A Healing

by August Evans

The student steered the Great Writer down the floors of the university parking garage, past a booth where she inserted a white ticket into a mouth that spit it back into her hand, under a wooden arm as it rose, and onto a wide, black road streaked with perfect, white lines. Maples bloomed in full. The Great Writer marveled at the flatness of this world, and its cleanness. Of course, he had been to such towns before, many, many times for his work, to lecture as he had just done, to wide-eyed batches of aspiring writers who had not lived anywhere near enough to understand a word he was saying.

The Great Writer had never gone to college. The closest he had come to academia beyond teaching in it were two honorary degrees from institutions far better than this one. He had written six novels and three short story collections and, excluding three semester- long sabbaticals, had taught full-time for the past 40 years.

He took a glance around the student’s meticulously clean car and swallowed. His JFK coffee still smeared the back of his throat. He was getting too old for these long days, he knew that. But when the professor of this school’s Creative Writing department had sent him a total of 12 emails inviting him to teach a “MasterClass,” promising him $10,000.00 for three days, having just gotten married again, the Great Writer gave in. His new wife’s teenaged son had recently proven he needed the nation’s best rehab facility.

The Great Writer liked the sense of being there for him, far more than he did the boy’s mother. Of course he would never tell her this, that she was too good for him.

Slow, small droplets of rain were plucking the student’s car.

The Great Writer leaned forward. His temple grazed a dolphin-shaped air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror as he squinted up through the windshield. “That came on quickly.”

“This is Southern Illinois,” the student said calmly. “The rain cannot be stopped.”

By the time she had finished her sentence, the slow droplets were hardening into staccato pellets that completely blurred the Great Writer’s view. A sound like a baseball thumped against the roof. What was that, hail? Did it still hail?

The student had her wipers on the lowest possible speed, with four seconds between each flick. The Great Writer fought the urge to lean over and adjust them himself or, better yet, demand she pull over.

The Great Writer looked at the student. In the sheer, mindless instance before he aligned her with his likes and dislikes, preferences and certainties, all the basicness of the material world he had long taken for granted, he saw a woman. A woman with burdens. This was not because of any hanging quality of her jowls, a flash of grey hair, or a dark smear beneath the one eye he could see. It was in this impossibly calm reaction to the deluge. One small hand grazed the steering wheel as softly as though it were an animal’s back; the other opened lazily on her navy-blue lap. During his lecture, the Great Writer had fought the urge multiple times to inspect this dress, see what was going on with the fabric, how sheer it really was. But he had been at this game too long to actually look. In his forty-year career, the acrid breath of real trouble had grazed his neck far too often and, in the past few years when persecution for such matters had become realer than real, and he had seen more than one colleague canceled into oblivion for deeds far lesser than his, the Great Writer had pledged never to cross the line with a student again. With thirty years since his last drink, the Great Writer had developed a host of techniques to forego immediate pleasure.

But yet though he could will his body not to act, the Great Writer had not yet developed such control of his mind. Like, for instance, now, thinking of those eternal moments as the car spun them towards death, the student’s mouth wide in horror, that this would be a fine time to reach over and touch her thigh?

“So,” the student said, in a voice like a sunny country road, “what did the psychic say? I can’t stop thinking about it.”

It took the Great Writer’s mind several moments to latch on and understand what the student was talking about. Then he remembered. Back in the leather-chaired, fireplace-laden room where he had given that day’s first three-hour lecture, he had gotten cut off by the professor telling them his time was up. He had been telling the students how he had made it big.

It was a story the Great Writer did not tell often, and he felt embarrassed he had opened up so quickly to the group. It must have been his fatigue and, heaven help him, his age. The professor’s interruption had been welcome.

What he had told them was a dream he’d had when he was 29. It was during the six months he shared an apartment in Harlem with two heroin addicts. Of course he left out the part that the dope had likely prompted the dream, if not significantly laced it, as it had everything in his life at the time.

In the dream, the Great Writer is standing on the porch of a cabin in the woods holding an apple in one hand. Beside him stands a friend, an editor. Without knowing why, the Great Writer lifts the apple to his mouth and swallows it whole, simple as a vitamin. Expecting this huge intrusion to cause some kind of rupture, he is amazed when it settles, simply and easily, at the bottom of his stomach. He awoke the next morning to a flood of peace.

Before shooting up—the first day he had left his apartment straight in recent memory—he had gone to a little storefront on the end of his block that had always fascinated him, with a red curtain and a neon light that said in cursive green, Psychic.

That was when the professor had interrupted him.

