Adelaide Literary Magazine

ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  








by Connor Bowen




Sophia watched through her apartment window as smoke billowed out the tops of the pine trees a mile away on the far side of the channel. At first, wisps of it curled around the upper branches like phantom fingers grabbing hold and then it raged and blackened the sky. She kept her hands still on her father's ukulele as she watched the cloud swallow the blue spring air. Droplets of sweat formed on the rosewood bridge and the nylon strings. Sophia didn't know anybody across the water on Douglas Island except for Mrs. Moss, whose leaves Sophia used to rake when she was in middle school, but Mrs. Moss always vacationed in May.

Sophia brushed the strings to hear two quick D minor chords and followed them with a drawn-out G minor. She kept this rhythm watching two fire trucks speed over the bridge from downtown to the island. Her hedgehog, Shadow, climbed from the spot between her crossed legs onto her calf and glanced up at her, then lost his grip and fell between her legs again. She dropped her instrument onto the bed as if it had deceived her once she recognized her strumming to be the first two measures of funeral Taps.

Sophia twisted her Claddagh ring around her finger, not thinking to do anything except watch the smoke until her apartment door opened and Brennan’s work boots thudded across the floor as he came into their room. His white t-shirt and blue jeans were riddled with old grease stains accompanied by some new ones. There were few enough still that she could tell which marks were fresh. When she lost track was when she’d buy him a pack of new ones. "Hey Sophe," he said and kissed her with his tongue and his warmth.

"You look like a Dalmatian," she said and wiped a smudge off his skin with her thumb, adding it to his shirt's collection. He yelped like a hound and tossed his shirt at the hamper in their closet. She was relieved that Brennan's contempt for his boss hadn’t come home with him to congest their apartment like it had been doing over the past week. She lay in their bed as he took off his jeans and joined her. She played gingerly with the hairs on his chest like they were seedlings in her garden. "Did you get out of the shop?"

"I did," Brennan said. "There's this beater Oldsmobile on Douglas that some old fart refuses to--"

Sophia pushed her palm into his chest and sat up. "You were on Douglas? Are you okay?" she asked, then shook her head. "Brennan, there’s a fire."

"I know," he said, "I saw it."

"Look," she pointed.

"I tried blowing on it." She gave him a look and he flattened his smirk. "It's the apartments off Cordova Street. They have the road closed off on the highway.”

"Is anybody hurt?" Sophia asked.

"I don't know. It was a pretty small fire. I doubt it. Are you okay?" he asked her.

"I'm okay." She kissed him in compassion for all those possessions burned, the lives dismayed, or worse.

Brennan set Shadow in his cage. He unclothed Sophia then himself, and she tangled her legs around him. They rocked rhythmically on their bed as the ukulele case shuffled to the side of the mattress and fell onto the floor.

Sophia found nothing sweeter than the slight smell of motor oil mingling with the scents of their skin. They didn't drift asleep as they’d often done. Brennan ran his hand along her soft waist and said, "Let's do something."

"Yeah," Sophia whispered staring into his irises as if they were showing faint reflections of her optimal future, and she poured on a smile. "What do you want to do? Do you want to go to the range?"

"We can go to the range. Never mind. We can't go to the range. Tommy has my rifle."

"Why does Tommy have your rifle?" She just wanted to feel his voice hum.

"He's with his dad and his cousin on Admiralty. He thinks he's finally going to get a brown."

"He never shot a brown bear?" Sophia asked.

"No," Brennan said. "He hunts like a white man."

"Nobody hunts like my Gwich’in boy." Sophia ran her hands up the sides of his abdomen, inward to his chest. She pressed her lips on the skin above his heart until she felt a beat and kissed it. His look gave evidence of distraction that he determinedly extinguished. "I want to do something but nothing at all," he said.

"Well I think you've made your way into quite the paradox," Sophia said. "Let's see." She thought. “Something but nothing at all." She slumped onto her back at the opposite end of their bed and gazed at the ceiling. She crossed her outstretched feet and rocked Brennan's thigh with her toes in a gentle rhythm. "Got it." She sat up. "Let's just head out the road. But I drive."


Sophia locked her ukulele case, Brennan grabbed Shadow from his cage, and they brought both into Brennan's cobalt Toyota Tacoma and drove north.

