The Writing Disorder


claire noonan

New Fiction


by Claire Noonan

       “You want to know what happened to Ethan? He’s lost.”
In the hospital room, muffled by the wadding that covered Ethan's entire head, those words came from Beth as she talked, saying 'he's lost' over and over. Ethan feebly wagged his head back and forth, thinking 'not so, not so.'
      “That’s all. Not a cruel dude, you know, from the Eagle's “Life in the Fast Lane.” Not a right wing nut. Just lost.”
      Who was his sister talking to this time? Ethan opened one eye, but the bandages practically blinded him, and it was impossible to tell anyway. She was on her iPhone.
      “Bye, Tom. Be home soon,” she sniffled.
      Beth leaned over, peering into the swath of gauze, long, dangly earrings ready to catch in the bandages.
       “You awake? How’re you feeling, Ethan?”
       “…not a loser, Beth. Just a losing streak,” he mumbled, jaw barely moving, tongue thick.
       “Wait’ll I tell Tom that one,” she said.
      A response she'd hoot over with her husband. Ethan pictured the man’s self-assured grin. Ethan hated that look and tried to frown, but it hurt the stitches on his forehead.
       “What time is it? Have to pee,” he groaned. “Need the nurse.”
       “I got here as fast as I could, you know. It's about 5 o'clock, so you've been here all afternoon,” Beth said, pushing the nurse's call button, fiddling with her earrings, preparing to wait.
      Beth didn’t appear to be in any hurry, brushing back her brown hair, smoothing her blouse, rearranging her necklace. He lay there feeling an overwhelming physical desire to go, but he wasn’t going to let his sister put a urinal around his dick, no way.
      She patted a finger against her cheek. “I don’t think they had to shave your gorgeous black hair to get to the cut on your forehead. But you do have a fat lip, you know.”
      Beth’s chair scraped on the floor and the hospital bed jostled as she blurted, “Jesus, it’s that bitch’s fault.”
      She meant Ethan's ex-wife. Actually, Ethan hadn’t signed any papers yet, but it satisfied his sense of gloom to refer to Lottie as ex-wife. Beth peeked at him under the bandages. Ethan sucked in breath, trying to ignore his bodily desires and stop the stimuli sparking his brain.
      Why did Beth hate Lottie all of a sudden? That bitch and ex-wife was Beth’s college roommate. Of course, Ethan didn’t know Lottie in those days because his sister, the clever, organized one, and Lottie were off doing Berkeley things. She who, since kindergarten, had always expected to get her way had settled on UC by middle school and never wavered. He was at home in rural Morgan Hill, a year younger in age but far younger than that in 'social graces,' as his mother had called them. His mother would say, “Oh, Ethan, you're just a late bloomer.”
       “I have to go too, ha-ha,” said Beth, “home I mean. Soon.”
      As if Ethan could crack a smile with a fat lip and stitches, but he did manage to croak, “No, wait for the nurse. Please.”
      Was Beth mad because Lottie had dragged her into their marital mess not long after his sister had said to thank God he'd straightened his sorry life out? He blinked to drive out those images. Then he thought it's not as if Beth had done everything right all her thirty-six years. Maybe so far, but there was lots of time left to screw up.
      For one, maybe it would have been better if Beth hadn't introduced him to Lottie all that time ago at their first house-warming. Beth and Tom, her stringbean bicycle-riding husband and lawyer for wealthy venture capitalists, were flying high when they bought the Atherton home. She’d done exactly what Dad told her the first time she went on a date—just as easy to love a rich man as a poor one. Dad said it was a joke, but Beth never laughed.
      Ethan had been minding his own business, walking around the manse, examining the garden designed by the best of the best landscape architects on the Peninsula, when Beth called him over and introduced Lottie. He took her hand to shake and looked up to see a woman, pretty even without make-up. Nice clothes, just tight enough, not skin tight. Smart and funny, not cranky or touchy, at least when they first were in passionate love. It was the proverbial love at first sight that evening. The love of his life, Ethan thought. Maybe he loved Lottie because she was kind like his mother, not so bossy like his sister who thought she was his mother all the time now that Mom was gone.
