Student Spotlight: Morgan Talty
Fiction, mainly—short-shorts, short stories, that weird longer-than-a-short-story-yet-not-quite-a-novella that magazines and journals rarely run, and novels (only one so far, and I think it might stay in my closet forever). I try not to let the structure or form dictate what I’m writing—I just start writing, but typically a short story is what emerges. I guess I’m a “traditionalist” and tend to write character-driven fiction. When I first started writing, I tried to write genre or heavily plotted stories, but I always—always!—found myself losing interest in what I was writing. And then I figured out what I really cared about as a writer: characters and their emotions.
Is there an author or artist who has most profoundly influenced your work?
That’s tough! I can’t pick just one. It’s probably the culmination of works by Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, James Welch, and other Native and non-Native writers who have helped me find my voice. Oh, and I have to give a shout out to Chekhov, too, just for being (or having been?) Chekhov.
Why did you choose Stonecoast?
I thought it was a great program (and it is!). I spent months looking at graduate schools, and when I figured out what I wanted (an MFA in Creative Writing), I just couldn’t see myself in a traditional MFA where I sat in classes and lived in a dorm or rented an apartment near campus. I’d spent two years at Eastern Maine Community College, and then another four years at Dartmouth College—that’s seven years, basically, for a bachelor’s—and I needed something different. And that was the low-residency MFA, and it was made all the better since there was one in my “backyard.” In the end, though, I really wanted to write and read and meet writers, and Stonecoast offered that.
What is your favorite Stonecoast memory?
I’d say the Follies. There’s not one act—all of them are fantastic.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Besides the obvious “publish regularly and make a career out of writing,” I really just want to keep finding inspiration every day, to have that fire in me to keep going, to have that mental (and even physical!) stamina to never let up with my prose.
If you could have written one book, story, or poem that already exists, which would you choose?
Just one? I’ll go with Jesus Shaves by David Sedaris.
The following is an exclusive short story for Stonecoast Review.
Jay and Kev are waiting for the bus, but not at the glass bus stop on the corner of Hyridge and Park. The boys are down the road in a parking lot, behind a green dumpster pinched between a tilted brown fence and the white wall of the strip mall. The sky is gray, same as Jay’s cargo shorts. Kev’s wearing jeans with a smear of mustard across one leg. They both have on white t-shirts, except Kev’s is dirtier.
“Give it here,” Kev says, watching Jay try and open a bottle of Coke.
“I just ate popcorn!” Jay says, a joke from their favorite movie, The Longest Yard.
Kev laughs. He cracks open the top off the bottle. Brown fizzles. He sips the Coke before handing it back.
Jay sips and screws the lid back on, then sets it down and reaches into his pocket for a loose Pall Mall Red. Kev doesn’t smoke, but he likes the smell. Jay peeks around the dumpster at a passing car, watches its brake lights glow before leaving the lot. Then another car passes. He puts the cigarette to his lips and flicks the lighter. One more car passes and Jay slinks out of view, back behind the dumpster. He waves away the trails of smoke coiling up into the sky and blows his drags into his shirt.
“Nobody cares,” Kev says.
Jay offers him the cigarette. “Go and smoke in the middle of the street, see if anyone says anything.”
“Pshh, Coach would probably cruise by, see me, and knock me upside the head.” Kev tosses a rock at the dumpster and it rattles.
Kev plays football. Linebacker. Jay hates sports. He used to like basketball. Pivot foot! Pivot foot! his dad always yelled. God damn, use your pivot foot!
“But you said nobody cares,” Jay says.
Kev tells Jay to hurry up, to smoke that turd. “We have business to attend to,” Kev says.
Jay understands. His hands are sweaty and he wipes them on his shorts between drags. Then he drops the cigarette to the ground and with his sole scrapes it out. Kev and Jay walk out from behind the dumpster, and Jay wonders if that cigarette he’d scraped out really is out, or if maybe one little coal is left, burning, a quick breeze blowing it into the dumpster and lighting it all up. You never know, he thinks. You just never know.
