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The Earth Will Swallow You by Daniel Wessler Riordan

Daniel Wessler Riordan lives, works and writes in Cleveland, OH. His fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and various other journals and Cleveland area bathroom walls. He is a graduate of the NEOMFA.

Bernie had hair, mostly. He had a waist- line. He had golf shirts and tennis shirts and linen shirts and button-down shirts worn with cufflinks made out of small things that used to mean something to him, but had become, ever more, only cufflinks. He had quite the collection of ties. He had a wife and she was pretty and she was thin and she insisted to others that she loved Bernie. Bernie's wife's name was Sara. Sara had a job and it was better than Bernie's in the sense that she liked it and she made more money than he did and the people that worked with her respected her and said nice things about her and she was going places. Sara was accomplished. She'd even allowed three of Bernie's progeny to spring from her womb. (Sara almost never had spare time, but when she did, Bernie was almost sure she used said time to fuck someone other than Bernie.) Together, Sara and Bernie lived in a neighborhood and they had neighbors and they had a house, and on that day—the day of the neighborhood cookout, the day the earth split and fissured and the hole opened in their back yard—the house was yellow and the shutters were brown and the yard was green and the sky was blue and the clouds were white and the road that led from one end of all of it to the other was as black and long as you can imagine.

The trees were tall and old. Birds fought over worms. Neighbors gathered in Sara and Bernie's back yard and rocked on their heels and scratched the backs of their heads and stuck their hands in their pockets and chomped on bunned, slathered meats and told atonal, banal stories. Bernie sat in a plastic lawn chair next to the grill, a pair of tongs hanging from his belt loop, at the ready. Bernie watched as Sara walked out the back door and down the steps with a pitcher of lemonade. The sun struck his eyes just so and for a moment he could barely see her. And that's when it happened: just as Sara's foot landed in the grass the earth cracked and a hole opened, so small that no one noticed it. If anyone had been listening close, they might have heard a faint sucking sound. Sadly, among them, a close listener could not be found.

A bee buzzed by Bernie's sightline, but Bernie didn't think to move. A dog barked at nothing and a Frisbee alighted upon the roof. Kids shouted things and other kids shouted back and to Bernie all of it was in some secret language, because it was all just noise, a record playing backward. Bernie reached into the cooler and grabbed another cold one. He seized a hotdog from the grill and ate it quickly. He was drunk on beer and sunshine and animal fat.

"Honey," Sara called to Bernie, stirring him as she made her way toward him, "Have you asked our guests if they need anything?" Bernie nodded his head, or shook it. Upon reaching him, Sara leaned in close and whispered, "Could you please be a bit more proactive here? Maybe curb the beer? Perhaps actually get out of that chair for a minute or two. People are watching." Behind them the hole in the earth grew, a swirling funnel, just large enough to drop a penny in.

Bernie said something appropriately appeasing and Sara walked away unsatisfied just as Jim made his way over, wanting to know if Bernie needed help tending the grill. "Sure thing," Bernie said, looking up at him. Jim, a high school guidance counselor, suffered from a bad comb-over, a thin, brittle mustache, and cheeks and nose that looked perpetually rubbed with red lipstick due to a vibrant case of Rosacea. Jim loved his wife, Millie, a rather tall and burly sort of a woman, but of late had begun to reserve his truest devotion for God the Father, the Holy Ghost, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was Jim's newest thing. He'd been reborn into Jesus just a few months prior after a brush with death on the operating table while having elective surgery on his deviated septum. It was a miscalculation by the anesthesiologist. He'd been legally dead for three full seconds. But the good Lord saves. Millie, an agnostic who did little more than tolerate Jim's new found Jesus thing, believed in her own holy triumvirate: assets, property, and mediums of monetary exchange. She wished she had Jim's blind faith, but Millie, a financial analyst, was currently having a rather rocky relationship with her personal deity. She thought so little of the market's strength that she'd recently squirreled away bags of silver coins in thick padlocked file cabinets in the basement. If it all comes crashing down, she'd said, it's important we have something of real value, though Jim wasn't totally sure what she'd meant by it. He'd thought that if the world came crashing down, some canned chicken soup, a sturdy Bible, and a rock solid faith would be more worthy stock than any slivers of metal. The good Lord, he'd taken to saying when conversations such as those arose, will provide.

Jim grabbed the tongs from Bernie and used them to make an ever so subtle sign of the cross over the grill. He muttered some sanctitudes under his breath. "The grill," Bernie said, trying to get somewhat into the spirit of things. "Man's most sacred place."

When Jim didn't respond Bernie thought to say "Jesus must be an awfully loud talker," but thought better of it and instead turned his attention to Chip, the neighborhood lothario, who had just walked out the back door, arm-in-arm with some gorgeous young woman none of them had ever seen before. Chip was single and drove a Porsche and owned and flaunted other such ostentatious articles thought to be catnip to the fairer sex and because of this, and because he'd never been seen with the same gal twice, many of the neighbors thought him quite the talented ladies man. Others, however, preferred to posit a different opinion entirely: Chip was more than likely some sort of Bundy-esque serial killer—Wouldn't that be exciting? After all, the only logical justification for a single man to own a large suburban home such as his was to afford him space enough to tuck away all the Dead Naked Female Bodies.

That day, Chip wore mauve and tan and a winning smile and the woman he was with wore something resembling a blouse and shorts. She—just another iteration of Chip arm candy/future dead body—was certainly something to behold: long and straight, curved and blooming. She was golden. She reflected light. Bernie stared at her striking face fleetingly and then his interest, as it was wont to do, eased downward. To her breasts. Oh, sweet bosoms. Jaunty, perfect mounds of flesh. And for a moment, Bernie was happy. "Good to see you, Chip!" Bernie shouted across the lawn. Chip pointed a rakish wink in Bernie's direction, touching his forefinger to his brow and giving Bernie an understated salute. Chip and his lady friend each propelled themselves from the steps of the house and onto the lawn with such perfect and graceful strides that they evaded the hole in the earth without care or notice.

"Hey, Jim," Bernie whispered. Jim was flipping a burger and saying something about the Lord's bounty. "Jimmy," Bernie said, louder now, pushing Jim lightly with the butt end of his beer can. "Look at that woman with Chip. She's something, isn't she?" Jim stirred from his blessing of the beef and cured meats and looked at Bernie and said, "I'm sorry. I know you have a wandering eye and a head for prurience, but some of us have a higher focus"—he put his hand on Bernie's shoulder—"I'll pray for you, and ask for Jesus to give you strength."


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