Thistles

As she waited for the campus cop to come down the line and pepper spray her, Tessa Morrison closed her eyes (she’d plucked her contacts out before locking arms with the kid to her right) and recalled summer days she and her father drove the fencerows, spraying thistles.

She would catch him in the machine shed, filling the tank on the back of the ATV with pink Roundup from a great vat of it he kept on a flatbed wagon.

“Coming with, Tess?” he’d ask. She was his only child and, though she thought he wished she’d been born a boy, she also thought he appreciated her company. She consciously divided her loyalties between mother and father, house and farm. She was equally capable of helping her mother pinch pie crust and helping her father dehorn steers. And if anyone asked her father who would carry on with the farm after he retired and moved to Mexico, he’d get angry and say, “Why, Tess. Who else?”

They bounced up through the fields, the pink poison sloshing behind them. Before he started spraying he would hand her the mask to put on. There was always only one, nothing more than a paper cup tinged yellowish from the silage dust he breathed every time the silo unloader broke, which was often. The cup just fit over her nose, braced by twin silver bands she found strangely beautiful, along with the snug pull of the white strap along the back of her head, under her tied-up hair. She wished she had one now, instead of the red paisley–patterned handkerchief that was starting to slip off but which she couldn’t adjust because her arms weren’t arms anymore but links in a chain.

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