We’ll count horses, seek shapes in clouds, question the infinite universe, recite the alphabet backwards. You’ll teach me the first three verses of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and laugh when I stumble on Prokofiev, the syllables crunching like gravel in my mouth. I’ll photograph you outside an abandoned gas station, your narrow form obscured by switchgrass and bull thistle. We’ll have no place in mind. Our only destination will be Away. Somewhere in Iowa, we’ll pass a wind farm dotted with turbines. They’ll sprout by the dozen from dishwater-brown fields, tall white streaks carved into the prairie like tallies on a shipwrecked sailor’s cave wall. Their blades, each the size of a passenger jet, will rotate in steady, synchronous rhythm. I’ll imagine one breaking off, at the apex of its flight, momentum hurling it through the blue sky like a javelin, its speared shadow growing larger, larger, ‘til down it comes, shrieking through metal and glass and muscle and bone, pinning us to the asphalt like dragonflies to corkboard. When it’s dark, we’ll turn off the freeway, pull into the one place we can find. Look, you’ll say, pointing up at the harsh red neon. A Spanish cow motel. I’ll blink at the vacancy sign, reduced by its half-burned bulbs to Vaca, and laugh. We’ll hand our crumpled bills to the night manager, sidle into a dim, eggshell-white room redolent of bleach and stale cigarettes. No matter how many times we slap it, the cracked A/C unit will fail to start. From the corners of our eyes, we’ll glimpse movement: ants, shiny and black, threading along the baseboards like a funeral procession. I’ll have second thoughts. You’ll sense it, this malaise, rising off me in shimmery waves. You’ll open the nightstand drawer, withdraw a Gideon Bible, and tear a thin page cleanly out. I’ll watch you fold it, origami-style, into a lotus flower, each petal stamped with a fragment of psalm: from the horns of wild oxen / dried up like a potsherd / a people yet unborn. With outstretched palms, you’ll confer the brittle gift. I’ll take it from you and say: Isn’t that a sin? And you’ll reply: God won’t mind. The first thing He ever created was a garden.

Derek Harmening's fiction, poetry, and reviews have appeared in The Good Life Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Five on the Fifth, Newfound Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Newcity, and Vita Brevis among others. His flash fiction story "What the Cherub Saw" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2021.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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