* — April 2, 2017
Winter Break
Tim Williams, 2007
The tree tilts forward forty degrees, suggesting south wind gusts in through the wall. I come home late from a townie party tipsy. Upstairs, Mom sleeps sprawled like a starfish. With an iPhone for light, collecting wineglasses is not easy, not unlike an egg-hunt on Easter—I check the windowsill, couch cushion, toilet tank, sink. Outside, they line the fence, where her Bichon eats the ivy he’ll later vomit into a stocking.

Morning, we open five presents and sweat. Money all in ones, like a gag. Southern Pennsylvania’s heated seventy degrees, and instead of her ex-boyfriend—at whom yesterday I spat, puffing out my chest to back him down the stoop, my shaking hand against his Jesus piece—our subject is weather. “Warmest winter yet,” we say.

Mom feeds my hangover hashbrowns spilled from a bag. She watches her plate, takes cotton-candy drags from a vape-pen. Before she walks to her Exxon shift, where a wobbly light will make it hard to see each twenty’s watermark, I kiss the crown of her head, those skeletal roots. My name will echo through the house when she’s home.

I pack his stuff haphazardly, heft it out to the shed. The soft ground underfoot. The guilty birds crowd their feeder. Dog shit spots the yard like mines. In a blue camp chair I sit and wait, and with each hour late choose one item to break. Snap Kid Rock records. Tear the sleeves from size-small Tapout tees. There’s no law. All provocation. I text his cell, want it finished. Want a mess. Want everything I haven’t given, every gift we haven’t gotten, to be punched wildly into his person, this body who creeps her property. Instead, by sundown I’m in my Jeep, honking sorry at the dog with his mouth full of leaves.

New Year’s Eve, I grip a little sophomore by his jacket collar. Our faces red and thieving. I hold him up to the light like a fifty.


Originally published in No Tokens Issue No. 6. View full issue & more.
Tyler Barton is a cofounder of FEAR NO LIT, the organization behind the 2017 Submerging Writer Fellowship. He edits fiction for Blue Earth Review and interviews authors for the radio show/podcast Weekly Reader. This year, he has stories also in NANO Fiction, Midwestern Gothic, matchbook, and Little Fiction. Find more at tsbarton.com. Find his jokes at @goftyler.