A Conversation by Stanton Yeakley

Photo by Cloris Ying on Unsplash

Eugene and Carol sat on their sagging porch outside the house they bought when they were young and oblivious to the tight grasp of this flyover country. Their land was hard, but Carol, at least, remembered when it had been harder. Hard in a way most had already forgotten. Maybe Eugene had earned some sort of uncounted blessing, she thought. The sweet freedom of forgetting. She looked at her husband, who vacantly watched the evening light hang itself from the black locust trees towering in the yard before them. 

Helpless to her memory, Carol recalled a thousand warm days in the soft grass under those trees. Days so far in the past they could have been fictions—twisted into nonexistence by their distance from her. Watching Eugene smile at the dying light, she felt jealous and alone, and she stared at him until darkness slithered up the cracking boards of the porch and engulfed her.

“I hope God strikes you down,” she said suddenly.

“What?”

“I hope God strikes you,” Carol repeated. “Smites you like he used to.”

“Like in the Bible times?” Eugene asked. 

“Like in the Bible times.”

“What makes you think he’d do something like that?”

“Cause you deserve it,” Carol said. “And he kind of owes it to you.”

“How come?” 

“Cause of what you done. And what he done to you.”

He left her statement suspended in the air for a moment, but it burst to nothing when an early lightning bug zipped through.

“Did you ever hear from Everett’s wife?” Eugene asked. 

“About what?”

“About whether he, uh, you know.” Eugene turned his hand in the air like a winding wheel, searching for the word. “Whether he got better.” 

“You talking about Everett Wilson?” Carol asked. “The ol’ boy who got himself struck by lightning? No, he never recovered—he died. About ten years ago.” 

Eugene nodded.

“That’s not the kind of lightning I was talking about though. I was thinking more like the holy lightning God’d strike you with.” 

“Why’d he do something like that to me?” Eugene asked. 

“You know. And the Lord knows,” Carol said. “Ya’ll are the only ones who matter.” 

“Do you know?” Eugene asked innocently.

“Do I know? I don’t know shit about it.”

Eugene paused, trying to hold onto the thought, but Carol saw the light quickly leave his eyes. It was like watching the power go out in a house, rendering it black and empty and blank. 

She hardly even had to search for the loss anymore. She could picture the way his brow would tighten in angry lines as he tried to retain a thought before it disappeared.

He looked up at Carol as if he’d forgotten she was there.

“I think I’ll go inside,” he said. “It’s getting dark.” He tried to hoist himself up, then sat back down heavily. He glanced over his arms at the chair’s large metal wheels. 

“You push me out in this?”

“Every day,” Carol said. “They’re the only wheels you get till your Elijah chariot comes. It better hurry up too.” 

“Why do you say that?”

“No reason. I just get to looking at you sometimes,” she said. “Feeling sorry.”

“For who?”

She closed her eyes and considered this. “You,” she concluded. “And me, a little bit.”

“Why?”

“You got different. Got ugly, in a way.”

“Huh,” he replied, looking down at the thick flannel bunched at his chest. A collection of crumbs had gathered in the folds from dinner. 

“I bet you were pretty,” he said.

“I never was much of a beauty queen,” she replied. 

“Neither was I,” he said. “They wouldn’t let me in.” He winked and for a second his gaze was familiar. 

“You could have been though,” Carol said. “The equivalent.”

“The man equivalent? Like, a…” He paused. “A what-do-you-call-it. A dance king? From back in school.”

“Yeah,” Carol said. “You could have been a prom king or something. Course, I never would have met you if you were a prom king.”

“Would it have been better if you’d never met me?”

“I never said that.”

Eugene nodded.

“Don’t mean I can’t sometimes wish the Lord’d call your number and put you out of your misery though.”

“Been better if you’d never met me?” Eugene asked again.

“Don’t mean I wished I never met you.”

“You still love me?”

“Yes,” she said.

He didn’t even smile. He let the thought go as he let all thoughts go—like grains of rice spilling off the counter.

“Carol, why you wishing smites on people out of the blue, huh?”

“Cause right now I hate you, too.”

At this point, there was no reason not to tell him. They would sit on the porch until the stars peeked out from the clouded sky, and the next morning they would drive into town where a young doctor would tell Carol what she already knew—that something insidious lurked in Eugene. That a burrowing splinter in his conscious had put the tallest man she’d ever known in diapers and made him forget his own name.

Each morning, when she struggled to get Eugene into his chair, he looked at her like a stranger. She hated him for this, and she’d often tell him so. But he would not remember, and this was Carol’s only freedom. 

About The Author

Stanton Yeakley is an attorney who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and writes in between cases. He graduated from Oklahoma Christian University with a bachelor’s in English and earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Tulsa. He has been previously published in Oklahoma Christian University’s literary journal, Soundings.

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