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Patrilineal, Luke Wortley


The other night, I tilted the bottle over the edge of the bonfire and watched the smoke plume into my dead grandad’s form, the one I never knew, the one who survived two train crashes and a hive of yellow jackets but succumbed to blood poisoning. He motioned, and I followed him to the creekbed. As we walked, he told me of a time when he buried his own shadow, how his fingers sprouted up, and he jammed them back down. He told me how it struggled, how this first death was to prove to his own father he could stomach the act. When I asked him why he did it, he said he had to prepare for the vehemence of the land, the inevitability of its thirst. He said his own father spoke in thunderous gulps and tinny sounds sloshing in the bottle. They said he never was much of a talker. I beg to differ. Frogsong lay on the air like a veil as we walked back up the valley. Sliced with moonlight, we kept wandering, him stooping in a smoky wave, sliding through the shimmer. Another night, tilting another bottle, my father told me of his first kill. A squirrel jittering up a tree, the crazy thwack of a pellet to the back of its twitchy head. He said it stiffened and fell, the grass stroked with garnet as it flopped and squealed. So I asked my granddad about that, felt my throat tighten as his mouth opened. I was expecting some defense, perhaps a winding apology. What came out was a train whistle hammering the breeze, blowing over me in a dry heat. His breath loud and furious, brushed with the tang of shared blood.



Luke Wortley is a writer living in Indianapolis, Indiana. His fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Inch, Hobart, Cincinnati Review, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter (@LukeWortley) or visit www.lukewortley.com

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