The Harvest

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Anthills, pridely vigor, Sen-Sen, eagle-spleen amulets, short straws, coquina Virgins, thick turnbuckles, stick-pinny signs, looped rhinestones, bank shots & the Piney Vista Drive-In.


*Fiction.

Barnett, that son of a bitch. He saw an opportunity and he took it, shook it, vacuumed up every divot of property from Sop-Choppy to Clermont not already fuzzed over with cattle and oranges.

We could’ve stopped him if—dammit—if we’d of only known back at the beginning, back when he was still a boy. Could’ve been on the lookout. Could’ve. Should’ve. But how do you look out for a nothing, for a puff of air? Up from out of an anthill he’d come, that day he arrived among us, up from out of a province no bigger than the print of a shoe, and nothing to recommend him, as if nothing were a thing of its own, a propulsive force, a bubble in the deep of the sea. Now if we’d of tallied up the sand in the toe of the sock he wore—there, right there, sugared in through the crack in the heel grain by grain and then shakered out at the end of the day—maybe then we’d of seen it coming. Sand. That was the patrimony the gods left him, see, at fourteen, when he’d fled the Boy’s Ranch, you know, from up north, and hopped a freight and rattled into town a week later, curled upside a bale of sisal with a clutch of walnuts in his pocket and a yellow slicker (Screven County Road Crew) bundled round the stolen radio cupped in the hollow of his belly.


You gotta go where the gold is, and the gold’s not with the guy that does the digging. The gold’s with the guy that sells the shovel.


By the end of the week, he’d made a go of it. Up and down the steps of the courthouse he trolled. Peddled himself to the suits that ran the planet. Up onto the porch of the barbershop he hawked the treats he’d managed to wheedle or lift from the shops down the road—the smokes and the sodas and the Chiclets, the Sen-Sen to sweeten the breath and the Tums to settle the belly and the liquor (a nickel a shot) from out the flask he carried in a holster at his side, the—money is honey, Sonny, and a rich man’s jokes are always funny—errands and favors and flourishes that kindle the heart to love, that chip at the alms that harden the pockets of the mighty. We should have seen it coming. Could have. But he was our boy, Barnett, our boy is what he was. Fetch the paper, buff the Caddy, perc the coffee. Dump the trash and chop the ice and run the dogs out back to poop in the meadow, boy. Gimme the flyswatter, Grab the phone and Here’s a fiver, kid, we’d say to him, we’d shout, Shoot down to Maxie’s. Two-to-one on Shadow in the fifth.

He conjured up even a job or two nobody’d ever heard of before: hawking doggie bones (Fresh from the slaughterhouse!) door-to-door, and genuine eagle-spleen amulets, and chiplets of rosin ground up into an incense medicinal, mosquito-cidical, transcendentical—The Spirit of the Sioux in the palm of the hand. Not but fourteen and the men even paid him to break in the Oxfords they’d ordered from Sears. Up and down the sidewalks he’d clump-clump, day after day, the laces up round the ankles to cinch ’em tight, duct tape to shield the bottoms, tissue in the toes as he clunked round and round the block. Voluptuous as a cow, the curve of the leather but stiff, stiff as a brick, till his feet began to blister, and he’d wrap them in gauze to keep the blood off the suede, and steal another shot of whiskey, and will himself back into the other man’s feet.

Opportunity. He was the one who saw it, sure, but weren’t we the ones who saw it as well? Who heard the talk? It’s not like we weren’t right there beside him the whole time, like we couldn’t have—if we’d wanted to, if we hadn’t been so distracted by birth, death, sex, love, the chill glaze of the flat of the tongue on a ride up the crease of a Philadelphia cream-cheese sandwich—taken it ourselves. We who didn’t. We who couldn’t. While all the while, all the while, he was the one who did, the bastard. The pissant. Who picked at the crumbs. Gathered the crust from under the table. Who owned, by the time he was twenty, not a collection of objects, but a slice of the single object large enough to capture them all, the earth itself, the stuff you walk on, that holds it all together, that keeps it all from floating off into the ether.

And then came the interstate.


But how do you look out for a nothing, for a puff of air?


“Ground zero, boys,” said Maxie. He skated up over the skull of old Cochrane with them minty fingers of his. “We’re sitting on ground zero.”

“The hell, you say.”

