The day drew to a close, amber light from the sun blanketing the dead field. The grass was brown and grape trellises rose in a grid of points. A road ran by one side of the field and off the shoulder there was a ditch, a few feet deep and with a trickle of ice zigzagging along the bottom. A muddy red sedan was parked off the side of the road and on the opposite side of the ditch there sat two children, each with a cigarette pinched between their fingers. They were a boy and a girl, the boy with his shaggy head resting on his knees, the girl’s arm around his shoulders. The boy was shaking, crying, and the girl hugged him tight against her side.
The boy, whose name was Mickey, wrestled control of himself and sighed. The girl stared at the top of his head.
“Some Thanksgiving,” Mickey said.
June exhaled a sympathetic laugh.
“You did a great job on the stuffing.”
“Grandma did the stuffing. I only mixed the salad.”
His voice wavered, “I liked the salad too,” pathetic.
June took a drag from her cigarette. She wanted to say something but couldn’t reach any of the words. She thought of something.
“I’ll bet you had some headache this morning, didn’t you?”
Mickey half-sobbed then nodded his head.
“That’s what wine’ll do to you,” June said.
“I had some beers too. She brought them.”
“Mixing only leads to trouble.” She regretted choosing the word trouble.
Mickey picked up his head and took a drag from his cigarette. He blew the smoke out of his mouth just after he sucked it from the butt.
“I don’t think you’re inhaling, Mickey.”
“I know how to hit a cigarette.”
“Let me see. No, you blow it out too early. Try taking a breath after you drag it.”
Mickey pulled down the smoke, choked, and coughed it out.
June laughed. “Now that’s how you hit a cigarette.” She patted Mickey on the back.
“I feel it in my head,” Mickey said. He rolled his eyes back and forth and blinked hard.
“That’s the buzz. I don’t think it’s so great. Makes you feel sick.”
Mickey trained his eyes on the sun and smiled.
They’d lived together now for three years. He’d seen June drinking before and she feared she got him into this whole mess. But this wasn’t about her. Regardless the leading-up-to, she just wanted to talk to him, keep him occupied.
Mickey sniffled and rubbed his eyes. He took a deep breath, then forced it out.
“It was so strange hearing Mom’s voice again.”
“Was it how you remembered it?”
Mickey shook his head.
“It was deeper,” he paused. “It sounded raspier.”
“She’s horrible to do what she did. I hate her.”
“I don’t hate her.”
“How can you say that?”
“If she’s around or not, she’s still my mother. I can’t hate her.”
“Well she’s not my mother and I hate her enough for the both of us. You have even more reason.”
“Doesn’t take a reason.”
Neither of them said anything. The trellises now extended upwards against the setting sun like fuzzy gray obelisks and the temperature dipped. June rubbed her shoulders.
“I just want to know why she calls now,” Mickey said. In the twilight June could only see his silhouette hung with a few charcoal shapes. The outline of his hair wisped back and forth when he spoke.
“My guess is the guilt,” June said. “If leaving wasn’t enough, there’s this.”
“But how did she find out?”
“Maybe your dad called her. Maybe her parents had the number. It doesn’t really matter.”
Mickey’s hair sunk below the horizon. June pulled him in and he began to shake. She didn’t think George had called. After dinner, he retired shortly before her, footfalls on the stairwell like dead stones dropping into sand. June went back to her room while Mickey was on the phone with his mother. Her Uncle George’s room was right next to her own; his bed was on the opposite side of the wall from hers. And lying there on her bed, back pressed against the oak headboard, she had heard those same choked sobs pressing through the wall.
June picked at the grass stalks and heaped them together between her thighs. She took a long drag of her cigarette and tossed it behind her into the ditch.
“Mickey,” she said, turning his shoulders so to face her, “You know I have to ask you.”
His crying settled and, although the two of them faced one another, they could not see each other’s eyes buried in the dark shades.
“Did you do it?”
He said nothing for a long time, his mouth twitching in the dark, sniffling, blinking heavily, remembering but faltering, and he crumpled into her arms, eyes tight shut.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Josh Boardman has a BA in Creative Writing, Philosophy, and Latin from Western Michigan University and is currently attending the Post-Baccalaureate Program for Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He grew up in Southwestern Michigan's suburbia surrounding St. Joseph, a small tourist town on the coast of Lake Michigan, where there was a smattering of different social classes with the boundaries of each constantly shifting. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Laureate and Moonshot Magazine.