If You’re Listening to This

Luke found himself in a small room with no windows. There was porn of all persuasions. There were tissues and baby wipes. There was Jergens almond scented lotion. He selected a magazine called Studs and flipped its glossy pages, past men in chaps and thongs and cut offs. They were oiled and impressive and they wanted him bad, but he couldn’t focus. Joan’s voice sang like a clip of song in his mind: It’s just whacking off! He sat down on the small love seat and tried to relax. Took off his clogs. Rolled up his sleeves. One of the worn looking VHS tapes had a suitably gay sounding title and he popped it in and dialed the sound to a whisper. Live action helped and in spite of himself he was eventually aroused and slid down the zipper on his jeans.

When he came, he bent over and carefully captured his spunk in the cup. They’d asked him to seal it quickly, to “preserve” the specimen, but he just stood there looking at it. He’d had it in his palm and on his back. He’d had it on his thighs and belly. In his mouth. Even in his hair. Never, though, in medical grade plastic on its way to create a human life. He felt humbled. By its functionality. By its biological superpowers. His come had always represented the end of something. The conclusion of a fight. The release of tension. The close of day. But never before had it represented the beginning of something.

His husband Jasper was waiting in the parking lot.

“So?” Jasper asked as Luke slid into the white Toyota truck. “How was your big date?”

Luke rolled his eyes.

“Honestly, I don’t know how you could concentrate in a place like that,” Jasper said. “No matter how good the cause.”

“What does that mean? Jasper?”

“Nothing.” Jasper hesitated, seemed to be trying to stop himself. “Just. Well. There was all this talk and now that we’re sitting here in front of the sperm bank it’s all a little surreal, that’s all.”

Luke pulled out his phone and texted Joan: My sperm is en route!!

Seconds later she texted back: OMG!! Thank you! It’s weird, but I can’t wait!

It had taken four tries, but eventually, whirling on two pots of strong Earl Grey, squinting half-blind at disheveled crib notes on a page of crumpled legal pad, he’d finally said what he wanted to say.

Luke was happy for Joan and Honey—he was—but had found himself sieged by the agents of envy. First Honey’s work had offered her a permanent job in France and they were moving overseas. And now a baby. It made his own future, and Jasper’s by proxy, feel predictable. Obnoxiously linear.

“Why are you giving me a hard time?” Luke asked. He’d never been very good at resisting his lover’s tasty bait. “You’re the one that’s been saying it’s fine. I’m the one who’s had doubts. I’m the one who…”

“I know, I know,” Jasper said, throwing up his hands in mock surrender. “I’m sorry. I’m just being a bitch. But, c’mon, you are having a baby with your ex-wife.”

“I’m not having a baby with her. I’m giving her my sperm so she and Honey can produce their love child. I’m like their David Crosby. That’s all.”

“Yeah. Wait until it has your eyes, or your laugh, or your dad’s smile, and then we’ll talk, Crosby.”

Ten weeks later, a text from Joan: Just came from the doctor…

He wrote: and?

She wrote: I’m pregnant!

Luke imagined his sperm. Remembered it piled there in its little plastic domicile. He’d come at least twenty times since that day, each load wiped into a Kleenex or the nearest pair of boxers or rinsed off in the shower. But that day’s sperm had lived on, had graduated to a noteworthy career. He went to the Internet and looked up “Artificial Insemination,” surprised he hadn’t done it yet, then blushed as he read about his all mighty seed coursing through Joan’s body, navigating her most secret moss-lined caves, her private back bedrooms in search of an egg to fertilize. Joan. A woman with whom he hadn’t co-habitated in nearly a decade. Hadn’t had sex with in even longer. They’d only been married for eight months before admitting, nearly simultaneously, that they were both gay. So she went one way, he went the other. And that had been that. The world’s first completely amicable divorce, they joked.

Two weeks later Joan sent another text into which was embedded seven seconds of the baby’s garbled but robustly slapping heartbeat. He played it several times, mystified by its quickness and strength. By its underwater purr.

That night it was dinner in front of the tube as usual. For years Luke and Jasper supped together at an intimate handmade red oak table, crafting a slow ritual out of their daily shared meal, but that tradition had eventually buckled under the nightly pull of the light box, a hum-dinger of a Sony flat screen, which both entertained and eased the burden of conversation. Many nights they just flipped channels, cleaning their plates in a wordless glaze. The only other person Luke knew who watched Wheel of Fortune was his grandmother who lived in a condo in Tampa with four cats and the largest thimble collection in western Florida, but here they were, hyper-educated, NPR gobbling progressives watching Vanna and Pat like a couple of stoned dorm mates. Luke’s mind wandered and he grew agitated. By the banality of the show. By their sorry pedestrian routine. A fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt was trying to untangle a four-word phrase.