Sophia felt regal sitting high above the other cars as she drove up Egan highway. Brennan had put more than a few thousand dollars into the truck's twenty-four-inch wheels, the rims to match, tinted windows, a paint job, and the timing belt that he had personally installed. He'd done all but replace the stereo and the cruddy speakers that crackled all the sounds of a low frequency on Brennan's only CD. It was a mixtape he labeled Real Rock n' Roll. "Into the Mystic" was playing, and every time the horns howled their chorus the speakers rattled like something was loose in them. She pulled a couple of cigarettes from her pack and held them out like a pair of scissors between her fingers. Brennan took one, and she handed him a lighter. He lit her cigarette then his own. “You know Sophe, I was just thinking,” he mumbled with the cigarette between his lips.

“What, that I look sexy in this wind?” Sophia asked and showed a side smile. He took his cigarette from his mouth.

"That I know I'm going to marry you," he said.

"Oh are you?" She wondered how long he'd been staring at her before he spoke and she looked as if those seconds were the currency of love.

"Someday." He lifted Shadow to meet his eye. "She thinks I'm kidding."

"I love you, Brennan." She wished now she wasn't driving. "Since the tenth grade, even when you were dating Lauren, Angela, you were there for me. You were my friend." Van Morrison’s boisterous voice filled the car's silence. Sophia turned to see why Brennan hadn’t spoken. He was looking at her like she was something she could never imagine being. He slid his arm behind her. She lifted her back from the seat to let his hand caress her shoulders and fall back into his lap. "We're happy," she said.

“We’re happy,” he repeated.

They circled the roundabout and took the north exit for the twenty-eight-mile stretch of Glacier Highway. They were destined for the reflective aluminum sign, which read END OF THE ROAD, riddled across with birdshot holes. Beyond the sign was a brush eaten path that Sophia had never gone down. She figured she would today. They smoked their cigarettes down and in synchrony flicked them onto the road.

Behind a thin line of spruces and across the channels, there were snow caps still on the island's mountains and the Chilkat range that conquered the horizon. To the right of the road were endless evergreens and fauna that climbed the mountainside as high as they could breathe. Shadow clambered tentatively on Brennan's lap. Brennan pointed at four thin stratus clouds running parallel. "Look," he said. "It's God's coke mirror." She looked and they laughed.

Chuck Berry began the voltaic first riff of "Johhny B. Goode" and sent a current down Sophia's leg to step harder on the pedal. The percussion came in, and Brennan swayed his torso back and forth, bobbing one shoulder after the other like he was hexed by rhythm. Chuck Berry sang like he’d won it all. The speakers' crackling was symphonic. Sophia sped faster. Juneau's breeze whispered words unheard, as hot air pattered at their open windows and out spoke it. "Go, Johnny! Go! Go!" they hollered in ecstasy. "Go, Johnny! Go! Go!" Brennan wrapped Shadow under his collar and climbed up sticking himself out of the sunroof. Sophia sped faster. The speedometer’s dial passed eighty. "Go, Johnny! Go! Go!" Brennan howled to the trees. They rounded a bend. "Johnny B. Goode!"

Sophia stomped the brake. Thirty yards up the road lay a hemlock, at least a hundred years old, fallen horizontally across the pavement. Brennan's chest met the frame of the sunroof. Shadow dug his claws at the glass, as he slid down the windshield, his black eyes looking already dead, and he somersaulted off the front of the hood. The Tacoma wrecked the tree and sent the truck's bed end upward catapulting a bag of mulch, a shovel, and Brennan through the air. Her father's ukulele case speared the windshield. The truck suspended almost vertically then fell back down. Its tires bounced off the asphalt, as Brennan’s head hit a Sitka spruce along the tree line to the right of the road. She couldn’t hear it over the sound of the stereo but she saw it when the flesh from his face and neck ripped and scattered blood onto the foliage that he fell into. A piston clicked trying to pump still, as Chuck Berry went into his solo riff.

With blurred vision, she scanned the brush behind the rising curtain of engine smoke for any sign of movement. She opened her door to go to him, to see if he was okay. How could he be okay? Her head was blaring with pain. Maybe. She dribbled blood that was pooling in her mouth onto her shirt and a tooth fell with it. She dug her tongue around the soft flesh where the molar had been. She had just stepped down toward the road when her vision gave a nauseous twist, and she fell and smacked the asphalt.  

