Salamander 2024 Fiction Contest

SUBMIT: May 1 through June 2, 2024 | READING FEE: $15



Barrett Warner
| Fiction

Two points: my math teacher Mr. Umbec died two years ago. I gave his dog a home. I’m not sure of Quad’s age or whether I should think of him as a used dog. Second-hand dog sounds better. And I met someone who noticed very private things about me—lip quivers, tics, spots on my shoes—and played them back to me, as if she were telling my future by living it out with me, and mixing a few cool stories from Shreveport. Binge tales and runaway stuff that made it seem she’d traveled. Three days and nights and then Yo went back to her husband. I wrote and wrote. She didn’t answer. One Wednesday, she called. She said it could never work and I should leave. I should get lost. OK, I said. I went to Idaho. First I went to Maine, then I went to Idaho. She called me in Idaho. “Come back,” she said. I asked if I could bring the dog.

I was so happy. Since we’d seen Yo, Quadratic had aged by eight or nine dog years, but I was mostly the same. I knew about living in unfinished lake cabins way up North, helping to finish them. And renegade bands of Quarter horses in Sun Valley. In Boise, I had my first coffee that didn’t come out of a pot on a burner. It was steamed. I knew about listening for loons and coyotes. I knew a lot, except I didn’t know anything about Yo. A few days later as I bundled our things, I was still glancing at where her voice had come out of the phone.

I am twenty-two. My lover is thirty-four. She has two husbands and a son. The boy is with her first husband. These are the least important things you need to know.

There used to be a money-eating sheepdog in the picture. Yo said if you left some money lying around, sure enough he’d eat it. You’d find the small corner of a twenty on his lip. He had to be punished a lot for eating bills. She punished him with silence, with not even looking at him or responding to the way he covered his eyes with his paws and made a sad whistling sound.He never bothered coins, and plastic was just plastic. He was hit by a car, or fell off a boat like Natalie Wood. At first, when we met, Yo thought I was his reincarnation. She left some twenties around just to see what I’d do. Instead I took one of her empty cigarette packs.

Mr. Umbec’s dog and I found a place to live at the Post Office. I asked one of the drivers if she knew of anyplace and she told me to follow her to an abandoned farm, to a building I now call The Chicken Coop. No chickens have ever lived here, but from a distance of eighty feet you might think they had. The roof slopes in one direction, and the rooms are in line—kitchen, living room, bedroom. Weird, eating scrambled eggs in the chicken coop.

Once a month a man from the bank stops in and thanks me for watching over the place. “One day there will be an auction and whoever buys it will probably want you to hang around,” he says. “They’d want you to check for trouble.”

“Perfect distance,” Yo says. “Perfect isolation.” She means that no one would ever find us. By that, she means her second husband, but she is wrong about that. She says, “You’re not a little right about my being wrong. You’re a thousand percent right.”

To flatter me she doesn’t call me beautiful. She says, You—you’re way smarter than me.

For a long time no one ever comes except the banker. Once I ask him how his car got so clean, and he tells me, vacuuming. He says it like he’s teaching me about the world.

One day I take off my clothes and swing in the hammock, dreaming of Yo, and touching myself. The volunteer fire brigade arrives in a truck with hooks and ladders. One of the fireman asks if they could use the pond to test their hose pumps. I say, sure, without getting dressed, but it’s hard to think about Yo with all the clanging down at the pond.

Life gets in the way of perfect moments like that.

Barrett Warner is the author of two chapbooks, My Friend Ken Harvey (Publishing Genius, 2014) and Til I’m Blue in the Face (Tropos, 1994). He won the 2014 Cloudbank poetry prize and his work has recently appeared in Consequence Magazine, Revolution John, Atticus Review, and elsewhere.

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