Forest for the Trees by Michael Twist won Red Savina Review’s First Flash Fiction Contest
FOREST FOR THE TREES
“I don’t think I can do it,” Jerry said.
I knew I couldn’t. But that wasn’t what Jerry needed to hear. “Three years,” I said after a moment. I had meant it to sound like a brief stretch, a walk in the park, a blink of an eye, but it didn’t; it sounded like an eternity. “Maybe less with good behavior.”
“I’m just not built for prison, not wired right,” Jerry said, smoke curling from his mouth and nose.
I pondered this for a moment. “No one is,” I finally said.
Lost in his own thoughts, Jerry appeared jarred. “No one is what?” he asked.
“No one is wired for prison,” I answered. “It’s anathematizing to the human condition.”
I was unaware that I had said the second sentence aloud until Jerry sputtered, “Anathematizing? Is that one of your college words?”
I winced, fearing I had driven a wedge neither of us could afford on this of all days. “I made it up. There’s no such word,” I offered.
“Liar.” Jerry snorted. He tossed a handful of the grass he’d picked on me; his way of letting me know the wedge was nulled. I let the grass linger in my hair, on my arm. “I’m not an animal, not like some of those guys,” he nearly whispered.
Neither of us said it, but we were both thinking about the shower scenes we’d seen in a half dozen movies; jokes about dropping bars of soap no longer laughable. “You’ll get through it,” I said, avoiding his eyes as I lit another of his cigarettes.
Jerry snorted. “Easy for you to say.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Nothing. Not a damn thing,” Jerry retorted, seething disgust.
I knew he was wondering what stroke of karma had the cop turning left and running into him rather than right and into me. A part of him hating himself for wishing it had been me before the judge. I knew this because I knew Jerry better than I’d known anyone, our mothers; neighbors, best friends, sisters.
“Look. I wish I could…” my words fell short.
“What? Split the time? You take the odd days, leave me the even?” Jerry scoffed, plucking grass like one scratches an itch.
“Not fair,” I said after a moment.
Jerry ground his smoke out in the bare spot of dirt he had created and left it among the dozen crippled butts between us. “Why not? You’re just as guilty as I am,” he snarled.
“I’d serve more days,” I said quietly.
He glared at me for a moment before his face softened into the only smile of the day as he figured it out, the odds, evens, and ends of calendar pages flipping through his mind. “Jackass,” he muttered.
“Fuckstick,” I returned.
It was quiet as we continued to work our way through his pack of smokes, knowing he couldn’t take them inside. I thought of all the things I’d miss, all the things I take for granted. Oddly, I realized smokes, books, and coffee were likely all available, making the cop’s karmic left turn all the crueler, since Jerry didn’t like to read.
Late afternoon shade stalked and eventually overtook us. “I don’t think I can do it,” Jerry said for the second time that day.
“Not much of a choice,” I whispered.
“You’ve always got a choice,” he said, looking at a hawk patiently circling the field beyond.
I shook my head, dubious, picturing frenzied German Shepherds tugging at leather leashes as they followed my cousin’s scent. “You don’t wanna run, man.”
Jerry looked at me, a flicker of confusion the equivalent of a body language hiccup briefly registering on his face. “No.” After a beat he added, “I wouldn’t even make it out of the county.”
A long silence followed and Jerry leaned back on the grass, looking at the nearly cloudless sky above, probably wondering when he would next feel a breeze or even see clouds herded by one.
“You wanna get something to eat?” I asked, stubbing out my final cigarette.
“How ‘bout some beers?”
Jerry’s right eyebrow arched like a string had been pulled. “You buying?”
My throat was raw, and I was suddenly overcome by the urge to do something, anything, nice for Jerry. “Sure. My treat.”
It was hours after I dropped Jerry off, cheap pilsner working its way through my system, before I revisited my cousin’s flicker of confusion, the hiccup.
Michael Twist’s work can be found in Cafe Aphra, Tethered by Letters, Pooled Ink 2015, F(r)iction, and Story Shack. Michael has won several fiction contests, including the William Faulkner Riverfest Literary Competition (2011) and the Quid Novi Festival Writing Contest (2011) as well as the Tethered by Letters (2015) Flash Fiction Contest. Additionally, Hourglass Literary Journal awarded Twist its Special Jury Award (2016). He teaches literature in Portland and lives in Sandy, Oregon with his wife and two daughters. Twist is the winner of Red Savina Review’s First Flash Fiction Contest for his flash piece “Forest for the Trees.”