“Based on actual events,” Jasper shouted, gesticulating with his fork, not noticing the pearl of quinoa he launched onto the rug.

“Based. On. Actual. Events,” said the fat man to Pat Sajak.

“Ha! Beat you fatty,” Jasper said, kicking his feet softly against Luke’s thigh. Luke clamped his feet motionless, squeezing harder than he’d meant to.

“Ouch! That hurt! What?” Jasper asked.

“Nothing,” Luke said. “Sorry.”

Luke shoveled down the rest of his leftovers, put his plate in the dishwasher, then went out on the porch and listened to the brook wending its way through the woods, grateful to be alone. There’d been heavy rainfall these last weeks and the brook had nearly breached its banks, casting a low rhythmic thrum on the world like the buzz of mating cicadas. Like a baby’s whooshing liquid heartbeat. The brook sounded how he felt. In motion, unsettled, whisked away.

Cutting through the den to avoid the living room, Luke went up to his bedroom and dug blind through his closet’s bowels until he found an aged blue Saucony shoe box held shut with a massive rubber band. Inside were letters, photographs, and a single treasured cassette. From the closet he also extracted a small
boombox, plugged it in, rewound the tape, and pushed PLAY.

“Hey there Luke, this is your dad,” said his father. “If you’re listening to this then…well, if you’re listening to this it means I’m probably not around anymore. And I’m so sorry about that. More sorry than I can say. But even though I’m not here anymore it doesn’t mean that I’m gone from your life. I hope you know that. It doesn’t. Not by a long shot, buddy, because the love I feel for you is so big it could never go away. It fills the whole world and I’ll always be there for you in your heart. Gosh, I hate having to record this. I really do. But I’m glad that you’re going to have it. It was your mom’s idea and I’m glad she thought of it because I’m sick buddy. And it’s possible I may be so sick that I can’t get better and if that happens, I just want you to know these things that you might be too little to remember right now. You’re only three and you’re so smart and can remember so many things but even still it’s hard to remember things from when we’re that young. But someday you’ll be a man and you’ll want to know that your father loved you and tried to be there for you and your mom and your sister. But life isn’t fair sometimes and we just have to keep going in spite of that. Someday I bet you’ll have a family of your own and you’ll know what I…”

“Luke?” Jasper shouted.

Frantically, Luke pushed STOP. His heart was pounding in giant gong smacks.


The nakedness of his father’s emotion had always been apparent. The high-wire dance of what he was trying to capture. But the complexity of his sadness had deepened, containing multitudes and crevices that the baby’s heartbeat had revealed. He longed to keep listening, craving his father’s voice like he hadn’t since he was eight, the year he had listened to the tape almost every day, so often that his mother eventually had to ask him to stop because it was upsetting her.

“Are you…okay?”

“Fine!” He was nowhere in the vicinity of fine. He was scattered and utterly distracted and guilt-ridden about his desire to be alone. To hide his feelings.

“Are you sure?” Jasper said.

“I just have a sick stomach. That quinoa didn’t sit right. I’m going to try to go to the bathroom.”

Luke wasn’t exactly thrilled to be home–to him, the Midwest still reeked of the rampant, jockish homophobia that had driven him East after high school…

Reluctantly, Luke shuffled the boombox back into his closet, then read Tom Robbins on the toilet for ten minutes. Then he went downstairs and let Jasper rub his feet and drank some ginger tea while they watched television. Eventually they went upstairs and undressed and had sex and afterward Luke lay there hollowed out, full brained, his father’s voice in his ears.

The day after Luke found out that his and Joan’s spawn was a girl, he called in sick. Then, using a digital voice recorder from Staples, he did something he never imagined he’d do. He became his father. He wasn’t sure exactly what was happening in his heart, only that the prospect of being involved with the creation of another human being now felt larger and more urgent than it had when Joan had asked him very directly if he would jerk off into a little cup on her and Honey’s behalf and allow that sperm to be inserted into her vagina to make her pregnant and he’d said sure. At the time, he’d barely blinked at the fact that Joan and Honey were moving to France. Or that he’d never be able to see the kid. Now, not only did France sound impossibly exotic, more like New Zealand or the Moon, the distance seemed immense. A cruel, insurmountable space.