The boys walk the strip mall sidewalk. They pass the empty commercial space where dusty windows are marked in purple lettering that once read Blockbuster. The small Thai restaurant they pass by gave Jay’s dad diarrhea for two days, and they keep on going by that, passing the GNC and the Quiznos. They stop in front of a shop called Juicy Blues.
The door jingles when Kev opens it, Jay follows behind, and he doesn’t grab the door, so it slams shut and jingles again against the frame. Jay smells the smoke on his shirt, on his fingers. He puts his hands in his pockets.
Juicy Blues sells books, DVDs, CDs, old and new gaming consoles, video games, keychains, rainbow Slinkies, gum shaped like penises, erasers shaped like boobs—all that stuff. They carry magnets, too, which stick to a metal wall in the way back next to a shelf stacked with manga, graphic novels, and comics. A pile of dirt is swept neatly against the back wall.
Each magnet says something that’s supposed to be funny. Kev peels one from the wall and Jay reads it over Kev’s shoulder: If Chinese medicine doesn’t help you lose ugly fat, then cut off your head. Kev puts it back and peels another from the wall, a picture of a mother holding a baby: How do adorable babies turn into dickhead teenagers? Kev sucks his teeth and slaps it back on the wall.
Jay points up. “What’s that one say?”
Kev tiptoes and flicks the magnet from the wall and catches it.
It’s a picture of a baby with a yellow bonnet: Parenting is mostly just being screamed at by a tiny idiot.
“They have no new good ones,” Kev says. He reaches for one more way up and he has to jump to knock it loose. It’s a picture of four Indians holding long rifles. It’s in black and white. Homeland Security, it reads. Fighting terrorism since 1492.
“Give me that one,” Jay says. He reads it again and then holds it. Just holds it.
Kev is still looking for new magnets and Jay turns, looks around, and then slips the magnet in his pocket, and when he sees a man come from an aisle Jay starts coughing, bends over, and moves away from the magnets and goes to look at the video games. But he doesn’t really look at them. He’s wondering if that man saw him, and then Jay remembers he left his Coke out by the dumpster. Not yet, he says. Get it after. Too soon to leave. He feels like he’s being watched.
Jay dips from aisle to aisle, and eventually Kev comes and finds him. He shakes his head, and Jay feels dirtier since Kev didn’t swipe anything.
“Let’s go,” Kev says.
The door jingles and Jay grabs it, closes it gently. It doesn’t jingle again.
Tricia is washing dishes at the sink, spacing out through the window where squirrels run back and forth across the fence and up and down the oak tree. A deflated basketball lies in the grass.
Like her son, Tricia hates basketball. It’s a Rez thing, she thinks. Or maybe it’s a quarter-blood thing. Tricia thinks basketball is to Natives what fiestas are to Mexicans, but she only thinks that because her half-blooded, second cousin Sammy and her son, Ray, are coming to visit. Sammy’s ex-husband, Ray’s dad, is a Mexican who Tricia has only seen pictures of, and that’s what got her thinking about fiestas and basketball, got her thinking about being indigenous in the city.
Tricia left the Rez twenty-four years ago, when she was eighteen, and worked as a waitress in a white waist apron before meeting a white man named Clarence, who she married and had Jay with. She never much liked the Rez, the gossip, the rumors, the drinking that was there even though some Natives said it didn’t exist; never cared for the payouts from lawsuits or funds; never revered the western peyote that wasn’t true to her culture’s past. To the Rez, she isn’t an Indian at all, but to herself, she’s a Native wife to a white man and a Native mother to a little no-blooded Indian boy who hates basketball as much as she does.
Tricia finishes the dishes, and the phone rings when Jay swings open the back door.
“Shoes,” Tricia says.
She dries her hands on her pants, checks the roast in the oven, heat in her face. She grabs the phone off the table and answers it.
“Doos,” Sammy says. “Google Maps says we’re twenty minutes out.”
“Don’t take your time,” Tricia says. She smiles, and Sammy says she’ll hurry. Then Sammy yells at Ray and the phone goes dead.
Tricia steps into the living room and sees Jay on the couch, flicking through the channels. She can smell the smoke from across the room. “Is your room clean?” she asks.
He doesn’t look at her, and changes the channel. “I don’t know. Why?”
