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Exit Wound

by Rachel Pollock 11 months ago in Short Story · updated 9 months ago
V+ Fiction Award WinnerV+ Fiction Award Winner
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a walk in the country

Exit Wound
Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash

Listen to an audio recording of this story read by the author for free, here.

People think a walk in the country is quiet. They’re wrong.

Dogs run at you, wild with barking. Deer crash thickets. Cattle stampede. Three hundred pounds easy, even a year old calf’ll spook so bad it takes a hot fence buzzing with 3,000 volts to keep him from running his fool head off. It astounds me how nothing more than a stringy armed white-haired Christian woman walking the back fields can set them all in a panic.

Foolish flesh. Fear is built into their DNA. Living in the country I can’t help but think. If our animals had enough brains to realize who ought to be scared, you wouldn’t see another one run in your lifetime.

I’m barely home and inside when I hear a car on the gravel drive. And there’s my daughter-in-law Deenah pitching herself up the porch steps to my front door, bloodied and beaten.

She ain’t crying, won’t call for me, and just drags her broken self one stair to the next. A finch I let roost in the broken gutter above the awning squawks more surprised than I am.

I grab towels from the drawer, stick them in the sink and turn the spigot on cold and hard. From the window above the sink, I keep an eye out for who might be coming back.

I try to figure whether the .22 Senior used to kill injured stock is in the barn. I think past the barn swallows and vultures roosting there, past the hay turned black with mildew, past Senior’s tractor in the field still upturned if no one stole it yet. Couldn’t bring myself to use the damn thing if I knew where he kept it, never could stand guns. I might remember Elias tripping on a soft cardboard box half-buried in the coop when he helped me put up the chickens for winter. I might have emptied five shells in my apron pocket and pitched the mushy cardboard in the compost.

I wring out a mass of wet towels, set most of them on the counter. Sink is full with clean water now. It’ll be stained before you know it. Deenah makes it up the porch, clops the screen door in its frame as I move to get her.

Clear as daylight the girl can’t see through the slits all swelled shut, can barely breathe through the mash where her nose ought to be. My breath catches at the blackness of the blood clotting her pretty orange hair. Hair she can’t never seem to pull back, a vanity that drives me crazy every time she and Elias come for Sunday dinner because she’s always letting it drag through the gravy. Girl hangs her head so low at mealtimes you don’t know how she manages to eat. We don’t dare pull it back from her face now. Not without wetting it first. The pulp would catch. Good Lord what a mess these kids got themselves into.

With my whole body I catch her from toppling over and take a quick look around. I can see about two miles worth of empty road through the noonday shimmer and dust.

“Come inside” I mutter. “Elias did this?” and I can’t say much more than last time.

It ain’t no use asking whether it was my son who did this. Who else? I can’t see how it turned out this way when Senior and I raised Elias as gently as we could manage in this hard place.

Mountains and farm dust and iron weed here in the country are a damn sight better than rusted out trailers and shoddy prefabs falling in on themselves on the outskirts of town. Not much there other than folks long done looking for work now looking for fix. Growing our boy up, Senior and I made it a point to avoid those outskirts. We kept to our grove and once in a while the church up the road. We know now Elias T. did more than drive through the skirts. Otherwise how could he have grabbed up Deenah to marry.

Elias and Senior at one time were peas in a pod. When Elias was a boy Senior couldn’t stand to be apart from his son and the feeling was mutual. At the age he could talk when he needed something, Elias would shut it off if his daddy stayed out late in the field, would stomp around the house when Senior left deer hunting. I never could get him to smile nor eat much if his da wasn’t home. How they were was sweet. If they did close me out at times I didn’t mind. Of course when Elias married this one here, he became more close-mouthed than before. Then once Senior passed, I couldn’t get the boy to open up again. Sunday dinners after Senior’s accident were silent as his grave.

“Lazzet call?” She speaks. It will take months for that swelling to subside.