      Ethan was never an ebullient guy, so he appreciated Lottie’s way of going with the flow. He'd decided to take her to a baseball game on the first date when he finally got up the nerve after Beth badgered him for days. He was certain the action on the field could keep them going if he couldn’t think of anything more to talk about. Adding to Ethan's certainty that he'd been handed the right woman, Lottie knew a lot about baseball and kept up a steady rap on the Giants.
       “Did you know that the Giants are one of the oldest baseball teams in the country? I mean they started in New York in the 1880’s or something like that. So they got 17 pennants while in New York. But now only 3 pennants since they’ve been in SF. Maybe it’ll get better now that they’re in ATT Park. Nice place, isn’t it?” she offered. “How much you want to bet #25 will eventually admit he took steroids?”
      No matter how much he thought he loved her, it took nerve to finally ask her to marry. They found a tiny place in the Oakland hills and he spent long hours at a small Internet business, financial analyst for Cymbals, Inc. He was the guy who analyzed the charts to see how they were doing, saying go for it or hold back. Bruce, the CEO, was a sharp guy, really into making money, but thoughtful too, ready to listen to anyone’s story.
      That’s how his short, happy, he thought, married life had fallen apart. At a party held at Bruce’s house, Lottie told Bruce about her NGO that redesigned and distributed cooking stoves in third world countries so people wouldn’t die from inhaling carbon particles in the smoky haze of their hovels while cooking tortillas or injera. They sat on the long leather sofa, heads together, Lottie’s eyes glistening as Bruce questioned her. At least, that’s what Ethan, drinking merlot and thinking that he might try to grow wine grapes on his Oakland hillside, remembered as he sat across from them.
      Bruce had loved the idea and gave a lot of money to the NGO. He swept Lottie off her feet and she slept with him. Well, OK. Not Ethan's style, but it happens. As long as it un-happens.
      When Lottie told him about her affair, Ethan knew enough to insist on family counseling. They opted for acceptance therapy, the new thing according to his research on the Internet. It promoted a better understanding of the partner’s flaws and, Lord knows, he had flaws, but by now he knew Lottie had some too. Like she threw herself into everything, including Bruce, not only baseball.
      In the meantime, when not trapped at his computer in the office, Ethan spent a lot of time fixing up the tiny house built into the hill, oak trees all around. Also, being a solitary type he always loved animals and photographed the squirrels, rabbits, owls, deer that pissed Lottie off because they ate the flowers, raccoons he heard scrabbling around at night, and the Schnauzer mutt, Bunky.
      Late one night, a full moon shining over the house, the end came when Ethan took a quick trip to the market for milk and eggs. He should have known the raccoons would sneak down the hill, snooping for food scraps and water. Bunky’s food and water were up for grabs. Why the dog bowls were left out, no one owned up. The dog raised a racket, leaping and barking at the back door, and Lottie went downstairs to stop him. When she saw the raccoons, she opened the door to shoo them away, but the foolish dog ran out to attack the nasty beasts. The smallest yowled and clawed back. Meanwhile, Lottie got a broom to whack them, but instead, a gigantic raccoon with long vicious claws slapped it out of her hands and grabbed her arm. Just back, Ethan heard the screeching and grabbed his baseball bat. The raccoons scattered after he’d smacked one of them on the top of its masked head.
      Bunky had mostly danced out of the raccoons’ way, barking and howling, but only collecting surface scratches and patches of fur ripped off. Telling the awful story, Lottie was drenching the deck with blood from the gashes on her arm, so Ethan put both the dog and Lottie in the car and raced downhill to the Oakland Kaiser emergency. He was beside himself with guilt that he’d left his wife to the wild side of Oakland. The doctor said Lottie was filleted and stitched her up.
