Fiction by Nick Gardner

Lissa hit her hash pen and curved the county roads through mid-Ohio, hoping to forget about the grad school apps Tom had left tabbed up on his MacBook like he wanted her to find them, mouse hovering over submit. He was applying for Gender Studies in places like Tallahassee, Baton Rouge, Houston, muggy heat a thousand miles from their overcast, Rust Belt home. Then Lissa saw the deer, spot-lit in the Honda’s bright beams. It somersaulted over the hood and, when she jolted to a stop, she could see its body in the tail-lights, twitching in the ditch. She punched the hazards and got out, warily inspected the bumper, but she couldn’t find so much as a scratch. She’d spent at least ten years roadying along the Westinghouse, Ohio back roads without consequence. Not a spot on her driving record, never even hit even a wooly bear until today and now she was late for her shift at the G&T Bar, trying to figure out what to do about a slowly dying doe she’d murdered. She expected blood, cracked plastic and glass, oil seep across bolts and wires. She could deal with disaster. A cast for broken bones. Water for a fire. But what’s to be done about something so subtle? It was eerie to ram a body at fifty five and walk away unmaimed. And the body, suffering on its own, and Lissa, for once, with no clear solution. A truck appeared. Spotlights clicked on from above the cab and out hopped the driver wearing camouflage overalls, hat sporting a confederate flag. He spat juice on the asphalt. He disengaged a shotgun from the window rack and said, look away, sweetie, but Lissa couldn’t help but peek.

The body jumped. She caught the hunter’s eye and blushed at the man who saved her. She also cringed at the violence he seemed to inflict with less reflex than a shrug. The power he had to end a life without a blink or blemish. He tipped his cap, the type of guy who probably had jerky strung up in the smokehouse, who said things like ain’t, would call her woman, expect her to cook and clean. And if she kissed him, new wounds would bloom, but at least they’d leave tangible scars, something to roll between her fingers. Something familiar to remind her of home.

<strong>Nick Gardner</strong>
Nick Gardner

Nick Gardner is in recovery from opioids and holds an MFA in fiction writing from Bowling Green State University. His poetry and fiction has appeared in Ocean State Review, Atticus Review, Fictive Dream, and other journals. His book of poetry, So Marvelously Far was published in 2019 through Crisis Chronicles Press. He lives in Ohio.

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