A Brief and Necessary Madness | Kirk Wilson




Kirk Wilson of Austin, Texas has won the 42rd New Millennium Nonfiction Prize for “A Brief and Necessary Madness.”

He will receive $1,000 and publication both online and in print.

A murderous sheriff, an indigent ex-baseball star, and a lone boy trying to make sense of the madness his town has grown accustomed to. In his stirring recollection of small-town Texas, our Nonfiction Winner’s empathetic portrayal brings each character to life and his lyrical prose makes the essay sing. —NMW

A Brief and Necessary Madness

by Kirk Wilson


We called the tree a “knockaway,” but it is properly called Anacua, after an Indian tribe Cabeza de Vaca described without affection. Even that name is probably a fiction, or a mispronunciation of whatever those vanished Indians called themselves. We’re told the tribe attributed occult powers to the tree that became their namesake. I could see why. The specimen in the right front of our yard was timeless and indestructible, a Triceratops with branches. Its bark, rough as scales, rode the trunk in an armor of shadowed channels. Its leaves were sandpaper to the touch, and wore a green so dark I thought the liquid in their veins ran black. I never doubted that the tree had stood there since de Vaca wandered past, witness to countless summers like the one that year, when the temperature passed a hundred each afternoon and the pavement deep-fried anything it touched.

The layers of time were not static in that place. They rolled like waves above an undersea canyon, so that we were never far separated from the Stone Age tribes, or from our ancestors who came into that flat brush country with nothing and lived out of lean-to structures, or for that matter, it seemed, from the generations who would follow. In rare accidents of light you could glimpse the citizens of those other times, caught like fish in a crest, sometimes as spirits and sometimes as incarnate humans walking in an era not their own. The wave that was the summer when this story begins stood out because it was the midpoint of the worst drought any living person had experienced, and deer, coyotes, and bobcats were limping into town from the surrounding chaparral, driven mad by thirst. The Anacua was indifferent to it all. It was a portal to be negotiated when walking toward the listless businesses downtown. From certain angles it blocked the view of the squat, square-shouldered building across the street, with its steel-barred windows and its Deco-lettered sign that said Bee County Jail.

It was impossible to stand at the verge of the street and look over at that building without thinking of the man who lived inside it with his wife Lucille and his daughter Sarah Jane, and of his potential to appear in the flesh and look back through the gun-metal eyes hooded by his Stetson hat. The man was the county sheriff, a stone killer named Vail Ennis, and all of us who lived in that town feared him with devotion. He was forty-nine that year, but he looked older. We suspected it was the trick of an immortal, the way a man could appear so gray and cold, and still stand tall and straight and move like jointed steel. By that summer Sheriff Ennis had killed ten men we knew of, eight with his bone-handled .44 Colt or the Tommy gun he liked to mount on the hood of his green Hudson Hornet, one by stomping with his boots and beating with his blackjack, one in a car wreck that may or may not have been his fault. There was another body added to the count in a car wreck later. Some of the dead had been in handcuffs, some were armed and some not. Our sheriff had stood accused at three murder trials and walked each time. He was as much a legend as the gunfighters who ruled the same ground not so very long before, and were still alive in the mind of every boy who owned a cap gun and a holster.

This part of the story happened a long time ago. To say something was a long time ago is of course a relative thing. It depends on who’s talking. This is not the kind of history that is written down by scholars. That kind may be fiction—Herodotus is known equally as the father of history and the father of liars—but it is a fiction we learn to believe. The history we lived should be, it seems, beyond question, but it is the most elusive because we all have to know how to bullshit ourselves. It’s up there near the top of the requisite survival skills for Homo sapiens.

• • •

I did not think of myself as lonely then, but I was often alone, reading or cloud-watching, or following the flight paths of insects so small you could only see them when light caught them in a certain way, and wondering what the consciousness of such a creature could be like. Often I crossed the lava of the street to what we called the jail yard. The jail yard was a field of half-alive Bermuda grass maintained by the prisoners. It was vast in my child’s eye, stretching a quarter of a city block. Aside from the sheriff’s daughter, I was the only kid in the vicinity, and this space served as my personal playground and athletic field. I carried a baseball, a bat, and two gloves. Usually if I tossed the ball or swatted it with the bat and chased after it a few times, my friend Shine would appear from around the corner of the jail. Shine was the only name I knew for him. I did not speculate about it, it was just his name. Now I wonder if it came from a preference for moonshine, or a profession shining shoes, or as I learned somewhere along the way, from the fact that shine was another word for nigger.

