It was two-thirty and all the food and booze was gone and drunk and the two couples settled into the living room. As they did Harris turned on the TV with the remote. A basketball game filled the screen. A team in green jerseys was playing a team in yellow in a nearly empty arena.

My god, Bessie said, I thought it was later than that.

Later than what? Harris said. He was sitting in his recliner next to the couch where Bessie was cramped in with their friends Steve and Alice. Harris had the remote in his hand, extended like he would be changing the channel at any moment.

I mean, Bessie said drunkenly, later than a basketball game would be on.

That’s in Alaska, Steve said, leaning forward and squinting. It’s earlier there. Still late, but earlier.

Bessie seemed confused. She turned and looked across Steve to Alice. She wanted to see if she was confused too. Earlier? she said. You’re drunk, doll.

Everyone’s drunk, Harris said.

Speak for yourself, Alice chimed in. I’m not drunk. If we’re going to be honest, I didn’t get enough to drink. The two of you drank up most of the booze.

Honey, Steve said, you’re drunk.

Don’t bet on it, she said and crossed her legs.

That’s the nature of the beast, Bessie said and then stopped.

Harris waited for her to finish. She had a habit, when drunk, of starting to say something and then letting it drift off like a balloon. Experience had taught him it would’ve been better to just let it go and watch the game. He said, What is?

What is what?

What’s the nature of the beast?

Oh, Bessie said. I’m just saying that’s what happens when you get a couple of men together and the booze comes out.

What does that mean? Steve said.

Wait, Alice said, what time is it in Alaska?

Ten or eleven, Harris said and set down the remote.
Bessie laughed. Harris thinks he knows everything about Alaska. Just ask him. He’s a real expert on the subject.

Now hold on, Harris said. I’d like to hear what she has to say. What happens when you get men together, Bessie?

You know what I mean, she said. You get some booze out and you puff up your chests and you start taking shots to prove who’s biggest and baddest.

That’s right, Alice said. You just hit that right on the head. The men start competing and don’t leave hardly any behind. Not enough for anybody to get good and drunk on anyway.

Steve said, Alice, you’re plenty drunk. Just listen to yourself.
Alice got off the couch and walked a shaky line up and down the floor. When she finished she touched her nose with her finger and took a bow. Sober as a nun on Sunday, she said.

I tell you what, Harris said, you want some booze we’ll go get you some booze. No problem. Unless you just want a reason to sit there and complain.

That’s my Harris, Bessie said, a knight in shining armor.

Unamused, Harris stared back at her. Do y’all want something else to drink or not?

Hey, Steve said, I doubt anything’s open. And I’m in no shape to drive.

Now who’s drunk? Alice said.
Ted’s might be open still, Harris said. And I’m fine to drive. No problems.
Here comes Harris on his white steep, Bessie said.

Steed, Harris said.

What did I say? she asked her friends.

It’s fine, Steve said.

Well, Bessie said, whatever. All I’m saying is that Harris always wants to be the hero. He always wants to be the savior.

Bessie, he said.


They looked at each other, Harris’ face unchanging and Bessie staring back until her gaze fell to the floor.

Steve broke the silence. Let me grab my boots, he said.

What do you want to drink? Harris asked Alice.

I don’t care the least bit, she said.

Nah, Harris said. You name it and we’ll get it. Rum? Vodka? Shit, we’ll pick out some champagne if that’s what tickles your fancy.

Truth be told, she said, I don’t think this is so hot of an idea. Let’s call it a night. Let’s just pack it in.

Nonsense, Harris said. Steve, toss me my keys.

With them in hand the two men went outside. It was chilly, cold for that early in September, and the streets were empty save for a few scattered leaves. Harris pressed a button on his key ring and the garage door growled to life and started to lift. As they waited Harris took a deep breath and watched his exhale turn to steam.

Colder than a tit out here, he said.

You bet, Steve answered.

Stepping through a crowd of tools and shovels and rakes, they got into the Ford Harris and Bessie shared and he pulled out and maneuvered around Steve’s station wagon and into the road. Harris paused there as he put the car in drive.

Ted’s is this way? he said, unsure. Right?

Sure thing, Steve said. Say, he said, you really think this is a good idea?

It’s the only idea, Harris said and pressed the gas. We’ll never hear the end of it if we don’t go.

I guess that’s right, Steve said.

I know it, Harris said. There’s something in Bessie that makes her incapable of letting anything go. I tell you, she won’t let a single thing go ever. She’s like one of those, uh, what do you call those damn things? Those plants?


You know, he said, making his fingers into teeth, the one that eats things.

Steve said, I don’t think I know what the hell you’re talking about.
Harris’ face scrunched up like he was trying to wrench out the information. As it did the car drifted into a neighboring lane. Harris paid no attention until it reached the shoulder and the rumble strip shook the car.