“Because your Aunt Sammy and cousin Ray will be here in twenty minutes, that’s why. Go clean it.”
“Aunt Sammy? You mean your crazy cousin?”
“Don’t say that in front of her,” she says. Some women cousins turn into aunts down the road—some crazy cousins stay crazy cousins.
“Why’s she coming here?” Jay says.
“I told you last week they were coming to visit. Now go clean your room.”
Tricia says nothing, and Jay looks at her.
“Better be.” She turns to leave but stops. “And go change your shirt. It stinks.”
Jay’s eyes stick out, and his face goes white. Back at the sink, Tricia sees a squirrel slip and dangle from the fence. She laughs, but not at the squirrel. She’s laughing at Jay’s pale face, his “I’m caught” face.
In Jay’s room, a maroon rug runs the floor, even under all the bed legs. Near the far back wall, tucked under a bed leg, Jay peels back one corner of the rug and stuffs the magnet under there. There are three cigarettes and a book of matches, too.
He changes his shirt and goes to the bathroom, where he scrubs his fingers with soap. Back on the couch, after ten minutes of Viva La Bam, Sammy and his cousin Ray show up. Jay doesn’t know Ray, but he knows Sammy from the last time she visited. Alone. She got so drunk sitting outside at the patio table that she fell forward and smashed her head right through the glass. Jay had told Kev, who thought that story was hilarious, especially the part where Sammy shot right up after and screamed, “I’m awake!”
Aunt Sammy always nags his mother about going back to the Rez, always hints that Jay wouldn’t be able to live there when he turns eighteen. Tribal law. But that’s what happens when you marry a white guy, doos. Strange that your husband can stay. Tribal law.
Half-bloods, Jay’s mom had said when Sammy had gone. Can do what they like.
But other than that, Aunt Sammy is harmless.
He turns off the TV when he hears the car doors slam.
Ray’s hair is black. It’s so short it looks like stubble. They’re all sitting at the kitchen table, except Jay’s mom, who is basting the roast one more time. Jay can smell Ray, smell the smoke on him. He can also smell pepper and carrots.
Sammy, who’s plumper than Jay recalls, is talking about the drive, the long stretch of highway where, even after an hour, it feels like no progress has been made. “And then Ray pigadeed,” Sammy says. Tricia laughs. Jay doesn’t.
“He what?” Jay says.
“Pigadeed,” Ray says.
Jay looks at everyone. Sammy leans close to Jay as if he’s deaf. She says the word slow. “Farted.”
Tricia brings the roast to the table.
“You still ain’t taught this boy skeejin?” Sammy says.
Jay doesn’t listen, and looks at Ray. He’s in a white tank top that clings to him. His gray Nike basketball shorts are loose. He’s wiry, Jay sees. Very wiry, with muscled fingers that match his arms.
“We’re matriarchal,” Sammy’s saying. “I’m gonna have a word with your husband. I bet he forbade it.” She’s joking, Jay thinks, but something—a syllable, perhaps—suggest the whole conversation isn’t a joke.
“Where is Clarence?” Sammy asks. She butters a slice of bread.
“Working,” Tricia says. She cuts into the roast, and juice spills over the glass tray’s side onto the two oven mitts separating the hot glass from the table. Sammy dips her bread into the spilled juice. After dinner, Tricia and Sammy and Ray and Jay all move to the living room and watch the movie 300.
“That kick reminds me of when you sent little Choggy flying,” Sammy says, and Tricia laughs and laughs.
“He deserved it,” Tricia says between laughs, “That perverted skeejin.”
“He was a dirty little woodbooger,” Sammy says, “Wasn’t he?”
Jay saw 300 with Kev when it was in theaters. They took the bus and snuck in through a broken door. Jay’s hands were cold and sweaty throughout, and when the ushers came through with their flashlights Kev told him nobody cared.
By eleven, Clarence still hasn’t come home. The movie’s over, and Tricia yawns while Sammy rests her head on Tricia’s shoulder, like sisters. Ray’s on his phone, has been on his phone, thumb scrolling Facebook. Typing. Liking. Ignoring. Smiling. Sharing. Jay stares at Ray’s shorts: the outline in his pocket, a rectangle.
