Nebraska Center for Writers


TY BONTE kept his eyes fixed on his hands folded in front of him, the knuckles white as he tried to control his rage at being treated like a kid. He had been doing a man's work on the family ranch since he was eight; his browned, battered hands were evidence of that fact. What he really needed was a beer and a couple of shots of tequila to sort this whole mess out. The pills Harney had slipped him in the men's room half an hour ago hadn't kicked up any dust. All the edges were still too damn sharp.
    The county prosecutor laid down the yellow pencil he had been using like a baton to conduct the litany of misdeeds and turned to look at the seventeen-year-old sitting at the table across the narrow aisle. "Your Honor, this boy has multiple arrests on his record, including driving without a license, underage drinking, malicious destruction of public property, and assault—I'm not even going to mention the other things he could be charged on."
    Ty's mother sighed and even without turning around to look at her sitting behind him on one of the wooden benches that lined the back of the small room, he knew she was shaking her head like a dog with a taste of poison bait in its mouth. Sitting as far from his mother as possible, Ryder Bonte, his father, leaned against the wall, tan cowboy hat dropped down over his eyes as if he were asleep, arms folded, with his faded black western shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow so the blurred tattoo of a woman's naked silhouette seemed to lie along his forearm like a sick lizard.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1999 by Jonis Agee
Viking Press


MARYLOU JACKSON, the other girl in the office who lives over Steadman's Drugstore down the street with her two pre-schoolers, has just left. After the first one, she moved from the country into town. Mike, her drunk husband, was gone so much it took him two weeks to find out where she lived. "Coming to get her back," he yelled at anyone who'd listen. She met him at the door, cool as ice, and told him, "Get your ass upstairs if you don't want to sleep in the street. "
    Some days I feel like calling the baby-sitter as I watch Marylou getting on her coat, changing her shoes. I want to alert her, "Put away those cigarettes, hide that candy bar." Marylou has her cross in life. That's what Mama would say: "We all got our crosses. You got to understand that, Honey. Don't be so hard on everyone."
    Well, if she were alive, she'd see who is being hard. I hope that Baby and Sonny Boy meet up with Mama someday. Just a glimpse on their way down. Like the elevator in Goldstein's Department Store in Des Moines we once got on because Mama couldn't stand escalators. We couldn't decide which floor we wanted, and then Tolson got off in toys and we kept trying to find him again. The next time we'd see him in Boys' Wear on another floor or standing in front of a bunch of sofas in Furniture on another one. We couldn't figure out where to get off, and the operator was snickering at us, burying her snotty nose in her handkerchief like we smelled. Finally Mama marched us off on the main floor and we walked up the others, eight floors, until we'd seen everything and found Tolson. I hope when Baby and Sonny Boy die, they get on the elevator, see glimpses of Mama up there, floating around tending sheep, and before they can call out to her, zip, they're on their way down.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1992 by Jonis Agee

by Jonis Agee

I DIDN'T MARRY nearly as many of them as I could have. That's what I tell people. Some I just lived with, others I passed on by. How do you know which to do? they ask.
    I come from a family of witches, women who see things. It was my dead sister, who continues to talk, who first called us that. It disturbed her, being able to predict things like who was on the phone before she picked it up, who would be senator or president, who would be doing her dirt next.
    My mother's magic was in her hands, her big beautiful fingers that could ease the pain up and out of my father's spine, and snap green beans one two three like that. Sometimes they flew at your face like angry birds and you ducked. It was a habit I kept for years. My mother's vision was long-term, the kind that saw the no-good of a person's life, that washed its hands of you too quickly. We all fled from her truth as fast as we could, hacking at the tendrils trailing us, like some widespread crabgrass across the geography.

Reprinted with permission
from A .38 Special and a Broken Heart
Copyright © 1998
by Jonis Agee
Coffeehouse Press

The Rock

Nebraska Center for Writers