Fiction by John Brantingham

Edna hears hooves as she is packing what she can into the large suitcase her mother gave her as a wedding present, clothes enough for her and her boy and all the cash she has in the world, which isn’t much. Tom would know what to do on a day like this when she can smell the fire coming up the hill toward them, eating through the valley trees.

Tom would have had a plan for this, but all Edna has is the now, so she hefts the suitcase and calls for her boy, and they walk out into the heat of the California morning to find two stallions in the front yard next to the giant sugar pine tree. She imagines some farmer in the valley panicking over them, and she wants to lasso them and walk them calmly down to town, but she wants a lot of things, and none of that seems to matter. There is a time for small Christian kindnesses, and this just isn’t it. Now is the time for moving. Only, Jacob is sucking his index and middle fingers and staring at the horses.

We have to go, Edna says.

What about Grandma and Grandpa? These two people Jacob has never met are buried behind the house. Each has a little headstone sunk into the ground with no words on them as they wanted.

That’s what the horses are here for.


They’re here to watch over Grandma and Grandpa, Edna says.

With that she gets Jacob started on the long walk down to the valley and then over to town. So she’s told a lie and broken a commandment, but maybe there are times when a person shouldn’t lie, and this just isn’t one of those times. The Bible might be pretty clear about telling the truth, and maybe it doesn’t allow for any deviation, but from what Edna knows about Jesus, she thinks he would be fine with the occasional exception. So would her mom and dad and Tom as well.

<strong>John Brantingham</strong>
John Brantingham

was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines, Writers Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has nineteen books of poetry and fiction including his latest, Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College.