Jay wakes in the night to his father’s coming home. He’s quiet—always quiet—but Jay hears the door click shut through the wall, hears the sink in the bathroom running, hears the toilet flush, hears when his father goes to sleep, the door to his parents’ bedroom clicking quiet. Sammy is in the spare bedroom down the hall, and Ray is on Jay’s floor, a mound of blankets under him for padding, a thin sheet over him.
Jay’s eyes are closed, and a light brightens against his eyelids. Ray. He’s on his phone again, scrolling, thumbing posts. Soon, he gets up and leaves the room, and Jay hears the front door open and click shut. Jay’s father is quieter.
Jay counts the minutes on his cell. Seven minutes pass and Ray comes back, cigarette smoke with him.
“What do you smoke?” Jay says. Ray’s phone lights his face.
“Pall Mall Reds. They’re what my buddy’s grandparents smoke. That’s where I get them. His grandparents. Kev doesn’t smoke, though.”
“Can I try one?” Ray says.
“I’ll trade you,” Jay says.
They’re outside, on the side of the garage, sitting on cinderblocks. Four streetlamps burn up and down the street, and all the pretty little houses in daylight are now dark. Sleeping. A beetle buzzes by, and Ray swats at it.
“Chigawk,” Ray says. “These damn things are huge.”
They trade cigarettes and light up.
“Where’s your buddy live?” Ray asks.
“Couple streets over.”
Ray smokes. He pulls the cigarette from his mouth and looks at it. “Too weak.”
Jay holds back the cough from the Newport. The third drag is better, less violent. After a few more quiet drags, Ray speaks. “If he’s up, let’s chill with him.”
Jay goes to speak, but Ray cuts him off. “Hit him up,” Ray says. Then again, “Hit him up.”
Jay pulls his phone out and looks at it. He thinks about pretending to text him. He doesn’t want to go to Kev’s house. Wiry, Jay thinks. Ray’s brain’s wiry, too.
They finish their cigarettes, and then Ray hands another Newport to Jay. He takes it and lights it up. Ray lights one himself.
“You drink?” Ray says. “I have a pint of gin in my bag. We can go to your buddy’s house. Hit him up.”
“Kev,” Jay says.
“His name’s Kev.”
“We can go to Kev’s. Let me get my gin.”
Ray sets the lit cigarette on a cinderblock. While he’s gone, Jay takes his phone out and texts Kev. Sorry man.
Before Ray comes out, Kev texts back. For what?
Jay texts, Coming by. My cousin has gin and thinks you want some.
The hell you sorry for? Kev texts. Bring that gin shit over.
Ray comes out, backpack slung over his shoulder. “You ready?” Ray plucks his cigarette from the cinderblock.
“Hold on.” Jay doesn’t like the Newport, and he butts it. “Be right back.”
The floor creaks on his way down the hallway. In his room, Jay peels back the rug and grabs the magnet and his Pall Mall Reds. Outside, Jay sparks the butted Newport. “Let’s go,” he says.
The sky is black. There are stars—as always—but the light from the streetlamps keep them hidden. They walk to the end of the road and Ray lights a Newport and shares it with Jay, who takes small drags. His throat burns cool.
One street away, Jay texts Kev. I’m outside. Jay ignores the time on the top of his phone screen. Pretends it’s earlier than it is. When they turn on Kev’s road, Ray points. “That him?”
That’s him, Jay thinks.
Kev lives with his grandparents. His room is in the basement, way away from the rest of the house. The walls of the room are brown. There are no windows, only an unmade bed and a desk that is tucked into the corner of the room with an old, cream-colored Mac computer on top and a haggard entertainment center with a small flat-screen TV. The fan on the back of Kev’s PlayStation 2 is blowing, humming, and Kev saves his game of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and turns off the console.
“Can I smoke in here?” Ray says. He sits on the bed.
Jay’s hands never sweat in Kev’s room. Kev’s g
“If you give me some gin.” Kev sits in the wheelie chair from his computer desk. Jay sits on the floor, back against the wall.