Each time she calls Elias “Lazzet” I take a second to know who she means. It’s a nickname the kids loose on her outskirt street in Bumville must’ve started that stuck. Drug-dealers’ lingo. I wonder if any of them out there even know his given name. When Deenah’s pa Hunter telephoned one day, he didn’t know Elias’ name, nor what to call me. Called me Missus Lazzet. Course that’s Hunter Dice. What a piece of work. In and out of that girl’s life, more out than in. The day he called here looking for Deenah, she ran to the phone excited like she won the lottery. She handed the phone right over to Elias smiling ear to ear. Hunter wants to set up a meeting she said, so he can meet this man of hers, maybe take you kids to a movie or out for a burger, get to know Lazzet some. I had nothing much against it, though I might have thought to myself, here’s a case of too little too late. If Hunter stuck around long enough to raise Deenah Dice, maybe she wouldn’t have attached herself to my son. What does Elias see in her? I should have hung up the phone. If Senior hadn’t taken on that field last March, I bet Elias never would have gotten involved.

“No, he didn’t call. Don’t mean he’s not on his way. What did you all get into this time?”

Deenah turns and faces me. Then, as I’m mopping bits of flesh from her pretty head, she lies. Lies to my face.

“Lazzet’s liable to kill me, Mim. He won’t stop till I get it.”

“Get what?”

“He wants I should get an abortion.”

My heart catches to hear news of a grandchild, but something doesn’t click. I look down at Deenah’s jeans. I can’t see pregnant, not even early pregnant.

She says they need money for the procedure. “Money. Five hunnerd.”

Something about Deenah is too smooth, too practiced and hopeful - like a dog wagging its tail before you see it’s got into the trash. Her forehead needs stitched so I go and get the kit from my sewing drawer.

The last time, Elias fetched Deenah without a word. He come to my door and saw her strung out on the sofa, got down on his knees and lifted that girl onto her feet, her crying the whole time how sorry, sorry, sorry she was. He didn’t look mad. Only bothered, like his evening wasn’t over but just then getting started. Elias I said. Elias, how could you do this girl like that? Didn’t your da and I teach you nothing? He asked her Why did you come here? The only thing he said to me was I need to lock my door when it gets after dark and I ought to leave a light on in the hall when I go to bed and where’s the dog? We both know Mixer stays outside on account of coyotes.

I guess I ignore all that right now for the fact I feel sorry for Deenah and this phantom grandbaby and I’m mad as hornets that my own son may be up to no good. Beat your wife within an inch of her life for what. For wanting to keep a baby.

“Deenah, you doing drugs?”

I light my big sewing needle to sterilize it. She shakes her head to avoid being scrutinized, but seeing as how her hair is still matted she can’t hide behind it now. And I guess I see something. See her flinch. But, who wouldn’t flinch at a needle. I thread its blackened top, still warm from the flame and pinch the skin above her temple together with my fingers. Deenah fiddles with the loose ends of her ripped blouse.

She says no, no, she isn’t, of course not, Mim. It’s Lazzet, Mim. He just can’t stand the thought of having a baby right now.

I tell her I can’t see how this is true as Elias T. is working steady. Plus, he’s never mentioned not wanting children. Neither have you, I said. Don’t get an abortion. I’ll take care of your baby. I’ll love it to pieces and raise it here on the farm in the peace and quiet. You don’t have to worry. Elias doesn’t have to worry.

To get ready for the stitches she breathes deep and exhales. Look at you, I say. You’ll do fine in childbirth I think. You’re tough as nails, not scared at all.

She ducks her head, she likes what I said. She’s off balance. She don’t seem sober.

Lightning quick I sew her up. Deenah doesn’t thank me. She pushes herself into the cushions of my couch until the phone rings. She wets her lips, says (there’s Elias through the door) “Don’t answer it” he says at the same time.

She’s up and running to the bathroom and him full speed after her. I ain’t paying for an abortion I let him know the phone still ringing. He knocks over my coffee table, the one his da built by hand, she’s made it to the bathroom when I get the phone.

“Who’s this?” a man slurs at me

“Miriam Brenner. Who’s this?”

Elias runs from the bathroom where Deenah has barricaded herself, vaults the table to me. I hold the phone up in the air away from him. He’s taller some, but not by much. He has to go through me to get the phone. He won’t. Except he does.

“Who are you and what do you want” I throw my voice toward the receiver as Elias T grabs it away.

“Mind your own business, Ma” Elias growls at me, mean.

You mind yours I tell him because it is my house and my phone and you are trespassing and I’m about to call the police so hand that damn phone to me right now.

I grab it so hard he’s surprised enough to let go and I hear a voice, Hunter’s.

“...never mind about my apartment. Tell her she better have it, because I’m almost there.”