“The hell, I say. Listen up. Take a knee, soldier.” So we did. It was hurricane season. Autumn. Maybe eight, maybe ten more trips around the sun and the boys finally home from Korea, most of them, the sky a bit grayer, and the big build rising up over the far horizon: the Autobahn, American style.

Unless—Maxie said, or in words to that effect—you want to spend your days sifting sand off the back lot of some boneyard, you gotta grab the choice cut, the filet mignon at the heart of the carcass: commercial. To hell with the residential, the industrial, the—you gotta be kidding me—agricultural? You gotta go where the gold is, and the gold’s not with the guy that does the digging. The gold’s with the guy that sells the shovel. Right? Right? You gotta be an idiot not to see it. Inland from the sea: the backhoes and the scrapers that carve out the tributaries ahead of time to make way for the big one, the interstate on a roll around the Smokies and over the highlands of Georgia to the coast.

Carpe diem, right? Especially when the diem rattles onward day after day without so much as the whiff of the skin of the shade of that bastard. Barnett the King of the Con. The Fraudulator. Launched out a month ago to God knows where. Prospects, said he. The man who plows the furrow, saith the Lord, it is he who reaps the harvest, and we laughed, and pictured him married, different wife in every county, little brood of hatchlings up and down the coast, pocket Bible with a list of fibberies—so-and-so begat so-and-so begat so-and-so—inked up and down the margins.


Voluptuous as a cow, the curve of the leather but stiff, stiff as a brick, till his feet began to blister, and he’d wrap them in gauze to keep the blood off the suede, and steal another shot of whiskey, and will himself back into the other man’s feet.


So the coast was clear, but we had to hustle. No telling when—we never heard him make a move without some assay of a gain—he’d be back in the game. Snag an asteroid. Auction off a twister. Siphon up the aquifer and sell it back in a bauble of glass, like goldfish at the fair.

Jesus. So there you go.

Duffy. Duffy was the key, Duffy the Undertaker, see, he knew a guy, guy name of Cooper, rancher back in the day with a spread that just so happened to border this lumpy little county road about to be, any day now, goosed up into a four-laner. You know, one of them feeder roads up onto the interstate? Okay, okay—a cow trail, sure, but about to acquire, and about time already, a cloverleaf to call its own, cloverleaf with all the accoutrements: the gas, the food, the lodging. The perfect parcel, and there for the picking, and Cooper there ripe in the saddle, not but a breeze away from that final, stiff-of-the-finger topple into the plowable turf.

All that morning he rode and we walked, out round the border of the land he owned, and all that morning the crunch of the boot sang to us, and the thump of the rain, and the burble of fungi and beetle and grub, where the carpet of cow patties and dragonflies and raggedy shag laps at the curb, and figures forth a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Hello, highway. Hello, billboard. Hello, diner with the blue blink of the neon Eats…Eats, and the Dino Station with the red balloon bobbing upside the snout of the brontosaurus, and the tar-paper kiosk with the orange-blossom honey and the nudie cocktail shaker and the saltwater taffy and the gator jerky and, cobbled up out of a conch shell, the nativity (two bits) with the coquina Virgin and the starfish angel and the clamshell cradle inside of which rattles a itty-bitty little whittle of pinkish coral: the Baby Jesus.

Hello, hello, but most of all, best of all, hello to the quarter-mile stretch of clear-cut, pave-able, zone-able, own-able primo lots on the cutting edge of the commercial frontier, and all of it, every inch of it belonging—talk about a lucky bastard—to Cooper.

Coughed his way into the grave, this Cooper, but just before he got there, at the point of purchase, so to speak, as he flipped through the Bunkerman Catalogue of Perpetual Repose and pictured himself in a box with a lid (a cedar chest) or a humidor (double-walled against the gurgle of the earth) or a steamer trunk (poplar with a double latch) or an oaken keg (double-stoppered and sealed with pitch), he got to thinking about the disposition of that tender flesh of his he’d so lovingly shepherded through the prickle and the scrub, got to thinking, as he fingered the glossy pages, and as he pictured himself, in the dark, and all around him, and not but a breath away, the rustable iron and the meltable felt, the blistery leather and the fermentable batting and the timber in a marinate of mold spore and dung beetle and ravenous bacteria, said a prayer, and in the prayer he heard a voice, and in the voice he heard the word he heard as a child but could never—until that very moment—have uttered: What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world?


