Northern Corn – A short story by Anders Carlson-Wee

They took turns. Corey would go and grind the ledge and land and John would watch. Then John would go. Each time was a new trick with a new name and each was a trick they’d seen the other do before. They knew the names and said them in their heads. It was July. The afternoon heat melted the wax off the ledge. A dark color, spreading thin on the smooth cement. The bulk of it coming off on the grooves in their skates as they slid. The ledge was the only good ledge in town. It was six feet long and ran between the bank and the barber shop. Normally they wouldn’t skate there. Too easy to get kicked out. But Corey was moving the next day so it didn’t seem to matter.

Corey skated at the ledge and did a mistrial. They both knew the name. They knew it in the same way they knew their own names. Words for what they were. John skated fast and did a soyale and spun out and landed clean.

Yeah, Corey said.

When they were close they touched hands without the skin making sound and then Corey skated at the ledge.

It was the east side of the river and the main part of town. The grocery store and the post office and both of the bars. The church with steeple and bell. The theatre was abandoned and so were some of the houses on the edge of town where the corn started. The crop was already close to full grown. Leaves longer than deer legs and tassels turning gold. Gold spreading out forever in every direction. Broken only by roads that wove like seems on the world’s heathered robe. 

As the sun got higher and more direct the wax became nothing but a dark spot. A pooled blemish. Corey went and tried a fishbrain and stuck and caught his shin as he fell. Shit, he said.

Wax, John said.

John got wax out of his backpack and rolled over to the ledge and sat down and started waxing. The wax was soft and molded to his hand and to the ledge. Like something filling in space. He had to press down hard. He rubbed back and forth. A cloud of fresh wax appeared along the ledge. He sat up and moved down and kept waxing.

Out of the Bank came Mrs. Schmit. She stood by the door and looked at the boys and looked at the ledge.

I can’t let you do that, she said. You boys know that.

John kept waxing.

Stop that, she said. Stop doing that. She pointed at what he was doing and moved her arm with each of her words.

John stopped and stood up. He was about her height. Corey would have been taller than her without his rollerblades, but with them on he had her by a foot. Mrs. Schmit adjusted her glasses and walked over to the ledge and pointed at it. She bent a little at the hip. This is against the law, she said. Both of your mothers are going to hear about this.

Yeah, and it won’t matter, Corey said, ‘cause I’m getting out of this shit town. He spit in the direction of the bank.

That’s it, she said. This is the last time. I’m calling the police.

She walked back towards the door of the bank, her ankles bending out to the sides with each of her little steps.

You mean you’re calling Al, Corey said.

I mean I’m calling the police, she said. And you boys are paying for the damage you did. She went inside and pulled the door shut behind her. 

Corey cupped his hands around his mouth and said, Suck my dick, bitch! The boys both laughed. They put on their backpacks and did the ledge again and skated down the road toward the river.

The river came through the hills and cornfields to the north and passed through the town and then forked. Maples and cottonwoods grew on the banks and cattails filled up the eddies. John and Corey skated down Main Street doing toe rolls and 360s over manholes. They rolled onto the bridge. They leaned over the guard rail and looked down at the moving water. The water was thick and brown from the farming. Like a melted chocolate milkshake. John made a dull tap with his wheel on the softening pavement. He let spit fall out of his mouth and down to the river. It landed on the surface, white and foamy, and was carried under the bridge. Would you fuck Mrs. Schmit? he said.

Corey smiled and his eyes narrowed and he spit. If she paid me, he said.

How much?

Whatever’s in that bank.

John laughed. He leaned further onto his elbows and picked up his skates off the road. He tapped them together and laughed again. Corey moved to push him in. John put his skates down quick. Fuck that, he said.

You’re goin swimmin, Corey said. But then he stopped. You pussy, he said.

Fuck you. You’re the one who wants to pet Mrs. Schmit’s kitty.

Corey leaned against the guard rail again. He grinned a big grin and his gums showed. They were a color more white than pink. They were swollen and almost dry. What can I say, he said. That kitty’s hungry.

You’re gross, John said.

