, repeatedly sodomized hyên with a shovel, chained him in the hog barn and forced hyên to lớn have sex with a goat before stomping on his chest until he was dead.

If I’d known the baby blue door was not the door khổng lồ the trang chính where the women slept peacefully in long thắm thiết Trắng garments, as I’d naively imagined, but was in fact the door lớn the hog barn where a young man & a child had been tortured to death, I bởi vì not think I would have opened it, stuck my head inside, taken a phokhổng lồ and giddily posted it on Instagram while flattering myself that Dale’s cold shoulder was a reflection of his weakness in character và not mine. If I’d known this little boy had been called a dog và treated as one should never treat a dog, I would have sầu trusted Sushi’s instincts & not opened the door. Certain experiences stay with you lượt thích a bad infection. I couldn’t sleep last night: visions of a child screaming in a field. Some doors we cannot cthua thảm.

***

I followed Phil who followed Dale along the path lớn the water. We only had an hour left of day. Raptors flew near the earth, the patterns on their brown and Trắng feathers visible to the naked eye. Phil cautioned Sushi not khổng lồ get eaten. Dale named each bird specifically & explained how he’d shot và killed this one or that one. He told me how to lớn follow prints, which direction he’d be heading if he’d not forgotten his gun. In that moment, he seemed lớn me totally unafraid, the closest I’d ever come to lớn believing invincibility a plausible trait in a person. In a place that had been ruled by fantasies of apocalypse, I was entirely certain if he didn’t succumb lớn alcoholism or drug addiction, Dale could easily survive sầu anything. 

We picked up our pace as we returned khổng lồ the hog barn. The bullet-marked door was still half open. Day was fading. None of us wanted to be in the compound after sundown, especially Sushi, who charged forward with the tenathành phố of a horse. 

The truchồng appeared as a beacon at the top of the hill. This time we all walked around the chain instead of over or under. Dale hijacked the front seat, so I settled in the baông chồng as Phil sped the oto in reverse & Dale whined that he was driving too fast for him khổng lồ roll another joint. “Dude, how many of those have sầu you been smoking?” asked Phil, part-concerned but mostly just impressed. 

“Oh, just a couple here or there. Wassuppp…”

It occurred khổng lồ me then that Dale hadn’t said wassuppp the entire time we were on the compound. I was certain the only reason he said it so much was that he was actually shy và insecure & used wassuppp lớn fill the void between what he was sure of and what he wasn’t sure of, lớn turn whatever he said inkhổng lồ a joke. The box of beer cans that had been purchased in the place beside the hardware store was now nearly empty. Dale was trying lớn enter into a profound state of delirium where he’d feel more at peace with his thoughts và at home in his toàn thân.

He insisted we stop at a small bar in a shaông xã beside the Rulo Bridge, near the border with Kansas & Missouri, the nape of Nebraska.

We left Sushi in the truông xã where she was snoozing. Phil insisted we only stay for one drink. My flight was leaving in a few hours. Dale wanted me lớn miss my flight and freefall with hlặng inlớn a pervasive fog of vivid intoxication. He reminded us not lớn talk about the cult grounds with locals. I was already drunk from all the beer we’d had in the truông chồng but not so drunk I was capable of anything fantastical or outlandish. 

The bar was small và square và full of gun-carrying men except for the two women working. The women looked as if there’d been something to lớn survive and they’d survived it.

“I’m going khổng lồ need I.D.s from all y’all,” the larger of the women said while turning her palm upwards và beckoning khổng lồ us with her swollen fingers.

First, she checked Phil’s. Then Dale’s. When she got lớn mine, her eyes flickered between my blazer & my name tag. “Mine’s from Toronto lớn,” I said, handing over my driver’s license but keeping my purse open.

“She’s Canadian,” announced Phil. “Stuff looks a bit different there.”

“Let me know if you need khổng lồ see my passport,” I added, a little too eager to lớn be helpful. 

A sign on the wall read NOTICE, THIS PLACE IS POLITICALLY INCORRECT. The “in” of the “correct” had been Sharpied into a blaông xã square, WE SAY MERRY CHRISTMAS, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, WE SALUTE OUR FLAG & GIVE THANKS TO OUR TROOPS, IF THIS OFFENDS YOU LEAVE. The LEAVE was in larger font than the rest & pointedly stoplight red.

“What brings you to Rulo from Canada?” asked the woman.

Remembering what Dale had told me about locals not liking trespassers on the compound, I responded, “I’m a visiting professor at the University. I was just lecturing over in Nebraska City.”

“Hmmilimet,” she hummed as if she was trying lớn decide if she liked or hated me based on these few facts alone.

Dale was folded inlớn himself, a bundle of camo in a room with nothing to camouflage inlớn. “Naw, she took us to lớn poke around ‘em cult grounds up there. Wassuppp…” 

Luckily, the woman was more entertained by Dale’s flagrant drunkenness than anything. She cackled, pouring our shots & serving our beers before sauntering to the far corner khổng lồ watch the football game with the other woman và the old drunk men. 

We all took a shot of Jameson, tapping the bar with the bottoms of our glasses before emptying them into lớn our mouths. 