All that morning he rode and we walked, out round the border of the land he owned, and all that morning the crunch of the boot sang to us, and the thump of the rain, and the burble of fungi and beetle and grub, where the carpet of cow patties and dragonflies and raggedy shag laps at the curb, and figures forth a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.


Yea. Verily. The land was a transient thing, and naught would it avail him in the afterlife, and store up your treasure, but not, said the word, where thieves break in and steal. A chigger shimmied up to prick him on the shin, pricked again and again as it worked its way up under the cuff of the trouser. Store up your treasure, but where?

It was Duffy had the answer. Duffy who wheedled his way in to score the sale, the swapper-roo, the special order from Chicago/automatic transmission/Ark of the Covenant/top-of-the-line sarcophagus. Double-plush. Vacu-packed. Lozenge of steel with the rivets all countersunk and the gunwales burnished to a supersonic sheen, like one of them interstellar escape pods you see in the movies.

Property for property, the swap of a lifetime, the pasture for the casket! Cooper gets the residential, we get the commercial, and Barnett? Bingo. Barnett gets the shaft.

Not that we don’t cut him in on the deal. Hell. Gotta borrow the money to build, and what with Barnett the only lender willing to front us the cash, we have to, but (and here’s the catch), in order to ascertain, fair and square, the pecking order—who gets to choose first, then second, then third from out the frontage we chop into parcels—we draw straws. Draw straws and Barnett, the youngest, he’s the one to go last.

Which is where the fix comes in. The holder of the straws maneuvers the short straw, see, presses it up onto the pad of the thumb so’s he can feel it there, the least little tickle, so’s he can warn the others away. So there. There’s your key: a holder with a tender thumb. And smooth. Like the skin of a custard.


Lozenge of steel with the rivets all countersunk and the gunwales burnished to a supersonic sheen, like one of them interstellar escape pods you see in the movies.


“You ever seen a barber with a callous?” said Flynn. “Maxie!”

Round the rim of the mug Maxie skated his finger, plowed up the foam into a puff of beer he then flicked off into the dark.

“Hold up your hands!”

We laughed when he shot up his hands, like in the cartoons, like a stickup, but Flynn was right. Girlie hands. And dexterous. If he’d of just had a little interest in the inside of things, Maxie’s mother used to say, he could’ve been a surgeon.

So Barnett, he blows back into town a week later, right on time, new shirt, new tie, embroidered vest of a kind a cowboy’d wear to a christening: rhinestones in a loop like a lariat above a blazon of letters in red velveteen: GB. Strange to see him so cowboyed above the workaday drover we’d always seen him as, so Buffalo Billish of a sudden, as if that jeep of his were the Queen Mary on a jaunt to the capitals of Europe. But no matter. We draw the straws. You should’ve, oh, if only you’d have been there, such a wicked piece of puppetry, Old Maxie with a hint of a hum enough, just, just enough to warn us off the straw we save for GB, GB and GB alone. One, two, three, bam. Snap of the trap. Dead to rights. Or so you would think, or so you would imagine—in a cosmos governed by a just God and a hierarchy of angelic beings in a to-and-fro across the margent of the world—it would have to be so, but no, no, damned if he didn’t blow the whole thing off, laugh at the short straw, go figure, like it was a joy to be cheated, a magic trick, and him a kid again in the thrall of a Blackstone or a Houdini.

Spite. Pure spite. To rob us of the joy of the win, then to flavor the air with a joy of his own. Go on, then, GB. Go ahead and grin away. Just you remember now, mark it down in that red leather log you ramrod down the pocket of that checkerboard vest of yours, pride cometh before a fall.

Compass Rose

They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

How sweet it was. How blue the sky. How bright the chatter of steel on steel. We got the choice cuts and that scrapper, that shyster Barnett got the gristle. A patch of meadow to be sure, but prisoned off from the curbside by this ginormous stand of Australian pine that blotted the road and raked the sky, that wailed in the wind and shivered in the rain, that strangled the birds and split the hardpan and buckled the asphalt into random slabs of brittle. Too pulpy for plywood. Too acrid for mulch. Too green to burn and hell, just to carve out a little pocket of storefront there—to shave the boughs, fell the trees, blow the stumps? Cost a goddam fortune.

