March 15, 2015 by The Citron Review
by James Claffey
The split feathers of a redtail hawk nestle in the bottom of a dusty wooden box I discovered stuck between the roof beam and the chimney. Fire season is eternal and the peeling of paint from house walls and garage doors is the sun’s work, a cheap day-to-day labor undertaken in the humidity-free air. Every so often the washed sky contains these small, white smudges of cloud, sheep-like, plump and waterless. A man could keep a suntan going for years and forget all about the pale skin: the unseen patches under the armpits, or those concealed by starched underwear.
John Prine’s “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone” plays in the small cabin as mosquitos swarm about the bare light bulbs attached to the outside walls of the buildings. “Hey look Ma, here comes the elephant boy,” and the last child awake is blessed by the musty washrag: a mother’s loving touch in the close and mummified night air. Once the children are asleep she’ll uncork the gin bottle and drop a single peeled almond into the glass. Later she’ll check on the slumbering ones, their unribboned hair flat on dirty pillows, grimy cheeks stuck to cheap linen.
It helps to recognize the metallic taste of blood in the mouth. His sinewy arms bear the marks of the horned sheep; the whorled bone rasps his flesh like ripe sandpaper. Early in the day, a near-injury to his ankle has him cowering in the corner of the low field next to the stumped oak tree. In the weak light of the morning sun he rubs a finger along the pale, polished strip of skin near his elbow, where, years before, his own father had taken the hot skillet to him for stealing underwear from his mother’s dresser drawer. Handy with kitchen implements, his father taught him a lesson in the art of campfire cooking, a lesson he’s never wanted to unlearn.
James Claffey grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and now lives on an avocado ranch in California. He is the author of the short fiction collection, Blood a Cold Blue, and his work is forthcoming in W.W Norton’s upcoming anthology, Flash Fiction International.