      Lottie cried all the way home and Ethan assumed it was because of the pain from the stitches. In the morning she said to go to work, and he called about every hour, but she only mumbled that she was all right. Still crying when he got home, she burst out that she couldn’t go on. She wasn't only swept off her feet one time. She was in love with Bruce.
       “I can’t help it. I've tried to stop myself. Didn’t you see something was wrong?” she apologized as she confessed the whole story.
      But Ethan had not seen any of it.
      He called Beth. Who else was he going to tell that Lottie was moving out? He rubbed his head, took deep breaths, and finally said, “What a joke. I saw love, but not out of love.”
      Ethan quit his job, of course. Some people might not, but how could he bring himself to keep helping his wife's lover? Lying in the hospital bed under the cool white sheets, Beth smoothing the blanket, Ethan assured himself that he wasn't completely off his rocker.
      The Kaiser Redwood City nurse came in waving the urinal and said, “Now, young man, it’ll take awhile. Morphine relaxes your muscles, so just let it go, don’t try to force it.”
      So embarrassing, Ethan thought, his sister did have to help because on top of everything, he’d dislocated his shoulder and peeing's a two-handed job for a man lying down.
      Beth held the container matter-of-factly, placed it in the tray, and waved, “Ta-ta, see you tomorrow.”

      Still, that’s not the only time Beth helped Ethan when he was groveling in the dumps after the separation. Lottie decamped to Bruce’s fabulous house overhanging the road up to Tilden Park in Berkeley. Ethan was left with no job and the mortgage ready to balloon on the tiny house. Looking at the options, his bank agreed to a short sale. All he could think of was hoarding the money he still had. He wasn’t Beth’s husband, Tom, a regular Midas when it came to collecting wealth.
      Ethan signed his house over and huddled in his tiny abode for a couple of days while he tried to compose himself before buyers and sellers interrupted his seclusion. He was lying on his bed, drinking a beer from the micro-brewery down the hill, and watching Michael Pollan talk about being a locavore, when Beth waltzed in. She put her hands on her hips.
       “What're you going to do with yourself?”
       “Michael has talked me into it. I’ve been thinking about living close to the earth.”
      To tell the truth Beth had pissed him off with her arrogant smirk, and the idea escaped from his mouth. Still, it sounded good, like he had a plan. She would never know he had no idea what he was talking about.
      His idea did throw Beth off guard and she stood there for a few moments staring at Michael Pollan on TV. Ethan finished off the beer and smacked his lips. By then, when she still hadn’t spoken, he suspected she, in her super-organized head, had a plan in mind.

      “You know that place we bought up in Los Altos Hills, thinking to fix it up and resell it?” asked Beth. “Well, the market is an ef-ing mess and we’re going to hold onto it. Do you want to sort of, like, house sit for us?”
      Why not? The more he listened to Michael Pollan, the better it sounded. The property was at least an acre. Grow vegetables and sell them at the farmer’s market in Los Altos or Mountain View. Maybe grow grapes. He could do 4-H stuff like he used to do in middle school when they lived in Morgan Hill. Raise, not rabbits. He couldn’t thump them on the head and skin them and sell them. Maybe chickens. He could sell the eggs at the farmer’s market. He didn’t think he’d mind twisting a chicken’s neck when it was too old to lay anymore. Taj Mahal's “Cake Walk Into Town” echoed in his brain. His mother used to sing “stealing chickens from the rich folk’s yard.” I'll get those chickens and cake walk into town, he hummed.
       “OK,” he said. “When can I move?”
       “Tomorrow. The place has some furniture. It just needs to be cleaned up. I’ll send my housekeeping service to help,” she said as if she’d already planned it out, knowing he’d say ‘yes.’
      It was that easy. Start over. Ethan had hardly realized how downhearted he was until he turned into a smiling maniac.
