Sunday, May 12, 2013

Nebraska - A Short Story by Chris Leek

About a year ago, Downer Magazine published a story of mine called Nebraska. Downer was a cool market that provided a home for some great flash fiction. Unfortunately it went the way of so many small literary e-zines and burned out in February this year. Nebraska is not my usual blood and guts crime stuff, it has a little more to say. I liked the story when I wrote it and reading it back now, I still do. So to preserve it for posterity and really just for my own indulgence, here it is. I have resisted the powerful urge to take the red editing pen to it and I have let it stand, warts and all. Who knows, maybe someone will dig it.

Hicky Thomas was always ragging on me, mostly I ignored him, but when he said my daddy was in Vietnam murdering babies, I kinda flipped. I'd never hit anyone before, not like I meant it. He was a year older than me and nearly a foot taller, but it turns out I was a natural.

It was like my fists worked all on their own, moving with a slick speed I never knew they had. Splitting lip, cracking bone, leaving Hicky in a pummelled mess on the lunch room floor. I felt fear mixed in with the anger and above them both, a crazy exhilaration. I'd never felt anything like the thrill I got from that flurry of punches.

Principal Howard tore a strip off me, said all farm kids were nothing but trouble and suspended me for two straight weeks. When my mother had finished her second cherry brandy and was over the worst of the shock, she grounded me, most probably for life. Worse than that, she insisted I had to go apologize to Hicky. My Uncle T-Bone, he flat out refused any part of it, said a boy had a right to defend his family honor. But momma kept on at him, knowing that sooner or later he'd cave and agree to drive us to town.
The dented Ford pick up looked furtive and uneasy, idling rough, among the sleek, modern sedans that lined Hicky's street. Uncle T stayed in the truck, keeping the motor running and the heater on high. Momma, wrapped up against the chill in her Sunday coat, marched me up the path of an expensive looking house. You could see the pool in back, covered over for winter. She straightened me up, took a deep breath and pressed the bell.

Musical chimes drifted back from somewhere inside and after what seemed like an age, Hicky came to the door, flanked by his expensive looking folks. All three of them stood waiting, expectant like, looking at Momma and me like we was nothing.
Momma jabbed me with an elbow and I started off saying how sorry I was, which I wasn't. Them words were the ones Momma wrote on the back of a hand bill and made me learn. When I was done, Hicky gave me the finger, but nobody saw him do it. Mister Thomas shook his head and went on at momma about how damn lucky she was that he hadn't called the law on me. If it was possible to die of shame, my mother would have done it right there on the front step. Her cheeks flushed a rich shade of pink and she examined her good shoes, mumbling more apologizes. I felt worse for her than anything. 
Except for Uncle T, whistling, tuneless through his dentures, we made the journey home in silence. Momma gazed intently out the window, like she'd found a sudden and all consuming interest in the railroad tracks, which kept pace along the highway. I rode bitch, sitting in between them on the sagging bench seat and watched empty Pabst cans chase one another around my feet. 
I came out on the back porch, and shivered at the breeze tugging on my shirt. Snow Geese filled the sky, silhouetted by a low riding sun, dipping fast behind the frozen stalks of last year's harvest. Uncle T was in the door yard, oiling a toothy bow saw and listening to KAAQ.  A sermon of country and religion; distilled with static and preached through the cracked Bakelite of an old Sears. T-Bone was never much for church. He told me once, God was behind most of the calamities in his life, said he still hoped to meet him one day though. I think maybe he's looking to get even.
“Uncle T, momma says, if you're goin' drinking at the Hanger, could you stop by the store for baking soda.” I called over, the words fogging out in front of my face.
He looked up at me and grinned, crooked teeth showing through the salt and pepper stubble that bristled along his jaw.
“Why don't you go get it yourself?” He said, knowing full well I was still grounded.
“Just 'cause.” I said and kicked at a left over seed potato, sending it bouncing off towards the chicken coop.
“Come here son.”
Ice had crept up the worn boards of the porch, covering them with a sheen of prickly frost. I half-slid, half-walked across them and picked my way, carefully down the steps.
“Rich folks like that Thomas crowd, they all think their shit don't stink.” He said, shaking out a bent Pall Mall from the crushed pack in his hip pocket.
I didn't say it, but I thought even supposing it did stink, Hicky couldn't of smelt it, not with his nose all busted.
“Don't pay no mind to what that boy says. Your daddy's serving his country, fighting them Commies for the President. You should be damn proud of him. If he were here, he'd tell ya he was proud of you too, understand?”
“Yes sir.” I said, not really understanding any of it; just wishing dad was here. Momma said he was in a place called Kay-song; I looked for hours, but I couldn't find it on no map.
“Go on now, get inside and help your mother. I got me a shoppin' list, beer and baking soda.” He said, mussing my hair.
I stood listening to the sound of the Ford's whipped motor, growing smaller in the gathering dusk, and wondered why Mister Johnson had never asked Hicky's dad to go fight them Commies.



  1. I really like this one. Thanks. Took me back to some of my own early fights - such a mixture of emotions, but definitely a buzz to floor someone (my older self almost cringes at the pleasure of the memories).

  2. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment Nigel. I’m really glad to hear it struck a chord and jogged some bittersweet memories.

  3. The last line gave everything before it a whole new meaning. It was a good story anyways, and without ever bating the reader over the head with it you put it right out there in peoples' faces. Good writers don't do that. The best ones do. Bravo.

  4. Ryan, thank you brother.

    Posting this was a purely self indulgent act. I didn’t want the story to die along with Downer Magazine. I’m stoked that so many people took the time to read it (over 100 at the last count) and that some of you even enjoyed it. You’ve made a happy man feel very old. No, wait, that’s not right…

  5. Didn't know about this mag. Too bad they died, they looked like a cool hangout. You should re-shop the piece to small venues. I'm sure there'll be a taker. It's strong enough.

    1. Thanks Ben. Maybe I'll give it a try.


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