He began by introducing himself (Lucas Elliot Parker). He talked about his past: growing up in Milwaukee, college at NYU, ending up in Vermont. He talked about his passion for the arts. How much he’d loved Joan (though he said “your mother”). About how he wanted her to have a piece of him to carry around so she could see the full picture of who she was and where she came from. Impulsively, he said that he would always help her if she needed help. Support her in any way she needed supporting. No questions asked. I mean it, he emphasized. He found himself adding things that he wished his father had told him. That it was okay to be different. That life could be hard but that it usually got better if you kept going. It had taken four tries, but eventually, whirling on two pots of strong Earl Grey, squinting half-blind at disheveled crib notes on a page of crumpled legal pad, he’d finally said what he wanted to say. He spent the rest of the day assembling a small album of family photos, agonizing over their order, trying various thematic configurations, eventually settling for chronological. Then he waited.

Luke’s father’s grave sat on a downwardly sloping grassy knob in the back of Lakeview Cemetery overlooking the impossible cosmos of Lake Michigan. His mother’s Milwaukee home, where he’d grown up, was five miles away. A few days earlier Luke’s mother had undergone emergency hysterectomy surgery and he’d had little choice but to fly out and play nurse for a week, after which his sister Patty would arrive. Luke wasn’t exactly thrilled to be home–to him, the Midwest still reeked of the rampant, jockish homophobia that had driven him East after high school–but the trip provided some needed purpose and also helped abate the growing anticipation for the birth. The surgery had gone well, Luke’s mother was fine, and while she napped one day Luke sat in the freshly cut bluegrass surrounding his father’s simple marker.

Jonathan Davis Parker
Beloved Father and Husband and Friend
Missed but Never Forgotten

Rectangular, it was set directly into the earth so that when the grass was long you couldn’t see it until you were basically standing on it. The marker rested beneath a large Green Ash ornamented with fields of leafy branches and though Luke had the benefit of its cooling shadow, it was a hot Saturday in late August and sweat pooled on his neck and behind his knees. Every few minutes he wiped it off and cleaned his hand on the grass.

At three years old Luke had stood right here and held his mother’s hand. He’d put his lips to the shiny brown length of his father’s casket. He’d thrown a bright red rose into the hole they dug. Or so he’d been told.

He closed his eyes and tried to remember it. But there was nothing. In many ways it was like the whole thing had never happened and he’d never even had a father at all. Just photographs and a tape of his father practicing goodbye. And stories. Of his father’s legendary cannonballs off the city pool’s diving board that would soak girls standing at the fence almost twenty feet away. Of the Santa hat he’d worn on Christmas mornings. Of the quarters he added to the vacation fund every time he cursed aloud, a tradition his mother maintained to this day.

Maybe it was the heat, but Luke began to entertain strange thoughts. About how eventually his father’s casket would break down, as would his body inside. Of course they would. Maybe they had already. Broken down and turned to dirt. So would his father’s gray suit, his polished loafers, and the casket’s white silk lining. They would all turn to dirt and the dirt would grow grass and he got the idea in his head that if he ate this grass he would somehow be eating his father. The idea dangled a macabre appeal.

“I helped Joan make a baby,” Luke said aloud, wiping the sweat from his neck again. “Can you believe that? She’s due in a couple weeks. It’s a girl. I think they’re going to name her Madeline. It’s either that or Sonny, which I fucking hate, so I hope they chose Madeline. But Jasper says I should stay out of it. He’s probably right.”

A shiny blue Audi parked nearby and a woman so frail and aged she might have been at her own funeral got out holding a bouquet of purple lilies and walked off toward a cluster of raised head stones, eventually stopping before one of them. Not lingering, the woman laid down her offering, kissed her fingers, touched the stone with them, then drove away.

After she was gone Luke tore up a hunk of grass from beside his father’s grave and popped it into his mouth. He sucked and chewed it, tried to swallow, but instead coughed, spit, and gagged out a soppy green chemical-laced wad.

“Well, that’s what I get,” he said, then, “sorry dad.”

It took seventeen and a half interminable hours, an assertive course of Pitocin, and an emergency C-Section but baby Madeline was born healthy and screaming and when she was a month and a half old, Luke and Jasper flew to D.C. to canoodle her. In addition to a teddy bear, some clothes from Carters, and a handmade wooden rattle, Luke put the photo album and the recording in the bottom of a canvas bag.

