portion of the artwork for Joseph Young's fiction

Loose
Joseph Young

They pulled off the state road to find blueberries. That’s because she wanted them. What did he care, but she said, “You want me to have a stomach ache all day? I need fruit in there or it gets fucked up.”

The blueberry sign had said a quarter mile but clearly they’d done something wrong. The macadam one-laner became a gravel road, open fields on either side now a twin set of towering blue-green corn.

“Well?” her boyfriend said. “Guess your stomach is going to have to ache.” He pulled their car to one side of the little road so its wheels stood in a dip of evaporating rainwater. He opened his door, got out, and stretched.

She got out on her own side. “What’s this?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re just stopping here?”

“I don’t know.”

“God. Me neither.” She grabbed her purse and set off the way they had come, the little hitch in her step that made her right shoulder blade ache.

It took about ten minutes and one left turn for her to lose herself. Between them they had about no navigation at all. The whole eight-day trip had been wrong ways and double backs and smoldering feelings. Neither asked directions until finding their way on their own was hopeless.

Another twenty minutes later and there she was. The road that had been so straight and under the open sun—if this were the same road she’d once been on—began to turn and twist and follow itself into some dim woods. The bark on all the trees was a kind of green and gold. Here and there in the low spots dark water waited.

So when she heard the motor of something like a tractor on its way, she readied herself. She smoothed her hair and pulled the waist of her pants down from where they’d ridden up.

In a minute, a tractor indeed rounded a bend. Bouncing in his seat in a comic way was a serious boy. He had on shorts and a baseball jersey and on his lap a long, burnished-looking gun. “Holy shit!” he said when he saw her in the road. He pulled a lever and the wheels of his tractor disengaged.

“Who are you?” he said. He leaned both back and away in his seat, the butt of his gun slipping between his legs. “Why are you here?”

She couldn’t have answered, though, not with the way she turned and ran.

* * *

The boy had to get the tractor put in the barn. He had to take a shower. The girl—the woman—he thought was in love with him was on her way over. He had to convince her to take him to Cleveland.

In the shower he thought about the other girl—the woman—he’d surprised in the road. She was pretty, he thought. She was prettier than the woman who was in love with him.

“Hey,” he said, opening the front door, wet hair still dripping.

“Hey back,” said the woman on her way to Cleveland. She found his boyishness charming.

He grinned, knowing at least that much about her. “Are you going soon?”

“In about an hour.” She set her keys on the table. “I don’t think you can come.”

He turned from her and went to the refrigerator. Should he offer her wine? He knew he was too young to know if the wine was good. But that she would.

He handed her a glass of Pepsi. “How come?”

She shrugged. “My husband, I suppose.”

* * *

He waited between the blue-green of the corn for half an hour and then figured he should look for her. Somewhere, she was out there. He felt hopeless and angry, but without her he couldn’t go.

It was without any hope since he'd parked on a nail. The tire was shot, as useless as his phone he'd forgotten in some hotel.

He climbed on the hood to see, but of course it only allowed him a farther view of the same empty road. “Man oh man. Oh man.” He thought about why they’d left home at all.

He lay on the hood and looked at the few strands of clouds and a bird or two. It was pretty. He closed his eyes and heard the sound of a tractor in the distance. If I leave, he thought, she’d certainly come back.

* * *

The lost woman found a house just at the edge of the woods. It was squat and white and dirty at the bottom where it found the muddy yard. Through the screen door was the sound of a television show.

As she wondered if it could be the house of the boy with the gun, a woman appeared at the door. She held a cup of coffee and wore a long yellow dress.

“You OK?” the woman said. “You need something?”

The lost woman went to the fence, put her hand on the gate-top, took it away. “Maybe,” she said. “I guess I don’t know where I am.”

The other woman laughed. “I guess I can see that.” She was small but there seemed to be muscle under her dress. She pushed through the screen. “What’d you do, walk here?”

“My boyfriend is over there. In the car.” She waved vaguely toward one side of the woods, looked at her hand, vaguely changed direction.

“Gimme a sec,” the small woman said and pushed back into the house. The woman on the road heard the television go off and then the other woman reappeared with a tall glass of water. “C’mon through.”

The water tasted like oil. She wanted not to drink it but she was very thirsty. She thought about spilling it on the muddy ground.

“I don’t have a car,” the small woman said, “but I could walk with you. To find your boyfriend, that is.” She laughed. “That’s what you said? Your boyfriend?”

