B.J. Hollars


My father peered out the window toward the cemetery and saw a man approach. 

The man hollered: “Anything you can do about that fence?”

The rain had been falling for hours, pulling the worms from the dirt and flooding the ground, making it hard for my grave-digging father to dig. He’d taken shelter inside the work shed alongside the rest, staring out as the unoccupied plots filled with rain.

“The fence?” one of the gravediggers asked.  “What’s wrong with the fence?”

The man turned his cellphone toward them, showed them a recently snapped photograph of a fawn impaled on its spikes.

She resembled a creature from a carousel ride, affixed to a pole and unmoving.  But she also resembled a doe, and prior to her miscalculated leap, was just weeks away from becoming one.

My father and the others—no strangers to death—followed the man to that section of cemetery.  She was still warm, her fur coated in sweat, imperfectly preserved in the air.

“Eventually we pulled her off,” my father tells me later that night.  “She was just a fawn.  Still had her spots.”

I’d called home to wish my parents a happy 36th wedding anniversary, though when my father gets on the line, this is the only story he cares to tell.  There is a passing mention of the Italian restaurant they’ve just returned home from, but he immediately steers us back to the fawn.

I play the part of the good son and listen closely.

“Was she trying to get in or out?” I ask.

“Out,” he says.  “She was definitely trying to find a way out.”

Thirty-six years prior my parents took their wedding vows in the backyard of the home where they now live. It was my grandparents’ house then—my mother’s parents—and they were happy to host the wedding. 

What choice did they have? Risk my father’s family taking to their pitchforks to clear cow pies for the reverend? The country was quaint, sure, but what would their bridge club think?    

I, like my mother, grew up in that house, dedicating much of my adolescence to lighting bottle rockets on the exact land where my father once shook in his suit. 

He was 23 when they married, and though he’d successfully farmed hundreds of acres for years, he knew nothing of his new city landscape.

Why, he wondered, is everything here measured in lots?  Why is nothing measured in acres?

As guests took their seats in the foldout chairs my father retreated to the bathroom.  He steadied himself against the sink, stared hard into the gold-framed mirror.

After a moment he was interrupted by a light knock—a sound no louder than the husking of corn.  He gathered himself, straightened his suit, then reached forward for the knob.

My grandmother—his soon-to-be-mother-in-law—stood before him, dazzling in her diamonds and her aqua-colored dress.

“Don’t worry so much,” she advised, patting that farm boy’s shoulder. “You can always get divorced.”

This was her idea of mercy.

“Still had her spots,” my father tells me as he leans against the bathroom door.  “Still had every last one of’em.”