They went back to looking at the river. Sunlight poured down from the flawless sky but the water was too murky to reflect it. A man drove over the bridge and waved at the boys from an open window and honked twice. A little while later a cop car pulled up. The sun reflected off the headlights, making little glowing spots on the road. Al opened the door and got out and tried to lean on the roof of the car but it was too hot. He looked at the boys through his shades.  Hello boys, he said.

Hey Al, Corey said. Long time no see.

Al shut the car door and walked around the front of the car and leaned on a hip and looked at the sky. He was barrel-shaped with a big butt for a man. His belt radio came on and a woman’s voice said something indecipherable. Al took off his glove and turned down the volume, rotating a knob between his pointer finger and thumb. John and Corey leaned their backpacks against the guard rail. Corey tilted his head and spit. Al turned his head across the sky as if watching a bird. He inched his glove back on. Inch by inch in the heat.

What’s this I hear about you boys making trouble for Mrs. Schmit.

John and Corey looked at each other and laughed. 

Al stayed still. Then he turned to the boys and took off his shades and slid them into his chest pocket. He said: When I ask a direct question I expect a direct answer.

Corey nodded and spit again.

And stop spitting, Al said. He turned a little to face John. His right shoe scraped on the asphalt. Is it true, John? Were you guys over at the bank again?

Corey laughed. Al held up his hand. That’s enough outta you, he said. He leaned in closer to John. Is it true, John?

John leaned against the guard rail. The river slid by with it’s continuous chant and gurgle. He tapped his wheels on the ground. His bearings made little clicking sounds.

Is it true?

Al waited. He stared at John and waited. Nothing came. Sweat beaded on all of their forearms and foreheads and chins. Then Corey said, You ever shot that gun, Al?

You stop that God damn lip, boy.

But have you?

Al moved towards Corey. It was a short distance and he crossed it fast. He reached for his belt and took out his gun and shot it in the air. The sound was less like a sound and more like a feeling and spread across town and then drowned in the cornfields. 

Yeah, I’ve shot it, Al said. And just because your daddy got a flashy new job and you’re moving to the big city doesn’t mean you get to walk all over me as you leave.

Corey was still. His hand on the guard railing.

Al stepped even closer. What you gonna do? 

Corey didn’t move.

What you gonna do?

Corey’s hand was on the guard railing and it stayed.

That’s what I thought, Al said. He turned his head and spit. Besides, Little John’s not going anywhere. He’s stuck here with me. And your behavior’s not exactly helping him, know what I mean?

He tucked his gun back in its holster and pulled up his belt and slowly moved his hand to his chest pocket. He took out his shades. He unfolded them and slid them onto his face. A slight breeze came up and took shape in the shaking trees. You could hear it twice. First in the branches and leaves and again somewhere out in the fields.

I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, Al said. I’m gonna let this one go, on account of young Mr. John here. He seemed to be looking at Corey but with the shades on there was no telling.

You boys be good. 

He turned and got in his car and drove across the bridge and u-turned in the ditch and went back across the bridge heading east.

John and Corey skated north up the west side of the river. Houses with driveways on the left side of the road and a thin city park on the other. A cat saw them coming and ran under a parked car. They stopped in the park and drank water from the fountain. 

Fuck him, John said.

They kept skating up the road until the houses ended and they came to the abandoned silos. They skated the silos all the time. Partly because of the piles that were there but mostly because no one ever noticed. The silos were wooden and rotting. About thirty feet tall with shingled rooftops and cedar staves for walls. Some of the staves were missing and in the gaps could be seen steel ribbing. At the base of the towers was a floor of cement and upon the cement lay the likely tools of a former economy. Refrigerators and ovens with doors open wide.  Whole piles of piping and wire. Chunks of cement and a tipped over stack of mason bricks. 

The boys rolled up and zigzagged through the trash. The cement was rough and it stole all their speed and they had to push continuously. They came to a bench made of low grade plywood in the shadow of a silo. It was surrounded by junk but the bench itself was clean. Cigarette butts speckled the ground. They both sat down and Corey took out a pack. He lit one and passed it to John and John took a drag and passed it back. Corey spit and took a drag and then spit again. John picked up a rusted sprocket and threw it at one of the ovens and missed. 