There were hugs and kisses, some giddy tears. Luke and Jasper fawned over Madeline and over the way that Joan and Honey fawned over Madeline. Luke inspected her face, silently searching for himself, disappointed to find the baby’s appearance was amorphous, masked by folds and wrinkles and nested eyes, though he felt secretly happy she didn’t look like Joan either. Madeline spit up. She pooped while Jasper was holding her, soliciting the requisite laughter. Luke jumped at the chance to change her and carried her to the nursery alone. He looked at every pale perfect little inch of her. Took the opportunity to tell her that he was her father and that he loved her, he loved her, he loved her, he loved her, he loved her, his heart ballooning with good feeling. He stuck his face into her neck and inhaled her powdery scruff, at which point he noticed Honey standing in the doorway. She was watching him, arms crossed, wearing a dubious expression.

“Oh,” Luke said. “Hey. I didn’t see you there.”

“Just thought I’d see if you needed any help,” she said.

“Oh, I think we can manage,” he said, touching his nose to Madeline’s and saying “can’t we?” feeling agitated Honey had even asked, yet wondering if he actually could manage. He’d never changed a diaper in his life. After wrestling with the buttons on Madeline’s onesie, he found not a diaper, but a pair of rubbery overshorts, their elastic cinched vise-like around her chubby speckled thighs. He guided them off, then winced at the cloth diaper. He hadn’t anticipated that and surveyed the terrain. There were no self adhesive tabs. No safety pins. Instead there were strange elastic clasps with sharp plastic teeth that marshaled their energies against him as he tried to wrangle them off.

She was the one who’d asked him to donate his sperm. Who’d sent him the goddamn heart beat in a text message. What did she expect?

“No, you have to…” Honey began, starting forward, “pull them…apart so the teeth release. Here, let…”

“I’ve got it,” he assured her and she stopped halfway between the door and the changing table, like she’d been touched in a game of freeze tag, her right foot just breaching a teal polar bear rug. But he didn’t have it. Gamely, he kept at it, but it was no use. It seemed so simple, but he couldn’t complete the maneuver. The elastic and the soiled cloth mocked his inexperience, his very maleness. With more time, he thought, and with some goddamn privacy. But with judge and jury watching, he was helpless. It was like trying to speed type with someone over your shoulder. He fought the urge to snap at Honey, to tell her to back the fuck off and let him have a minute alone with his daughter.

“I guess we do need a little help,” he told Madeline, then made way for Honey, who changed the diaper and reassembled the baby’s outfit with ease.

Later Madeline dozed off and Joan laid her in a bassinet in the bedroom and fell onto the couch in an exhausted but satisfied heap.

“She’s so amazing you guys,” Luke said. He’d shaken off the diaper debacle and, uplifted by Madeline, who had entranced him and earned his unending devotion, all by doing basically nothing, was newly committed to being positive. “I’m so happy for you. For all of us!”

“She’s wearing me out,” Joan said.

“Us out,” Honey corrected.

“Us out,” Joan said. “Sorry. And my nipples feel like somebody lit them on fire.” But she was smiling and in her smile Luke knew were all the tiny bits of information you couldn’t tell but had to live and feel for yourself. It made him jealous and the jealousy made him feel foolish, but he couldn’t make it go away. He wanted Madeline to be his. He wanted to feel what they felt, to know the secret codes.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Madeline,” Luke said, moving in to the spiel he’d been practicing. Growing flushed, he wiped his palms across his jeans. He’d put his coffee mug on the table, but picked it back up now and fingered the porcelain handle and nursed a few small sips, more coffee the very last thing he needed. In swirling lipstick script the mug proclaimed Bitches Rock! “Of some way that I can be in her life over the years, even though she’s going to grow up abroad and I probably won’t see her that much.”

“Oh?” Joan said. Luke saw her look at Honey.

“Well, I know you said I didn’t need to do anything and there was no commitment, but I just want her to know that I’m the…dad. That’s all. And that she can, you know, count on me and everything. Gosh. This all sounded a lot better in my head. I know it probably sounds corny and that I sort of said I wasn’t that into it but lately I’ve been thinking about my dad and…”

Luke trailed off, figuring that he didn’t really need to finish or fully explain. After all, he was in the company of trusted friends. But Joan and Honey’s faces had gone blank. Jasper picked up the canvas bag and set it in front of Luke.

