It’s the last few hours of a county fair, or the ninth inning, score tied, in a small-town high school big game, everything that’s going to happen destined to feel inevitable. Everett’s favorite cow has yet to win a prize, and what occurs next on the field will likely determine whether a certain boy, years later, will run for mayor, or still be known as the guy who dropped the ball. Elsewhere in the same town Pastor William is writing down his sermon on what it takes to live a moral life, confusing rectitude with deprivation, and his wife’s frequent, unapologetic nothing-for-you-tonight-dear. Tomorrow, no doubt, because this happens in towns both large and small, seventh-grade Joshua, who knows the answer, but won’t go to the chalkboard because he has a hard-on, is thought to be dumb. That is, until he proves he’s not, the answer written down in code for Mr. Zenner to see, perhaps to understand. Sharon the beauty is also smart and her pet pig wins Best in Class, but she won’t accept the award. The family needs money, but the prize is given by the DAR, and she wants to take a stand. It seems inevitable that in a town this size Joshua and Sharon will marry, but she goes to a faraway college, meets Nathaniel, a city boy who knows nothing about pigs but something about integrity. They fall in love and the rest, as they say, is history—babies and hardship, grad school and in her case visits to the now curious place that was home— Joshua working the counter at Beal’s Hardware, Thursday night bingo at the church— how things could have been had she not become someone else.
Copyright © 2018 Stephen Dunn. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Winter 2018.