Fiction: Fǎng

Read More: A brief interview with Jim Ruland

Cindy talked her mom into getting a dog at a pet store at the mall at Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, where her sister, Melissa, had been caught shoplifting and would be doing her court-ordered community service, which involved wrapping presents for holiday shoppers with other young offenders.

“His name is Gibbles,” Cindy declared on the way home, scratching behind his ears, a gesture that gave both the dog and the human a great deal of pleasure.

The dog, a tan, shorthaired mutt with an underbite, already had a name. That name was Fǎng, but had been changed to Aurora by an employee at the pet store. Aurora, which meant “the dawn,” would have been a good choice for the Donovans because they had been searching for a new beginning since Tommy, the baby of the family, had disappeared the previous summer.

Tommy had been at a friend’s house a few blocks away on David Copperfield Road. He’d texted his mother to say he was on his way home, but he never made it. Tommy’s mother, Colleen, notified the police, who found his mangled bicycle at a construction site.

The police theorized that Tommy been struck by a hit-and-run-driver. Only the driver didn’t run: he stopped and picked up Tommy and his ten speed and sped off again, leaving the bike in one location and the body in another.

“We found the bicycle,” said the police officer that had been assigned to the case. “We’ll find your son.”

Except they didn’t. The weekend somehow stretched into a week. A week turned to two. At the end of the agonizing summer the officer was replaced by a younger policeman who was more courteous but less experienced with trauma. Though none of the Donovans said it aloud, this change seemed to signify the department had given up on Tommy.

While the Donovans would never give up, each of them privately wondered when it would be okay to get back to the business of living, to reclaim the lives that had been hijacked by this tragic turn of events.

The day after the one-year anniversary of Tommy’s disappearance, the new police officer knocked on the door. He was wearing khaki slacks and a dark green golf shirt with a yellow mustard stain. He was leaving the force, he explained.

“I’m not cut out for this shit.”

Colleen’s husband, John, told the man to get off his fucking porch before he did something they’d both regret. When it became obvious the policeman was drunk, John turned to restrain his two teenaged sons, who played high school football and had become expert at channeling their rage into explosive violence. […]


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Jim Ruland is the co-author of Do What You Want with Bad Religion (DaCapo August, 2020) and My Damage with Keith Morris, the founding vocalist of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and OFF! He wrote the novel Forest of Fortune and the short story collection Big Lonesome. His work has recently appeared in Barrelhouse, Mississippi Review, and Zyzzyva. Jim lives and works in Southern California. 

Read More: A brief interview with Jim Ruland