An Introvert Over Compensates, paper collage on canvas board by gaye gambell-peterson

Tell Me Anything

The bed feels wide and empty to Kate, like when Max was in prison, but today Max has just gone to work. A month ago, he started a construction job at a hotel site on the north end of Yemassee Island. It’s a step up from clerking at the Quick Stop near the causeway entrance, the only job he could get when they arrived. Kate hasn’t tried to find work yet. Every night, she resolves she’ll start looking, but by morning, her good intentions vanish.


Today, she’ll take the bus to the Island Market and buy something special for dinner—a chicken to roast, or steaks—and when Max gets home, the house will smell good and she’ll throw her arms around him like he’s been gone a year. Some days, when he retreats inside his head, his absence feels that long.


Max hasn’t gone to work. A couple of weeks ago he was late the second time, and the construction foreman fired him. Max spends the day driving around, feeling guilty about keeping the car from Kate. It would do her good to get out of the house. He hasn’t told her he’s lost his job. Every day, he gets up, puts on his work clothes, and drives to the beach, where he walks. Then he goes to the library to use the computer to search for jobs. He’s found a bar that opens at noon. It smells like rancid smoke, but the absence of windows and the wood paneling make it feel cocoon-like, safe.

Some days, Max wonders if he should go home at all. Today, the waves tumble in and gulls swoop and laugh. The world turns, the moon exerts its pull. Low tide, a wide expanse of hard, packed sand where the water has receded, loops of seaweed, a swath of broken shells, plastic bottles, a piece of driftwood he could take home, maybe build something. But Kate would want to know why he’s gone to the beach without her.

It’s another hard day to be alive, to remember the small grave back in Beaumont, Texas, marked by a metal stake and a plastic-covered card.


Kate gets out of bed, goes to the bathroom, looks in the mirror. Her face and eyes are puffy, as if she’s cried for days. She hasn’t cried in a while, but she knows Max thinks she does. Max watches her as if he expects her to scatter into sparks.

Her period is ten days late. She isn’t sure what she’ll do if she’s pregnant. She might not tell Max.

Their son, Joshua, would have been tall like Max. Twenty-two inches long at birth, wispy blond hair that stood out in all directions. Kate was always trying to slick it down.


When Joshua was born nearly two years ago, Kate had a C-section, and the medical bills piled up. She went back to her clerk job at the Holiday Inn Express when the baby was two months old, and Max took on as many extra shifts as the tire plant in Beaumont would allow, but they struggled. Max couldn’t remember when he’d slept more than a few hours at a stretch.

The morning of the incident—that’s what the police called it—it was Max’s turn to drop Joshua at daycare. He was running late. He figured he would clock in at work, ask somebody to cover for him, and then take Joshua. But right after he arrived at the plant, there was an emergency at the loading dock.

It was eleven o’clock when he found the pacifier in his pocket. An image of the diaper bag in the back seat lit up his brain. Didn’t he take it into the daycare? He searched his memory: open the car door, unlatch Joshua’s seat, hoist the carrier, grab the bag. Go inside, hand Joshua over—

The parking lot, shimmering with heat. Somebody prying the limp baby from Max’s arms.

Max’s public defender got the second-degree murder charge reduced to manslaughter, and Max spent a year and a half in prison. Every time Kate visited, he told her to divorce him. She would say, “I won’t lose you, too.”

His first night home, she told him they should start over somewhere. Max liked the idea. But where?

He was on the verge of sleep when he remembered a place his grandmother told him about. Her father, Thomas King, grew up on a little island called Eden, off the coast of Savannah. In those days a tiny lighthouse at Eden’s north end guarded the river channel. When Thomas was still a boy, he was apprenticed to the lighthouse keeper.

Wide awake, Max looked up Eden Island online. Eden was deserted long ago, the lighthouse decommissioned. But across the bay, there was Yemassee Island, a thriving beach town on the Atlantic Ocean.


Not long after Kate and Max arrived on the island, she dropped him at the Quick Stop for work and drove to the market. She wished they had two cars, but they had left the car the police impounded behind in Texas. They couldn’t afford to buy another.

The store was crowded. The woman ahead of Kate in the checkout line was struggling with a little girl about two years old—the age Joshua would be now—and a boy four or five, who was grabbing candy bars off a display. The woman pried the candy out of his hands and put it back. He dropped to the floor and howled.