The earth tumbled on. We slept, we woke, sprinted back to sleep. In a hurry to burn is what we were, to dream in a red as red as the bird in the cage of the breast, a green as green as the flesh of the lime, a blue as blue as the ice at the heart of the glacier.

And then awake and up and out. No longer was it air that we breathed, no—it was sky. Week after week we whittled away at the land, readied ourselves for the day when the highway would near, and the conduits snap into place, and the Yanks and the Rebs and the snowbirds, the crackers and the darkies and the yids, come spilling out the chute in search of mowers and Philcos and bunk beds and Spam, cigarette machines and birdbaths and hi-fis and grills, bongos and charcoal briquettes and sides of beef in oaken crates.


Strange to see him so cowboyed above the workaday drover we’d always seen him as, so Buffalo Billish of a sudden, as if that jeep of his were the Queen Mary on a jaunt to the capitals of Europe.


Bring on the wood chippers and the bulldozers, that’s what we said, the mill and the quarry, the pipes and the girders and the palette after palette of cinderblock that, chained to the bed of the eighteen-wheeler with turnbuckles thick as a fist, wobbles at the crossing, totters, buzzes up over the railroad trestle to sprinkle its grit to the wind.

Ditch the wife. Sell the house. Pave the sandbar. Make way for the pickups and the hot rods and the station wagons, the thrum of the Caddy and the roar of the Harley and the bangedy-clank of the empty horse trailer shaggy with hay and freckled with the splat of a dozen Appaloosa. Mail trucks and milkmen. Tractors and mini-vans. Greyhound busses and Vespa scooters and jingly-jangly little ice-cream trucklets freighted with change and fat with the promise of wampum here, here at the intersection, where the money runs, where the skinny hick at the wheel of the backhoe jangles the pocket of his phosphorescent vest, where the trucker spiders up the flank of the rig to fetch the stash of twenties, where the plumper in the push-button Rambler jams a wedge of dead presidents down the wobble of her bra.

Amen, we said, and Abracadabra, and all hail the late great Cooper, and the scalp of the earth, and the cattle burgered away, and all the while, back in the land of Barnett all hail the great wall of the Australian pine, that nothing out of nothing that swayed in the wind, that surged in the surge of the sky and—brushed by the smoke of the dozers from the lots on either side, the mud pump and the jackhammer and the bubble pot of tar that palls the air and chokes the wren in flight—did nothing. Sway is what it did, and Barnett, he swayed with it, as if he’d given up the game altogether and surrendered himself to the earth, and as the weeks went by, and as we filled the lots around him with totem after totem of pridely vigor, he stood. He smoked. He swayed.

“So what happened to the view?” we said. We laughed. “What gives?”

“Oh ye of little faith,” said Barnett finally, at last, as if he’d just that moment decided. Hadn’t shaved in a week. Boots all crusted with mud. Been so long, almost a shock to hear his voice. We everybody looked up.


No longer was it air that we breathed, no—it was sky.


Three shiny quarters in a stack. He slid them one-handed across the counter and around the remains of breakfast to click the salt shaker, click the pepper, click the glassy silo of soda straws in their crispy white wrappers. “Boys, boys, boys.” He rose. Shook out the crease in his jeans, brushed the crumbs of the biscuit off the belly of his shirt. “You ever heard of a bank shot?”

And that was that. Out the door. And us there in the stir of the smoke, the sunlight torching through the diner window, the rat-a-tat of that old jeep of his pulling out the lot.

“Ever heard a man took a iron to a pair of blue jeans?”

“On a hanger.”

“Hangs ’em. Got a hanger at the foot of the bed. Every night.”

“The bastard.”

The bastard.

Compass Rose

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surprise’d them all.
The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

We found out soon enough what the bank shot was. The Piney Vista Drive-In’s what he called it, a wonderment of entertainment technology ginned up out of—typical Barnett fashion—nothing.

“Spiney vision?” said Lynch.

“Piney Vista,” said Barnett. He looked like he’d slept in his clothes. Or maybe not—from the look on his face—slept at all. But the voice was the same. Big. Bright. A vehicular expedition into a land of enchantment, said he, a marvelocity, as if it were the goddamn Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Ice Capades atop a zeppelin off the coast of Maui.


