Linguistic Fallacies and Facial Tics, Sex Ed and Death

A month after my parents rightly feared unlawful and inferable retribution—maybe twenty-seven days after my Uncle Cush arrived, insisting that we move to his abode on the other side of the Savannah River nuclear facility, for he foresaw arson, which indeed occurred—I attended my first and only Optimist International Club meeting. This was July 1990. I’d turned fourteen the previous March. Already my uncle explained to me how do-gooders, philanthropists, volunteer literacy coaches, and foreigners forever tempt arsonists and lynch mobs in a town like Poke, wedged between a nuclear waste dumping ground and a covey of bankrupt and abandoned cotton mills. Cush told me that until my parents felt it safe to return, he would be managing in loco parentis.

“Why didn’t they take me with them?” I asked more than once, usually when Cush served up MREs for supper that he’d acquired and stockpiled before, during, and after the Fall of Saigon. “How come you and I can’t go where they are?”

“Thing about freeze-dried mashed potatoes, they go good with everything. Hell, I like freeze-dried mashed potatoes with mayonnaise on Sunbeam bread.” He always pulled on his extraordinarily repulsive Fu Manchu and draped it above both ears during mealtimes. If I looked across the table I felt as if I dined with a man sporting hirsute oxygen supply nostril tubes. My uncle stood six-five, also, and probably wore about a size 9 hat. He wasn’t someone most people would pick as a dinner guest nightly.

The Optimist Club met on second and fourth Tuesdays, always at Poke Pancake, off Denim Street in the nearly vacant mill millage. I hoped that no one sat at our table, for I didn’t want to hear a stranger gag over my uncle’s facial hair. Also, I didn’t feel like undergoing all the questions I’d seen my parents undergo from locals: Where you from? Who you with? What’s your church?

In the past, I’d heard my father say “The United States,” and “My son—are you visually impaired?” and “Ha ha ha ha ha” when the answers—if you didn’t want to feel obligated to disappear unannounced and have your house torched—should’ve gone something like “Other side of Barnwood County” and “Poke Plant No. 6” and “First Baptist Poke.” There were a couple of acceptable substitutions: Graywood County, the nuclear facility, Bolt Baptist. But not much else, and nothing ending with laughter.

My uncle and I arrived on time, though all of the Optimists had, evidently, arrived at daybreak. A waitress cleared their tables and another waitress showed up out of swinging French doors, plastic Corning cafeteria plates fanned up both arms like rigid playing cards.

Everyone turned around and stared, of course. Years later I wondered if these men—could women not join the club?—thought to themselves, “How dare these strangers consider themselves Optimists? No one’s more optimistic than me.”

By everyone, I mean six men who totaled at least 420 years in age, two boys just older than I, both wearing ties, and a professor from the local college.

Uncle Cush put one hand down on my shoulder and held his left hand out in greeting. “Good morning, fellow soldiers!” he said too loudly. “Taking the boy around to rub elbows with some of the finer civic-minded folks of the region. We already been to a Lions Club meeting. Going to meet up with some Shriners and Jaycees later in the week.” 

If I had held three drops of blood below my Adam’s apple at this moment I’d’ve been surprised, that’s how much I could feel my face blush. 

“Cush Truluck,” my uncle said. “This here’s my nephew Drum.”

The president of Poke Optimist stood up. He wore a paper napkin tucked into his waistband and another in his collar. “Music contest’s in December!” he yelled out at about the same volume as my uncle. “Today here’s the finals for oratory contest. Bring them drums in December and you can enter, long’s you less than nineteen year old and in less than college.”

My uncle pulled out a chair at the table closest to the door. He turned forty-five degrees, I understood, to keep a panoramic view of his environs. I said, “Let’s go.” 

He wrapped his extraordinarily large hand around my neck. “Go on,” my uncle said to the man in charge.

“Well, y’all all know me. I’m Marty Cromartie, and I guess the rest of us is here.” 

He counted off the members with his index finger pointed. I squinted to make sure I witnessed correctly: His remaining fingers weren’t balled up in a semi-fist. This particular Optimist only had one finger on his right hand. I wished that we’d shown up earlier to espy his eating pancakes. “Mr. Lesley, you ready to give our invocation?”

