by Laurel Wilczek
Bird song. The shrill yip of the dog across the street. A grumble of an engine as it drags a car up a hill. Music. No, not music. Rap. The autumn chill nosing my lips. A whiff of rotting leaves and dog crap.
Legs splayed, hands palm-up and weighted to the ground, I am toppled like one of those idiot gnome sculptures perched on front lawns throughout my development. The earth presses like a snail against my lower back, right above the waistband of my jeans. With one careless step, my world has shrunk to a dog pen and a tight bud of anxiety that I may have broken a bone.
"That's gotta hurt."
My neighbor, Ricky Malone, bends over me, fingers digging into his thighs above his dirt-stained knees. He stinks of sweat and lawn fertilizer. Bits of grass cling to his throat above the collar of his T-shirt. "You okay?" he asks.
Last summer, Ricky called the dog warden on me. Claimed my dogs were running free. Not my dogs, but did he call and ask me that before he summoned his pal? No. The warden showed up at ten o' clock in the morning, when most of the neighbors were at work. Hitler in khakis, he tried to bully me into paying him eighty bucks under the counter to avoid a bogus fine.
I still remember his rip-off cowboy swagger and the jut of his pelvis as he tipped his warden hat, squinted at my naked feet and licked his lips into spitty shine. His gaze crawled up my legs, snagged briefly on my hips and latched onto my breasts. Hooking his thumbs on his belt, he raised his eyes to mine. “Or you could meet me for a drink and we’ll call it even.”
My shoulders curled. I backed away. "Jerry!" I shouted, "Jerreeee!"
The clunk of my husband's boots hammered the silence as he cornered the house at a run, shovel in hand, anger raking deep lines into his face. Startled, the warden rabbited to the safety of his truck and drove off in a spurt of dusty gravel.
“I’m okay. I just got the breath knocked out of me.” Jerk. I flex my back muscles. Pain skips along my vertebrae and plunges tiny fangs into tender nerves. The stone that felled me digs into my ankle.
Ricky peers at my chest. His gaze flicks downward, skims the zipper of my jeans and cuts to the house. The dogs nap in their crates, fondled by silence.
I squirm. The pain spikes; my fingers clench with it. The back of my hand scrapes against a jagged-edged stone.
My husband used to say that rocks swim in schools through the earth, butting heads with each other and with all sorts of man-made things and that no matter how small, a rock keeps banging away at whatever is in its path until one of two things happen, either the rock shatters into pieces and is swallowed by the earth or the thing in the rock's path gives way and the victor moves on.
Jerry was a boulder of a man, in spite of the Italian genes which bestowed on him the lanky body of an intellectual. He'd fought cancer twice and won, only to be taken out by a drunken driver on a rainy night in late August. That was a rock Jerry couldn’t shatter.
Ricky's face, capped by a thatch of dander-flecked hair, hovers over me. His eyes are the color of the crap I've been scooping off the ground and pitching over the top of the fence. My nerves rattle like the change at the bottom of my purse.
It’s Jerry’s voice, lapping at my inner ear.
It is a command that jump starts my nervous system.
My fingers claw the ground, find a stone and pry it loose. I elate in its weight and in the coarseness of its surface. The pain in my back is nothing compared to the sting of adrenaline as it slams my heart into a long, silent pause.
Ricky drops onto his knees beside me. He rolls the palms of his hands up and down his thighs. The tiny fissures around his mouth and at the corners of his eyes deepen.
Bird song. Sunlight arrowing down through the canopy above us. A shudder of wind thrashing in dry leaves. The stench of crap.
"Guess you need someone to bang you," I whisper.
Laurel Wilczek is a graduate of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in T-Zero Literary Magazine, The Forward Papers, Pocono Parents Magazine on Michael Solender’s “Not From Here Are You?” blog. Her story, “Fairy Tales” won the grand prize in the 2009 Editor unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 Contest and has been published in the Editor Unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 Anthology which is available on Amazon.