SPOTLIGHT: Runaways by Sheldon Lee Compton


Years ago and for years he was bullied, tortured, beaten, scorned, and emotionally and physically and sexually abused.

But forget that. He meets his enemy again today. Three days straight his enemy has come to his front door and knocked, knocked, knocked. Once he knocked on the side of the house, another time he knocked on the kitchen window, and then, finally, the front door while the dogs tried to kill him with barking.

On the fourth day, he went outside and motioned the enemy onto the porch. He told his abuser why he didn’t want to see him, why he wouldn’t answer the door, why, even now, this second, he could barely stand speaking to him. So that’s why I want you to leave, he said. The enemy executed a perfect open hand palm strike, connecting exactly where his hand met his wrist.

In this way, nothing changed. Nothing improved. It had all stayed the same. His family gathered him up from the porch and comforted him inside and onto the couch.

Opening his eyes, he wished he’d never seen the enemy. If he had never waved the enemy onto the porch, he wouldn’t be swaying to get up while his wife held him by the elbow, a feeble half-man, a wooden cowboy busted apart. Years ago and for years there were plans for revenge. There never will be.

The Way She Escaped

Alto clouds

left welts in the sky while

the woman sprinted through the yard.

She heard it clearly,

the sky breaking apart, hemorrhaging.

Adrenaline hammered until finally there was rain.

She pulled in a long swell of air

and imagined floating in a headwind

for miles and miles as the crow flies.

Grass blades cut

howling mouths across her ankles.

After a Period of Heavy Rains and Thaw

They all knew of him at least, but none would say they knew him. Coming to the funeral the night after was expected, even if you only ever saw him driving early in the morning, driving too fast and too loose. It was so obvious he was driving too fast and too loose. That fork of the river was a brown, powerful gush. There were twenty-seven funerals in all. The driver and the children. And one for all of them at the high school. For several days leading up to the morning when the bus hit a tow truck and slid down the embankment, heavy rains and a fast thawing of snow developed flood-stage waters. A young man with the radio station stood for hours on the bank of the river. Later he bought the station and became CEO of a hospital. He will talk about the bus accident a lot, mention how he was there on the bank radioing details live to broadcast. The tow truck driver didn’t attend any of the funerals. He talked about the bus accident a lot, saying sorry so sorry to anybody who would listen. He gave Howard Tillman his tow truck and then jumped off the Weston Bridge. For several days leading up to his suicide, the families barely tried to keep from saying it should be you. They came at him overflowing from sediment to high water mark.

A Bad Wreck

Even the memory of the accident was likely planted, a mental health counselor told me later. It was a bad wreck. Cue the sustained massive head injuries. I met a kind woman with dark eyes and a lonesome smile. She always said she knew my past in her heart. Not remembering my life before her and the children mattered less and less over the years. The word planted, the confusing word planted, wedged its way into my room of ghosts. And then it began.


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