      In May, slightly late for planting vegetables in the coastal mountain area, as he found out from the trusty Sunset Gardening book, Ethan wrapped his iPod around his bicep, plugged in the earphones, and dug up the yard out behind the deck, planting zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and chilis. Easy to grow, easy to sell. Then he got to thinking about chickens again and looked up a bounty of information on the Internet. Next thing, he’d ordered and received a dozen puffs that in no time scrabbled for bugs around the huge yard. The packing slip indicated the chicks would eventually turn into the common Rhode Island Red and he counted out the days for the red feathers speckled with white to appear.
      Taking care of the house and garden was a full-time job. Ethan drove around in his mother's hand-me-down '86 Toyota stick-shift, piling bags of feed in his trunk and a bale of hay on the back seat. Then suddenly Henny, Penny, Chicken, and Little vanished into the toothy mouth of a coyote, fox, or raccoon. Who knew? He never saw the enemy, nor heard a single terrified cluck.
      Live and learn, he ordered a chicken coop from the loads to select on-line. Voila! An easy-to-clean plastic chicken house kept eight fowl pecking and peeping for months until they were full-grown layers: Peep, Peep-Peep, 3 Peeps, 4 Peeps, Cheep, 2 Cheeps, 3 Cheeps, and Chanticleer, the rooster. After the four hens disappeared he stopped worrying which was which, except Chanticleer and 3 Peeps with the slightly unhinged wing feather that identified her.
      Then Ethan got to thinking about an animal that could be a friend before it became dinner. Talk to it and scratch it behind the ears. Bunky was off with Lottie. Not another dog anyway, he’d never eat his dog although he’d heard the meat was tasty. But a pig or a cow. Plenty of space. Even when he let the chickens out to scratch in the yard surrounded by chicken wire while he cleaned the roost, there was plenty of room. He bought a three-month-old Hampshire pig because it was too much trouble to milk a cow and pasteurize the white frothy stuff that he remembered from the county fair. He was no dairy farmer.
      He knew luck was on his side. His sister kept the electricity going, plenty for his laptop and iPod. He had a grill with a propane tank. The self-serve laundry was only a fifteen minute drive away, right next to the micro-brewery and Peet’s Coffee. All he had to do was watch his farm flourish.
      Still, he was uneasy. Hardly another person in those hills was visible. Everyone lived on one-acre parcels in mansions set way back behind trees and shrubs. Once in awhile, Ethan would have to go after wandering 3 Peeps, who liked to fly over the chicken wire, and he’d nod to a girl in her fancy jodhpurs, exercising her horse along the public path.

      Two weeks after he moved in, his neighbor, Mac, a burly guy with Popeye muscles and a scar on his lip, showed up. His old house was close to Beth’s property line, though hidden behind tall bushes. Mac bragged about his millions made at Intel like many of the high-rollers behind the hedges up and down the road into the hills. He and his buddies bought their houses around the same time when bonuses fell from cyberspace. And then Mac said he'd joined a biker club and invested.
      Ethan countered the boast. “I was in the East Bay as financial analyst for a small Internet business, Cymbals, Inc. Heard of them?” He said no more about the start-up because, still angry, he wasn't going to provide Bruce with any capital investors. “Now I do suburban homesteading.”
      Mac asked for a card and introduced his black lab, Biff, burly like his master, that was panting and sniffing around the chicken roost fence. Pig waddled up for a scratch and Biff rolled out a deep growl, but Pig snorted and Mac pulled on the retriever's leash. The dog’s hair line along his back stood straight up. Biff snapped at the black and white porker.
      Mac and Ethan entered the house through the sliding glass patio door. Ethan searched for an old business card and realized he needed one for his new profession. Mac roamed around the four musty bedrooms, three cracked-tile baths, and living-dining-multi-purpose rooms covered with peeling paint and water-stained ceilings. He examined the refrigerator and stove even though anyone could see how cruddy the kitchen was. Maybe he had heard that Beth wanted to sell.
      Three days went by before Mac came a second time. He hadn’t come by to be inquisitive, but to complain about the chickens that squabbled, Cheep-Cheep that crowed at 5 a.m, and Pig that patrolled along their fence to snort at the hefty black lab, making Biff go wild with a loud, hysteric bark. Pig was smart and certainly did it to annoy the dog. Pig probably snorted to annoy Mac, too.
