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by Robert P. Bishop

The little boy, all of five years old, was on his knees in the shade of the cottonwood trees, playing with a block of wood, plowing channels and curves in the dirt. He made roaring engine sounds as he pushed the piece of wood back and forth in front of him. He imagined the piece of wood to be a gigantic bulldozer ripping up the earth, gouging out rivers, leveling mountains, crushing towns and cities, burying people.

In the trees shading him from the harsh August sun, summer insects thrummed their songs in the green canopy. Their noise, and his engine sounds, could not drown out the screaming within the house. As the screaming in the house increased in volume and intensity the little boy roared louder. He gouged at the earth with the block of wood, but he could still hear the screaming of his mother and father in the house.

The door opened and his father, followed immediately by his mother, came into the yard. They faced each other, with the boy still on his knees between them, and screamed things the boy could not understand. He looked up at them, saw their faces red with anger, their eyes wild.

He heard his mother say, “You son of a bitch, I ought to shoot you” and saw her pull the chrome pistol from her pocket and point it at his father.

The boy’s father bent over, snatched the boy from the dirt and held him under the arms so the boy hung down in front of the father’s body like a shield. The mother turned and walked away, the pistol still gripped in her fist. After his mother left, the boy’s father put him down and walked off.

The boy did not know where either of them went. Silently, he pushed the block of wood over the dry, crumbling dirt. The insects still sang in the trees.

The next day the County Sheriff came for the boy’s mother and transported her to the state mental hospital where she remained for the rest of her life.

Years later, when the boy had grown into a man, he asked his father why. The boy’s father said, “I knew she wouldn’t shoot you.”

Robert P. Bishop, a former soldier and teacher, holds a master’s degree in biology. He started writing following his return to the US after working in South and Central America, Africa, and the Middle East. His work has appeared in The Literary Hatchet and The Umbrella Factory Magazine. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.