The Death of the Fugitive Charles Floyd in a Cornfield Outside of East Liverpool, Ohio, October 22, 1934

by Robert Miltner 

(after a photograph by Andrew Borowlec)

Leaves fall along rows of tree trunks in the late October orchards. The last apples hang, red as the cheeks of pretty children playing in the first snow of winter.

In town, stunted skeletons of burr oak, catalpa, and Osage orange irregularly line the waste lots located along the train tracks. Wasps buzz, ready to swarm relentlessly if their underground nests are threatened.

The afternoon sun pushes the dark shapes of a brick apartment building and a clapboard car repair garage into square black cells across a rutted alley. Each is as quiet as a mausoleum, empty as a robbed bank vault.

Inside one of the rectangular shadows, a man in a wool suit, tie, and an overcoat stands still. His head is turned slightly. He listens intently for the sound of anyone approaching. He hears a blue jay squawk, hears a crow caw. He catches his breath.

The man darts from the small cloak of darkness and in an instant he is again absorbed into the tentative safety of the next dark rectangle. He releases his breath. Listens. Checks for his .38 Colt automatic in his pocket. Listens again.

He knows if he can make it down this alley, past corn stalks standing like rusty bayonets, he’ll get to the Ohio River. He knows he’s a strong swimmer, the only other thing beyond the Colt he can trust. The Ohio River is wide, but he knows there are few currents there to catch him in their nets.

On the other side of the river are the ridges and hollows of West Virginia. He trusts in the compassion of poor folk who will take him in, hide him, lie for him. They’ve heard how, back in Oklahoma, he burned mortgage notes in bank managers’ trash cans before he ran to the getaway car with a bag of money in one hand, his pistol in the other.  

The man hears a crow call, followed by a second one, then a third. Hears a chorus of blue jays grow louder as they fly closer. Hears an automobile backfire. He bolts from the safety of the shadow, exposed as if caught in a spotlight by a police car full of US Marshals packed shoulder to shoulder the way bullets fit into loaded guns. 

 

Robert Miltner published And Your Bird Can Sing (short fiction from Bottom Dog Press, 2014) and Hotel Utopia (prose poetry from New Rivers Press, 2011). His nonfiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Diagram, Great Lakes Review, Octopus, and Eastern Iowa Review. Miltner is Professor of English at Kent State University at Stark and on the faculty (fiction and poetry) of the NEOMFA.

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