American Dream #6
I have a story I want to tell about a Susan who lives in Susanville. You guessed it, she works at the penitentiary, because that’s all there is to do there. She’s a guard, no, I mean Phil, her husband is a guard. She’s a school teacher, and she lives in Susanville, but works in the next town over, and he’s not Phil, there is a Phil, I think, I imagine, but he, her husband, is Enrique, and he’s an inmate, life sentence, and her name, I think, is Liberty. She teaches the children of the guards and the children of the inmates about, well, on this given day, the difference between frogs and toads, or, I apologize, turtles and tortoises. Well, that’s what the lesson plan called for, either or, but the budget like the creek runs dry in summer, so Kenny, thickest hair she’s ever seen and onyx eyes and no teeth in the front of his face, or I shouldn’t say no teeth, bottle-rotten blackened stumps, but still what a smile, it would melt your heart, all your organs, let’s call him Geronimo, brought in a neon tetra and a goldfish, and said, “Ambos son peces.” But, this may as well be about Hector’s father, a guard become prisoner, or was it the other way around, it’s about his tattoos, sole to scalp saber-toothed cats, terrifying, but some say he’s as timid as a wilted salad, as fragile and gentle as the angel deer, which some say is extinct. They don’t know.
I call it American Dream, because I had this dream, well, I have many, but this one seemed particularly American, in which Ms. Liberty’s children, the children of the guards and the children of the inmates, pledge allegiance to a flag with comets and stars, why not stars, and aquatic birds and flying fish, but no stripes, or bars if you want to call them that, and because one of the children set her bare hands upon the fire danger map, so hot and dry it burned her fingers, and in such pain she could produce neither a sound nor a tear, and if I said pledge (above), forgive me, I meant pray, or rather, dance, because there really is no other way to account for the sudden cloudburst, rain, rain, rain like out of the blue.
Daniel Coshnear lives in Guerneville, California with his wife and two children. He works at a group home for the homeless and mentally ill and teaches writing classes through UC Berkeley Extension. He is the author of Homesick, Redux (Flock 2015), Occupy & Other Love Stories (Kelly’s Cove Press 2012) and Jobs & Other Preoccupations (Helicon Nine 2001), the winner of the Willa Cather Fiction Award. In 2021 he will publish a new collection of stories with Unsolicited Press called Separation Anxiety.
A Song for Daniel