“Oh, Luke,” Joan said, chewing on her finger, shifting her glasses, looking at the canvas bag with mingled unease and curiosity. “I’m not sure that, well, we’re not sure what we’re going to tell her about…that…”

“About what?” Luke said

“Well, you know, about you being…the donor.”

The word sank into Luke’s stomach like a hot and bitter stone.


“I thought we told you that,” Honey said. Her tone had grown curt, protective. The whole visit had turned on a dime. “We told you that, didn’t we?”

“Did you?”

“I don’t know. I thought so. Maybe we just meant to. There’s been so much happening with the birth and getting ready for the move. And, if you can’t tell, we’re pretty exhausted.”

“Of course!” Luke said. “Of course. I know.” He could barely hide the hurt in his voice.

“You don’t think Madeline might like to know who her father is?” Jasper said. Luke looked at him, fairly shocked by the interjection. “I mean, it’s not like she doesn’t have one. Luke’s dad is dead. My dad left when I was three and I never knew him. Madeline’s father is right here. He wants to be in her life. You don’t think she’ll be curious?”

“Jasper,” Luke said, “it’s totally up to them what…”

“It’s a fair question,” Jasper said. “Isn’t it? And, I mean, I don’t want to have to be the one to say it, but it’s not like Luke doesn’t have rights here.” This hung in the air and everybody looked at it. Luke was about to say something, but Jasper backed off, perhaps feeling he’d gone too far. “I’m not trying to be difficult,” he said.

“Or threatening?” Honey asked.

“I was just asking, Jesus,” Jasper said.

Joan looked pensive, wholly unprepared for what was happening, which struck Luke as annoying and naive even though he too was surprised. She was the one who’d asked him to donate his sperm. Who’d sent him the goddamn heart beat in a text message. What did she expect? Clearly agitated, Honey got up, ripped the half eaten platter of Danish and strawberries from the coffee table, and carried it into the kitchen, after which there was a terrific crash! and Honey yelled “goddammit! Shit! I broke the fucking thing! The platter! Fuck! Sorry! Fuck!”

The turmoil was hot and brief but sufficient to rouse a sleeping infant. And though Joan had half risen, castigating Honey under her breath, Luke hustled for the nursery like he was chasing down a fumble. When he came back, he kept Madeline, popped her on his knee and bounced her.

“Want me to take her?” Joan asked.

“That’s okay,” Luke said. “We’re fine.”

“You know, you can come visit her as much as you want sweetie,” Joan said, easing back into the difficult conversation, looking from Luke to Madeline and back.

“In France?” Jasper asked, now sounding really annoyed. “Joan, please, it’s an ocean away. You can’t just pop in.”

“Or…I guess…Skype as often as you want,” Joan continued. Her calm was making Luke crazy. “And she’s going to love you! She is. But we just…I think we just don’t want her to be confused about things. Does that make sense? She’s already got two moms. Who knows? I’m sure when she’s older…or takes middle school biology!”

“Of course,” Luke said, “I understand. It’s fine.” Madeline had started to cry. Luke bounced her harder.

“Are you sure?” Joan asked, looking unsure.

Are you sure?” echoed Jasper. “Because this would be the…”

“Absolutely. I’ll just be Uncle Luke, or something,” he said, having to raise his voice over the baby’s cries, which he felt increasingly desperate to abate, like they served as damning evidence against him. “That’s the best thing. Totally, it is. Just forget I ever said anything. I just want what’s best for Madeline. That’s all that matters.” The canvas bag with its poisoned cargo loomed large before him and keeping one hand on Madeline, he moved the bag back out of reach.

“What’s in that bag?” Joan asked. “I feel like you guys are keeping some secret.”

“Nothing,” Luke said.

“Not nothing,” insisted Jasper. Luke looked at him hard.

“Just…something for Maddie,” Luke said, “but, I’ll give it to her another time.”

“Oh,” Joan said. “Are you sure?”


“Easy on the bouncing there,” Honey said. She’d come out of the kitchen doorway and was glaring at him. “You’re being too rough with her.”

Luke stopped bouncing Madeline, embarrassed. He knew Honey was right and hated her for it. “Sorry,” he said. “Just…the crying.”

“That’s what babies do,” Honey said.

“I think she needs to eat anyway,” Joan said and walked over and scooped Madeline out of Luke’s hands.