There she saw him writhing on the pavement and bleating. She stumbled along the road’s dividing line to where he lay. She knelt and picked him up to cradle him, but he shrieked and bit her palm. She set him back on the road and stroked his back which seemed to calm him as her blood painted his quills. “You’re okay baby. Shhh, you’re okay,” she kept promising him. She repeated the desperate mantra over and over again. For a moment she forgot where she was and everything that had happened. A slow breeze brought an unnamable, pungent, natural scent to her nose. She looked up at the sky and glimpsed a memory from far back when she was a child, but it was gone before she could catch it.

The city road crew pulled onto the berm. They didn’t pull out the chainsaws that they’d brought to hack the dead tree into sections and dispose of. They called the police. The oldest of them ran to her with a pair of white socks in his hand and pressed them on her face. “Is anything broken?” he asked. When he touched the socks against the gash between her eyebrows she winced and grabbed his forearm. “Alright, I won’t.”  She told him that she needed to go and see her boyfriend. “No.” He held the word out long with dread of what the sight might do to her. He reached his arms around her, a padlock disguised as a hug.

She had an encompassing awareness that drew all of reality to her. Nothing was filtered. The maroon and indigo checkers on the man’s flannel were the vivid hues of an ocean after sunset. Bruce Springsteen sang with the still clicking engine, and she could hear him as if the speakers were beside her: “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright.” She could smell the sodium in the air. The world was so big and she was every piece of it. She heard, with the vibrations of the birds’ songs, the stiff words behind her from one of the crew walking out from the tree line.

“Don’t go over there,” he said in a careful tone to the others. “He’s dead, man. Fucking mess.”  


There isn't time in memory, only ink stained on pages to turn through and reread. Sounds echoed off the stark white jail cell walls like the squealing and banging discord of an ensemble and back into Sophia's mind as she lay on the cot. At one point, she started laughing and she couldn’t understand why, but it would’ve been vile to try to stop it.

Frost caked the grass of the courthouse lawn as she was led by her cuffed hands up the sidewalk and through the courthouse doors. She didn't listen to a word of what was said as she waited through the other trials. She imagined black-tailed deer licking dew off the leaves of the devil's club that grew in the park. They were careful and deliberate with their tongues so as not to be pricked by the thorns. Their hooves sank into the wet grass, leaving marks of their choice across the ground.

"Mr. Frederick, how do you plead to the charge?" At first, she didn't recognize the man because his beard was shaven and his hair was buzzed down to his scalp but she'd seen him countless times panhandling at any given storefront downtown.

"Guilty, your honor," he said.

"I sentence you to five days in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center and a fine of one thousand and seven hundred dollars payable through community service." He took his gavel in hand. "We've had enough tragedies on our roads, Mr. Frederick. You know this. If I find you on a second offense for any substance crime, believe me, you'll be punished to the full extent of the law. You're a part of this city. You're a part of our community. Help to take care of it, Mr. Frederick. Next case. Sophia O’Rourke." Sophia stood up from the cold wooden pew and walked to the stand as her lawyer followed. "Miss O’Rourke.” She could see no compassion in the wrinkles around the judge’s eyes. He could have just as well been a kiosk dispensing tickets. “For the charge of one count of criminally negligent homicide, your bail will be set at ten thousand dollars." The gavel rapped the pallet and sent a paralyzing crack through the room. "Next case. Henry Adder." Sophia's attorney guided her from the stand and out of the courthouse. She had told Sophia her name when they met this morning but it didn't matter.

Her parents posted her bail. They both looked sick. Her father was wearing his raincoat so Sophia knew he’d come straight from the docks. She trembled more the tighter her mother hugged her. She was near seizing before her mother let go and a calmness sedated her nerves. "I don't know how long I'll have to spend in there," she told them as they drove down Egan.

"Please don't think about that, Sophie. Please," her mother said.

"You--" a quiver caught her father’s words. He didn't try again to say them.

