by Rebecca Beck

The trucker barrels down on the Harley,
on a father and his four-year-old son
out for a ride in the Indiana sun.

The pickup’s rusted muffler clatters a warning.
No white man should have a boy that color.

The cyclist wonders, What’s provoked this driver?

He can almost smell the pickup’s sunbaked paint.
He turns up the throttle. His breath clatters. Hold tight, son!

A quick mirror’s glance reveals the truck’s
t-shaped logo—that shining t, it’s all he can see—
it’s the cross in the road where the devil makes deals.

Any deal to bring my son home—limbs, eyes, alive.
A chanced driveway, an unlocked house, a phone.

He glances—fleeting as firefly light—for a turnoff,
once in a lifetime’s luck in a ribbon of blacktop.
Up ahead, the road’s hairpin, a familiar sharp bend.
He revs into the curve’s embrace.

Gravel, a loose spray of rain-slicked gray; its metallic shine blinds him.

Slow down, avoid a roll. Keep it steady.

The earth quakes. His head vibrates.
Spear-headed rocks and roots shatter
the tender spot beneath his heart
like Buddy Rich on cymbals circling
Stanley Clark’s vibes—
those sucked low, unearthly groans
battering his core.

He tries to catch his son, swings out his shattered arm,
but sees a wingless mourning dove ascend,
fall—shot?—into the ravine. Honey, honey, dew,
you’ll see this through,
he hears his mama coo.

Flashing red lights go blue, their siren’s whine of trumpets
squeal, sharp as brakes as Ella sings the blues,
belts scat so sweet she scrapes
gristle off his bones.

Buddy’s ta dum ta dum ta dum on his drums,
steady, iambic percussive…alive.
Sweet Jesus, what did that bartender slip into his drink?
He sinks, drifts, prays to stay there…only there.

He wills Ella to gaze up at him.
Why can’t she catch his blood-soaked breath in her ear?
She does, she does raise her head
but between her brows a furrow,
Where is your son?

A defibrillator’s shock. His eyes shoot open.

His son? Where is he?

For a moment before that curve, his son’s head
docked between his shoulder blades.
Now it’s drums and cymbals…and Ella’s voice…
one frail second, her lilting, honeyed voice before it falls
to a still, low, lonely note.

Dear God, sweet Jesus…no.

Rebecca Beck is a former marketing and product management director in the school division at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where she helped develop and launch K-8 literacy programs. Her short fiction was a finalist for the 2022 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (not placed) and the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. Her short stories appear in The Great Smokies Review, 34th Parallel Magazine, Glint Literary Journal, and the May 2023 issue of Grub Street Literary Magazine. She is also seeking an agent for her first novel.