A man with a comb-over on par with a wheat field during gale season stood up and started right in with “Lord, we want to thank you for giving us such wonderful and glorious organizations, molded by your hand, such as Optimist International and Junior Optimist Octagon International. And we want to thank you for inventing the pancake-and-bacon breakfast.” Mr. Lesley continued on. I looked at my uncle to see if he bowed his head and closed his eyes. He didn’t. For some reason he thought it necessary to stand up, walk over to the kitchen entrance, and peek through the door-window. He returned and got seated just as Mr. Lesley quoted something from Psalms about cultivating faithfulness, then said “Amen,” to which the five other members shouted in response. During the entire prayer one of the oratory entrants licked his palm and slicked his hair. The other held his own dick, probably nervous and needing to purge himself of limitless coffee, orange juice, and water.

Mr. Cromartie said, “Let’s all now repeat the ‘Optimist’s Creed.’ ” Later on I went and looked this up at the library just to make sure I hadn’t lost cognitive skills. Sure enough, it sounded like every man got every word eventually, but not in the right order. It came off sounding like those stupid rounds the music teacher thought so brilliant, exotic, and experimental at New Poke Elementary. “Hey, Ho! Nobody Home.” “Frère Jacques.” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” “Three Blind Mice.” More often than not—when I wasn’t telling the teacher long-winded stories without an apparent plot (she sent a note home once) or beating up classmates for saying things about black, Native American, and Hispanic people that weren’t true (the principal sent notes home about that, weekly)—I conjured up and couldn’t shake a sad narrative during music class of rodents chasing a French kid out of his own home and him trying to escape via canoe.

My uncle and I stood during the recitation, and continued upright during the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, a harrowing interpretation of “America the Beautiful,” the Lord’s Prayer, South Carolina’s official state song, and—I’d be willing to bet this wasn’t an official requisite of all Optimist International Clubs—“Dixie.”

Uncle Cush cleared his throat. He stared forward. Later on, after my parents felt no qualms in traveling back to reunite with me, Cush purported to envision the entire arson event while those old men sang, staring at a Confederate flag they’d brought into Poke Pancake, hands over pacemakers, and with that flag placed at the same height as the American flag and above the state one. Even I knew that wasn’t right, and at this point I’d read no etiquette books. Cush told my parents some years later, “It was as if the back of those six fat heads blended together into a screen, and my mind projected correctly the whole scenario, movie-like. I’ll admit that I might’ve undergone some flashbacks from when I did some good acid over in Dong Bong Phong,” or something like that.

I’ll admit that Cush figured things out, but it wasn’t on the backs of Optimists’ heads.

“If it looks like I might rush forward, step hard on my foot,” he had said to me as we stood there not singing “Dixie” with everyone else. This was right about at the “Old missus married Will the weaver, / William was a gay deceiver” couplet that—I just heard recently—has been changed in the Alabama school system to go “William was a grand deceiver” or in Tuscaloosa and Auburn, “wide receiver.”

I said, “My parents didn’t allow me to sing this song,” which was true, and indirectly had to do with our house getting burned to the ground.

“Your father believes in the union,” Uncle Cush said, right about when the Optimists squeaked through “to Dixie Land I’m bound to trabble.” “I ain’t talking about the North. Not the Union North. The unions. It all makes sense, now that I think about it.”

Uncle Cush kind of swayed forward then. I mistook the movement as belonging to the “furtive” camp, and I gouged my left heel hard onto the bridge of his right foot.

“Okay,” Mr. Cromartie said. “I believe we should all be sung and recitived out by now. So let’s get started with our oratory contest. We got us two finalists, Mr. Frank Liner Jr. and Mr. Leonard Self IV. They had to come up with five-minute speeches . . .” Mr. Cromartie shuffled around some pages at the lectern, “. . . on the topic, ‘If Only.’ ”

“If only,” Uncle Cush said, loud enough for the everyone besides the ancient Optimists to hear.

“Our judge this year is Mr. Alan Chalmers, from the English department over at Barnwood Community College, where he’s been a professor since 1979. Mr. Chalmers has a Masters degree from the University of Tennessee, and has had his poetry published in . . .” Mr. Cromartie eased his neck down toward the page about an inch from the text he’d written. “In Toppled Pig Review, Little Glandular Scares, Angry Checkbooks, and Too Many Harpsichordists in One Room.” 

Judge Chalmers raised his hand, turned toward the Optimists, and said, “I just found out yesterday that two of my recent sonnets have been accepted at Bean Tooth. It’s a highly regarded journal, maybe the best in the Southeast in regards to poetry.” He sounded like he might’ve been half-Irish, or at least had visited Belfast in the last twelve months.