But now, what could the Great Writer possibly tell the student? That the psychic had told him dreams of apples meant good fortune, that he should get in touch with his editor once he had gotten clean enough to cultivate a coherent sentence? How could he possibly tell her that he had done so, and that had been the start of everything?

A flash of neon green in the top corner of the windshield informed the Great Writer they had sailed through a stoplight.

He said, “The psychic said apples meant good luck and that I should get in touch with the friend standing beside me on the porch. I did, and here we are.”

The student looked over at him, one hand still lazily gripping the steering wheel as a flood hung behind her head. “Really?” she asked, disbelieving.


“Hmm.” Her eyes were back on the road. “Did you always want to be a writer?”

This was a question the Great Writer had been asked many times before. Interviewers and scholars always seemed to want to detect an originating moment for all the worlds he contained. What the Great Writer had always wished to answer was that if his life worked in such a linear motion, he would not be the Great Writer.

The stoplight changed and the student took a right onto a residential street bordered by thick canopies of trees that served to slow the water. She pulled up to a curb and stopped the car. Thank God.

“So?” The student shifted into Park, but kept the engine on.

The Great Writer unfastened his seatbelt.

“It’s hard to say.”

“You must have wanted to be famous,” the student said. Her lips were larger than he realized, the shade of pomegranates, the seeds, not the skin. “People don’t become famous unless they want to be.”

The Great Writer had never considered himself famous; he was by no means a household name. Among a certain, very specific group, he was well-known. Was that fame?

“I wouldn’t say I ever wanted to be famous,” he said, surprised by his openness. “But I will admit, I’ve always wanted to be known. In some very deep place inside of me, I’ve always felt different. This was the fire, I suppose, that pushed me out of Georgia.”

The side of the student’s green eye shimmered in the water’s glow.

“Hmm,” she said.

“Do you want to be famous?” he asked. The scent emanating from the dolphin was giving him a slight headache. The place needed lightening up. If it had been 2005, he would have pinched her arm.

She shook her head.

“I have to give a reading tonight,” the Great Writer found himself saying. “I don’t know what I’m going to read,” he lied. “What do you think I should read?”

“You best work,” she said effortlessly.

He laughed.

“How about I read something of yours and say it’s mine?”

The student stared straight ahead. From this angle, she possessed a vaguely Grecian quality, and made no indication she had even heard his question.

Finally, the Great Writer sighed. “Well. It’s been a long day. See you later at my reading, I hope. Will you be driving me there as well?”

This roused the student. She turned to him, and her eyes bore into him like screws, marbled and green. They seemed to hold the contents of each of the Great Writer’s novels, pages ripped to shreds.

“I don’t think so. Martha didn’t ask me to.” Martha was the professor.

“Oh.” The Great Writer kept his hand poised on the handle. “Well, I’m sure I’ll get there somehow.”

“I’m sure you will,” the student replied, with a smile that seemed forced.

The Great Writer nodded professionally, pulled the handle, and stepped into a waterfall. He flew to the open trunk and violently ripped out his suitcase. But as he stood there in the rain, his entire body soaking, and peered across the street, the water’s gauze hid every building number.

The Great Writer felt helpless in a way he rarely allowed himself to feel. He couldn’t remember the last time.

There was the sound of a door opening. The student leaned out, canopying her head with her school bag.

“Right there!” She pointed a long finger. The Great Water followed it and, as he did, the water seemed to thin. Then he saw a four-floored home prefaced by a tall set of stairs. “Thanks!” he yelled, as unfazed as he could with water gushing across his lips. His suitcase nearly slipping from his hand, he flew across the street. As he mounted the stairs, his wet wheezes wept unhindered.






Two nights later, the professor, Martha, held a dinner at her sprawling farm.

The student turned her car onto the long gravel drive. To the right was a large plot of grass enclosed by a wooden fence. In the settling dusk, the Great Writer thought he saw a horse.

The professor and three students from the Great Writer’s lectures were busy in the kitchen. On a marble island were salads, baskets of freshly baked bread, a large bowl of roasted squash and potatoes, and a platter of steamed asparagus dolloped in butter. Amongst the food were vases of fresh lilacs. The aproned professor, pulling a roast from the oven, called hello through steam.

In the living room, students carried dishes out to a long wooden buffet table, others fixed drinks from the makeshift bar. The student vanished.

The Great Writer located a bathroom. In the round bulbs ringing the mirror, better suited for a backstage dressing area than a farm, he inspected his face. Could the Midwestern air have been doing something for him? But then he turned, and there was the ancient smile line, more prominent than ever. With two fingers, he lifted the sides of his mouth into a snarl. There: now he was 55 again.

