For Ethan

Fiction by Grace Buckner

I’m only telling you this because it’s important. After I’m gone, there’re some things I need folks to understand, things they don’t understand right now. I’m standing in the kitchen watching this happen and it’s all these stories that shouldn’t be all mixed up together, but I love my son and I loved that Annalee and I’m watching my boy right now and he’s got a good heart and I wonder if everything happening to him is my fault. After I’m gone, maybe you’ll tell Ethan this and he’ll forgive me. I hope my boy ’ll forgive me. I have to tell you where it started.

The first story is called “Annalee James,” and it starts like this: I fell in love with her. The James’s were our neighbors below Moonshine Ridge growing up and I’d walk with her down the road to wait on the bus. She always wore these pretty sundresses you could see from a mile down the dirt road. If I had shoes for school, daddy’s tobacco crop had been good that year. She got her license before I did. She drove us to Ingles one evening and we kissed in the parking lot. The tractor trailer was going 65 when it hit us out on 25/70 that night. Annalee died.

The second story is really the first and it is called “My Heartbreak.” It starts the same as the last: I loved her. She wore sundresses to school, and I had to hang tobacco to cure all winter so I’d have shoes when I walked her down the road. She died out there on 25/70 in a tractor trailer wreck. My organs were crushed when that truck hit her. Doctors said my heart was alright when they finally sent me home, but every morning it hurts unto this day.

The third story which I’ll start now is called “My Son, Ethan’s Heartbreak.” Ethan is tall and plays football, like I did in high school. I haven’t seen his mama since she punched a hole in my daddy’s sliding glass door when he was two months old. They almost took him away from me back then because I was drinking so much. Ethan sometimes gets into fights on the school bus. They told him he couldn’t play football if he didn’t get his grades up. He’s got a little girlfriend who lives down there in the development, and she’s helped him get straightened out in school. Pretty little thing. About half his size with sweet blue eyes. Her folks are good people. She came out to the house last night and was wearing a pink sundress. Ethan whistled at her and kissed her when he thought I wasn’t looking.

The fourth story that I don’t want to tell goes like this: I was driving on 25/70 to work this morning and saw blue lights. Folks were pulled over every whichaway and standing or even kneeling right there on the shoulder and bowing their heads like they were praying. I was scared. I was remembering things. I got out of the truck and walked up to Wiley Gosnell. He said a little girl from Acony Bell had got hit. I was remembering things. Wiley asked me if I was alright. I walked on up the highway and saw Dan Jenkins standing by the car I’d seen in my driveway the night before. It was almost in two pieces. He told me I had to stay back. I asked him if she was dead. He said he was sorry.

There’s another story I’m watching happen right now. Ethan gets home. He’s tall, plays football. I’m thinking about how I loved Annalee James and she died. My son’s making good grades, like I never did. He was a baby when his mama took off. He’s asking me if I heard. I’m telling him I saw. He’s sitting in the living room, taking his hat off and putting his elbows on his knees. He looks old. He looks like my daddy. He’s got hands that are rough from bringing in tobacco, trying to make sure I had shoes. This morning out on 25/70, that pretty little girl my son loved got killed. I’m walking toward him. He’s looking up at me and saying Dad, I loved that girl. My boy is standing up and I’ve got him in my arms, just like when he was a little bitty thing without a mama. I’m telling him I know. I’m trying to tell him without saying.

Grace Buckner

Grace Buckner is a writer from a small community in the mountains of Madison County, North Carolina. When she’s not writing, you can find her making music or working as a whitewater raft guide on the French Broad River. She currently studies English and Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.