“Well there you go,” Mr. Cromartie said. “That’s optimistic, ain’t it?” He looked at his comrades and prompted them to applaud. “Today’s winner will go on to compete in the district oratory competition, and that winner will get a big old check for twenty-five hundred dollars. Two thousand five hundred dollars!”

Leonard Self IV stood up and said to Frank Liner Jr., “You win. I got me twenty-five hundred dollars scattered beneath my Beemer’s seat, man.” He walked out, doing that get-the-hair-off-my-forehead swish, his neck jerking, a sneer on his lips during the entire exit.

Uncle Cush said, not too quietly, “Please say you understand that you need to hate people like him, Drum. Tell me that.”

I have to say that, at age fourteen, I thought the guy was cool. I kind of wanted to perfect such a twitch, learn how to keep my mouth open, et cetera. It took maybe another, oh, day with my uncle to reconsider. I know that I swished my non-existent bangs ten or twenty times before saying, “Let’s go,” again. It’s not like there was a bridge across the Savannah River site—we had to drive up Highway 25 thirty miles north to Augusta, then backtrack to Edgefield—where the great potter Dave the Slave once worked—and then drive back thirty miles to Cush’s odd estate of added-on rooms. I said, “We’re not Optimists.”

The Optimist Club members didn’t respond to young Self’s exit. Mr. Cromartie looked at happy Frank Liner Jr., then back toward me. I’m talking he zeroed in on my face and said, “I forgot the order. Hey, everyone makes mistakes!”

“Who died?” one of the Optimists said. “You forgot to tell who died. That’s the order. That’s what’s supposed to be next.”

I had to pee. And no one offered us pancakes, so I felt some hunger. Uncle Cush—I don’t want to say that my father’s older brother possessed some kind of soothsayer qualities, though he did—said, “Biscuits Bojangles later” in his minimalistic language. He said, “Soon.”

Mr. Cromartie held up his palms toward his Optimists. “My fault. Daggum. Yeah, we want to remember Lloyd Snoddy, who died last week. Lloyd was a good Optimist with us from 1963 until the Carter administration. Billy D. Bobo passed ten days ago. He was always first in line at our annual barbecue, remember?” 

Mr. Cromartie went on through ten dead people, I bet. Me, I watched the Optimist International Club oratorical winner, and the judge. Both of them looked as if they’d been granted reprieve from the most dastardly of henchmen. I can’t know for certain, but I think Judge Mr. Alan Chalmers, MA, wrote a new poem on his Poke Pancake napkin during the obituarial list.

“We need to send our prayers and positive thoughts,” Marty Cromartie said, “to Mack Mackey, who dodged a deer and crashed his car into a tree over on Old Elberton Road. Mickey McNutt’s wife’s got the brown lung. Pat Patterson still recovers from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage with the car running. We need to remember Steve Stevens for when his shotgun engaged while he cleaned it. Pete Peterson broke his back last week after he slipped up there at Table Rock and fell some ninety feet, but only broke his back, both knees, both hips, his pelvis, his neck, one elbow, five fingers, and a wrist. Y’all remember that Pete lost his arm in a thresher machine two-three year ago. In a way, I’m thinking having only one arm might’ve saved his life. One more broken bone might have tipped the scale when it comes to pain tolerance, you know.” 

I caught myself thinking, How come these people feel the need to call themselves optimists? Uncle Cush leaned down and said, “It ain’t right, right?”

Mr. Cromartie said, “Well. I guess this’ll make things shorter on the agenda. Are you ready?” he said, turning to the one contestant.

Frank Liner Jr. nodded once. He walked up to the lectern—I would like to say there was a microphone there, but I doubt it—and said, “ ‘If Only.’ By Frank Liner Jr. Copyright 1990.”

“Pay attention,” Cush said. “You might have to go back to public school one day. Don’t want you falling behind.” But he didn’t pay attention. I looked and caught him staring at a man up front who I learned, later, was the so-called Human Resources director at Poke Plants One through Six, a job that couldn’t’ve been that difficult seeing as plants Two through Six stood vacant, and the flagship cotton mill had gone from three shifts to one.

