Last Chance in 53
by Jeanne Julian
Alone, squatting where heron tracks mark the riverbank muck with the devil’s pitchfork, she birthed it and left it. That Sunday, when the preacher quoted Psalms—“Rescue me from the miry mud!”—she thought: maybe it’ll grow gills and a fishtail, and waggle down to New Orleans where it will learn the banjo.
She gave him $2, then went in to Excalibur. He bought water from a man. It got dark. She came out. He asked, “Now can we go to Bruxie for chicken waffle?” She said, “No silly I told you only if I win. Machines wasn’t good to mama today. Let’s get the bus.”
Hood pulled up monk-like, he slept, hands cradling the backpack on his lap. Changed buses in Jacksonville, Philly, New York. Arrived at Boston’s South Station in the dark. At the harbor, he could barely see her ashes, fine as baby powder, sprinkling the inky water. He sneered. “See, Ma? Told you I would.”
“Road less traveled”? Ha. Try no road. He turned at a presumed hikers’ cairn—just a heap of rocks, really. Taking tiny sips of what was left in his canteen and using a saguaro, prickly old friend, to shield from Sonoran scorch… he awaited rescue. Or for spare shadow to become everlasting darkness.
As a baby, he’d slept in a Kentucky Cardinal apple crate. Slept his way to California in a freight car. Groomed for Round Table (he won Santa Ana, ’58), sleeping in empty stalls. Slept for years in a cell after a left hook dropped Eddie. The last box will be the most comfortable.
* “Last Chance in 53” is a set of linked, 53-word stories inspired by the 53-Word Story Contest at Press 53.
Co-winner of Reed Magazine’s Edwin Markham Prize (2019), Jeanne Julian is the author of Like the O in Hope and two chapbooks. Her poems appear in Poetry Quarterly, Minerva Rising, Snapdragon, the anthologies The Plague Papers and Lascaux Prize 2016, and elsewhere, and have won awards from Comstock Review, Naugatuck River Review, and the North Carolina Poetry Society. She lives in South Portland, Maine. www.jeannejulian.com