It was blowing again when Davis walked back, the wind coming hard down the cut along the switching tracks, the parked rows of empty boxcars hot-sided and dead-looking against the hillside of fine blowing dust sheeting behind them. A haze of dust was drifting east down the roofs of the cars, and coming back to the motel there were fire engines in the alley, the burned tool shed still smoldering, with the smoke mixing in the dust and the wino off one of the freights who had apparently gone in, started a fire, and fallen asleep, being carried out badly burned and not expected to live.
In the room Kathy and Glen were no longer playing Monopoly and the sequence of pills had worked, Joni was finished, and the doctor was coming out of the little bathroom with the steel pan full of the yellowish clear fluid mixed with blood standing there showing them the fetus. It was tiny, curled, and pinkish like a shrimp, and the fluid stank, and Kathy wouldn’t look at it, but Joni did and didn’t say anything, then said, “That’s my baby,” and said it again, disgusting Glen who went outside with the doctor to give him the other five hundred.
Glen’s little brother was the one who had gotten Joni pregnant, with Glen getting him out of it, and Joni was crying now and was still crying when Glen came back in. He told her to knock it off, to not confuse What could be with What is.
Then they started another game of Monopoly without Joni.
She had a fever and Kathy kept leaving the game to go ice her down. Finally Glen won the game, having two hotels each on Park Place and on Boardwalk, which broke everyone.
In the morning Joni was better and ready to leave. The wind had stopped blowing and the sky was clear, but there was dust all over everything, and in the car going back to Boulder she told Glen she was in love with him. She made a big deal about it. She was sincere about it. She was riding up front with Glen. Kathy and Davis sat in the back. Davis was looking out at the desert. Kathy said to Joni, “Please, shut up.”
All There Is
Cutler walked up the wet concrete driveway toward the side of the house. In the past thirteen years nothing had changed. The clapboard was still painted the same sundown-tinted beige. The window frames were still green. There was the rust on the wire screen in the side door. The garbage cans were in the same place. The grass along the back was still bright, well cared for, freshly mown. The car was different. Not the black, four-door, big-block Buick Century that would have been at least twenty years old by now, but a freshly washed, silver-grey, two-year-old Volkswagen Jetta, water dripping off its fenders, sitting mute under the carport roof. A white plastic bucket with a small sponge floating in soapy water sat by the steps.
He went to the door, knocked, and a young blonde girl with short hair opened the screen door and looked out.
He asked if the Moss family still lived there. “Beverly Moss?”
The girl, still holding the door open, looked at him.
“No,” she said. “She hasn’t lived here for a number of years.”
“You have any idea where she went?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t.”
“Hey,” she said, “you’re doing the right thing.”
Cutler didn’t know what she meant. He saw she was a very sweet-looking girl, a little older than he first thought, maybe twenty-one or twenty-two years old. Her hair was natural and roughly cut. She had a pair of yellow rubber gloves on and was barefoot and wore white shorts and a faded blue T-shirt.
“How is that?”
“You find someone and you spend your life loving them. That’s all there is,” she said.
She smiled at him again and closed the door.
– Dale Herd is the author of three short story collections: Early Morning Wind (The Four Seasons Foundation, 1972), Diamonds (Mudra, 1976), and Wild Cherries (Tombouctou, 1980). He currently lives in California.
These excerpts are reprinted by permission from Empty Pockets (Coffee House Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Dale Herd.