      Once a week Beth drove over from her Atherton estate to shoot the breeze. She reported on Lottie although Ethan had told her in no uncertain terms that he was over the woman and not to bring her up. One day Beth came when he was trudging up the gravel drive with Pig, a collar and leash around his white neck so they could walk and Pig wouldn’t get between the horse’s legs if the woman rode by. Pig and Ethan had gotten friendly with the blond pony-tailed horsewoman who wasn’t as young as Ethan thought at first but was still kind of cute. She’d stop for a few minutes and let the horse graze on the grass in the ditch while Pig wallowed a bit in the ditch’s mud. Her name was Susan and she lived up the hill where her family had a horse stable so she knew every local thing going on. She told who was mad about trees closing off their view and about horse pies on the public path, for instance.
      Beth laughed her head off at Pig on the leash, but the young snorter just waddled in his piggy way up the slope where he’d established himself. She liked the chickens, especially Cheep, whom she distinguished because of her bright brown eye with the yellow speck and her odd comb, almost serrated. She threw out a handful of feed and that’s when she said she was worried and hoped that Ethan would find a real job soon. She stepped away when her brother squinted and balled up his fists.
       “I have a real job,” Ethan said. “I’m doing fine with my eggs, and the vegetables will be ready for the farmer’s market pretty soon. I’m going down to the city council office to get a farmer’s market seller’s permit next week.”
      Ethan unfolded his fists and rubbed his temples with his thumbs. Beth looked at him, disbelief in the way she tilted her head and arched one eyebrow.
       “So leave me alone, I’m being an adult. And I’ve been fixing up your drafty, rotting house until you get your know-it-all husband to look at his investments and agree it’s time to renovate the place and sell it for a pile. A farm right here in suburbia. Who would guess?” Ethan was yelling, worked up by the ‘real job’ remark.
      Tom probably told her to ask. Then Ethan shut up as the lightbulb went on in his head because, of course, he had about three years before Tom would do anything considering the mess the economy was in. By then, he’d have a thriving homestead going for himself. That would show Tom.
      Beth threw up her hands and said she was going to her ‘real job’—she was the owner of a bar and brasserie in Palo Alto. She hollered her parting taunt, “I'm sending Lottie out to talk sense into you.”
      Then she tossed out that Lottie had broken up with Bruce. He’d helped another woman at another NGO. Beth told her to get over it. That was the Berkeley way of things. Ethan didn’t think that was so, but he didn’t want to be caught again so didn’t say one thing. Beth went on that Lottie had asked about him, wondering if he was still angry. What was she talking about? He completed his therapy and accepted what had happened. If she thought Bruce was better than he was, then so be it. Now she’d have to fend for herself. He wasn’t going to be trapped by love again.
       “You’d better not tell Lottie to come over here,” he shouted at Beth as she walked to her car at the bottom of the row of snap peas he'd planted.
      That night Ethan lay out on the deck and Pig trotted over to place his snout on Ethan's stomach. Pig was almost like a dog, so amiable and loyal. It was a dark, clear night with only a sliver of moon so Ethan raised his binoculars to the Big Dipper. He’d heard on NPR about the star Alcor above the middle star Mizar on the Big Dipper’s handle, called the rider on the horse, another name for the old constellation. Beautiful. Pig snuffled to be scratched behind his ears, the chickens settled down to roost for the night, and the deer and rabbits couldn’t munch on his ticket to riches because of chicken wire around the vegetable garden. As he gazed at the Heavens, he contemplated how to keep the pocket gophers from eating the roots of his tubers without using poison. He sighed at how knowledgeable he had become. He put down the binoculars and stretched his legs. All was peaceful in the world.
      Then scar-lipped Mac flipped on every one of the outside lights surrounding his house to blast leaves off his roof with his mammoth blower. Ethan thought the low rumble was the start of the Big One until the steady whine set off the rooster’s screeching, the hens’ clucking in chorus, and Pig streaking to the fence, snorting as loud as he could which turned the labrador into a frenzied barking dog, louder than the machine.
