Because I don’t do anger well with others,
Even then I had to walk outside
When I got mad at my dad for
Making my mother cry.
Summer in Houston smells like
Burger King and diesel exhaust.
I just turned 8 and it was July
And the grass in my yard
Was like walking across knives.
Crawdad towers rose in the ditches
And standing in one place too long
Was an invitation to ants.
Cars splashed by our house
In the wet tar of the melting asphalt.
I walked back into the empty kitchen
And opened the junk drawer:
An old hammer, screwdrivers,
A pair of pliers, rubber bands.
I pulled out the scissors.
Out again through the front door
I let the screendoor slam loud
And walked over to the swords of yucca
Standing sharp near the street.
I cut four razor tips from the pointed ends
And kneeling down on the hot concrete
Carefully wedged one behind
Each tire on my dad’s car.
I was done with that.
I love to slow-roll through mornings like this, to sip dark, steaming coffee and revel in the relative quiet of a Houston early morning. I love mornings like these when the air is less oppressive and less freighted with exhaust, less laced with the stench of commerce and crime, which all too often are one and the same.
Here and now I am insulated, protected, safe on my neatly swept porch overlooking my neatly mown yard in this neatly built neighborhood peopled by families just like mine—or different, perhaps, but neat and decent all the same, quiet parents whose children play Whiffle Ball or tag on their thick, soft lawns, or turn somersaults from house to fence until so dizzy they cannot stand.
But even here, a little sloppiness oozes in: a vandalized car next door, a stolen lawn mower down the street, a divorce two blocks over, or a father’s discipline that unreasonably exceeds his son’s petty crime.
The thought disturbs my ease. I glance at my wristwatch, calculating my route to work. The secondhand ticks inevitably, incessantly, a mosquito buzzing near my ear. I step inside, rinse my coffee cup, kiss my wife’s cheek as she rushes to check on our son’s progress. I yell goodbye to him and know he won’t answer. Just eight, he is always a little grumpy from rising early for school, and this morning he is still stung by yesterday’s words.
The garage door rises, and something bright, caught by the just-so slant of morning sun, glints behind my old Toyota’s back tire. A three-inch galvanized nail, its tip wedged tightly between ridged treads, leans angled perfectly for puncturing deep into the tire. I know this work, recognize in it the anger of my son, anger he wears on the inside, anger born of my anger, my words the day before too harsh, too massive for the smaller mass of his transgression. This message, this nail, poised for sabotage, is an unspoken accusation on the brink of erupting, on the brink of piercing skin and muscle and heart.
Three other steely weapons stand ready behind three other tires, just one insufficient to still his maddened heart.
I listen to the tide of traffic as it grows stronger on the not-too-distant ocean of interstates, clover leafs, and feeder roads, and I feel the undertow tugging me toward a job I don’t especially like in a place I like even less. My nostrils tingle with the bloom of acrid air. My skin prickles in the rising heat, my arms bedewed with sticky droplets raised by the humid bubble settling around me.
I slide behind the wheel, crank the wheezy engine, drop into reverse, and ease the Toyota back until the angry hiss of four tires fills the air. I sit and feel the car settle slowly onto rims.
Terry Dalrymple teaches literature and fiction writing at Angelo State University in San Angelo, TX. His publications include a novel for middle readers (Fishing for Trouble), a book of short stories (Salvation), and a book he edited (Texas Soundtrack: Texas Stories Inspired by Texas Music), as well as numerous short fictions and articles in a number of journals and magazines. The poem "Swords" by his friend and colleague Laurence Musgrove inspired his flash fiction "Puncture Wounds."
Laurence Musgrove is professor of English at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, where he teaches composition, creative writing, literature, and English education. His poetry has appeared previously in descant, Southern Indiana Review, Inside Higher Ed, and New Texas. He blogs at www.theillustratedprofessor.com and draws at www.cartoonranch.com. He is also author of Handmade Thinking, a guide for promoting improved student reading engagement through drawing.