A patch of meadow to be sure, but prisoned off from the curbside by this ginormous stand of Australian pine that blotted the road and raked the sky, that wailed in the wind and shivered in the rain, that strangled the birds and split the hardpan and buckled the asphalt into random slabs of brittle.


Goddamn cow pasture’s what it was, in the center of which he built, with his own hands, a projection booth. Not much of a projection, no, not in the bald light of day. A cinderblock bunker with a tin roof, that’s what it was, a cozy little oven inside of which the smells, the fresh and the stale and the ancient, they simmered. A single window was all, and covered with a flap of canvas, windowless window the projector peeked out of, and the mortar still damp in the seams, and the squidge of the bitten cigar and the zinc of the ten-penny nails, and the sweat that sours the air and the stir of the turpentine applied, not to the splintery raw of the rafters alone, but to the very air itself. Engraved on the cast-iron base of the picture machine, the surplus Army projector? Eastman 25 Carbon Arc, 35 Millimeter. When he flipped the switch and fed the reel, it squawked like a wood chipper, shivered up a dust the color of dried peas.

Outside, up top the bunker (we could just make it out in the glare), one of them neon bug zappers to cull the heavenly host, to juice the night air with a tang of danger. Underfoot, a spangle of broken pavers Picasso’d up into the approximate shape of the state of Florida. Right this way, gentlemen, he said as we passed the PortoLet (throne of the gods, he called it) flanked by a pole with a spigot, a scrap of rag, a cake of soap on a spike and a hand-lettered sign all stenciled up as if to celebrate the natural wonder of it all: Water.

Glory be. Hark the herald. And when he led us out to the little clearing under the trees (an Adventure Park is what he called it)—picnic table, teeter-totter, hump of sand the height of a toddler—it was with open arms he stood in the shade and cast his eyes up through the pine to the crush of the clouds, to the unbuyable blue of the sky overhead. You gotta open your eyes a little bigger, boys!

From glory unto glory, verily, up the gravel path that wound through the trees to the road. At the foot of the Plexiglass marquee with the ticky-tacky red letters—the S-O-O-N that clicked in the breeze—stood a telephone booth liberated from the wreck of a diner and furbished with a cash box and a stool and a cladding of fleshy posters, Hot Rod Rumble and Wild Women of Wongo and Cat Women of the Moon. Not a ticket booth, no, but a sentry box, a guardhouse, a gateway to the Holy of Holies where the plywood trailer tarted up into a snack bar swayed, the picket line after picket line of tinny speakers fizzed, the grassy ridges rippled outward from the spectacle at the center of it all, the—


Bring on the wood chippers and the bulldozers, that’s what we said, the mill and the quarry, the pipes and the girders and the palette after palette of cinderblock that, chained to the bed of the eighteen-wheeler with turnbuckles thick as a fist, wobbles at the crossing, totters, buzzes up over the railroad trestle to sprinkle its grit to the wind.


“OK, GB. Where the hell you put the screen?”

“Coming attraction,” said Barnett.

“What, you gonna park a cloud up there to catch the picture?”

“Me and GB, we got a deal,” said Lynch.

“A conversation, maybe,” said Barnett. “We got a conversation.”

“We got a deal,” said Lynch. He opened his fist. A thatch of lines in a shade of walnut glistened in the palm of his hand. “We shook on it.”

“Absolutely,” said Barnett. “Sixty-footers. A half-dozen.”

“Plus the cross-ties. Plus the bracing.”

“I’m a man of my word. Absolutely,” said Barnett. He reached out to shake Lynch’s hand. Pumped it. Held it. Rocked it side to side like boxcars when they couple. “I’m a man of my word, and which is why, as a man of my word, I’m forced to put the order on hold.”

Lynch pulled away but Barnett held him tight.

“My hands are tied,” said Barnett. “Previous commitment.”

Lynch tightened his grip. Barnett tightened his. Lynch opened his mouth to speak but Barnett beat him to it.

“A previous commitment, but as a sign of my good faith in you…” He pulled out a roll of twenties with his free hand and, like a priest in a proffer of the holy biscuit, served it up into the space between them. “The down payment, in advance, for Piney Vista Number Two.”

