Kate Lister Campbell
| Fiction


In Tombstone, we stop at the graves of some men shot by Wyatt Earp and his brothers. The land is brown and scrubby, empty in every direction, with pitiless brown mountains floating in the distance. Piles of stones cover the graves, making them seem larger than they are.

“Lights, camera, action!” Edward shouts at the children. He points his movie camera at them where they stand, bored, behind the headstones.

“Gunfight at the O.K. Corral! Hugh, you be Burt Lancaster. James, Doc Holliday. Elise, be the bad guys.”

Hugh and James raise the silver toy pistols Edward gave them that morning and give reluctant chase. Elise, weaponless, shoots back with her fingers.

“Okay, Elise, you die.”

She says nothing and keeps shooting. James lies down, his hand over his heart, as if pledging allegiance. Hugh drops his weapon and cradles James’s head.

“You’ll be fine. Hold on, little brother,” he says, his features contorted in cowboy agony as Edward runs forward for the close-up.

Elise walks up to Hugh and shoots him in the temple, laughing. He drops James’s head and shoves her away.

Grace and I feign interest in the graves of the murdered men. Wyatt Earp was from Iowa and married a prostitute, a runaway farm girl. Every year, girls ran away from the farms near my father’s. I didn’t. I married the first man who asked me and he died from sunstroke one August afternoon when Grace was thirteen. He was on a road crew, flattening and grading asphalt for a new highway. In the hospital, his face was pocked by hot tar and grit that sank in where he fell. Neither Grace nor I visit his grave anymore.

“Girls, give us a wave.”

Edward swings the camera lens toward Grace and me. We wave and smile. For a moment he films Grace alone, her red mouth saying hello, hello, and her slim plaid hips swiveling toward him. His face brightens and his straight-toothed grin appears below the silver rim of the camera. I pull my low heels out of the earth and move toward the car, hoping the children will follow.


Edward lets me drive the desert that afternoon. It’s a kindness he’s extended to me, knowing how I miss it since my old Dodge died. He rides shotgun and falls asleep instantly, a trick he learned during the war: sleep when you can. Grace is relegated to my usual place between the boys. Her fierce glare rests on the back of my neck so that I feel a prickling just above my right shoulder. She flinches when the speedometer’s needle rises over fifty and jerks if I drift from the middle of the lane. The desert is unchanging and the driving, with so few cars, requires no skill. The first car I drove was my father’s Model T with a crank starter that once backfired and broke my hand. I drove on dirt roads and in wagon ruts, steering and pounding on the floor pedals, opening and closing the throttle and firing the spark plugs, my hands flying from wheel to levers. The pleasure of the Cadillac’s growl, with the small bit of pressure required from my foot to move it, fades after an hour or so. Insects batter the windshield and the sun blinds me as it moves lower in the western sky. Sweat drips from my brow and wets my nylons where my thighs meet. Still, when we stop for dinner, I tuck the keys into my purse and only return them when Edward holds out his hand as we leave the restaurant. He looks at me a moment longer.

Kate Lister Campbell’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in North American Review and Nashville Review, among others. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and is currently at work on a collection of linked short stories.

Among the Ruins: Guide to Greece by George Kalogeris
Listening to Birds