Frank Liner Jr. said, “If only I could change the world. And tell them all how socialism’s wrong. We live in the best country on Earth. Our bands play the best songs. If only I could change the world. And tell them how Jesus is the only way. How can Chinese people think they’re right? During Armageddon they’ll have to pay.” Then he bowed and, back erect, performed that bang-swish his once-formidable oratory competitor demonstrated upon his frivolous departure. He said, “Copyright 1990,” again.

I didn’t clap, but everyone else did, as if Frank Liner Jr. was some kind of poet laureate/Chamber of Commerce representative/seminary graduate. Uncle Cush yelled out “Whooooo-hooooo!” like that. He screamed out, “That’s what I’m talking about,” and laughed maniacally.

Mr. Cromartie got up from his cheap vinyl-covered chair and said, “That’s fitting. Wait—I should’ve mentioned this with all our deaths and prayer needs. Y’all know Ronnie Virgil McKinney? He used to be a member up until 1970 when . . .” Mr. Cromartie trailed off.

“When integration got set in here, I’m betting,” Uncle Cush said to me. “Many a white man around here dropped out of their supposed philanthropic or service-geared organizations when the court correctly said blacks had the right to join in and pay their dues.”

Mr. Cromartie continued: “Y’all know R.V. Well, I should’ve mentioned it last meeting, but I just found out. Twenty-three days ago he got transported to the Burn Center up at Augusta for some terrible third-degree burns he got on his arms and legs. They say he might got fifth-degree burns on his face, and that he’ll need some that reconstrictive plastic surgery if he wants to ever go out in public.”

Uncle Cush made a couple throat noises. He kind of growled, then rattled. He raised his hand, and I could feel my face redden again. “How’d R.V. get such a burn, if you don’t mind my asking.”

Actually he said “asting,” probably to fit in.

“They say he had a lawnmower gas can that blowed up on him right when he carried it,” Cromartie said. “That’s what they say. They say it blowed up right as he passed a propane tank for his grill, and it blowed up, too.”

“Who is ‘they’?” my uncle asked. No one turned round. Frank Liner Jr. looked up at the ceiling, which made me look to where he stared. Poke Pancake had a mold problem, if it matters.

“Who are you?” Mr. Cromartie said to my uncle. “You know, we was being nice letting you sit in on Oratory Competition Day. Now I’m of the belief we might’ve made a mistake. Optimists, as a rule, don’t cotton to agitators, brother.”

Then the Optimists turned, in unison, each having to shift hard in their seats, grunt, and hold their mouths in that universal half-open way known mainly to men and women distraught by a workman’s outlandish estimate.

“I believe you know me,” Cush said. “You know me, and you know my brother. Why don’t we all just drop it and go on from there.” I thought I heard the click of a pistol, but it ended up being Frank Liner Jr.’s temporomandibular joint disorder popping, which continued over and over. Sometimes I pretended to undergo TMJ problems during the MRE fiascos. 

On a side note: my uncle liked to say, “You know how they always tell two kids with braces not to kiss, seeing as they might get locked up? That actually happened to me one time. I was dating this girl with braces on her legs. Her daddy wasn’t happy to walk into the living room and see my head down there.” 

Uncle Cush stretched his right arm out slowly and pointed to each Optimist, down the line, accusingly. He said, “We got what we came for. I thank all of you.”

Marty Cromartie fell right over, I guess fainting. Mr. Lesley got up and started a second invocation that began, “Lord, you do work in mysterious ways.”

My uncle pulled me up by my collar and led me out of Poke Pancake, a diner I could never frequent again over the next twenty-five-plus years.


In my uncle’s Chevy pick-up, driving straight-up parallel with the Savannah River, then taking about a 179-degree turn back south to his house on the other side of the nuclear site, Cush said, “All little boys hate broccoli. The president hates broccoli. What can you derive from that, Drum?”

I looked out the window and counted off all the different kinds of litter I spotted: beer cans, hamburger wrappers, plastic bags, liquor bottles, dead does, cigarette packs, Styrofoam cups, and an aluminum baseball bat at the base of someone’s bashed-in mailbox. I said, “Can’t we at least call my parents?”

“All pens have ink. A squid has ink. What can you deduce from that?” Uncle Cush said. He drove with his wrist draped over the top of the steering wheel. He said, “I’m hungry. You? I feared those pancakes might be tainted, so I’m glad we didn’t partake.”

