Shaun Turner


The woman in the photograph dresses like a switchboard operator, white buttoned blouse and sensible blue skirt, her hair pinned in vintage precision. She stands next to the oak tree where her father once built a wooden swing. She looks up at the house.

She never could have guessed how it would be her Moby Dick, how the farm would tie itself to her like an anchor, how it would fix her for fifty years to the same fifty acres. The stairs to the basement and attic, their treads were thin and tall, better suited to the long-legged strides of her beanpole brothers. She often scraped her ankles on the narrow, blade-like steps and her wide feet could never quite balance on the treads.

She tried to escape as soon as she could, following the dirt road to I-75. She stopped at Knoxville then took I-40 west to Nashville, where she tried to hide her chapped fingers and cracked nails behind coats of polish. She smoked like a man—the cigarette never wavered between thumb and ring finger: a yellow band of stained tobacco.

She worked at a bank until she met the man. He liked to paint portraits of her, nude except for her made-up face and the crown of victory rolls. When she started showing, he disappeared, took his painting with him. What could she do but return home—dust biting at her ankles.

For months, she stayed up in her room—reading books and dreaming of swinging on the oak, to feel the wind in her ears as she swung into it. But once the baby was born, the years passed quick.

The tree rot down. The baby never swug on it.

Her mother and father died hard, two rooms down from each other in the same county nursing home, and when her baby turned eighteen, he left her too, up the same dirt road.

At night, her wide feet still pass the oak stump in her worn telephone operator's shoes. She walks the smooth new asphalt put in by the county magistrate.

At night, the cool autumn breezes pull at her dusty skirts and loose her now-white hair from its antique pinning—the two great flags of her white hair still spiral into the dark highway behind her—not once in surrender.

Shaun Turner is the author of The Lawless River (Red Bird Chapbooks). His writing can be found at Southwest Review, Tin House's Flash Fridays, and Permafrost Magazine, among others. He recieved his MFA from West Virginia University.

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