May 14

Where We Bury Our Dead

By Robert James Russell

When I was a girl my mom would tell me stories about her people. They came from the Ozarks, she’d say, hearty folk who worked as tradesmen and rarely made it as far north as Lebanon or Rolla. She said the land was special there. That there was a magic in the air that made you never need to drink water or eat food or ever want to leave. When I asked her why she left she’d say something under her breath about my father, big red lips pressed firm together, the drum of her voice slowing. Once she told me her people came from giants, and they lived in the mountain caves and ate sheep whole and feasted for weeks at a time to celebrate the changing moon. Eventually, she said, they had to marry the regular-sized folk—they had to survive somehow. I asked her how tall the tallest person in our family was and she lazily lit a joint and sat back into the blue leather recliner, didn’t say another word. When I was sixteen and we were living in the split-level with Ray, things between us got real bad so I ran away, hitched with a trucker named Bicho who smelled like menthols even though I never saw him smoke once in the week I was gone. He asked me where I was going and I said south to the land of giants and he smiled like he understood, said, “Sure, Miss Lydia, wherever you want.” In my backpack I had my mom’s Reds, two left in the pack, and I kept my hand on them as we rode, could feel her in them, with me, honky-tonk blaring on the radio, the great green-humped hills ahead of us illuminated by the dying light of day, holding the remains of my ancestors waiting to be discovered. And Bicho, his voice quiet then, licked his lips and winked at me and said, if I wanted, he could show me all the ways in which I could disappear there completely.02-DSCN8396


Robert James Russell is the author of the chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out, and the novels Sea of Trees and Mesilla, a Western forthcoming from Dock Street Press. He is the co-founder and Managing Editor of the literary journal Midwestern Gothic and the founder of the online literary journal CHEAP POP. You can find him online at

Photograph by Michelle Johnsen, Through the Doorway