Sitting on the front steps, Jacob watched a large gray doe on the road as it casually strolled along the edge of the woods. He had seen it several times before. There was a patch of darker gray hide on its side that was shaped like the state of Florida. As before, it came out of the woods at twilight when the shadows from the trees fell across the road. He thought how easy it would be to shoot her if he was a hunter, but he wasn’t one. He had gone rabbit hunting on his grandfather’s farm with his father when he was young. The rabbit that his father shot wasn’t killed. It lay on its side, blood pouring from its side. Its back legs were twitching. He looked into the rabbit’s eye and felt its pain. His father shot it again, in the head. Jacob threw up and ran to his grandfather’s house and cried in his grandmother’s lap.
“You can’t always be so sensitive. You have to grow a spine,” his father said later.
At his father’s funeral it was the only thing he remembered his father saying.
While watching the doe he cut chips from a piece of oak with a pen knife. His grandfather had taught him how to whittle. During the summers on the farm they would sit together on the porch and whittle animal figures from pieces of pine. The shelf in the bedroom he slept in there had a menagerie of his and his grandfather’s whittled figures. The figures, the house, his grandparents, were reduced to ashes in a fire, the cause of which was never discovered.
When the doe went back into the woods he folded the blade of the knife back into the handle and tossed the wood into the leaves.
Clarissa came out onto the porch and leaned on the railing. “It’s nice out,” she said.
Jacob looked up at the darkening sky streaked with bands of red and purple. He thought it was beautiful and thought about saying so, but didn’t.
For a while they remained there together, silent, as the shadows were replaced by the black of night.
As the breeze came through the open window it played with the curtains, sending them inward and floating in mid-air. Jacob lay on his side looking out the window. A bright sliver of the moon sliced into the night sky like a crescent shaped cut. It sent flickering shadows across the floor. He could hear Clarissa’s breath-whispers behind him on her side facing the other wall. When he also heard the prowler walking in the leaves he reached over the edge of the bed and grabbed the large flashlight he had placed there. He sat up on the edge of the bed then went to the window. Turning on the flashlight he shone it on the yard, moving the ray of light across the scattered leaves. The shuffling had stopped.
“What are you doing?” Clarissa said groggily as she rolled onto her back.
“I heard the prowler again,” he said.
“There is no prowler. It’s the wind in the leaves,” she said.
“How do you know?” he said.
“Why would someone be lurking about out there night after night?” she said. “We have nothing worth stealing and nothing to see if it was a peeping tom.”
He turned from the window and shined the light on Clarissa. Her braid was draped menacingly across her neck. She put her arm across her eyes.
“You can be so annoying,” she said.
He turned off the light and stood at the window. The shuffling in the leaves returned.
The first thing Jacob noticed was that fringe hung from almost every piece of cloth in the room. Blue fringe hung from the blue curtains. Red fringe hung from the cloth on the bedside stand. Gold fringe hung from the cover on the bed.
“I’m Lucinda,” she said as she removed her panties and lay on the bed with her legs spread.
“I told my wife I was going to Cincinnati,” he said. “I told her I was going to buy a car part for an old car that I’ve been working on. Working on them is a hobby.”
“As my ad says I require payment up front,” she said.
He took the ten twenty dollar bills from his wallet and placed them on the dresser.
“We don’t have much time,” she said.
He leaned against the wall, noticing the bright red rosebuds printed on the wallpaper. As he untied the lace in one boot, he said, “I’ve never done this before. I wouldn’t be doing it now except my wife and I never do it any more. We hardly even talk.”
“I’m not a marriage counselor,” she said as she picked up the lit cigarette in the glass ashtray on the bedside stand and put it to her lips. The tip of it glowed bright red as she drew smoke into her mouth.
The boot hit the floor with a resounding thud. As he began to unlace the second boot through the haze of smoke he detected the scent of cinnamon. “I really should tell her that I like the potpourri and the spices in the lentils,” he said.
“For God sakes,” she muttered as she exhaled a large ring of smoke.
Removing the second boot he asked, “Do you want me to take off my socks?”
“I really don’t care,” she said impatiently.
He unbuckled his belt and unsnapped and unzipped his jeans. “We don’t have any kids. She still wants to have one but I didn’t like my own father that much and I’d hate to bring up a kid who didn’t like me either.”
“Did you bring protection?” she said after taking another drag on the cigarette.
“Protection?” he said. “Oh, right. A condom. Sure I have one here in my pocket.” He reached into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out a dark green condom wrapped in clear cellophane. He held it up, showing it to her. “The color sorta reminds me of oak leaves. They’re all over our yard year round. It does no good to rake them.”
She blew out a long cloud of smoke.
He began to unbutton his shirt. “My wife had an affair two years ago. It nearly broke us up. I didn’t know the guy. He would come around when I was at work or out of town.”
“Shit happens,” she said, taking another drag from the cigarette.
He pulled off his shirt and after looking around and seeing nowhere to put it, he dropped it on the floor. “You don’t have bed bugs or lice do you? I can’t take bugs home.”
“Are you for real?” she said after exhaling the smoke.
He pushed down his jeans and underwear. “It’s just that I’m nervous about doing this. I suspect my wife is seeing that guy again, but unless I catch them or she tells me I’ll never know.”
The yellow fringe around the lampshade on the dresser trembled slightly casting flickering shadows on the wall.
“I can’t do this,” he said as he pulled up his underwear and pants.”
In the middle of the night, lying on the bed in the dim light provided by the moonlight shining through the open window, Jacob stared at the open door to the clothes closet. Blown by the steady breeze, the wire hangers that Clarissa’s clothes had hung on, rattled against each other like discordant wind chimes. He placed his hand on the empty side of the bed where she had laid. The note that ended with, “I love him and don’t love you any more, goodbye,” was still on her pillow. Turning his head to the window, he watched the tree limbs sway. There was no sound of a prowler shuffling in the leaves.
Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Gathering Storm Magazine, Midnight Circus Magazine, Double Feature, Tigershark Magazine, The Wagon Magazine, CultureCult Magazine, Fictive Dream, Ricky’s Back Yard, Panorama Journal, Story and Grit, Earhten Lamp Journal, NoiseMedium,Visitant Literary Journal, The Drunken Llama, Sick Lit Magazine, Literally Stories, Communicators League, Jakob’s Horror Box, Trigger Warnings, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, The Haunted Traveler, Bull & Cross, The Dirty Pool and in the Dystopia/Utopia Anthology by Flame Tree Publishing, the 100 Voices Volume II anthology by Centum Press, the Winter’s Grasp and Waiting For a Kiss anthologies by Fantasia Divinity Magazine and the Neighbors and River Tales anthologies by Zimbell House Publishing and the Grivante Press Anthology: MASHED: The Culinary Delights of Erotic Horror, and Pure Slush: Inane Flash Fiction anthology, among numerous others. His plays have been produced in several states including Arizona, Missouri and Ohio. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.