 Fat ass Al, Corey said. Maybe he wouldn’t be so fat if he had something to do.

 No shit. We’re probably his biggest problem. 

 Yeah, us and those Indians trying to buy booze. It’s a fucking joke.

 This whole town’s a joke. John threw another sprocket and hit something they couldn’t see. Corey passed him the cigarette and got up and kicked one of the Refrigerators. It teetered and tipped back. He kicked it again and it fell. They each smiled to themselves. 

John took a drag and spit. He scratched the back of his neck. Did you already pack up your stuff?

I had to. The moving van left this morning.


I know, it’s fucking retarded. They’re moving in our stuff before we get there.

That’s fucked up.

I know.

John took another drag. Your new room’s gonna have all your shit in it.

I know.

Corey sat back down and John passed him the cigarette. A flock of geese flew overhead but the direction didn’t make sense for the season. Their wings beat the air and you could hear it.  You could hear it so clearly. You could almost feel it. The boys finished the cigarette and started setting up something to skate.  John took a twelve foot pipe from a pile and set one end on top of a turned over wheelbarrow. He jammed it between the front brace and the deflated tire. The pipe sloped toward the ground and met it near the bench. Corey gave the pipe a coat of wax and rubbed it in with his hand. The wax was solid from being in the shadow. John tested the slickness with the soul of his skate. Then he circle back around and did a soul grind. 

How’s it slide?

It’s fine.

Corey went and did a topsoul. Yeah, he said. It’s good.

They warmed up with mizou and mistrial and makio. Royale and soyale and farfegnugen. Once they were warm they dropped hammers. Teakettle and misfit and savannah. True spin pornstar and a trick they called Indiana. Their legs like reed brushes offering dictation. The pipe like round papyrus. Like howling detritus. The boys literate in some sacred language told only through the body moving. A message ground out through the smoothening. 

They skated this makeshift rail until the shadow of the silo drifted. Even in the shade they’d been wetting their tee shirts with sweat. Big circles on their backs and chests and in the pits. They skated over to the next silo to find something else. Their bearings rattled on the cracked cement. Past the next silo was an open area and beyond that was a small building with a loading dock. 

Nothing, John said.

Yeah, but look. Corey pointed to the right of the building. Up against a wall where the cement ended and a cornfield started was a dumpster. It would have been too big to move but it was on wheels. They skated across the open area, which was pretty smooth. For a moment they glided without pushing, their bodies motionless although they moved. The dumpster was stuck at first because the wheels were in the wrong position. Corey squatted down and adjusted them. Once they got it going it rolled pretty good. They rolled with it and pushed it and positioned it against the loading dock. The loading dock was in the sun but it was the only place that would work. Corey climbed onto the loading dock and took a look. Open the lids, he said. John threw back the lids of the dumpster. The dumpster was full and the trash was old and the sun had heated it. A graveyard of odors. All mixing together and rising to the open air. Thickening it. The smell of dog shit but danker from the passage of time. The smell of eggs poached in vegetable grease. The smell of decomposed meat. The smell of mold. 

John put his hands to his nose and backed away.

Nasty, Corey said. 

John shook his head and pulled up his shirt to cover his mouth and nose. 

Pass me the wax, Corey said.

He waxed the metal edge of the dumpster and tested it and tried the approach. The loading dock was narrow so he had to skate sideways and then curve. He looked down at the dumpster and at the place where he was going to land.

John stayed a distance from the dumpster. What are you gonna try? 

Topsoul, Corey said. 

He skated to the end of the loading dock and put his hands on the wall of the building behind him. He breathed in air and pushed it out fast. He pounded his chest with his fist and breathed again. Then he pushed off the wall and skated toward the dumpster. His knees stayed bent as he pushed. When he got close he curved and jumped and missed his soul and dropped sideways into the dumpster. His body sank and almost disappeared. Fuck, he said. He grabbed the edge of the dumpster and got his footing and managed to stand on something.

John rolled up to the dumpster. You okay?

Corey tried to wipe some brown stuff off his elbow but it smeared and got on his hand. Fuck, he said. He looked down at John and started laughing.

You’re all shitty, John said.