He left the bathroom and wandered through the voices, building in force, roaring to the tall rafters. The Great Writer wished for a way to step out politely, to drive away in his own car.

He slid open a glass door and stepped onto a dark porch. Two students—poets, they must have been, he didn’t recognize them—stood smoking in a circle with an older person the Great Writer only knew from the audience at his reading. Their three heads turned, but none said a word. He strode to the opposite end of the deck, as far as he could go, and pressed his stomach into the corner where two railings met. He reached into his pocket, located a Gaulois, lit a flame to the tip. Exhaling the potent smoke into the black air, staring at the vague, still shapes of the four horses in the dark, for the first time since arriving in Illinois, he felt calm.

“Is this your hiding spot?”

Suddenly, somehow, silent in the blackness—the student. “Food’s ready,” she said.

Slowly, the Great Writer turned to face her. His heart was thumping. “Thank you.” He hated the shake in his voice. “I’ll be in shortly.”

The student stood quietly beside him, gazing into the field. The Great Writer felt a pang of guilt for smoking in front of her.

“I was wondering,” she asked, “if you’d read my story yet?”

In preparation for his arrival, the Great Writer had received one short story from each student, to read and critique in preparation for a one-on-one conference.

“Of course,” he said. “We’re meeting tomorrow.”

“I was thinking,” she said slowly. In the dark he could make out the ends of her black shirt sleeves. “You can tell me now, if you want, so we don’t have to meet. If it’s easier.”

The Great Writer churned his brain, trying to imagine which one could be hers. He’d read them all on the plane, before he’d met any of them.

But then he knew exactly which it was. It had sparkled from the bunch, more clearly crafted and insightful than the others.

“We’d better wait until tomorrow,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to give you the short end of the stick by talking about the story without it in front of me.”

In the dark, the Great Writer could not make out the exactitude of the student’s expression, but only a vague aura of disappointment.

“OK,” she said. “I’m starving. See you in there.”






The premise of the student’s story was simple enough: deteriorating marriage, husband having an affair. These characters were never named, referred to only as Husband and Wife. They had met in a café where Wife was reading a book about adultery, and in a series of flawless, inevitable movements, the story concluded with the sense that this fact of the book’s subject matter had colored the couple’s life, producing, years down the line, the inevitable betrayal. Though stylistically it needed some work, conceptually, the piece was masterful.

He stubbed his butt into a flower pot at his feet and reached for a new cigarette with the same movement.

A stir of wind. From somewhere down the porch came the celestial tinkle of a wind chime.

The Great Writer scanned the place where the smokers had been. Empty.

Another burst of wind, another tender collision of the silver flutes.

From a place deep inside of him, something spoke. He was old enough to know how to listen, and how to trust.

The voice said: Go be with the horses.

Thoughtless, the Great Writer ran his palm along the railing. He walked, all the way down the long deck, past the sliding glass door flooded with light, past the raging laughter and, as he reached the end, a playful scream.

There were five steps.

He took them.

The rain had left this dewy cake. It seeped through the Great Writer’s city shoes.

He moved through the yard’s spongy blackness governed by some other will. His arms floated out to his sides, parallel with the ground.

Before he knew it he had reached the fence that contained the horses.

He felt rustic as he set his elbows on the top slat of wood. Yes, he had come to Illinois to lecture, but had not there also been some draw in leaving Manhattan to do exactly this? Tread upon fertile, unmarred dirt and gaze upon spacious animals?

Then, like the shapes that emerged from dissipating morning mist, he saw them.

Standing in the center of the field:

Three horses.

But then, he realized, mere feet away, at 1:00 in his periphery, really maybe two horses away, stood another. The fourth horse. Staring at him.

No, no, the horse could not be staring at him. He had no idea what was going on, it was too dark to tell. The animal’s eyes were too silent in the dark to possess any originating moment. He wasn’t even sure of the thing’s color, only that it was not white. A priori to what he was looking at was a world, complete in exactitude and detail. It no longer seemed to exist. Really, in an instant, it had stopped. Thick fear crept up the Great Writer’s temples. He had been in the city too long, that was all.

The longer he stood there, staring at the animal that was not staring, at the animal that had no color, nor eyes as her understood them, the Great Writer’s breathing slowed. Matter split like glaciers inside his chest. There came the feeling of his blood, yes, ridiculous, yes, it was true, he had not felt this in 30 years, but oh, God, it was undeniable—his blood was reversing its direction.

He squinted and shook his head.