Kev drinks the gin and then hands it to Jay.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Ray says. “Let me get a drink first.”
Jay hands it to his cousin who pulls hard. “Ahhh,” he says. He wipes his mouth. “Shit is rough. Fuck!”
Kev laughs. Like the Newport, Jay gets used to the gin.
“You want a beer?” Kev asks after the bottle’s been passed around a few times. He goes to the basement fridge, where his grandfather keeps Miller Lite. His grandmother makes her husband keep them there. Kev grabs three beers.
“You got fancy beer,” Ray says.
“Fancy beer?” Kev says. “You mean water. Give me that gin.” He grabs hold of it and Ray pulls back with a strong gulp.
“Hold on now.” He puts his cigarette in his mouth, twists open the gin cap, plucks the cigarette from his lips, and then takes a pull.
When Ray finishes his drink, Kev reaches for the bottle but Ray jerks it back again. “My cousin first. Blood first.”
Ray’s talking slow. “On the Rez we drink Natty Daddies. None of this fancy water.”
Jay pretends to pull from the bottle and then he hands it to Kev. Jay lights a cigarette.
“Well,” Kev says. He pulls from the bottle and makes a face. “You ain’t on the Rez.” Ray takes the bottle.
“This used to be all Indian land,” Ray says. He’s drunk. Quite drunk. Jay thinks about grabbing the gin bottle and pretending to take another sip. He flicks his cigarette ash in his beer can. Shit. There’s still beer in it. He’s drunk, too.
“Yeah, well it ain’t no longer,” Kev says. “This is American land.”
“White people. Am I right?” Ray says this to Jay who says nothing. “Get me some more fancy water,” Ray tells Kev.
“Go and get yourself some Natty Daddies,” Kev says. Jay knows Kev plays like this, but Ray doesn’t.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ray says.
“He’s screwing with you,” Jay says.
Ray puts his hand up to Jay. “No, no. Quiet cousin. What does that mean?”
Kev laughs at the word “cousin,” and Jay wants to laugh too.
“What’s so funny?” Ray says. “I know you’re messing, but what did it mean?”
“Fuck you talking about, kid?” Kev says. Ray laughs at the word “kid.”
“Kid…I’m not no kid, doosis,” Ray says.
“Doosis?” Kev says. He looks to Jay who doesn’t know.
“Little girl,” Ray says. “It means little girl.”
“Give me that gin,” Kev says. He reaches for it.
Ray pulls the bottle back. “Hold on, hold on. Tell me what it means first. You know.”
“What what means?” Kev says. He’s gripping the chair’s armrests.
“What you said. What was it? Oh, go and get some Natty Daddies on the Rez, like I should go back there.”
“He was just messing,” Jay says. “Chill.”
Ray mumbles a whatever. Kev gets up and gets three more Millers. He even opens Ray’s. “Here,” Kev says.
Ray takes it and nods. He doesn’t look at Kev, and Kev looks to Jay. Jay shrugs. Ray lights a cigarette.
“Let me get one,” Kev says.
“Cousin,” Ray says. He’s looking at Jay sitting on the floor. “You said he don’t smoke.”
“Yeah, well I’m sipping Miller and need a ciggie to go with,” Kev says. “Let me a get a butt.”
“Bum one from my cousin.” Ray pulls on the gin bottle and then sips his beer.
Jay waves a “let-it-go” hand at Kev and tosses him a cigarette.
They all smoke in silence, sip their beers. Ray hauls his Newport down to the filter, even before Jay or Kev get halfway down theirs. And then Ray looks around with droopy eyes for an ashtray, forgets he’s been using an empty can, and just drops his cigarette onto the carpeted floor and stomps it out, digs his heel into it. Kev moves quick, open hands Ray across the face.
Ray falls sideways off the bed.
“The fuck, winooch?” Ray sits up and spits at Kev. “White-ass bitch!”
Kev goes at him, pushes Ray’s head into the wall.
Ray’s face is bright red and he keeps spitting at Kev. They’re tugging, pulling, each trying to get hold of the other, but Kev is too strong, or perhaps Ray’s too drunk, and Kev rips free from Ray and then pulls his fist back and puts his weight into the punch.
