Fiction by Joseph Pfister
WE GO SWIMMING by the bluff. It isn’t something four freshly minted Future Farmers of America usually do after graduation, but it’s August and still warm enough to go swimming after dark. We park our parents’ rusted-out Fords in the lot across from the dam and run, barefoot, across the road to the small stretch of public beach. Of course, we don’t actually have to run: The town is dead like it always is—though less dead, because it’s summer and the tourists who arrived in May in droves haven’t fled south yet.
We enjoy the orange afterglow—those final minutes of daylight—before the sun slips behind the horizon. We kick and splash in the bath-warm water like we’re ten years younger, our mothers sprawled out on lawn chairs, periodically peeking up from their six hundred-page novels to make sure we haven’t wandered past the striped buoys that mark the lake’s sudden drop-off.
We swim until we can’t see, and then we swim some more. A cool breeze wafts through the trees, bearing the greasy scent of deep fryer from the bluff’s restaurant. Some of the drunken regulars hoot and holler at us.
Do you think they realize there are no boobs down here?
Well, not unless you include Rod’s man titties.
Ha! Nice one, Princeton.
Hey, fuck you guys.
We all laugh.
ONCE WE TOWEL off, we trot back to our circle of vehicles and dig fresh beers out of the cooler. We crack open Hamm’s, slurp down the foam, and listen to the small sounds of central Wisconsin on a Sunday night.
So, what do you guys wanna do?
I don’t know. What do we usually do?
We could go shining.
You know, for deer? With a spotlight.
And then what? I mean, after you find the deer.
I don’t know. I’ve never done it before. My dad and his buddies do it.
That is the most hick thing I’ve ever heard.
ROD’S FORD F-150 hurtles through the dark, his low beams tracing the paved, one-lane road as it unfolds into the night. Cornfields like vast mazes howl past. We’re all buzzing pretty good now, and the wind is cold, despite the night’s warmth. We shiver, but try not to show it. Speed presses the rows of corn together and makes us giddy with excitement.
Hey, check this out!
Rod extinguishes the neon-green dashboard lights, then the headlights, and it’s suddenly as if all the light in the world has gone out. Our drunken whoops are stolen by the bug-roaring darkness.
Turn the lights back on. You’re scaring Princeton here.
For the billionth time, it’s Purdue, I say. I’m going to Purdue.
They tip their beers back and chuckle.
Princeton’s right. Maybe you should turn the lights back on. You can’t see my dick in front of your face out here.
Rod relents and the headlights come back on just as a dark shape comes bounding out of the ditch. There’s a white flash as the deer vaults over the hood and vanishes into the corn on the other side of the road. We ride on in silence, the only sound the wind and the long, flat drone of the truck’s tires on the road. Then Rod begins to laugh—weakly at first—and everyone else joins in.
They laugh and slap each other on the back and crack open fresh beers. I try to laugh, too, but I feel like the wind in the trees.
Joseph Pfister’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Juked, decomP, PANK, and was long-listed by The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions 2013. He is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College, and lives in Brooklyn with his fiancée. He is currently at work on his first novel. Visit him online at josephspfister.com.
Featured Image photograph by E.B. Bartels, www.ebbartels.com.