In and out of morphine dreams, he flies through the unfinished roof of Illinois sky. Below, matchbox-sized farm machines. A silo becomes his father’s thermos, the silver-capped tower from which he stole sips at ten, his first secret. Back then he was golden-haired, a benevolent boy counting sheep and cows from a Dodge Wayfarer’s back seat on Sundays, when he thought God counted him in the fold.
This was before he realized that sky and heaven were different things, before he recognized another nature lived inside, before Pastor Wynn said he’d take up a collection to send the boy to seminary, but lied. This was before the boy’s hair turned fire, years before the Navy and hiding places conspired in his own hull.
Again he flies. Lands under Chicago’s drop ceiling. He’s caged here, but can’t remember why. He reassures himself the sky is everywhere. Back home, three hours south, it is February. The toy harvesters are rusting. The silos empty but for frozen tears. The sheep and cows breathe little clouds under the open roof.
A nurse interrupts to fill a paper cup.
He has grown up and old again. He won’t open his mouth until he can drink from the silver thermos perched on a fencepost, long since rotted. The coffee will be warm and sweet, unlike his father’s voice once the boy was man enough to confess his second secret.
The nurse is now a priest, chanting. He only hears the word forgive and tells the father he is ready.
Jodi Barnes’s flash fiction can be found on 100 Word Story, Prime Number, Wigleaf’s Top 50 and Camroc Press Review (forthcoming). Her stories have been recognized by Glimmer Train, Sixfold, and Press 53‘s Open Awards. Her first chapbook, unsettled, was runner-up for best NC book of poetry in 2010.