It’s not shit.

It’s worse than shit.

Corey started lifting his legs up and down to see how he was going to get out. As he did it his skates brought something up with them. What the fuck, he said. He bent down into the dumpster and out of sight. When he rose back up he was holding a gun. Jet black with a six-round cylinder and a hammer. 

Oh my God, John said.

Corey cradled it delicately with two hands, as if holding a small animal. He studied it closely. Some black stuff was caked on the barrel. He swung out the cylinder. It’s loaded, he said. Five rounds. One’s missing.

No way, John said. He almost backed away without realizing it.

Corey started laughing. What the fuck, he said.

Why would it be in the dumpster?

Corey swung the cylinder back in place. Depends on where that other bullet is.

He handed the gun to John and swung his legs over the wall of the dumpster and climbed down. His pants were wet and blotted with streaks of the brown stuff. He hovered his arms as if to keep them away from himself.

John looked at him and looked at his pants and then slowly remembered the gun in his hands. This is fucked, he said. We have to take it to Al.

Corey took the gun back from John. No we don’t.

But that bullet might have killed someone.

If it did, they’re dead.

But someone killed them.

Corey unzipped his backpack and put the gun inside. He tried to wipe his face and ended up smearing brown stuff on his cheek. We’re not taking it to Al.

What are we doing?

I don’t know, Corey said. He put on his backpack and grinned. This time he kept his gums hidden. We’re gonna shoot something, he said. 

The boys skated back across the open area and past the piles and the silos and to the road. They kept going north along the river. The current was fast. Stands of old cottonwoods clung to the clay-rich banks. A sandbar with tufts of grass. Song birds somewhere on the far side of the water. The road was old and rough and uphill and they had to push, slowly passing a barn half collapsed and a series of telephone poles without wires. Evening light came through the corn and darkened most of the road. They skated a mile. And then another. Till the river curved and the road diverged into the cornfields. Here the world spread out before them. The rolling hills of gold and green. The crops in endless rows. Every mile a stand of trees with house and yard and barn.

They took off their skates and walked barefoot into the fields. The corn towered above their heads. They walked down a row and looked up at a narrow sky. Corey went first, spreading the huge leaves with his hands. The corn was mostly ripe. Some of the cobs bonked against their knees. The gaps between their toes filled with earth. Their ankles bent when they stepped on the base roots.

They walked for a long time. The row kept going and so did the other rows around them. When they were a quarter mile from the road Corey stopped. He unzipped his backpack and took out the gun. He looked it over from all angles and wiped it on his shirt. He checked the cylinder and snapped it shut.

I’ve never been this far into the fields, John said. 

That’s because your dad doesn’t farm.

Neither does yours. 

John ripped a cob from a stalk and began chucking it. The first layers were green. As he got further they paled. Finally he found the kernels. So white, like the apparitions of actual kernels. You could live out here, he said. If you just ate corn.

Corey shook one of the stalks and watched the tassel dance above his head. Yeah, if you could eat it.

What do you mean if you could eat it?

This is all feed corn. You can’t eat it. 

Why not?

It’s for cows. It’s no good.

John looked at the cob in his hands. The fine silk attached. The plump kernels as hard as stone. That’s fucking retarded, he said. He threw the cob into the air and heard it land in another row. What are we gonna shoot, he said

Corey held the gun loosely in his right hand. I don’t know.

Here, give it to me. I’ll shoot one of these cobs.

Corey stared off through the corn as if he had a view of something. He shook his head and spit.

Pass it over, John said. He held out his hand.

Corey looked at the gun and shook his head.

What’s the matter, John said.

Corey wiped his nose on his forearm. He looked off through the corn again. It’s not loaded, he said. There’s nothing in it.

John didn’t say anything. He looked at Corey as he stared into the corn and then he looked at the gun in Corey’s hand. The limp way he held it. The black stuff caked on the barrel. John’s mind churned slow like a weakened strobe, a spiral parade of the commonly known, the commonly told. He looked at Corey again. Corey was looking off as far as he could through the corn.


We’d like to thank Anders for this contribution. Check out his latest project – a documentary about the art of dumpster diving – over here.