Shine was a trusty. I remember learning this word and wondering about it. What it meant in this case was that he was the town drunk, and spent so much time in the jail that he effectively lived there. The joke was that he had a key, and no one seemed to think this strange. But it was strange, exceedingly so, considering who else lived in that jail house. Most of the people Vail Ennis killed or beat senseless were Mexican-Americans or blacks, a practice in keeping with the goal he shared with a newspaper reporter during one of his murder trials—to “keep America American.” My guess, and the way I will tell the story, is that Shine survived by playing mascot for the sheriff, perhaps for the town in general, a harmless being practiced at giving no offense.

My picture of Shine is more an atmosphere, humid and gauzy, than a memory. I remember him as tall, without much meat on his bones, but he may well have been of average height. The uncompromised blackness of his skin made him a rare bird. In our part of south Texas, the majority of people were shades of brown, and the lion’s share after that the many shades of “white.” The few African Americans in the town were known as Negroes.

“Hey Boy,” he would say. “Wanta play some ball?”

I was always Boy to him, or the boy, if he was speaking to my parents. I don’t know if he never knew my name or just lost track of it. But the name he used is as good as any for the boy in the story, and it is fitting because the only name I knew for him was not his own.

He took one of the gloves and the ball. The upper half of his hand stuck out from the small glove. We tossed the ball until he motioned with his glove hand for me to squat down and be the catcher. I liked that because I got to see him pitch. He moved back across the grass. The pitch started with a wind-up meant to cast the same spell on a batter a cobra uses on a mouse. Shine kicked his left leg high like Robin Roberts on the baseball card I kept in a special drawer, his pants leg crawling up so that an exposed sock hung straight out in the air so still you couldn’t help but watch it. As you did you realized the leg had started swinging forward in slow motion and before you could absorb that change the arm followed in a blur, straight over the top of his head. The body parts moved in concert but at wildly different speeds. I knew Shine was pulling something off the pitches because they lobbed up softly from his hand so I could manage them, but they still sometimes stung through the glove and made that leather thwap I associated with the heat of summer and long days with no school and no homework in the evening.

Then I would pick up the bat and crouch like DiMaggio. The windup was the same, but now he really softened up the pitch, arcing it to where the plate would be so I had a chance to hit it. When I did he’d say “good one” or “that’s it” and go chase it.

Eventually we sat down on the grass. I liked to pluck up the blades and chew them while I waited for the stories to begin. As I remember them, they were about the days when Shine pitched for the Black Missions, a Negro League team in San Antonio. The stories had a mythic quality about them, with Satchel Paige sometimes standing in for Apollo.

I believed Shine’s stories, soaked them up and daydreamed about them, but in another time I grew doubtful. I thought it likely Shine was just an old drunk telling a story he knew a boy would believe. Watching Satchel’s clips on YouTube, I learned Shine’s windup was less like Robin Roberts’ and more like Satchel’s famous, semi-legal “hesitation pitch.” I couldn’t find any evidence that Satchel ever played in San Antonio.

My earliest memory of Shine is the night he arrived on our front porch while I was being tucked in bed, asking in a politely slurred voice to “see the boy.” My father retrieved me from my pillow and presented me, dressed in the short and hyper-thin pajamas that were the only clothes a child could bear on soupy south Texas summer nights, to a man who was obviously drunk and who spent most of his time in jail. I don’t remember what Shine and I talked about that night. I do remember that we sat side by side on the steps of the porch, with my father seated above and behind us on a glider, and had a conversation. Then my father loaded the two of us in his new baby-blue Dodge and drove Shine home so that he could sleep in a bed rather than the steel bunk in his cell. This was a vaguely seditious act, one clue among many that my father was not fond of our sheriff.

• • •

My father liked a drink himself, had been a bit of a rakehell in his day. Maybe that is what disposed him against the paradigm of law and order. The grocery business was my father’s life. He came to the town in an oil boom that spouted money in a paradise for hellions, with saloons open in the face of Prohibition and backroom slot machines on main street. Vail Ennis came too, first as a roughneck and drill rigger and later as just the kind of man to clean house for the town’s more respectable citizens. The atmosphere was good for both men’s businesses. As a young man new on the scene, my father established a beachhead for his brother-in-law, a magnate who was assembling the largest privately owned grocery chain in the state. But managing another man’s dream, even the dream of a kind soul like my uncle, chafed on him, and he soon went on his own. His stores as I remember them operated like a commercial mask of Janus. He stood at the front, a handsome man and a ladykiller in his bachelor days, and welcomed customers to well-swept aisles of goods, to wooden bins with metal scoops for pinto beans and rice and flour, and a butcher shop that was the pride of the place. The backside of the mask was a warehouse, dark and hot and dusty, with fans that spun to little effect and an office and a desk with an adding machine on top and a bottle in a drawer.

