idol prize fight | finale sudden-death write-off | 800 words
"Ain't nothin' here for us Kyle, you know that. There never was."
My throat's as dry as these badlands we been farming ever since our Grandpa's grandpa homesteaded here. That was the beginning of it all, a dream as hopeless as any man ever had. The land's no good—any fool would know it.
Unless the fool's as stubborn as every other Benson's been living here all these years.
Kyle can't see it, or maybe don't want to. Wishing ain't gonna make it rain, or make the dirt any better'n the dust and rocks we been bleeding into since this whole crazy thing began.
But my girl Jenny knows. Five years of waitressing at the town café, and she's no closer to getting out than any of us.
Sometimes we park out under the stars at the edge of town, and talk about the things that keep us here. That list keeps getting smaller.
"I know Mama would hate me leaving, but that's not enough of a reason to stay," Jenny says. "I've been staying, and I keep on waiting, but nothing's ever gonna change."
"I know the feelin'," I say. If I'm gonna take extra work just to keep food on the table, there's a hell of a lot of places I'd rather be.
Kyle acts like drinking'll change something, but we lost that battle before we were ever born.
"We could leave tomorrow, Kyle," I tell him. I've said it a hundred times over, but he never listens.
"This land's our legacy, Ray," he says. "The bones of our family goin' generations back are buried here."
"I know that!" Damn him, why can't he ever try to let that go? "But dyin' here with them ain't gonna help anything."
"At least I know who I am…"
I sit with Jenny in the shade out back of her parent's barn, staring off into the weeds and holding her hand.
"What are we still doing here?" she asks.
"Hell if I know. It'd be a big step, though, movin' on."
"I know." She breathes out a sigh, and pokes the dirt next to her feet with a stick. "But I can waitress anywhere, and we'd share rent and expenses. I think we should take our chances while we can."
We both know it'd be easier to live together away from here. There'd be no one to complain about wasted money, and no one to judge our morals.
"You ever think this could've been more?" she asks.
"Yeah," I say. Hell, I was raised to believe it all along. "I used to. But not for a long, long time."
I think this town is poison, or that what it does to you might as well be. Our Mama died of cancer here, and working this land and all the rest of it was what killed our Daddy before his time.
I look at Jenny then, and brush the side of her face with my hand. "If you really mean it, if you're really willin' to leave, I'm ready," I say, "I can have my things packed in a couple of hours."
"Really?" I've never seen her so excited.
"You bet. Doin' this together'll be an adventure, and I can't think of anything I'd like more."
I go home and gather up some clothes and food and my radio and pack it all in the truck. Kyle just watches.
"I can't believe you're runnin' out on the farm," he says. "What the hell are you thinkin'?"
"I'm thinkin' this ain't my battle to fight anymore. And it don't have to be yours, either."
"What am I supposed to do?" he says. "There's the house and all this property. It's all we own."
"Sell it," I tell him. "Or pack up the furniture and just move on."
"Ray…" he says.
"You decide to do it, we'll keep a space on the floor for you if you need it, wherever we end up."
Kyle's already hitting the liquor by the time I leave.
I pick Jenny up at her house and put her things in the truck bed while she and her Mama say their goodbyes. Her Mama looks half-broken, but I know that'll be Jenny someday if we don’t get away from this place and what it does to you.
Then we're gone and there's no looking back.
We got the windows down, wind blowing in our hair as we drive out of town on the lone road that leads to everything else.
I turn, and there's Jenny, her eyes bright with tears but underneath her smile is as big as the sky. The highway lies just a few hours further on, open road and open possibilities.
The whole rest of our lives is stretching out before us.
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