This was followed by a vague nod in the direction of the swampland farther east. No nod from Lynch. Lynch not a man given to nods. In the glare of the sun we couldn’t see his eyes up there under the shade of the hat, the off-white, the toasted-with-sawdust and creased-with-sweat fedora, the only stab at fashion Lynch had ever attempted, ten, twenty years ago to impress a girl who jilted him for a more delicate man, a man who never punched a clock or slugged a cheat or drove a pike through the skull of a gator, a man who never wore the overalls, or the boss embroidered up over the breast, or the boots with the steel in the toe.

But gravity rules. In all things, in everything, gravity rules. The only folk free enough to make a show of pride are those who can already afford it, so positioned, and at such a height, that a snub is a fruit that ripens and then drops of its own accord. No shame in that, you say. The lowly have a pride, you say, a secret pride, all their own. And so they do. And how wise of you to say. And no doubt, and verily, and of a surety. But then why did we, the all of us, look away when he took the money?

Compass Rose

Like he didn’t already, GB, hadn’t already, and from the very first whiff of tar in the air, sniffed out a morsel of his own. Like he didn’t already know, the weasel, that before they could broaden the shoulders of the county roads, they had to scrape away all the fences lollipopped with mailboxes and swing gates, birdhouses and whirligigs and oaken placards with the brand of the ranch—the Ring Bone and the Dog Iron and the Broken Arrow—flash-fried into the grain with a router bit or a soldering iron or the flaming sword of the cherubim. And the ditches they’d have to obliterate, the hydrilla that bloom in the muck and the gators that ripple the algae and, here and there, the mini-bridges that, corduroyed with pipe to keep the cattle in, span the green. It would all of it have to go. The stick-pinny signs (“Burma-Shave” and “See the Monkey Jungle” and “Beautiful Atomic Tunnel, Home of Happy, the Walking Fish”) gone, swept away, and the mile markers, and the mandevilla, the briars in a clinch across a plywood Jesus and the rusty junker and the booming oak and—especially—the telephone poles. One by one, candles on a cake about to be cut, they plucked them out and tossed them aside, sixty-footers studded with rebar, branded by cleats and by woodpeckers and by (splinter the size of a thighbone) lightning. Not perfect, no. Not the poles Lynch had spent a goddam week at the mill to render, no, but a boon from out the hand of the Almighty, a hobo’s delight, a—to hear it from GB—magnificent hunk of roadkill there for the picking, gratis, out where the diesel blackens and the sky batters on above the clamor of the dig and the flash of the acrid flare.

So the bastard got the poles for free. And the labor, too, courtesy of Dave Starr, who stirred up another choir of convicts to spread the gravel, wire the speakers, unspool the fencing and, when the screen finally arrived, to bolt it across that palisade of poles.


A single window was all, and covered with a flap of canvas, windowless window the projector peeked out of, and the mortar still damp in the seams, and the squidge of the bitten cigar and the zinc of the ten-penny nails, and the sweat that sours the air and the stir of the turpentine applied, not to the splintery raw of the rafters alone, but to the very air itself.


Not the screen you special order from California, by the way, zigga-zagga-ed outta some hydraulic loom, sheared off by the acre and basted with titanium oxide for optimal luminosity. Not even the screen that Lynch, with a protractor and a T-square and a foolscap of carbon, envisioned—the flying buttress and the bonnet of French curves and the cross-hatchery of pine and maple unwarpable in Nome or Tahiti. No. No-no. Billboards. Ex-billboards. Three of them altogether—Lucky Strike, Weeki Wachee, HoJo’s—kicked over by a hurricane, raked off the right-of-way, sledgehammered back of Red’s Auto Body into a weldable slab of steel.

A hunk of junk? No, says he. A canvas. The canvas upon which the pictures appear, the sine qua non of the whole shebang, a vasty slab of nothing the prisoners—to consecrate them, said Barnett, to a higher calling—painted with barrels of (courtesy Florida Department of Transportation and a cousin with a set of keys) dotted-line-down-the-center-of-the-highway white. Barbasol white. Pepsodent white. Not merely an erasure of what came before, but a fearsome white that blazes back at the onlooker, that simmers in the blue of the day and phosphors out into the chill of the night.

The Postcard from Nowheresville, we called it. Barnett smiled and spread his arms wide, as if to absorb through the pores of his shirt the smell of the luminous paint. This was the bank shot he’d set into motion months—no, centuries—no, eons—ago.


