Fictions from Marvin Shackelford

Photo by Ryan Wallace

Nashville

The city swallows the stars. It swallows swampland and pasture and sends the hills into hiding. Its breath rattles. Out of its mouth drives an armored convoy bearing missiles, sandbags, rations, maps, ransoms, the missives of every war we ever might fight. From my front door I see them march across the sea. I try to sink back into our skyline of dead gods and burnt altars. All night men in orange surplices wash loose the day’s shortcomings. Tall girls in taller boots run ahead of the deluge, laughing. Their mouths open so wide I’m drawn to the shock of their teeth. Gravity, you understand, is the price we pay. I hold a fist against my heart, salute. They’re unsure it’s funny anymore, but by dawn we’ve come to terms. They will: hold silent, hold hands. Walk with short steps. Wait as long as they can. I will: stir up the dirt and asphalt so it’s easier to breathe. I will cock a hat on my head and let the heartache in my throat twang to the top. I’ll remember when all this was farmland. Remember cattle slowly drawing their spines through drought. One day after the next they disappear. I carry a tiny metal box between heart and ribs, and it tells me when to sing. This is not the moment to let it bleed. It’s not the time to swallow. Soon we’ll drink up the sun and see just how endless it is. Nothing will last but cement, gridlock, the sky. Then I’ll lift up on the waves. This isn’t it.

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Above the Fourth Cataract

The water standing in the field begins to show a current. It’s chocolate and impenetrable. It carries up to the driveway and then over the road. You talk about driving through it. You tell me your mother has died. The crumbling of her teeth woke you. In a huff of fear and exhaustion you tease the house to higher ground. You fry up the insides of the day and place them in my mouth. I work it around. She gathered the world just behind her eyes, you say, let it build cataracts over time. Shifting of earth and thinning of tides. What pooled was enough to drown her. We are somewhere near the head of the deluge. Around us the waters stir, begin to pull away. I make a pitcher of my hands to drink it. It tastes of stillness, plague. I’ve arrived late on this scene so many times, come without having consulted the map. You’re not surprised. You pick your feet up high. We have to deal with this.
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Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building (poems) and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary (stories, forthcoming from Alternating Current). He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.

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