“Is this Hunter? Tell who what? Tell Deenah?” but he hangs up as Elias narrows his eyes, turns on his heel and practically rams down my bathroom door.

Deenah is sobbing, sorry. He’s my dad.

Elias, he keeps ramming, out of his mind. I guess I am too because I’m not thinking why is Deenah’s father on his way, and why is she apologizing to Elias, I’m not calling the police because everyone knows stuck between two counties no one will come for hours and suddenly I remember where Elias Thomas Senior rested the old .22. In the cracked board above the mantle

I get to the kitchen grab the shells from my apron and drag a chair into the living room.

I barely have the thing loaded when Elias shows up in the family room dragging Deenah by her hair, her screaming with her face ripped to pieces, arm hanging loose in her sleeve.

I take off the safety and I don’t think twice as I shoot my son.

The shot has my ears ringing I lose my balance as I step off the chair and the ground is lower under my left foot than it was when I climbed up and the whole thing tips over then I see deadbeat Hunter Dice in my family room, swaying and jittery and high as a kite and my son, my son sweet pea pod to my Elias Thomas Senior not moving face down on the wood floor. I see Hunter grab his daughter and turn her around and around, his hands everywhere, she’s confused but not upset at him touching until I see her realize he’s just looking in her pants pocket her blouse pocket for cash, cash he ain’t finding and then he comes at me, he spots me and comes toward me hard and fast and his eyes are red-rimmed dark holes and Deenah says in a real little voice, oh no, Mim and then I see a steel toed snakeskin boot and not much else.

I don’t see how Deenah can stay loyal to a deadbeat Dad who never did nothing right, never showed up for her, never was there for her, but always let her down and who came around only to mess her life when his own couldn’t be messed anymore, how can a child love like that, not see poison in her veins as her father sends men to beat money out of her for a habit he won’t kick. More than that I don’t see how a mother who loves her son can believe such a foul thing about him. Where was my loyalty to either Elias or his Da when I shot our son for something he never did, something I could not believe he ever would do.

Except I did believe it. In the moment I must have, or I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger. That sort of thing is hard to forgive. Especially raised as we all are, where no matter what kin is kin.

And then there’s Hunter Dice, a bullet who rips through and explodes everything soft in us to bits and then disappears.

I never did call the police. I drove my son to the hospital, him not saying a word to the doctors nor the nurses. Kin is kin. Quite a few raised their eyebrows at us, especially when they saw Deenah and the mess we were all in. Kin is kin they must’ve said.

I guess we healed some since. Hard to say. When time heals wounds, scars tell the story.

Mid-morning March, a whole year now since my husband’s funeral, I walk past the startled cows finally heading to what I come to think of as Senior’s field. The neighbor’s dog joins me and I don’t shoo him away. Truth is, I can use the company because I don’t know what’s out there waiting for me.

Senior’s tractor’s been righted by someone. I don’t know who. The weeds are pulled. That’s nice. I wonder if the tractor still runs, does Elias have a use for it. Some inheritance that would be.

I’ll ask. I can do that. I’ve lived through worse.

I manage to climb up on the thing and sit, dress and all. I must look a sight. The dog does a circle to settle somewhere below my feet. The key’s here so I try it. There is black smoke, and something inside turns over then stops. Engine off, I close my eyes and listen. Still seems noisy to me.

I see Senior ride and turn at the end of each row, his heart like lightning, him slow falling as the tractor keeps going with no driver. When our whole world tipped upside down, did Elias’ Daddy see a field to be turned, work to be done, an unending ending. Or did he see something beautiful pause like God’s shadow or maybe Spring.

I stay looking out across his field for a while. I sit there thinking about all the things none of us know. A creek rushes with melted snow. Time to mend the fence or some heifers will sink to their knees.

Rachel Pollock is the Artistic Director of BiGFiSH, a folklife community who share God’s love through stories of salt and light. For more salty stories, please visit our website at

Proceeds from this story support southeast Ohio Celebrate Recovery, a Christ centered 12 Step Recovery Program.

Short Story

About the author

Rachel Pollock

Writer, storyteller, and Assistant Professor of Communication, Media and Theatre at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio Artistic Director of non-profit Big Fish Folklife

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  • Al5 months ago

    And this is the way I could only DREAM to write. Juicy, emotive and very selective on every word choice....absolutely LOVE this to the core..... i SOOOOO wish I could write like this.

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