Kevin Richard White

Kevin Richard White’s fiction appears in Hobart, Rejection Letters, Lost Balloon, The Molotov Cocktail, Soft Cartel, X-R-A-Y, The Hunger, Hypertext and Grub Street among many others. He lives in Philadelphia.

THE EXPLODING TREE by Kevin Richard White

She’s feeding you remains of her meal. Like you’re some animal child. 

There’s a tattoo of an exploding tree on her back and right shoulder blade: black ink like paint splatter on her smooth skin, roots pulled up, snapped branches, drifting leaves that become new birds. Hair covers it, but not often.

One day, you woke up, and it was there. You were angry about it at first, but then you realized you had a lot in common with that tree: You both couldn’t move and had nowhere to go fast.

You open your mouth. You want more of the dry chicken she has cooked, but she has thrown it away. You beg to suck on at least a bone, but she whispers, “No.” She takes you out of your chair and lays you down on your belly. You’re a fish again, one of your favorite playtime activities.

After she got the tattoo, you watched from the bed as she cleaned it, kept it moisturized, watched the pitch blackness brighten her skin. You wish you had hands to help her, or at least trace it, make a shape of it to keep. But you watch. And shake. How can something so artistic be out of your grasp. She continues to smooth her skin and you want to scream.

You’re a man of broken parts. She’s your mechanic. Somewhere, along the line, the manual will be written to make you a new human being again. It could take days or years, but she has promised you, in soft voices, that you’ll have hands again. That you’ll have it all back. But you think and never tell her that you’re past the warranty date.

On your belly, you imagine you’re a guppy, cascading through dark warm water. She rubs your back and shoulders, trying to get knots out. Perhaps she is trying to give you a tree tattoo of your own, you think. You try to say this, but fish don’t talk, and so you just continue to think you’re swimming until she’s done.

She could have left a long time ago, you told her once. There’s no need to take care of me like this. But she smiled. And in response, she whispered, “Well then, who would take care of me?”

After you’re done being a fish, she goes to get you ready for bed. Pajamas on, teeth brushed, and sets up the laptop for you to use. She puts the mouth operated mouse in and you’re good to watch movies for as long as you want. She goes to get ready herself for her job. You watch her undress. The tree is there, shining. She puts on her black dress and bracelets and brushes her hair. She leaves the tree visible this time, usually covering it up. That’s when you can’t take it anymore. You spit out the mouse.

“Don’t let anyone touch that tonight,” you say.

She spins around, still brushing. “Touch what?”

“Your tattoo.”

She smiles. “You’re a silly boy.”

“I’m serious. It’s yours. Don’t let anyone touch it.”

“It’s yours, too, baby.”

She comes over and kisses you. The smell leaves you breathless. Your mechanic. The one who feeds you. The one with perfect hands that are replacing yours.

She puts the mouse back in so you can operate the computer again. Before she leaves for the night, she kisses you one more time and wants you to sleep well. She’ll be back later, she says. The door shuts. You’re still hungry but have to wait.

After some time, you fall asleep, thinking you’re still a guppy. Back through rivers and past sharks, you’re going towards some kind of light. When you get there, it’s a small island, white sand, shells and crabs. But there’s one tree. A large black one that reaches to the ceiling of the sky. Suddenly, you’re an animal, climbing up. You get to the top. Leaves drift and become birds. You want to do it as well. The tree gets blacker against the blue sky, and you reach a claw out, breathing hard, wishing it becomes a wing. They all continue to softly drift up and over the water, and as you pray to fly, you hear an explosion from under you, bomb-like. Something lifts. You fly, but not well.

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FISH GHOST by Kevin Richard White

My sister spoke of a fish ghost that occupies a nearby river. She raised her voice as if her sentences had a weight. But in reality, she's timid.

"It has bones and fins," she said, "but it is poor at cutting through the water."

"Amanda," I said as she swayed, a wind tearing through my hoodie that she always wore.

“Something like an urban monster.” Her eyes widened. 