He reached out to shake Lynch’s hand. Pumped it. Held it. Rocked it side to side like boxcars when they couple.


Think about it. Every single second—no, listen, now listen—you got a quadrillion corpuscles of light that boil up out the heart of the sun, that ricochet off of every other goddam corpuscle, takes about a billion years to ping their way up out of the core, break the surface, bust out, every which way, a billion directions, right? And for free, right? And out of all of that mess, not but a single spit of light the width of a finger true enough to count on, quick enough to—nine minutes from the sun to the Earth—cross the void and, in a perfect synchrony, strike the face of the cowboy up top of the stagecoach there with the shotgun on his knee, the pretend-to-be-a cowboy—that’s right—halfback out of UCLA, lug of a kid name of (till the light hits him) Marion Morrison, till the light rebounds off the planes of the face to strike the lens of the camera, crash into the film, punch out, in a flitter of celluloid the size of a stamp, a likeness, a flimsy-as-a-whisper facsimile of life sizeable enough to hold a whole new name and you guessed it, right? The Duke, we call him. John Wayne the name the light dubs him when the sun sinks, and we gather up under the stars in the dark, up under the shelter of the trees, where the Piney Vista Drive-In simmers in the static of a hundred iron speakers impaled upon a hundred iron poles, and into the wind we peer, the wind like a window to wait for the hiss of the bulb at the click of the switch, and the blast of the light from out the projector, and from out the orb of the lens (a sun the size of a fist), the sliver of light that crosses the void to strike the white of the screen, to burn the face of the glacier, to paint again the Duke up top of the stagecoach with the shotgun on his knee, and the billions and billions of BBs of light—talk about a view—bounding off into the dark in a bank shot, a rebound off of this screen the height of a silo, broad as a dam, bright as a sheet of beach at the drop of the tide.

“Like I said, boys. I’m in the window business.”

“Good luck with that, GB. Out in the open like that.”

“Jesus, GB. The highway’s not but a hundred yards away.”

“Two bits for a peek at the moon. You gonna charge for that, too?”

“Build yourself a wall, maybe.”

“Great Wall of China.”

“I already got me a wall,” said Barnett. Smiled. And then we saw it, what we didn’t see before, pictured it in our mind’s eye. “That’s what the trees are for, boys. That’s what they do.”


The only folk free enough to make a show of pride are those who can already afford it, so positioned, and at such a height, that a snub is a fruit that ripens and then drops of its own accord.


The bastard. The trees to hide the screen. No. To half-hide—which was even better, even more perfect. As the traffic scoots along, the picture—the blaze of the face the size of a dirigible, the hand the size of a house—flickers through the branches, like a stripper it dances, and, try as you might, it’s all you can do not to reach out, to tear at the veil, to—what do you call it? Reverse psychology. Nothing like a negligee to stir the blood.

Bastard. The bastard. To stir in us a wonder impossible to right. To wound us with a hunger for what? A flower that never fades? A face that never withers? From out the dark—from out the soil and the blood and the bullshit—a flame?


A teacher at Valencia College, Alan Sincic’s fiction has appeared in New Ohio Review, The Greensboro Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Hunger Mountain, Prime Number, Big Fiction Magazine, Cobalt, Burningword, A-3 Press and elsewhere. Short stories of his have won contests sponsored by The Texas Observer, Driftwood Press, The Prism Review, Westchester Review, American Writer’s Review, The Vincent Brothers Review, The Broad River Review and Pulp Literature. Recently, the opening chapter of his novel The Slapjack won the 2021 First Pages Prize (judge: Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop). After an MA in literature at the University of Florida and a poetry fellowship at Columbia, he earned his MFA at Western New England University. He spent over a dozen years in NYC as a writer and performer—comic/satirical pieces that eventually became a pair of full-length plays (American Obsessions and Breaking Glass) at the Orlando International Fringe Festival. Come visit him at alansincic.com.

“The Harvest” is part of a novel manuscript Alan is currently shopping to agents. An earlier version of the story (“The Postcard from Nowheresville”) was the runner-up for the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize and appeared in Overland magazine online in autumn of 2020. This story was a finalist in Nowhere’s Fall 2019 Travel Writing Contest.

Lead image: David Clode

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