Dead possums, newspapers, a rectangular can of what I knew to be Klean-Strip paint remover seeing as my father kept some in his shed, a pair of panties, Hardee’s bags, entire filled Hefty bags that must’ve fallen off someone’s truck bed on the way to the Dempsey dumpster, sunglasses: I ticked it all off, and thought how I might want to be, later in life, an archaeologist. Or a cop who specialized in arresting idiots who threw stuff out their windows.

I rolled my window down further. “Did the air conditioner ever work in here?” I asked my uncle. He had his window down fully, and that ridiculous Fu Manchu blew all the way to the back window.

“Can’t take AC,” Cush said. “Back in Nam, you think we had any kind of air conditioning? Shit, boy, if it’s less than a hundred ten degrees, I feel like I might need a sweater.”

Understand that I had been under Cush’s supervision for one month at most. At this point I didn’t fully grasp his questionable service to our country. I said, “Just tell me where they moved. I promise not to run away.”

“All ceiling fans have blades. A Schick razor has a blade. What’s that tell you about throwaway razors?”

I said, “I think I just saw one of those blades in the ditch.”

“Concentrate, boy. I know if you’re truly my brother Newly’s son, the one thing you can do is concentrate.” Uncle Cush turned into a Little Pigs BBQ, leaned forward until his face hovered over the windshield, looked in the plate glass windows, then put the truck in reverse and eventually drove out of the parking lot. “We got food at home. I like to keep a supply of food close to where I live.”

I said, “If you give me my parents’ new phone number, I won’t tell them about what you have me eating. Those MRE things. They suck.”

“All MREs suck. A woman I met back in Nam named Fenfang sucked. What can you make out of that information?” Uncle Cush opened his door and stuck his left foot out, scraping his boot sole on the pavement. “I forgot to do that earlier. I stepped on some gum, I think. Made me feel off-balance.”

I said, “I don’t know what it all means, Uncle Cush. Are we starting homeschooling now? School doesn’t start till August. That’s when high school starts, if I would just go into New Poke High like I’m supposed to do.”

“Homeschool’s the way to go,” Cush said. “A. You’ll learn more; B. You won’t have anyone to beat up like you kept doing in elementary and junior high school; C. I don’t care if you can’t tell a story in chronological order—I think you and me might have the same DNA when it comes to that little problem; D. Ain’t no reason to buy new school clothes, wasting all that money; F. Ain’t nobody at the high school can teach you both logic and sex ed like you’re going to get from me.” He honked the horn for no reason. “A, B, C, D, F. Just like regular school.”

“I can’t drive, for one,” I said. “And you don’t know me well enough, but I’m too lazy to take off running to, you know, say, Charlotte or Richmond to search out my mom and dad. Miami. Omaha, Kansas City, Milwaukee.” I looked at my uncle closely to see if he’d reveal anything via “facial tics.” I said, “Sacramento, Olympia, Bismarck, Pierre, Dover, Nashville, Atlanta, Montgomery, Jackson, Baton Rouge, Raleigh, Albany,” but then I kind of ran out of capital cities I knew for sure. I kept wanting to say “St. Louis,” though I knew it wasn’t right. I wanted to say “Dallas,” and “Louisville,” and “New Orleans.” Fine cities, sure, but I’d gotten wedged into listing off places where I thought do-gooders might hide out, amidst legislators.

My uncle stomped on the accelerator, let off, stomped, let off. It felt like what I imagined a Disney World ride to feel like. He didn’t raise his eyebrows. “I ain’t telling,” he said. “Look, Little Grasshopper—I don’t expect you to know what ‘Little Grasshopper’ means, seeing as your parents didn’t own a television set—but you won’t get anything out of me. That ‘Grasshopper’ thing is called an allusion, by the way. And from now on it’s all right if you call me ‘Master Po.’ Shit, boy, Kung Fu’s what it’s all about. I don’t know how anyone can be alive today without known Kung fucking Fu.”

Okay, so I hate to contradict my friends and family, but some time later—after my uncle’s weird and complicated death—I looked up Kung Fu on the Wikipedia and saw that it aired between 1972 until 1975. Those were supposedly years when Cush purported to serve the army, escape the army, and travel from village to village mesmerizing locals with his spoon-playing abilities in both North and South Vietnam, much like the way Kwai Chang Caine traveled around. But there in the truck, right after my first and only Optimist experience, I could only conjure and feign some understanding of what he meant.