The adding machine was the kind with rows of keys on metal trunks and a lever with a wooden handle the operator pulled down to complete a calculation. My father was a virtuoso player of the instrument. His right hand moved on it in a blur, with a rhythm that went click click click cah-chunk as steadily as a freight train at full steam. Meanwhile his left hand flipped at the same speed through receipts and bills, keeping up the bass line. That hand was even more a fascination than the right, because it was connected to a resurrected finger. One night after my father missed a curve and rolled his car, he found the finger resting on a stretch of two-lane highway. He picked it up and carried it to a country doctor in an operating room with technology no more advanced than his adding machine, and the doc sewed it back on so that it stuck and functioned as a finger should in all its nerves and vessels. The only scar was a pale ring at its base no wider than a thread.

My father worked the days and drank the nights. We never played baseball. He had been working since he was a child, and he was not at home with games, outside the kind that happen in pool halls and on poker tables. He had known those, and he was good at them, but he left them behind when he married my mother. He may have felt that sacrifice to the god of respectability was necessary. My mother’s family donated books to start the library at Cambridge. They were scholars, writers; they ran their own private school back home in England. His people were Tennessee dirt farmers more focused on the cotton crop than on the family tree. She had a master’s. He could quote Shakespeare and Noyes and Kipling from memory, but his formal education stopped the day he left high school.

• • •

Shine’s housemates in the jail, aside from the more transient prisoners, were Sheriff Ennis and his family. Lucille Ennis worked in the dress department at Penney’s. People who knew her say she was a sweet, calm woman. Sometimes I played with Sarah Jane, the Sheriff’s daughter. I remember little about her except that she was a year older than me and was said to be deathly afraid of dogs. Shine knew this, and reminded me to keep my dog up.

It’s not quite accurate to say I owned that dog, because he was so much more my friend than my possession. He was a medium-sized character built like a lean sled Husky, snow white as both his parents but with a mongrel gene in his heritage that made the lines of his body longer and more taut than theirs. His ears were permanently at attention and his tail curled in a circle, the long fur on it bouncing as he ran like feathers on a war bonnet. Like the war chiefs I had read about, ones described in more noble terms than de Vaca ever used, he had earned his name. He was Dennis the Menace. I liked to put my face into his fur and inhale his smell. There was that fierce and particular love of boys and dogs between us, more powerful because neither of us had as close a relationship with anybody else.

My mother said Dennis had good taste, by which she meant he only bit people who needed biting. He did not bite out of fear like some dogs, or from a need to bully, but out of what he took to be his duty. He sent an older boy who was bloodying my nose to the hospital for stitches. He would not tolerate the clearly threatening approach of anyone in uniform across his territory. Postmen were a favored target. But the most desired of all, the one he dreamed of and snarled for every time he could, was the most dangerous: our neighbor the killer sheriff. This made sense to me because I knew Dennis for the warrior he was. He lived to count coup on the fiercest enemy of all, the one whose blood brought him the most honor. And aside from that seed in his nature, I did not doubt that Dennis recognized the evil in the man and felt compelled to do something about it.

One day Sarah Jane came across the street to play. She gave me a shove as part of some game and Dennis lunged at her. I don’t remember whether he bit her, but he may have. She went home to the jail house crying.

The sheriff never appeared to be in much of a hurry. He was a tall mirage coming out of the heat in our direction. My father, who was either home that day or had been called home, stood with me on our porch and watched him come. Dennis barked and pushed like mad inside the latched screen door behind us, and the sheriff’s bloodhounds answered in long moans from their pen behind the jail. I prayed that the latch would hold. Finally the sheriff made it past the top step and locked his pale, gray-blue eyes on my father. He had on his usual khakis and boots, a long-sleeved white shirt with a blue tie held down by a clasp, with his badge just off center on his chest and his Stetson on his head. If he was sweating, I didn’t notice it. It was the first time I consciously measured him against my father, and I was surprised that, allowing for the heels on his boots, he wasn’t much bigger. His thin build and long arms and the way he carried himself made him appear taller than he really was. His Colt leaned forward in its holster a few inches from his hand. He let his presence soak in before he talked.