“What’s that?” I asked Phil, pointing khổng lồ a smaller TV showcasing what looked lượt thích a bingo-themed đoạn phim game: a series of balls và squares, some red và some blue, that were numbered between one & eighty.

“Keno. Worst odds in America. Wanna play?”

“Sure.” I bet two of my seven remaining American dollars & lost. Phil bet two as well. He also lost. Dale bet one hundred American dollars. “This is foolish,” Phil commented, and Dale promptly sneezed mucus that ran across his lips and straggled in long lines dripping down his filthy jacket.

“Jesus Christ man, get it together,” said Phil, handing him our only napkin. It was not enough napkin for all of the snot on his face. The woman behind the bar noticed & did not react at first but, after he carelessly placed the soiled tissue on the bar & sneezed two more times, she understood what a pathetic specimen he was and handed over a staông chồng of fresh napkins while snickering inlớn the baông chồng of her arm. 

“You’re gross, dude,” said Phil. “Also, you lost.” He pointed at the Keno screen.

“Wassuppp…” sang Dale, wiping the last of the mucus from his face but allowing the rest to settle into dim stains on his clothing.

“I gotta piss.” Phil disappeared behind the corner near the ATM machine. 

For the first time since Omaha, Dale and I were alone. An uneasy quiet fell between us. Was Dale wondering why I’d begged khổng lồ go to lớn the cult grounds? Was he relieved we’d gone? Did he regret losing his money lớn the Keno? Perhaps he had no thoughts at all but held the simple admirable desire to get fucked up. 

“Wassuppp…” he sang at my face.

I looked baông xã at him: he was so silly, so dumb, so redneông xã. I smirked & leaned into his jovial round cheeks, half-whispered in his ear, “I scare you more than any wild bird.”

The room seemed darker. It was as if the music had stopped but I don’t think it did.

He didn’t laugh. He was still, maybe stunned, shell-shocked even. 

Then his soft brown eyes intensified. I’d tickled some part of hyên. He put his h& in mine under the bar as was our way. We gently traced the rounds of each other’s grasp with our thumbs. He could be so soft. His softness was compelling khổng lồ me because it had khổng lồ be earned. 

He moved closer, & instead of kissing me, something he’d never had the courage to bởi, he began to lớn knead the baông chồng of my neông xã with his fingers. He pressed hard, only narrowly avoiding the boundary between hard and too hard. It felt so comfortable I didn’t care if there were others around or if they were watching. He’d handled animals. He knew where lớn skin, how lớn cut a toàn thân. He understood how to break a bone so it wouldn’t bleed out and where lớn make an incision khổng lồ avoid wasting the flesh. So too he understood where to push on my nechồng so I did not strangle but still felt the relief that came with pressure on this muscle or that. My breathing slowed. Now he only smelled like earth và weed and drink. I wanted lớn wrap myself in hlặng. I pictured us in a little tent on the cult grounds, hlặng unbuttoning his camo pants và slipping inlớn me through my professional brown dress, his h& leaving traces of paint & dirt on my blazer. His warm eyes. His long dark hair. The trees. The grass. We’d be closer to nature where I’d always felt closer lớn God and, for however much I’ve sầu been educated, I still believe sầu in God. He’d keep me safe & we could live sầu off what we picked or killed và be truly self-sufficient, working the l& the same way my father’d tried, as my grandparents & great grandparents had done. I could quit my jobs. We could hide from both our governments. I could run from my student loans. I could write remotely or, better yet, never write again. I’d never have lớn talk lớn another writer again. No more poetry readings. I’d have quiet. Beautiful blaông xã night with no people or neon or mạng internet or cars. Quiet. 

I leaned inlớn the bar as he touched me. I was very wet.

I wouldn’t have sầu khổng lồ move sầu bachồng to Toronlớn where the flashing lights of Bloor Street invade my room at all hours. Toronto, where the bar downstairs drums inkhổng lồ my ears until dawn & people have sầu so many opinions & phones ring & buzz and everything is swept into lớn the alarming pace of constant movement. Maybe I wanted to return to lớn a home that no longer exists, Fonthill gentrified and suburbanized by the urban sprawl. I could make love to Dale in fields as I had with the boys of my youth, before the world warmed and the ticks came và brought Lyme disease with them. Nobody toàn thân mentioned ticks in Nebraska. It could be sweet và golden. What if I didn’t catch my flight? What if I curled into lớn Dale who seemed khổng lồ me, in that moment, an extension of a world I’d believed lost? We could live off the lvà. We could opt out of society.

A country tuy nhiên transitioned into lớn another country tuy vậy. The dark behind my closed eyelids seemed sepia. I could wake up every morning with the sun and the wheat và be peacefully swallowed into the marigold hills of Rulo. It could be that easy, I thought. It could be comfortable, I thought. So comfortable.

Comfortable was the last thought I had before my neông chồng snapped backward, the skin of my forehead yanked toward my hairline, my baông chồng arched in a deep curve, my balance lost, arms waving lượt thích a bird in flight, a twist, the flickering light, the camo chest, the camo wrist, both my pigtails entwined within the screw-tight grip of Dale’s hard fist.