Sophia went inside her parents’ house and they followed. She opened the door to what used to be her bedroom and shut it. It was hardly lit from the outside gloom that slipped through the squinting blinds. There was only her short lavender lamp resting on a nightstand next to a bed frame that now leaned upright against the wall. A poster survived on the wall of Alice looking up at the Cheshire cat, his backside disintegrating into the unknown. A mess of books and clothes and other unneeded things -misfits of memorabilia- had all been stuffed into boxes that now sat on the floor. She opened the closet and found her comforter folded up on the shelf above the hanging rack. She wrapped herself, turned the lamp on, and collapsed asleep on the carpeted floor.

She woke sweating to her father stroking her hair. “Come get something to eat, hon,” he told her. She kept her comforter swaddled around her and went to the kitchen where her mother was sitting eating a slice of vegetarian pizza. Sophia and her father took their places at the table. “You know,” her father finally said, “The Taku glacier’s grown so much it’s going to dam up the river. They’re saying next summer the salmon won’t be able to run.” Sophia could tell by the way his arms were moving that he was making erratic hand gestures under the table as he did when his mind ran. “Can you believe that? One glacier isn’t receding and it’s causing problems.” Sophia’s mother set her slice of pizza onto her plate. “They’re going to send a demo team out there. Blow it all up with fifty-or-so pounds of dynamite, I don’t know. But they need a way to get it all out there, and if we’re lucky, we’ll be the ones to run it for them. If I’m real lucky I’ll be--“

“Can we--“ Sophia’s mother interjected. “Can we not, please, talk about-- let’s just talk about something else. Please.”  They listened to each other chew instead.

Sophia took a slice from the box of pepperoni. As she chewed, the crust dragged across her tongue like dry sand. The slices of pepperoni were crisp like dead leaves and sopping with fatty oil but her stomach demanded she swallowed. Her father kept his eyes on his plate in a bashful manner. The distance between the three of them at the table felt like miles. Sophia remembered how they’d tuck her between the two of them in bed some nights as a child, but that was so long ago before so much distance and so much silence. Now she couldn’t even feel the air from her mother’s breath.

“There’s good news,” her mother said. “Your hedgehog is okay.” Sophia stopped chewing her mouthful and looked up. “The vet called. A policeman, what was his name?”

“Kreischner,” her father said.

“Officer Kreischner,” her mother continued. “He took him to the vet and he paid the bill too. We can pick him up tomorrow.”

“Can we go tonight?” Sophia asked. She remembered a policeman lifting Shadow out of her lap and onto the road before a paramedic guided her to the ambulance.

“They won’t be open this late,” her mother said.

“Well they might be,” Sophia said. “I’ll call them.”

A car braked outside and its tires screeched. Sophia’s hand swung across the table knocking her glass of water to shatter on the hardwood. “Oh,” she said too terrified to muster any other words.

“Honey,” her mother said and went to the kitchen counter for the broom. One-two-three-four-five, Sophia counted her staccato breaths, attempting to slow them. There were so many sounds. Smack! The rubber pulling at the road, Chuck Berry’s maniacal chanting, the shovel scraping like a fingernail across the bed of the truck, smack! The metal of the engine cracking and crumbling under the hood that wrinkled like wrapping foil. Over again, smack!  Over again, flesh—

“Sophie,” her father pleaded. His hands were cupped around her cheeks. “Hey,” he said. Her mother dropped the broom and it smacked the hardwood.

“You’re here,” her mother said to Sophia, first putting one hand on Sophia’s back then frantically putting both her palms on Sophia’s chest. “You’re home. You’re safe.”  She kept replacing soft hands on different parts of Sophia as if her body was too hot to touch. Sophia could see them clearly now, her father’s straight black hair, her mother’s hazel eyes. She remembered her counting. One-two-three-four-five, she started. Six, seven, eight. Nine. She was back again in her parents’ kitchen sitting under the yellow light of the table’s chandelier. Her face was wet but she wasn’t crying anymore like her parents now were. He didn’t make a sound, she thought. But what was he thinking?


On Sunday they buried Brennan. His family members, five of them, started digging the grave, as was Gwich’in tradition in Fort Yukon. When someone grew tired they handed the shovel off to another mourner. Some of Brennan’s family was in from Fort Yukon. Sophia recognized Brennan’s Great Aunt Tara behind her veil. Sophia knew the chief because of his regalia, but she didn’t recognize the others. She tried to fix her gaze on the casket. For a moment, she lifted her head and glanced at some of his relatives across from her but they were staring at the ground and crying to themselves or trying not to. She knew their thoughts though and where the blame lay.

