By Kevin Brennan
Clark Denton walks through the leafy neighborhood he knows so well he could navigate it blindfolded. He thinks it might be interesting to try one time. Walk his usual route with a blindfold on, just to test his senses. Turn right here. Forty paces, past the lady’s lilacs (their smell a giveaway clue), turn right again. The long downhill stretch, a hundred and twenty-two paces. The small bridge with a drainage creek beneath. One more right and it’s another hundred and seventy-three paces home. It would be a cinch.
With his head down, eyes on the tips of his walking shoes, he wishes there was a way to prolong the walk this evening. He doesn’t entirely want to get home right away. Janet is having one of her episodes. There’s no talking to her. He’s the reason everything’s rotten, in her mind. Forty-one years of marriage no indemnity against unjust complaints. She’s on the hunt for a scapegoat to blame her perpetual disappointments on.
His wish is granted suddenly and in an unexpected way, just on the other side of the small bridge over the drainage creek. He experiences a sudden, sharp pain in the right side of his chest, and looking toward the pinpoint spot he sees an arrow penetrating just to the left of his shirt pocket.
Good Lord, he whispers as his hand grips the shaft, meaning to pull it out. A cautionary voice in his head reminds him that’s the worst thing he can do. He resists the urge, watching as a dark badge of blood seeps through blue cotton around the pencil-thick arrow.
He sits on a low brick ledge defining someone’s yard, trying to decide what’s the best thing to do now. Across the street stands a little boy with an empty archer’s bow in his hands. The boy turns and runs toward his house, dropping the bow on the lawn.
Tell your mom, Clark tries to shout, but his voice is gauzy and faint. He tastes blood.
Without his phone he can’t summon help, and no one is out on the street to see him. He groans. He thinks he feels the tip of the arrow inside his chest, testing the borders of a lobe or a vessel, probing like an X-Acto blade. Don’t move, he tells himself. Stay still and breathe.
The boy has disappeared into his house, but the door is open, and momentarily a woman emerges, looking up and down the block. Clark raises his hand weakly, hoping to catch her attention.
Over here, he rasps. The woman makes eye contact.
He must black out for a moment, because suddenly she’s right before him, patting his cheeks and uttering words that aren’t clear at first but turn into I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. He got into his daddy’s closet somehow. Clark sees with a rush of clarity how the boy has had his eye on Daddy’s bow and arrow kit for some time and finally saw an opportunity. Tonight. It was an accident of pure happenstance, Clark the unlucky soul out on his walk to avoid Janet’s episode just as the boy took his shot.
The mother is on her cell. Clark hears the 911 operator and assurances that an ambulance will be there in minutes. He lies back in the grass of the yard behind him, the arrow angled starkly, and senses a crowd beginning to form. Someone says I think that’s Mr. Denton. Somebody needs to tell his wife.
Yes, he thinks. It works out fine from here. Soon he’ll be in a hospital bed, all patched up and fresh out of surgery, a thick pad over the wound, saline drips flowing into his veins, an attentive nurse seeing to him as Janet is ushered in, ashen and with a sad thank God smile flitting at the corners of her mouth. She comes to him and throws her arms around his neck as the nurse steps back, wiping away a tear.
It’s the perfect story, he thinks. Reconciliation through crisis.
He looks up into the evening sky through the wide canopy of an oak. The distant siren blares, and he lets out a long fluttering breath, closing his eyes in pleasant satisfaction.
Kevin Brennan is the author of six novels, including Parts Unknown (William Morrow/HarperCollins), Yesterday Road, and, most recently, Eternity Began Tomorrow. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Berkeley Fiction Review, Mid-American Review, Twin Pies, The Daily Drunk, Sledgehammer, Fictive Dream, Atlas and Alice, LEON Literary Review, Atticus Review, Misfit, Scapegoat Review, and others. A Best Microfiction 2022 nominee, he’s also the editor of The Disappointed Housewife, a literary magazine for writers of offbeat and idiosyncratic fiction, poetry, and essays. Kevin lives with his wife in California’s Sierra foothills.