“I’m ‘ona kill that dog,” he said. It was a flat statement of fact, delivered without emotion.

I knew my father was not a coward. He kept a silver-plated .38 Smith with custom grips the color of egg yolk beneath the counter at his store, and he knew how to use it. We had guns all over the house; they were regarded as ordinary tools. I had a couple of my own, an old .32 pistol and a confiscated Japanese military rifle I had been given as toys. But my father was unarmed now and up against the scariest human anybody in our part of Texas knew. If the sheriff ended this standoff by killing a man in cold blood in front of witnesses, it wouldn’t be the first time.

“Get off my porch and go back where you came from,” I heard my father say. I looked at him to be sure the voice had come from him and not out of the air. “Nobody is gonna kill my boy’s dog.”

There was a silence that lasted too long. In my memory, even the dogs have gone quiet. “Keep him up,” the sheriff said. “I see him out, I’ll shoot him.” He turned and walked back into the vapor as slowly as he’d come.

My father became my hero on that day, all his faults forgiven for all time.

• • •

It’s clear by now that Sheriff Ennis was an atavist who emerged from lacy surf into a time that would come to treat him as an alien. That happens. Think Bill Clinton. If he’d been President instead of, say, JFK, nobody would have known or much cared what he did with his wanger in the Oval Office. The sheriff belonged on the same High Noon set of time with Billy the Kid and the Earp brothers. But he found himself on planet Earth just when the citizens who voted in elections were starting to put TV sets in their living rooms and air conditioners in their windows. The people he protected, the Americans he was keeping American, were going middle class on him. As early as the midpoint in his first term, after killing number six, a coalition of prominent citizens brought an ouster suit to have the sheriff removed. But the suit died when the district attorney withdrew his participation for unspecified reasons, and the sheriff stayed on.

It took a more portentous shift to change his political fortunes. Mexican Americans learned how to organize and vote. They were fed up, it seems, with being shot, whipped, kicked, and beaten in the jail, in bars, in squad cars, in their own homes. The Anglo citizens who had already opposed him through three elections formed common cause with the Chicanos, led by a lawyer named John Barnhart, who stood for the area in the Texas House of Representatives, and who distinguished himself there by casting the lone vote against a Red Scare resolution that demanded the firing of a liberal economics professor at the University of Texas.

The sheriff lost his bid for a fifth term in a close vote. He spewed about “radicals” and “agitators,” suggested Barnhart was a Commie or, at best, a sympathizer. He ran in two subsequent elections, but couldn’t get his job back.

• • •

In the core of the earth, at a distance you could drive in a couple of days or fly in an afternoon, there is a soup of liquid iron and other ingredients, squalling up in angry storms, at the same temperature as the surface of the sun. Vail Ennis reached closer to that fire when he worked among the rigs that were everywhere outside of town, puncturing the land to bring up incendiary ooze created in the time of dinosaurs. During our drought, for eight years straight, heat licked up from the hell beneath us and broiled downward from a lid of sky. Everything we knew burned. My father’s business went to ashes when he realized the many families he had been carrying on credit would never pay him back. In the nights he sat alone at the desk with the bottle and hammered the keys of the adding machine until the numbers wore away. The one dream I ever knew he had was that he would make his own story in the world, without working on salary for another man. He woke from that dream into a sadness that would never leave him, a misery none of us could reach. It’s possible the sadness was always there inside him, had come with him from his time, beneath the surface like the fires of earth. He poured whiskey on it with the same dedication Shine applied to Thunderbird, doing all he could to drown.

The sheriff was not like my father, not like Shine. Maybe he had no misery to drown, or maybe he just wasn’t fooled into looking for the good time that was never really out there, at least not in the places those guys looked. He was a puritan who never smoked or touched a drink. But it turned out he was not an immortal after all. He died of prostate cancer. He was visited on his deathbed by the new sheriff of Kleberg County, a young man named Jim Scarborough, who described the scene to author Thad Sitton:

He couldn’t talk, he had to force a whisper. He pulled me right down into his face…and said, “Jim, I’m gonna give you the best advice you ever had in your whole life. I want you to remember it…don’t ever get caught without your gun. When you go after a man, you get him and you kill him…when you bring him in, bring him in dead.”

They say consistency is a virtue. Much of the rest of the world—me included—had by then given peace a chance, but not our sheriff. He was true to the time he came from. I’ve no doubt he felt justified in everything he’d done.