Tony set his shovel on the wall of the grave. He leaned against the wall and sank onto his knees. Sophia slid her heels off and used the handle of the shovel to hoist herself into the pit, as Tony pressed his face against the grass to quiet his blubbering. It was wretched chipping clumps of dull earth away to replace them with Brennan. She kept digging though. She hoped it showed fortitude or something. Between two intervals of sobs, Tony expelled a whisper that only she could hear. “You fucked up, Sophie.” His words creaked like old, warped floorboards.

Once the hole was dug, Brennan's parents, Great Aunt Tara, and Tony, who looked boyish now in his filthy suit, lowered the coffin into the ground. "Ah," the chief pointed at the grey sky, toward an eagle gliding in a circle above them. "A sign of better days ahead."

Dirt showered Brennan's coffin with sleeping darkness. People began to form a line in front of Brennan’s parents. Sophia reached left and right for her mother and father’s hands and put her weight onto her heels as family and friends took their turns offering condolences. Her mother let go of Sophia’s hand and joined the row, but her father stayed with her until her mother returned then took his place at the back of the line. Whispers were hushed and mourners dispersed a few at a time. Sophia wrapped her arms around her mother’s chest, but her mother didn’t reciprocate her hug. She stared without emotion at the patch of upturned dirt, as Sophia let go. “Mom?” she asked. Her father took her under his arm and walked her away toward the parking lot.

For seconds silence ate the air, until, arrhythmic in his timing, he confessed, “Your mother needs a moment.”

Before they were at the parking lot, Sophia excused herself to the bathroom. The service building was locked, so she ran behind it and threw up against the wall. She pressed her hands against the brick to stop their trembling. No light cast a shadow. Her father took her by the shoulders away from her vomit and sat her down onto the grass. She lay there, her head resting on her father’s thigh, as her father petted her hair grown wet from the light rain. Her mother came too and sat down. She rested her hand on the small of Sophia’s back, but any utterance was useless.

She stayed at her parents’ house for two weeks after that. During those days they ordered delivery for dinner every night.  Sophia’s episodes became less frequent, but they were never any less vivid. One night while her mother was rinsing sweet-and-sour sauce and chicken bits off the plates in the sink, Sophia’s father began tuning his acoustic guitar. He started singing, “You got me on my knees, Layla,” softly at first to himself, as he always began. Her mom joined in then set the plate in the sink. She walked with a groove in her step over to Sophia who was sitting at the table. She guided her daughter up and to the couch, sitting herself down long ways first with her back against the arm of the couch and then cozying Sophia between her legs. Sophia’s back reverberated against her mother’s chest as her mother sang.

Sophia fixed her stare on the mantle behind the armless leather chair her father sat in. From as far back as Sophia could remember, the wood was painted cleanly white, but then her mother had decided years ago to paint it bright blue and now it was a blue-grey. Sophia fingered the stitching on the couch as she sang to herself and resonated with her parents. She thought for a moment that she’d been smiling and she probably could have, but then the sterling silver pendulum swung inside the mahogany stained maple clock on the wall and rang eight lingering chimes to disrupt the harmonious sounds.

Her father digressed to soft fingerpicking unaccompanied by any words. Her mother started for the liquor cabinet to mix herself a cocktail. “I think I’m just going to go to bed,” Sophia said to the floor and returned to her room before they could respond.

In Shadow’s cage, the food in his bowl had hardly diminished since she’d brought him home from the veterinarian. She slid off the lid and lifted his plastic igloo to reveal him. He curled his tiny snout deeper under his belly at the sight of her. His quills were all broken and blood stained them still. She set two pellets of food on the crevasse between her index and middle finger. Shadow furrowed his nose and then cautiously turned and took a piece from her hand. He hid his face again beneath himself, chewing the pellet until it was gone. He reached again for the second pellet and didn’t retreat as far this time as he nibbled. She took two more pellets from the jar and he ate them. When he’d reach his snout out for the pellets, she’d feel his small breath on her fingers. She must have done this thirty times before Shadow fell asleep with his chin resting on the edge of her palm. She didn’t move her hand. She watched the fragile animal as his crimson quills rose and fell with his breath.