Jay’s on his feet, watching Ray’s head snap back and smash into the wall. Ray’s holding his nose. He moves his hands away and then spits at Kev one more time, and Kev grabs him by the neck with both hands and drags him from the room. Ray kicks his feet and knocks over the gin and Jay’s old beer with the cigarette ashes in it, and it starts spilling over the carpet. Jay picks it all up.
When Jay looks out the bedroom door, Ray is on his knees and holding his face.
“Dude,” Kev says. “Get this fucking kid out of here.” Kev goes into his room and tosses Ray’s backpack onto the floor.
Jay helps Ray up, and he’s wobbling, mumbling, groaning. “Fuck,” Ray says. “Shit.” He’s holding his face.
Kev doesn’t wait for them to leave. He closes his bedroom door, and Jay and Ray are in the dark. Jay reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone, and with it the magnet. He turns his phone light on, sees Ray is on the floor again, his back against the basement refrigerator. Jay sticks the magnet to the fridge and then struggles to get Ray to his feet. He does, and he brings him upstairs slowly and sits him outside on the steps. “Don’t go anywhere,” Jay says.
Jay goes back downstairs and opens Kev’s door. He’s on the edge of the bed, playing Grand Theft Auto, blasting an AK47 at pedestrians on the sidewalk. Kev pauses the game and looks at Jay.
“Sorry, man,” Jay says. Then he points to the gin, what’s left of it, and says, “Enjoy.” Kev takes the bottle and drinks half of what’s left, and then passes it to Jay, who has no choice but to drink the rest of it.
The sun glares hard on Jay’s eyelids, and he can’t sleep. He’s feeling well. The water he drank and drank and drank after he put his cousin on the bedroom floor did its job. But he can’t sleep. He’s thinking about the dumpster near Juicy Blues, thinking about that cigarette he scraped out, and he’s feeling like he did there, nervous that there will be a fire.
He looks at his cousin on the floor. There’s blood in his short, stubbly black hair, and his nose is wide, swollen. Ray’s snoring hard, drooling. Jay hears his parents get up, but the first to speak is Sammy. She’s talking about the bed, how comfortable it is, how she could have slept all day.
They talk and talk, Jay’s parents and Sammy. A frying pan bangs on the stove, butter and bacon sizzle, eggs crack, and a fork whisks. Clarence laughs, tells Sammy she hasn’t changed. “Still feisty,” he says.
“Always will be,” Sammy says.
Jay gets out of bed and puts on shorts and a t-shirt. He steps over Ray and opens the bedroom door. The voices stop talking; they listen. Jay crosses the hall and shuts himself in the bathroom.
He does everything: brushes his teeth, washes his face, fixes his hair, clips his fingernails over the wastebasket, plucks the one long hair that grows on his neck. He pees, flushes, and washes his hands again. He smells his fingers; there’s a scent, a scent—he scrubs again and again until his hands are red. When he opens the bathroom door, Ray is standing in front of it, holding his head in one hand and fresh clothes with a black toiletry bag in the other.
“You done?” he says.
Jay says nothing, just moves aside and let’s Ray pass. From his room, he hears Ray start the shower, and so he cleans up Ray’s bedding, folds it all and sets it in a neat pile in the corner of his room. He makes his bed before going to the voices in the kitchen.
“Morning,” one of them says. He’s not sure who; the voices mix into one, but he says morning back.
“Late night?” Clarence says this. Jay looks at the time.
“Just catching up on sleep,” Jay says.
“Fix yourself a plate,” Tricia says. She moves from the table and Sammy gets up, too, following. They go out the sliding door onto the back patio.
“You boys up late?” Clarence says. He’s leaning on the counter, drinking coffee. Steam swirls from the mug.
Yes, it’s like that cigarette burning by the dumpster, except it’s not by a dumpster. It’s in the house. His house. It could blow, catch, burn, burn, burn.
“No,” Jay says. “No, passed out after the movie.” He piles eggs, bacon, and toast onto his plate.