Two years later it was me at the hospital bedside, and my father in the bed. He had drunk and smoked himself into emphysema and heart disease and every kind of complication. His kidneys were the latest thing to fail him. I suspected that the sadness he carried was the real disease, because I watched him surrender to it long before. I had known the doctor all my life. It would be accurate to call him a hard man from the perspective of 2012, but the truth is, like the doc who performed the resurrection of the finger, he came from a time when delusions were not so easy to harbor. He said we should let my father go. If he lived, the argument went, he would do it wed to a dialysis machine, and he was already blowing into another contraption several times a day just to draw a breath. My older sister, my only sibling, was still en route from California. My mother said it was up to me. It had been thirteen years since the first time I stood at his side in a hospital room and watched a heart monitor blink while he told me I would be the man in the family. My father was not an old man by today’s standards—if he had lived another day, he would have been sixty-four. Watching him at that moment I couldn’t believe he had a life he wanted. I was the one who said to pull the plug.

I cannot inhabit that room without wondering if I was wrong. I stand and watch him buck and pitch from all the things that are killing him. I have seen people die, but I have not seen my father poisoned by his own body. He turns yellow. I don’t know if he can hear me. I live by words but I have no idea what words to use. I hear myself saying, “It’s okay, Daddy, it’s okay.” I know that is all wrong, but I don’t know what is right. I want to take it back and say something better, but he is trying to reply. I bend over him the way the young sheriff bent over the old one.

“The hell it is,” my father says.

• • •

There are at least two kinds of time. One moves along a road, where the scenery changes as the boy becomes the old boy, the Stone Age tribe is bewitched by the screens of electric devices, the people you are given to know rise up from a bloody womb and intrude upon the earth with a brief and necessary madness and disappear, no matter how well or how poorly you have loved them, into the mist of the underground rivers as Charon poles away on his ferry, and return as shades to stand at the edge of things and witness. The other kind of time, the kind we don’t admit but really know the best, exists all in a mash-up where everything that has ever happened (or ever will?) happens at once, and twinkling bits of it are visible, smell-and hearable, not quite untouchable, almost real. This story happens in the other kind of time.

In the telling of it, I wanted to give Shine a better name. Killers like the sheriff leave traces that are easy to follow. My father’s story lives in me. I have spent my life in some measure tending to his dream. But who will speak for Shine?

I had rarely traveled back to the town since my mother died and broke my last blood connection to the place. By Texas standards, the distance in miles is nothing—only one hundred forty of them—but the distance in time can be galactic. My sister lives in Europe now. She and I still own the house, and the modest acreage outside town my father bought for his father so he could put away the gold watch the railroad gave him and try out his dream of farming.

Some things have changed. The Navy base is gone, but its position as a major employer has been taken by a prison. A clutch of new chain hotels has risen up like chambered mushrooms at the edge of town, along the highway that runs eventually to Houston. It’s tough to get a room. The parking lots are full of pickups wearing the logos of oilfield service companies, courtesy of a shale-gas fracking boom that is the after-shock of the oil rush that brought Vail Ennis and my father. Residents of the town thirty miles away claim they’re feeling tremors as the earth shifts in the underworld explosions.

On the opposite shore of the highway from the hotel where I stayed, there is a row of tin mini-barns with letters painted on them that spell out T-E-X-A-S S-T-U-D. On the main street, among recovering shells of businesses once put to death by Walmart, there is an uprooted English pub called the Dog & Bee, a clean, well-lighted place that looks as much at home there as a minaret. The building the pub occupies was the pool hall my father and I visited. The jail house is an EMS station. The jail yard is gone, covered over by a transplanted historic home and another city building.

The African-American community is even smaller than it was in the sheriff’s heyday. I found some older people and asked them what they knew. Two days before Juneteenth I met Shine’s stepdaughter and his granddaughter at their church. I stopped calling him Shine.

His name is Emuel Davis. His friends and family call him Beeb. He was born the same year as my father. His father was named Ben and his mother was Lillie. He had a sister and five brothers, one of whom drowned at seventeen. Beeb loved a woman named Julia Pippens, married her, fathered a daughter. He kept coming back to Julia’s house, long after she threw him out, long after she remarried, long after the stepdaughter was born—twenty-one years after the daughter. Came back drunk and singing, and she drove him off, threw things at him, and he came back again. She told her daughter he was a good-hearted man with a beautiful voice, a dreamer who never knew the time, but the liquor rode him, ruled him like a god.