       “You miserable wretch,” yelled Ethan, “A pox on you and that nasty little beast.”
      Only later, ranting at the top of his voice, did Mac defend himself, insisting that he was fed up with leaves clogging his drainpipe so that water, overflowing from the gutters, made an obnoxious drip-drip-drip outside his TV room, interrupting the Giants' baseball game. What was more goofy, the guy blowing leaves at eleven at night when it hadn't rained for three months or the menagerie answering the racket? The scar gave Mac a crazed look, and he threatened to send for the sheriff. A quirky smile illuminated Ethan's face as he riffed the reggae song “I shot the sheriff but I didn't shoot no deputy.” But then the feeling arose that Eden was doomed.
      Each man retreated to his redoubt, Mac to watch ESPN and Ethan to contemplate his desire to retain Paradise. He had been thinking of setting up a picnic table at the driveway near the street with a sign to take some fresh eggs, 50¢ each, put the money in the box, honor system. All night he worried the hens were too excited to lay, but he could have slept as they had already put down seven lovely eggs. Early next morning he saw how silly it was to only have seven eggs and spent the morning on the Internet using his credit card to buy another dozen puffs. Of course, it would be another three months before much more than $3.50 a day would be the reward. According to his father’s aphorism he needed a rich woman, but all he had was a rich sister who had already done her duty. He wandered around that day unable to concentrate, not even to pull weeds.
      Two days later the FedEx truck came up the drive, setting off clucks and crows and squeals, animals carrying on in their farmyard way as the guy dumped the box on the deck. Twelve yellow powder puffs hopped around, pooping and peeping, while Ethan carried them over to the chicken pen. They weren’t so little that they needed a mother hen, lucky for Ethan because 3 Peeps was not a friendly lady. She clucked and pecked and chased the ones lacking nerve. Then Pig, fresh from a mud wallow, came over to survey the scene and snorted that he wanted to go for a walk. Ethan got the leash for his collar and bent to hook it when all hell broke loose. The lone rooster decided to guard the newbies, crowing and flying spurs at 3 Peeps, who managed to flap her wings and cling to the top of the five foot high fence and then disappear, shrill clucks coming from the neighbor’s yard.
      Next thing, growls and thumping paws and a screech. Ethan grabbed the ladder and climbed the fence to see the retriever’s mouth open, drool and fangs just reaching the hen’s neck. He hollered, “Get away you filthy brute,” jumped down, kicked the dog, and wrestled the chicken from the animal’s jaws. With the bird under his arm like a football, he ran like a defensive end to hop back over the low part of the fence. The hen was squawking, so little did Ethan know that Pig, loyal as always, had been snorting and squealing to infuriate Biff, goading the dog to pursue Ethan to the low fence and take a running leap.
      Once on Beth’s property Ethan dropped the hen who limped to the pen, all the others scratching and clucking, ignoring her, except the yellow puff balls that scurried behind their new protector. Just then, a piercing squeal and Pig took off, the labrador closing in. All was a blur before his eyes, but Ethan tried to grab the leash, thinking to catch the pig and kick the bejeezus out of that crazy dog. Instead, his ankle tangled in the leash and he slipped into Pig’s muddy wallow as the animal raced down the slope. Ethan fell back, dragged by the leash through the field of muck with its rocks and roots and sharp stinging weeds. Besides the gash on his forehead and the large cut on his lip, that’s when he dislocated his shoulder as he turned to grab onto something.
      But, of all things, he was saved by Susan, Princess Valiant on her horse. She heard the vicious barking cur and turned onto the driveway just as the leash broke and Ethan came to a halt. Pig hid behind the horse and the woman used her crop to beat back the dog. Roaring around the corner on his motorcycle, Mac separated the dog and the woman, shouting at her, waving his fist, as the dog growled and backed up.