I said, “I don’t know the answers.” I placed my hand on the dashboard so as not to bang my head into the glove compartment. “Give me a hint. Hey, is there something wrong with your gas pedal?” I noticed a tricycle on the roadside, followed by a plastic wading pool, followed by a Wiffle bat, followed by a Hula Hoop. 

“No hints. You’ll go a long way in life being able to understand logic, Drum. Here: All lawnmowers run on gas. After I eat pinto beans, I get gas. What does that say about me?”

Then there was a Frisbee, a deflated football, a smashed Etch A Sketch, a naked GI Joe, and one of those sand-weighted-bottom six-foot-high plastic basketball goals. I said, “A father got frustrated with his spoiled child. He put all the kid’s toys in the back of a truck, forgot to close the tailgate, and everything eventually flew out.”

“Very, very good,” Uncle Cush said. His right foot remained steady on the accelerator for the first time in miles. “I believe you’re correct. I hope that spoiled kid didn’t have a fancy dog, or any of those other pets rich kids require.”

I laughed. I jerked my head around like a fool, to no effect, for I didn’t possess bangs. “Were those men at that meeting mean or stupid or both?”

Uncle Cush shook his head. “Those two boys? The ones in the speech competition? Both they daddies grew up in Poke. Both they grand- and great-grandaddies grew up in Poke. Best case scenario? Those two boys will go off to college either at Georgia, Clemson, or the University of South Carolina. They’ll be in fraternities made up of other boys from Poke, or at least Barnwood County. Then they’ll come back. They’ll marry they high school girlfriends, who went to Georgia, Clemson, or the University of South Carolina. Then they’ll have children of they own. And the continuum continues. Over and over and over.”

Of course I had to say, “Do you mean ‘their’ when you keep saying ‘they’? That’s not correct English, you know.”

Uncle Cush stomped on the gas and looked over at me. He took his hand from the steering wheel. I felt the urge to urinate. “I got good front end alignment,” he said. “Okay, listen. All slugs move slow and leave an unmistakable trail as to where they’ve been. R.V. McKinney has to move pretty goddamn slowly seeing as the bottoms of his feet burned off and he ain’t got no more face.”

I said, “He’s the person who burned down our house.”


“He had something against my parents, and wanted to kill them. That’s why they took off and went into hiding.”

My uncle smiled. He bobbed his head up and down like one of those trick pink glass flamingoes dipping over a saucer of water. “R.V. McKinney’s a member of the Klan. He worked for the mill in either a management or middle-management capacity. Or in an advisory role. What don’t mill owners want, Drum? Literate workers. What did your daddy do in his spare time for a number of years before the mills started fading?”

I said, “Worked in his shop turning finials?”

“Well, yeah, but he also ran the literacy association. I don’t know if he ran it, really, but he put some effort into keeping Barnwood County residents able to read the fine print. So. Now we know. Now we got us some direction, boy.” He kind of swerved. He pointed up ahead. “They’s a great meat-and-three up ahead. Let’s go get us some real food and celebrate. Plus we need to chart out your upcoming curriculum.”

My uncle pulled his truck into the parking lot of a place called Three Morgans Meat and Three Diner. The magnetic sign out front read Welcome Young Republicans. I said, “Why are you doing this to me?”

“Weird coincidence. But, hey, you got to know the enemy to beat the enemy. Come on. We’ll see if they’re having some kind of contest inside. We’ll sit in the back again and act like we belong.”

I got out of the truck. I couldn’t tell him he would never be confused for a conservative man, what with the abnormal facial hair, the wild eyes, his propensity to blurt out koans. I tried to think of what meat-and-three I might order. Would it be pork chop, mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and lima beans? Would I choose chicken livers, macaroni and cheese, French fries, and applesauce? Meatloaf, stewed tomatoes, okra, and squash casserole? Flounder? Banana pudding?

Uncle Cush stopped at the door. “I smell something wrong,” he said. We both looked further down the road. I think I had my hand on the door to the diner. There on the berm lay a dead standard poodle, followed by a Shetland pony. 

Then we went inside, strutting, both of us.


George Singleton has published over three hundred stories in literary journals and magazines such as The Georgia Review, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, One Story, the Southern Review, and Zoetrope. His eighth collection, Staff Picks, will be available in March 2019 from Yellow Shoe Fiction. A Guggenheim Fellow and a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, Singleton teaches in the English department at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.