He kept coming even after he relocated to Alice, a town sixty miles closer to Mexico. No one seems to know the reason for the move. Whatever it was, he carried the god on his back. A retired Alice cop told me he arrested Emuel Davis so many times for public intoxication, he got tired of doing it and stopped. Daniel Bueno, the police chief, remembered him as a sweet old man who wandered the streets and never bothered anybody. He didn’t have to panhandle because he had Social Security and some Army pension money. That bought him a room at a place called The Traveler’s Hotel, which has disappeared.

One Monday morning construction workers found him inside the frame of an office in the back of a Presbyterian church that was being remodeled. He had been stabbed 157 times. His nose was cut off. His balls and his penis were missing.

Chief Bueno took me to the spot. It didn’t take long to get there because it’s just across an alley from the police station. The steps where the attack started aren’t there anymore. There’s a concrete ramp instead. I stared at it and the closed door it led to, and found nothing I could understand.

The Friday of the same week they found Beeb, the Alice cops arrested a nineteen-year-old local named Fernando Davila. Meanwhile the Medical Examiner opened Beeb’s throat and found the penis and the balls. Fernando used three knives from the packing plant where he worked as a butcher. In the newspaper pictures he is a short, skinny kid with sharp facial bones, a weak chin, and ears that stick out like a chimpanzee’s. He looks a bit like Pee-wee Herman. He wouldn’t talk to his lawyers and he kept giving everyone around him an idiotic smile. He set the mattress in his cell on fire. One of the lawyers, an old guy now who has known his share of bad actors, told me Fernando had the coldest eyes he has ever seen.

At the trial a couple of shrinks said Fernando was crazy and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He went to Rusk, the place where Texas keeps the criminally insane. By law, the shrinks there were compelled to release him after ninety days if they thought he wasn’t crazy any more. That’s what they thought and that’s what they did. Fernando went back to Alice, stole a truck and went to jail. He got out of jail and killed a Mexican national at a dance with a broken beer bottle. He went to prison on a ninety-nine year sentence. He’s coming up for parole.

Emuel’s obituary says he had four grandchildren besides the one I met, and four great-grandchildren. He also had another kind of progeny. At the same church service with the grandchild and the stepdaughter, I ran across a man named Jesse Robinson, who learned to play ball with Beeb when he was a child, just like I did, but he knew things I didn’t. The stories Beeb told me were true. He was a barnstorming semi-pro ballplayer. A pitcher. A catcher. A shortstop. Jesse said he was so good, he could play anything. He traveled all over the country playing ball, sometimes in exhibition games against major-league teams. Maybe he played against Satchel Paige. Maybe he pitched against him. His career ended when the Army pulled him into World War II, and when he came back from that hell he lived in the bottle. Jesse said Beeb was great with kids.

• • •

I returned to the place where I first met Beeb. The Anacua, the living tree and the ghost Indians, are still on the scene. The house across the street from the vanished jail yard is a neglected museum. The objects left inside it are needy and half-alive. It was an oven on bake that muggy summer afternoon, sealed shut, with air conditioners that gave up cooling years ago. But all the time was there. None of it had washed away. In our absence, all of us who lived within those walls were there. I stood on the porch where the sheriff came to kill my dog. I walked through the rooms and listened to their stories, made offerings to them of my muddy thoughts, and left them drenched in sweat.

I drove to the cemetery where my parents and my father’s parents are buried. There were watering restrictions in the graveyard because the drought has come back from its resting place beneath the floor of things to reestablish its dominion. The countryside is dust and burrs; it wears the colors of coyotes and owls. The gravestones are flat. They are there to show the dates to me and my sister, to my children and theirs, and after that they will likely show them to the sky and the underside of the brush.

The blanket of cloud that held the heat to the ground got heavier, darker. As can happen in that place, the heat withdrew all at once, the wind came on, and it started to rain in a serious way. I drove back to the hotel and went straight to the pool. I swam and floated on my back for half an hour, letting the drops pelt my face.


Kirk Wilson’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, selected for anthologies, and published in numerous literary journals and in a chapbook from Burning Deck press. His true crime classic Unsolved, an investigation into ten high profile murders, has been published in six editions in the US and UK.

His website is KirkWilsonBooks.com.


A Brief and Necessary Madness © 2016 Kirk Wilson

1 thought on “A Brief and Necessary Madness | Kirk Wilson”

  1. Well, written. Enjoyed it a great deal. Easy reading. The story was interesting, flowed well and was easy reading.

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