Like a barge floating over a black ocean, the horse took a step. Then another. And another.

The Great Writer kept expanding, the swell inside him as prevaricated as years long past, awash in his mistress’s airport sprint.

The horse brought a dank scent that seemed to come from the very center of the earth.

“Hello,” the Great Writer found himself saying. “Hello, friend.”

The horse lay its long neck across the fence.

The horse’s head was brown. Beads of white spread across it like dollops of cream. Its eyes were endless and dark. Slowly, tenderly, fearful until the last second, the Great Writer laid his palm on the horse’s muzzle. It was as warm as a bath. Only one other feeling compared to that luxuriant softness: the scalp of his newborn baby, a boy whose name the Great Writer no longer writes.

But then he had only one thought, one single, perfect, crystalline thought before he entered the realm of no thoughts, where the horse lived.

The thought was of his wife’s son, the boy who needed help. How much he longed to help him. That in fact this helping of the boy was the only real thing in his life that actually mattered. The only thing.

A voice through the dark. A whistle. The Great Writer’s hand fell as the horse pulled back its head.

“Is that you?” Her voice wavered in the air. “Is that you out here in the dark?”

The Great Writer took a step back.

The horse took a step back. The Great Writer turned.

It was the student, arms stretched out straight at her sides to balance her bare feet in the wet grass.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” she called, her voice light as a girl’s. “Just enjoying the night,” the Great Writer called back.

The horse was turning away.

The student stopped beside him. He could hear her breath. “Have you been out here this whole time? Have you eaten anything?”

“I’ve been here,” the Great Writer replied. “My appetite comes and goes.” He suddenly wished to place a small barrier between them. “You’ll see, when you’re older.”






At the Great Writer’s b and b, the student shifted into Park and unfastened her seatbelt. “Can I come in?” she asked. “I need a cup of coffee.”

“Really?” the Great Writer, totally surprised, scanned the side of her dark face. “You seemed fine on the way here. You said you didn’t drink tonight, right?”

“Yes.” She shook her head. “But for some reason I don’t feel right. I barely made it here. I didn’t tell you.” Her eyes, black and gleaming in the slow light of the dark car, dug him like trowels.

He felt his eyebrows rise. “Really?”

She nodded.

He unfastened his seatbelt. “You’d better come in then. I’ll make you a cup of coffee.”

They walked up the steps of the white house and through the lobby. The Great Writer did not try to hide his wheezing, but simply let himself breathe. At the sight of the empty front desk, he felt a pang of gratitude. This feeling persisted as the student did not take his arm as they mounted the three sets of stairs to his room, but simply trailed behind.

Inside, the Great Writer pointed the student to an armchair in the living room.

But she walked past it, through the alcove into the bedroom, and plopped down on the California King. “Don’t get too comfy,” the Great Writer called, when she tipped back onto the duvet, her heeled feet floating inches above the floor. At least she was in pants.

He focused on the coffeemaker. The cleaning staff had not replenished his pods.

He turned. The student’s pale, rod-thin arms stretched beyond the short sleeves of her dark-flowered blouse, across the bedspread, severe in their straightness, musty as a sepia photograph in the low lamplight.

The Great Writer could call Housekeeping, order more pods, proceed with the plan. But what if they insisted on coming in? How would it look: the female student splayed across the bed, the Great Writer—40 years her senior—just sitting there after midnight?

So the Great Writer went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, splashed some water across his face, dried it with a moan into the bath towel that flew back a memory of the horse, removed his heavy clothes so he was down to a white t-shirt and boxers—long, with as much coverage as actual shorts—exited the bathroom, discovered the student exactly where he had left her, went to the spot of the bed as far from her as was physically possible, switched off the bedside lamp, and went to sleep.






Two bricks of sandpaper sat behind the Great Writer’s eyes. He roused them open to catch sight of the bedside clock: 8:40. His student conferences started at 10.

In the sheer, filmy light slinking up the bed—he’d forgotten to draw the curtains—the student sat at the foot, wearing only a silk slip of an off-white shade the Great Writer associated with the 1980s, his first wedding, a free and unhindered economy.

Chin pressing bent knees, arms hugging calves, she turned her head and squinted at him over her bare shoulder.

It was as though she were deliberately arranging her body to be made into art. Decades of encircling the mundane with a magical light had worked its way into his observations, and he did not have the capacity to fight certain thoughts. The way a meteorologist perceives a heaviness in the air, or a plumber a sink refusing to drain, the Great Writer could not look at the student’s beauty without laying descriptive claim to it.

Then she was crawling across the mussed-up bed, silk drooping down to reveal the small, smooth humps of her breasts.

