Her girls are chasing a goat around a petting zoo when Pearl recalls Stan and Ollie standing stiff-legged in the listing, oil-stained garage of her childhood, a stoic pair trotted out only when Hank decided to build something that required support. Otherwise, they were Pearl’s: more than pets, more than friends. Companions. She sneaked them lumps of sugar and the rare carrot, and when Hank was gone or unconscious, she climbed atop first Ollie, then Stan, and galloped through fields of wheat or woolly jungles or along distant shorelines with pounding surf. She gifted them heads, manes, tails. Saddles. Perfectly swayed backs. Ollie was a piebald; Stan was jet black with a star-shaped blaze between his soft eyes. Then one afternoon Hank caught Pearl astride Stan, cantering round a course, jumping box hedges and water hazards. He ordered her down, but she refused. He rummaged in shelves and cubbies, found his felling hatchet, and as she watched, paralyzed, her father hacked Ollie to sticks. Get down, he growled, but she wouldn’t. She clung to Stan’s wooden spine, limbs wrapped tight, shielding him. Eventually, Hank shrugged. Stupid kid, he laughed. It’s a goddamned two-by-four. Once he’d jumped into his pickup and peeled out of the drive, calling up a funnel of dust, Pearl climbed down. Gathered the remains of Ollie, hauled them outside, dropped them in the patchy grass. She attempted to reassemble Ollie, but his pieces wouldn’t fit. The parts no longer made a whole. So she rose. Reentered the garage. Grasped her father’s hatchet and stood over Stan. Hold still, boy, she said, tears leaking, hefting the blade above her head. This is going to hurt me more than it does you. She carried the remains of Stan outside, mixed them with the splintered pieces that had once been Ollie, and went to work. The wood seemed to know what Pearl wanted before she did, to come together of its own free will. Two hours later, she stepped back. Though it was secured with neither nails nor glue, screws nor twine, her new creature was solid. Sturdy. Enormous. Rearing up on hind legs. Slashing at the pinking sky. Roaring, teeth agleam in slanted light. Pearl circled her creation, stroked its flanks, and a thrill raced through her. She clambered up and settled in the crook of its shoulder, facing the drive, where Hank’s truck would eventually reappear. Whatever happened—if her father backhanded her or choked her unconscious or set fire to what she’d made—she knew she’d be OK. Hank could build things, and smash them, but he didn’t have Pearl’s gifts. I can make things live, she whispered as darkness cloaked the scene, as streetlamps flickered on, as headlights swept the mangy yard, as her Companion breathed evenly, lovingly, beneath her. I can make things live.
Jen Fawkes's debut story collection, MANNEQUIN AND WIFE, is forthcoming in 2020 from LSU Press. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in One Story, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2019 Pinch Award in Fiction and the 2019 John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize from Harpur Palate; her stories have also won prizes from Salamander, Washington Square, and others. She is an Assistant Professor of English at West Liberty University in northern West Virginia. Find her on Twitter at @fawkesontherun.