She smiled back. “I guess so.” She drank the rest of the water. “Could it be far?”

“No,” said the woman. “These roads all pretty much just wander around next to each other.”

“Oh,” she said. “That makes sense.”

The woman laughed a third time and the lost woman felt mocked and comforted in a familiar way. She asked for more water and decided not to slip away when the woman went to get it.

* * *

The boy followed the girl—woman—out to her car. He watched her from behind and was confused as to whether she was pretty. How did you decide those things, he thought.

“If he’s not going to be there, in Cleveland,” he said, “how will he know?”

“Yeah,” she said. “But maybe I’ll know.” She looked at the sweet boy with his hands stained with blueberries. She looked at his wonderful calves, there below the purple shorts.

“I guess I’ll see you when I get back,” she said.

The boy approached her then. He put a purplish hand to her check and another around her shoulder. He moved in, only a bit too awkwardly, and kissed her. It was a long kiss and it seemed to him a good one.

When it was done she’d stood there a minute with her hand on the car door. “OK,” she said, flushed and breathless, and got in.

* * *

He almost fell asleep but the sun was so hot. He should look for her, he thought. Where would I go?

His face was turning pink in this sun.

* * *

“You remember this?” she said, the woman in the yellow dress. She pointed at a slouching barn, a tractor with a missing wheel.

“No. Well, I’m not sure. But I did see someone else on one of these roads. A kid on a tractor?”

The woman shrugged. “What’d he look like?”

“Maybe 14? Or 16? Blondish hair. Carried a gun.”

She shrugged again. “Gun?”

“Yeah. Shotgun. Or rifle. I ran away when I saw it.”

The woman laughed. “Kids carry guns around here.” She stopped, reached for a pack of cigarettes in a pocket of the yellow dress. “Want one?”

“No,” she said, “I don’t. And just because ‘kids carry guns around here’ means he’s not going to pull something? Shoot me? Rob me?”

The woman drew on her cigarette. “Sorry.” They walked again and she said, “Why are you here?”

“That’s what the kid asked.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” She slapped away a bug. “I don’t know. We’re taking a road trip. Went to find blueberries. I don’t know.”

The woman smiled. In her dress and with her hair in a bun, she was very pretty, the lost woman saw that now. She saw that this was true. Why she was here she didn’t know, but she had met this pretty woman.

* * *

The boy went in the house. He thought about the woman and the kiss and sat on the couch. He didn’t like it that she didn’t let him come to Cleveland. He’d never been there. He’d never been to anywhere with her or anyone.

He looked at his blue hands. How big were they? Not very.

* * *

He did have to go inside the car to get out of the sun. And he did fall asleep. He had a dream about not going anywhere and when he woke up it was cooler and dimmer in the sky.

* * *

She looked at the sign for blueberries. It appeared to her now faded and worn, the plywood showing through the paint. “I suppose that farm doesn’t exist anymore?”

The other woman shook her head. “No, it does. It’s just down a quarter mile, like it says.”

“Anyway, this is where we turned off. The car must be out there somewhere.”

The woman approached her then. She brought her hand smelling like cigarettes to the lost woman’s cheek, the other on her shoulder. She leaned forward and touched nose to nose. They stood that way for a few seconds before the lost woman pulled away.

The small woman shrugged. “I know that kid,” she said. “The one with the gun. He’s a nephew of mine. His family owns the blueberry farm.”

“I should have asked him for help—directions—then.”

“Couldn’t have hurt.”

They walked off the state road, in the direction the sign said. In a few minutes and one or two turns, she saw the car ahead, leaning on its flattened tire, her boyfriend unseen.

* * *

"I can let you out here,” she said, the woman on her way to Cleveland.

They passed the gas station, nosed out into farther fields, before he answered.

“No, I guess not. I guess I’ll keep riding with you.”

“What? You don’t want to find your girlfriend?”

He watched the telephone poles pass, the birds lifting off the fence wire.

“Nah,” he said. “It wouldn't do any good.”


Joseph Young’s Comments

I’ve always been a bit more interested in stories as objects rather than narratives. What happens through time, in other words, is less important to me than what the story looks like from above, viewed as a whole. What pattern does a story take? How do its textures—harmonies and contrasts—create composition?

“Loose” looks a bit like a puzzle to me. A twist of wires or pipes or country roads. But it’s not supposed to be a puzzle. When you’re done reading, I hope you make out its shape. Oh yeah, you say, I recognize that, even if I’ve never seen it before.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 44 | Fall 2014