“Legend, you mean.”


It’s possible she’s correct. There’s always been rumblings from neighbors and lifers that there’s a creature existing in our milieu. Cameras mysteriously break when one gets close to it and they say that we get more snow because of it. All sorts of things like that. I’m a skeptical one, but I take facts over hushed whispers nine times out of ten. 

“So is it a fish or a ghost?”

“It’s both,” she said.

“How can it be?”

“I don’t know. Because it can be.”

Amanda loves a good fantasy, though, so I let her tell me this as we let the night pass on our grandfather’s porch, counting little stars and corn stalks with cold fingers. Even though she’s dressed warm, she’s still stricken with chills, and I go to give her my flannel as well. For once I’m not drinking, but she’s having her share and mine too. The dead soldiers clink like perfect wind chimes. There’s nothing else to do but drink and talk of a better life. It’s more fun than you think.

“Maybe it’s time to go to bed,” I told her. Because I knew where this was going. She was going to tell me the history. She was going to tell me how it was born and how it became so ugly. How it was a metaphor for us, or something we were supposed to be—how WE have bones and fins too and are poor at cutting through the water. It was going to take up hours I didn’t have.

“No,” she said quietly. “No,” she said again after a time.

She was beginning to enter a haze. She’s been through some trauma and when she gets fixated, I know it’s better to leave her alone for a while. I knew she was warm and she had one beer left, so I wished her goodnight. It was important she had some time to sort this out.

After I shut the door, I heard her say, “A mystery. A mystery.”


She never came to bed that night. A police officer found her hours later, in the river, only wearing my flannel, with a net she stole from the neighbor’s yard. She had been saying different names out loud, but there weren’t of anyone we knew. No charges were pressed, so I went and picked her up just as the sun was rising.

“You don’t even fish, Amanda,” I said.

“You’re missing the point.”

“You said it was a ghost. Not even a real fish.”

“You’re missing the POINT,” she said as she punched my passenger side mirror. It hung by a thin cable and clunked against the door every time I sped up. So I crawled as the sticky morning air refused to let up.

“Then what is the point?”

She swallowed a few times. She fiddled with the broken radio and drank from a coffee that I accidentally left behind from the day before. She gurgled it and spat it out the window. I just kept driving because I wasn’t sure what else to do with my hands or body, and I knew she was preparing to let loose with some kind of storm. I kept straight on the highway until she unbuckled and told me to pull over. 

I did so and parked at this abandoned farm that’s been empty ever since we were born. Ghosts, too, or just smarter people than us. Amanda punched the dirt and rocks until her hands bled. I couldn’t stop her, she didn’t want to be stopped. People who have been hurt and want to hurt don’t want to be told no. They want to continue until they are out of words and out of energy. Our point as those who are not hurt need to just shut the fuck up. It’s important to know us. Even if it’s about a fish ghost or not. Even if it’s about something that’s not even there. And if it was, who was I to tell her no? She was better than me. Stronger than me. Not my place to tell her anything different.

She held up a clump of dirt and left it sift through a trembling hand. “You know it’s there, right? You have to know.”

“Yes,” I said.

“We’re going to go back tonight.”

“No problem.”

“Bring your shotgun,” she said.

“Sure, I said.”

She picked up a rock and began to throw it at me, but stopped herself.

“The shotgun,” she said again, harder.

“I’ll bring it.”

She nodded and smiled. “We have work to do,” she said.

I picked her up off the ground and told her everything was alright. I put her back in the car. She needed to get some rest.

“You’re the best brother in the world,” she said as we began to drive off.

I nodded. Even with her eyes closed, I knew she saw it. Or maybe she was imagining something in the water below me, as she stared at it, hungry, wanting to defeat it, wanting to defeat whatever story she didn’t want to hear anymore. I’ve been there. I had bad ones, too.

But hers is one that needs to be stopped. Hers is the one that remains. Even if it’s not important to real to anyone else. It’s hers that needs to be heard.

I gripped the wheel. I felt something was chasing me.

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