Damn it, he said and corrected the wheel. What the hell are those things called? I can see ‘em like they were right here in front of me.

Sorry, Steve said. I’m not much on plants.

Me neither, Harris said. Not much on plants at all.

Ted’s Spirits was in a strip mall eight blocks away. On one end of the shopping center was a twenty-four hour Kroger’s and on the other a Radio Shack. Ted’s was in the middle and it was immediately clear that it was closed for the night. The lights were switched off and the windows were gated shut.

Well, son of a bitch, Harris shouted and punched his dashboard.

Thought that was a possibility, Steve said.

That’s a shame, Harris said. Never understood for the life of me why liquor stores weren’t open all night. Situation like this happens more than you like to think.

Too many unsavory characters, Steve said.

Shit, Harris said. Too many folks incapable of handling their own business and ruining it for the rest of us.

Yes sir, Steve said.

Tell you what, Harris said and nudged Steve, pick you out a rock and let’s bust in there. We’ll clean the place out and be gone before anyone’s the wiser.

Steve looked at his friend. He couldn’t tell if he was being serious. Yeah, he said. Right.

Yeah, yeah, Harris said. I could do it though, if I wanted. You don’t know this about me, he said, but I’m a man of means. If I wanted, if the idea struck me, I could go in there and take anything I wanted. No problem at all.

Sure you could, Steve said. But if you don’t mind, Jesse James, let’s just head on over to the Kroger’s and see what there is to see.

When he quit talking Steve flashed a smile at Harris and expected one in return. He was disappointed, though, as he could tell Harris didn’t like his joke one bit.
I swear to god, he said as he put the car in drive, ain’t nobody listens to one goddamn word I say anymore. He drove across the parking lot and into the closest spot to the store. As he opened his door he was saying, Everyone nowadays thinks they know everything.

The automatic doors whooshed open and let them in. The store was blindingly bright, cold and empty save for a single open register and the sound of someone running a buffer somewhere. Harris ambled in the direction of the liquor aisle, Steve close behind.

I was telling Bessie awhile back, he said, that I got half a notion to pack it all up and head for greener pastures. Say sayonara to all this bullshit and go and live off the land somewhere.

Live off the land, Steve repeated.

You got it, Harris said. They’d arrived at the liquor aisle, where there cases upon cases of beer stacked on the shelves, color-coded and sorted by brand. Harris grabbed some Miller Lites and said, I’d like to get away from this shit we call a life. I’m sick of having it easy. I want to get my hands dirty, work up some calluses, you know. Go to sleep at night, exhausted and proud.

Steve grabbed some beer for himself and said, Sounds good.

I figure it wouldn’t take much, Harris said, leading Steve over to the shelf with the wine. Near the bottom was a row of cheap champagnes, the bottles green and topped with golden foil. All I’d need, he said, grabbing one at random, is a few acres, my axe, and some good ol’ fashion know-how.

I reckon that’s about all it takes, Steve said.

The only register with its light on was No. 8. Underneath, looking just about as bored as anybody the two men had ever seen, was a thirty-something cashier. She was on the frumpy side, but her face was nice enough and her hair was done up in a red handkerchief with a lot of charm.

When Harris put the alcohol on the belt she whistled and said, Looks like somebody’s having a party.

You got it, Harris said. Don’t stop ‘til the sun comes up.

The cashier smiled at him and then at Steve. He returned it and then looked away. He stared off across the store, into space, and then finally focused on an end-cap twenty yards away. It was advertising a new cartoon movie for kids and there were monsters of all different colors and shapes and sizes on the cardboard cut-out. With no idea why, they reminded him of the plant Harris had been talking about in the car.

Steve remembered sitting in his seventh grade biology class and sitting in a dark room and watching a movie on a projector. It was about flora—he remembered that word—and all the different kinds of plants in the world. The shaky picture played on a white pull-down screen and he could see the plant on there, its triangle-shaped teeth wide open, like regular everyday leaves, until a fly landed and the trap sprung on it.

What was the name of it? he thought. It was right there.

Hey, Harris said, you up for it?

What’s that? he said.

Me and Kelly here, Harris said, holding up the champagne and gesturing at the cashier, we’re gonna head up to Alaska and live off the land. You in?

Steve looked from Harris to the cashier. He was half-serious while Kelly the cashier was only playing along. We should probably check with our wives first, Steve said.

Harris’ face soured. There you go, he said, pissing all over our parade.

He didn’t speak to Harris until they got back to the car. As he tossed the beer and champagne into the backseat he said, You’re not gonna believe this, but Bessie has ruined every goddamn dream I’ve ever had. Every last one.

Where would you go? Steve said.


If you were gonna live off the land?