At the Great Writer’s still-flat body, she stopped.

But then she turned, crawled away, to the opposite end of the bed. She flattened onto her stomach and leaned over the edge. Items rustled and clinked. The curves of her buttocks beneath the silk trilled like the frosting across the Great Writer’s first wedding cake.

The student slid back up onto the bed, turned onto her side, and made her way to him, on her knees. Hovering above him, she held something in a hand.

An apple.

She rotated it, stared into it, as though hypnotized.  She asked, “What color was the apple in your dream?” Her apple was red.

The Great Writer had no idea what the student was talking about.

But then he did.

“The apple had no color,” he blurted out. “It was a dream. My dreams don’t have color.”

“Hmm.” The student lay the apple on the bed sheet. She leaned over and hovered, inches from his, her face.

Her breath smelled like rotting flower petals. He should have done something differently last night. A wise man would have called a cab. A wise man would have told the student to leave her car parked on the street, to get it in the morning. It all looked so simple from here, the right thing to do.

To push her away would have taken only a grip of her waist. In a single, fluid movement, she would be the one on her back, and the Great Writer would be on top.

His brain crashed and foamed, off in a separate unit from his body.

The student whispered, “Remember that story you wrote? About the jazz pianist?”

Light broke through a canopy, tropical birds cawed at the Great Writer’s ears. That story had emerged in a charmed time, when he was under 40, and some reality was still sacrosanct. But for some reason, he could not remember its title.

“The day after his show, the pianist runs out into an open field,” the student said, her eyes like beating wings, pink rushing to her cheeks in the speaking. “He’s running through the landscape, feeling the grass and sun and earth in a whole new way, like he’d just been born, I think that’s what you wrote. And he’s so elated—he can taste the honey in the air, feel the birds, and then—”

The student stopped.

“And then?” the Great Writer asked, surprised by his own expectation.

She smiled with her mouth closed. “You’re telling me you don’t know how your own story ends?”

“Of course I do,” he lied. “But I want to hear you say it.”

As his brain whirred and searched for the ending, the student stretched out her body. Balanced on her tip toes and palms, somehow—somehow—she ran her legs parallel to his. By mere inches, she hovered above his pelvis, stomach, and chest.

The Great Writer closed his eyes.

“I’m married,” he said slowly. “I’m happy.”

“Just say the ending,” the student whispered.

The Great Writer kept his eyes closed. It was a habit he had developed over a lifetime. When his first wife had discovered his affair, when his mother had announced her terminal illness, when he had learned his son had been killed, he had spent days, weeks, this way.

But then, as though moved by a force beyond him, his eyes sprang wide.

“He runs into a fence.” His voice came out loud, forceful, as though to make up for the movements he would not allow his body, the touch that would end his life. “The pianist runs through the field. The happiest he’s ever been alone. But he plows into a fence.”

“But then?” The student’s green eyes were glistening. In the usual world, she would have been on the edge of crying.

“There is no ‘and then,’” said the Great Writer. “That’s it.”

The student shook her head. The ends of her hair touched his lips. “You wouldn’t be here if you’d ended it like that.”

He winced. Less than a second, that was all it would take.

He closed his eyes. “Please,” he whispered, hating himself for his weakness, “please, get off me.”

“How about this?” the student whispered back. “Tell me the end of my story. The one you read. The one we’re supposed to talk about today.”

How could she be so strong—her whole body hovering on mere tiptoes and elbows and not even shaking.

Her story. The Great Writer’s brain crashed and foamed. That story with the Husband and Wife. What was the climax? An accident. An accident involving the Wife. But something had come along and saved her from it, and from the Husband. Something natural. Some kind of encounter with an animal had primed her to go out into the world and have her own affair. New sex, new love, new life, the animal had readied her for it. Suddenly, he knew.

A horse.

A horse had bitten the Wife’s face.

He could have called A horse! into that strange, Midwestern, morning air that caught and bunched, too flat to understand itself. He could have proved himself right, maintained his reputation as a proficient and delicate reader, convinced the student he understood her, that she was special. That someday, maybe, she might even be a Great Writer.

But before he could say a word, because it was over, Alisha pulled her body away, crossed her legs, and bit into her apple.

August Evans’ fiction and essays appear in Fanzine, Poetry Foundation, Isthmus, BlazeVOX, Entropy, Detour Ahead, The Delmarva Review, and others, and she curates the “Blackcackle” dark humor series on Entropy. She is writing a book seeking to uncover the fate of her great-grandmother, a Macedonian refugee.