When they got back to Vermont, Luke went upstairs to his bedroom and put the digital recorder and the photo album into the closet without even taking them out of the bag first. The next night he couldn’t sleep and at two in the morning he dug the recorder out and walked barefoot out through the yard and hurled it into the brook. The following day he emailed Joan a letter full of accusations and invectives and all the things he wanted to say about how selfish and inconsiderate and two-faced she was, to which Joan replied with an apology so infused with genuine heartache and sorrow over having hurt his feelings that Luke felt not the least bit better and hated himself for ever writing in the first place. In the days that followed, though, he realized how crafty she’d been. How the grandness of her apology, the admission of her guilt had drawn attention away from his desires, masking the fact that she hadn’t ever mentioned changing her mind or taking a different approach with regard to Madeline. A week later Jasper caught Luke looking at adoption pages on the Internet and the ensuing throw-down rivaled the loudest and most spiteful in all their years together. The highlights included Luke insisting that he’d only been curious and wasn’t remotely serious about adopting, and Jasper not only citing feelings of betrayal he admitted went back to Luke’s initial decision to be Joan’s donor but telling Luke in no uncertain terms that he had zero interest in adopting a child and that he’d sooner go straight than consent to doing so. It had gotten so heated that Luke had actually slept on the couch. In the morning he and Jasper sat drinking their coffee in heavy silence.

“Maybe we should take a trip or something,” Luke said eventually.

“A trip? Where? We just took a trip.”

“I mean a vacation. A real vacation. Somewhere exotic. Like Mexico or Hawaii. Someplace where we can forget about ourselves for a while.”

“I can’t get off work,” Jasper said. “Can you? And I’m not sure I want to forget about myself.” His voice wasn’t exactly cold, though it lacked warmth. Luke thought sleep had been their apology and that they were ready to move on, but he could see that wasn’t true.

“You know what I mean,” Luke said.

“Do you know how much it costs to fly to Hawaii? We just spent seven hundred dollars to go to D.C. for thirty-six horrible hours. And we still need to get the furnace fixed before it gets cold. God knows what that’s going to cost.”

Trying not to get drawn into an argument he couldn’t win, Luke said, “well, how about Quebec City?”

“Or we could save up for a year or two and then go to France like we talked about,” Jasper said. “You can see Madeline and then we can finally do Europe.”

“Right. Fuck that,” Luke said, surprised at how angry he sounded.

Luke watched his husband’s face, their eyes exchanging reams of unspoken dialogue. Luke could see Jasper actively searching for the love Luke hoped he still bore him. “Have you thought any more about what I said the other day?”

Luke almost started laughing. “That’s what you want to talk about? Your dumb lawyer friend? Jasper, I’m not going to sue them.”

“I never said sue.”

“I’m not even sure I’d have anything to sue them over.”

“Again, I never said sue. I just said meet with Pamela and…see what she says. Even if nothing comes of it. I’m just trying to help, you know. I could really care less.” He shook his head. “That’s not what I meant, so don’t…”

“I know what you meant,” Luke said, cutting him off, trying to stay calm, feeling lost in Jasper’s unpredictable storm of alternating support and disdain. “But I don’t want to do any of that. I just want to put it behind me. Behind us.”

“Says the guy studying up on adoption.”

“Do we have to go through this again? I was just looking, I told you a thousand times. It was just a whim! It didn’t mean anything. Really. I just want to move on.”

Jasper exhaled slowly. He looked tired. He said, “you’re lying to me again and I’m tired of it. You never used to lie to me.” Then, without a word, Jasper took his car keys off the counter and pounded out the door.

A while later, after a good long cry, Luke made a mug of Earl Grey and brought it out onto the deck. He sat in one of their peeling cherry red Adirondack chairs, pulled his bare feet up under him, and elongated his spine. There’d been no rain for nearly two weeks and the brook was only lightly running, a soft whisper coming down from the mountains, through the woods, and past their two-man perch.

He closed his eyes and listened to the barely running brook for another few minutes. Eventually, he got chilly and went inside and made a pot of rice and beans and some tofu pups. He put Jasper’s plate in the oven on warm, then brought his own over to the couch, along with a glass of red wine, and turned on the television, which greeted him with open arms and a bright face.

Benjamin Roesch is an author living and teaching in Burlington, Vermont. His short fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Brilliant Corners, Monkey Bicycle and Seven Days. He was selected as a Fiction Contributor for the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Roesch writes at www.benjaminroesch.com.