Clarence grabs his keys from the sideboard. “I need that space in the garage cleared,” he says. “I’m going to get the two-by-fours now to build the shelf.” A shelf for Clarence’s high school and D-2 college basketball trophies. “You hear?”
“Yeah, I heard you. I’ll clean it.” Jay burns his mouth on the eggs.
When Clarence leaves, Jay nibbles his toast and bacon. He no longer feels well. His neck and head hurt, and his stomach feels bloated. He eats slowly, waiting for Ray to come out, and when Jay hears him come out the bathroom, he looks over his shoulder at Ray.
The blood’s gone from his hair and from around his nostrils. His nose is still swollen, and there’s a little black under his left eye. His neck is bruised, too. And red. Ray smiles.
“Morning, cousin.” He piles his plate high with eggs, bacon, and toast. It’s a huge ordeal. He sits with his food. Salts and peppers his eggs, snaps his bacon in half, puts jelly on his toast. Before he eats, he gets up once more and fills a glass with water. He tears a piece of paper towel, and when he sits, he drapes it over his lap.
“You ain’t eating,” Ray says. He looks only at his plate. “Hungover?”
Jay looks to the patio window, at his mother and Sammy.
“They can’t hear, cuz,” Ray says. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re not mad?”
He shakes his head. “Madder that I lost my phone. Did you see it?” He asks that without looking at Jay.
“No,” Jay says. “What are you gonna tell them?”
“I’ll figure it out. You were sleeping, am I right?”
Ray puts his fork down. “I’m trying to help you out, cuz.” He says each word slow, how Sammy explained “pigadeed.” “You were sleeping.” He raises his eyebrows, and when he does, Jay sees the cut below his brow.
“I was sleeping.”
“You were sleeping.” Ray picks up his fork and stabs an egg.
Through the window above the sink, Jay sees Ray and Sammy outside. Tricia’s in the living room, looking through the sliding door at them.
They’re by the back fence, near the oak tree. She’s yelling at him, and he’s waving his hands, talking like that, throwing his head back, turning away and then turning back. She almost mirrors him, makes the same gestures. Finally, she hugs him—but when she lets go, she’s yelling again, slapping his arms. He reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out a cigarette, which he puts to his lips. He flinches as she slaps it from his mouth. It was an unlit cigarette. No burning.
Jay looks to Tricia, and Tricia looks to Jay. She’s wondering, wondering. Jay shrugs, and Tricia squints at him, digging for the truth, and Jay feels she’s waiting for him to fumble or to look away—waiting for some movement that’ll suggest he knows more. But Jay shrugs again.
Sammy marches through the grass back to the sliding door and kicks the deflated basketball. Jay watches Ray pick up the cigarette that was slapped from his mouth and hold his lighter’s flame to it, drying it from the wet grass. Sammy slides the door open, and Jay looks away from his cousin.
“Rez kids,” Sammy says.
“What happened?” Tricia asks. She pulls Sammy down the hallway.
Jay’s phone vibrates in his pocket and he checks it. A text from an unknown number: I got his phone hahaha
Jay looks up and out the window. Ray’s looking in, looking at him. He holds the cigarette out, offering, as if Jay could reach from the table and through the window and over the lawn to the back fence and take it from Ray’s hand.
He looks back at his phone, wants to text something, but is unsure what. Then the number is typing, little dots bouncing at the bottom of the phone screen. When it vibrates, the message pops up. Thanks for the magnet, DOOSIS! Hahaha
Jay deletes the messages. He watches through the window as his cousin puts out the cigarette on the bottom of his shoe, and he flicks the butt up and over the fence into the neighbor’s pretty yard; and that neighbor will pick it up, maybe see some blood on the filter and think it lipstick, and throw it away.
Morgan Talty was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but he grew up on the Penobscot Indian Nation, an island that sits in the Penobscot River just north of Bangor, Maine. He is an enrolled member of the Penobscot Nation.
Upon receiving a two-year degree from Eastern Maine Community College, Talty transferred to Dartmouth College where he received his bachelor’s in Native American Studies with a strong focus on Native American and American literature.
Talty’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in RED INK: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts, and Humanities and The Whitefish Review.
He lives in Orono, Maine, with his wife.