It’s like I told her, he said, Alaska’s an option. Parts of it anyway. Canada too. Saskatchewan. Hell, maybe ever Siberia. I told her, same as I’m telling you right now, I’m dead-serious about this.

I know you are, Steve said. What’d she say?

What’d she say? Harris said. She said I was crazy. Steve, I’m not making this up at all. She laughed right in my face.

They drove back to the house, past a cop waiting in a roadside lot, in silence the whole way. Harris kept steady at the wheel, his face twisting as if he were in a constant conversation in his head, while Steve kept trying to remember the name of that plant. He could see it, that grainy killer, but just couldn’t catch the word.

At the house they pulled back into the garage and stumbled past the tools and junk again on their way inside. To their surprise, Bessie and Alice were three-quarters of the way into a bottle of Scoresby’s.

Looky here, Bessie said, shaking the bottle. We found a secret stash.

Harris stood in the door, holding the booze he’d bought. He looked pale to Steve, about ready to fall over or storm through the house. Where’d you get that? he said.

In the basement, Alice said, her words slurring. We went exploooooring.

She had drawn the last word out and when she finished both of the women burst into fits of hysterical laughter.

Why’s that so funny? Harris asked them.

It’s nothing, Bessie said. Anyway, it was in one of the boxes we never unpacked from the move.

No, Harris said, dropping the case of beer. It hit with a loud thud at his feet. I want to know why that’s so damn funny.

It’s nothing, Bessie said, clearly tickled.

Oh, Alice said, it’s no big deal. Is it, Bes? We were just sitting here, waiting and drinking and watching the basketball game.

Steve looked at the TV and saw a helicopter shot of some snow-covered mountains and a vast white desert of glaciers.

Honey, Bessie said, we were talking about that phase you went through awhile back.

Phase? he said. What phase?

Your mountain man phase, Alice said and burst out in laughter.

Bessie tried not to join her, but she couldn’t help it and started to giggle. I’m sorry, she said, they were showing the woods on TV and it just sort of came up.

Harris turned on his heels and walked back outside, the champagne bottle in tow. Steve went to follow him, but Bessie said it’d be best to give him a chance to cool off.

He gets like this, she said. He’s no better than a little boy when he gets in a huff.

In a few minutes Steve heard the garage open and saw Harris walk out carrying an axe. Steve and the women moved into the kitchen and watched out the window as Harris took a slug of the champagne, rolled up his sleeves, and swung the axe into the side of a walnut tree near the edge of their property. The sound was loud, even in the kitchen, and Bessie looked terrified.

Oh god, she said, he’s going to wake up the neighborhood.

Three swings later and a few of the houses lit up. Bessie ran outside and yelled at him from the carport, but he wouldn’t stop or even slow down. Within ten minutes all the surrounding houses were up and someone was yelling that they were about to call the cops.

Before that happened Alice grabbed Steve’s hand and tried to pull him away. Steve wanted to watch though. From where he was he could see everything: the sweat on Harris’ brow, the glint of the axe in motion, the sharp white glow of the tree’s wound. He wanted to watch until Harris was either drug away or the tree fell, but Alice was persistent.

When they got home Steve milled about the kitchen while she went upstairs to get ready for bed. He made a drink and leaned across their counter. The sink was nearby and he turned on the water and let it run. He watched it closely as it streamed down the drain. A little later he turned it off, threw back the last of his drink, and climbed the stairs.

Sitting on the bed, he untied his boots and slipped off his socks and pants. Next was his shirt and as that came over his head he was aware that it was soaked with sweat. He brought it to his face and inhaled the sour smell before balling it up and dropping it to the floor.

He couldn’t get to sleep right off because he kept expecting the phone to ring. It could be Harris, calling from the county jail and looking for bail money. Steve crunched the numbers in his head. They’d have enough, or at least close to enough, if the call came.

You awake? Alice said to him.

Yeah, he answered.

Some night, she said.

Some night, he said back.

I’ll tell you something about Harris, she said.

What? he said.

He waited for her to say something else, for her to have something to add to the subject, but she drifted into an easy sleep and left him alone to listen to her breathing.

After a while he settled in himself and pulled the covers up and tried to go under. But it wasn’t easy. Whenever he got close he’d get the feeling he was falling, like he did when he was younger. Each time he’d nearly jump out of the bed.
Only it wasn’t falling, he decided as he lay there, the morning sun starting to creep into the world. It was something else. More like there was a set of teeth somewhere, sharp and uncaring, and they were ready, at a moment’s notice, to spring shut.

# # #
Jared Yates Sexton is a born-and-bred Hoosier living and working in Georgia as an assistant professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern University. He serves as managing editor of the literary magazine BULL and his work has appeared in publications around the world. His first book, An End To All Things, is available at Atticus Books.