The next day she packed what clothes she had and told her parents she thought it better to live at her apartment again in an effort at normalcy. “Sophie, baby,” her mom was holding Sophia’s wrists. “We want to know that you’re safe. We want you to stay here. Please stay here.” Her father said nothing but Sophia could see his trepidation.

Sophia rolled her wrists out of her mother’s grip and held her hands. “I'm okay, Mom. I promise. This is what I need. It will be good for me.” Sophia knew that they understood that she would be leaving; they should just make it easier. They put Sophia’s few outfits, her father’s ukulele, which had survived the crash unscathed, and Shadow’s cage with him in it into the back seat of her father’s car and the three of them drove to Sophia’s apartment. They said, “I love you,” and they hugged each other. Sophia’s father took her mother by her shoulders and pulled her gently away. “She’ll be okay,” he said in her mother’s ear. Sophia went inside.  

That night alone again, Sophia played a song on her father's ukulele. It was one she'd written in high school, but she had forgotten the words. That petrified her, forgetting. She stepped out to her apartment stairwell. She smoked a cigarette down and threw it to the pile of others, whose embers had already simmered and died, as she lit another one. There were no stars. There was no moon in the sky. She lit another cigarette. When she finished it she smoked another. After she drew her last cigarette from the pack and completed the pile, she left the cold night and went inside.

She set two pellets of food between her fingers and lifted the lid to the cage and then his igloo. She held the pieces close for Shadow to catch the scent, then even closer, delicately. She set the food on his bedding and brushed the tips of his quills. He didn’t fidget. She inched her fingers around his sides and still, he didn’t move. She was careful not to press on any of his wounds as she lifted him until his limbs and head slunk downward like rocks to the pit of the ocean.

She dug her palms into her eyes and fell backward. Her bottom slammed hard onto the carpeted floor. She fell onto her side and curled her legs up into her chest, cocooning what she still had. She pressed harder into her eyes as if there might be a way to hold it all together and keep the rest out. Hours passed as a cesspool of thoughts bred more abhorrent ones. There are ways to escape your mind, she thought. No. Just leave your room. Leave your apartment and you can leave your mind.

She resurrected herself from the floor and took her sweatshirt off, then her shirt, and unhooked her bra. She placed them in an orderly row on her bed before sliding off her socks and her jeans and setting them along the line of clothes. She lifted Brennan's grease-stained t-shirt out of the hamper and breathed its scent to let it fill her. She put it on. It was long and loose around her body. It hung halfway to her knees. She pulled his jeans up around her waist and ran her skinny leather belt through his loops. Then she grabbed it from under the bed. It was heavier than it looked when he held it. It was his father’s. Does that make it his again? Would that make this any worse?

She walked barefoot under street lights and in darkness holding it tightly to her thigh as it pressed against her Claddagh ring. Brennan's jeans draped over her feet to keep them padded from pebbles and bits of glass. She repeated Brennan's sure words in her head, You know I'm going to marry you; she could feel him on her skin. A biting gust blew her hair across her face. "Fuck," she screamed. A black pile shot up against the wall next to her, and a blanket slid down to reveal a face. "Sorry," she said to him, worried now that he might see it.

"You're fine, hon," he groaned and lay back down.

She came to the park which was silent save the rushing of the stream. Across the water, a bone-skinny birch tree stood short among the innumerous sharp pines. Its loose paper-thin bark flitted in the frigid wind. Sophia hugged her arms around herself and searched desperately a final time for resolution, but it was still murder.  She held it to her head, looked up into the black sky, and with the barrel of the revolver pressed trembling against the roof of her mouth, she begged for the sight of anything.









About the Author:

Connor Bowen

Connor Bowen is an aspiring writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. He has a bachelor’s degree in English – Creative Writing at Ohio University. He’s been published twice consecutively in Ohio University’s annual Sphere Magazine, A Glow in the Dark (2015) and Six-Thirty-Five (2016). After spending a summer in Juneau, Alaska, Connor was inspired to write his proudest piece yet, Out the Road.










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