      Ethan's lip split more when he yelled, “Kick that disgusting beast!”
      Susan, the brave, pointed the crop to Biff and commanded, “Shut up, Biff! And you too, Mac. Ethan's hurt.”
      That’s when she called 9-1-1, got off her horse, and comforted Ethan, saying you poor man, as he lay sprawled on the ground with Pig at his side until the paramedics arrived.

      A voice said, “He’s been sleeping a lot.”
      Ethan recognized Beth. She leaned over and pulled up the bandage.
       “You've been out of it from noon yesterday until now, Ethan. It's 2 o'clock. The doctor said your handsome face will be OK. Probably no scars. It’ll be awhile before your shoulder heals enough for physical therapy so it doesn’t stiffen up. That’s the other painful part, I think.”
       “Stop telling me that stuff,” he mumbled.
       “What? What, Ethan?” she said. “My God. The doctor said you should stay one more night. They think you had a concussion when you fell, but they’re disconnecting the morphine button.”
      She cried. Ethan heard the sniffing and Kleenex rubbing the tears off her face. He put his hand out to take hers and pat it, but he couldn’t see and was waving his hand around in the air so he dropped it back which made her cry some more.
      “Lottie and Tom are here with me,” she murmured. “We’ve been taking care of Pig and the chickens, Ethan. Lottie's made sure the vegetables get watered. The horse woman came by to ask about you.”
      Why was she saying this? He waved his hand again and she could see his lips saying “no, no, no.”
      In a voice more like her assured self, Beth said, “Oh Ethan, that's the good news before I tell you the bad. You know that crazy chicken with the loose wing feather you call 3 Peeps? She was ostracized from the coop, and Cheep has taken over as head hen. So this morning 3 Peeps flew up onto the top of the fence again. Pig ran up and began to snort which made that mad dog leap up against the other side of the fence, until the shaking made the hen fall onto the other side. 3 Peeps squawked and then there was silence. After awhile, I heard that man next door, hooting and swearing, and the chicken came flying back over the fence, neck half bitten off and blood leaking down onto the ground by my feet.
       “Just then tail feathers were tossed over the fence and floated down. Mac yelled, ‘Those other chickens’ll be sorry too. And that pig better stay out of the way because Biff learned how to jump this fence, right Biff?’”
      Ethan slurred, “Pig is too smart to let that idiot dog get the better of him.”
      Tom and Lottie and Beth laughed, but Ethan thought of Michael Pollan’s words about preserving “the quality of wildness.”
      Tom interrupted, “Cheer up, buddy. You’ll feel better soon.”
      That rich guy. Beth probably made him come and say something nice. Lottie sat down on the bed next to him. He took deep breaths to force his brain to settle down.
      She said, “Maybe we can go to a ball game when you feel better, Ethan. I’m renting a place in the Oakland hills and working for the west coast Doctors Without Borders, setting up teams to go to Central America. It’s so important.”
      Ethan nodded slightly, and said, “Not now, Lottie. Not now. I like being over here in these hills. Remember the best line of that R.E.M. song 'It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine?' That’s me.”
      Waving them off with his hand that still worked, they left as the nurse came in to look at the bandages and massage his shoulder. Ethan lay there in the half dark, thinking Pig loves that horse. Maybe he should see if he can work at Susan’s family stable while he preserves the wildness around the homestead. He liked living close to the earth.

Claire Noonan (aka C.J. Noonan) graduated with a BA in Humanities from the University of California at Berkeley and received her MA in Curriculum and Instruction at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. She taught elementary school and continues as a teacher-consultant for the Bay Area Writing Project. A short story and other short works have appeared in the online magazine Digital Paper. Currently, “What Lovers Are Supposed To Do,” can be read in Issue 12, Spring 2011. She writes nonfiction posts on education issues to her blog at Information about her novel The House on Harrigan’s Hill by C. J. Noonan (Sea Hill Press, April 2011) is found at Ms. Noonan lives with her husband in Los Altos, California. She has two grown daughters.

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