The woman said to Kate, “Sorry. He’s out of control.”

Kate hadn’t paid much attention to the boy, but the girl—her age, her blond hair, her blue eyes, her round little body—had nearly brought Kate to her knees. She abandoned her cart and left the store. From her car she watched the woman load her children and bags into an SUV and drive away. Kate sat for a long time before she headed home.

Max met her at the door. “Need help?” 

She walked past him to the kitchen with its white metal cabinets, the crackled black-and-white linoleum, the dripping faucet. Beyond the window, the bare yard. No swing set, no sand box with buckets, shovels, dump trucks.

He followed her. “Kate? What happened?”

She took in the defeated slope of his shoulders, the loss of their son etched in Max’s very being. She would always see it, just like she would always see Joshua in a stranger’s child on the street, in the store, on the playground. 

“There was a little girl in the checkout line. Blond hair, blue eyes. About Joshua’s age, if he— I lost it, Max. I walked out without the groceries.”

He took her in his arms. “It’s okay.”

She pushed him away. “It’s not. It’s different for you.” She heard the echo of her words and wanted to take them back.

He slammed the door on his way out.


Kate has gone to the grocery a few times since without seeing the woman and her children. A fluke, she thinks, unlikely she’ll run into them again. She takes the bus, armed with her list and recycled bags. At the store she avoids eye contact. She checks items off her list—salad greens, apples, milk, potatoes, a chicken, a pricy chocolate bar Max loves. She avoids the baby aisle, but Joshua is in her head anyway. The fuzz of blond hair, the calloused bow of his upper lip, his milk-drunk smile.

The only open checkout line stretches back into an aisle. Ahead of Kate, the woman she saw before is leaving, the little girl riding in the cart. The mother grips the boy’s arm and pulls him along.

Kate checks out, takes her bags, and walks outside. Across the parking lot, there’s the mother. She has let go of the boy, and she’s lifting the girl out of the cart and into a car seat when the boy runs out into the traffic lane.

A blue car. A muffled thud.


Max walks the beach, but it’s too hot to walk for long. He drives to Walmart and buys a screwdriver. He hangs out at the bar, where a guy who owns a small construction business gives Max his card and says to call next week, he might have a job opening. Max leaves, feeling hopeful. It’s five o’clock. Kate won’t expect him before six-thirty. He’s been wanting to see Eden Island. Why not now?

He takes the main road toward the causeway and pulls in at the Quick Stop where he used to work to ask for directions. The woman behind the counter tells him to look for a shell road half a mile west of the store.

Max misses the turn, doubles back, and spots the road, no longer shell but sand, a track with room for one car, scrub threatening to swallow it up. The bridge’s rotted-looking timbers don’t look safe, but he drives across it anyway.

He has read that Eden is less than a mile long and half a mile wide. Its population in 1910, before World War I, before the lighthouse was shut down and replaced by the one on Yemassee Island, was sixty-three men, women, and children. And yet Max expected more than this: a single, ruined brick structure with a faded sign, a handful of crumbling foundations, some ragged, storm-damaged palm trees.

Eden doesn’t live up to its name. He doubts it ever did.

He considers turning back, but he wants to see the lighthouse where his great-grandfather lived. Near the north end of the island, a fallen palm tree blocks the road. Max parks and follows a path through scrub pines. He comes out at the tallest dunes he has ever seen. He climbs to the top, and there’s the lighthouse on a sand spit, at least a hundred yards from where he stands. The structure lists, as if a good wind might knock it over.

The sand spit’s terrain rises and dips like miniature dunes. By the time Max reaches the lighthouse, water laps at his work boots. They aren’t waterproof; what if he ruins them? Worth it, maybe, to explore this place. He climbs the crumbling steps and circles halfway around the lighthouse. On the east side, there’s the landing he’s read about, shaped like the prow of a ship. He leans out over the rail. The swells slap the prow and dash him with cold spray. He steps back to the lighthouse and runs his hand over the rough, whitewashed wall. The door is open.


The woman driving the blue car gets out, sobbing.

At the sight of the boy sprawled on the pavement, Kate’s knees go weak. And then the mother is running toward Kate. “Hold her!” she says, waits for the beat it takes Kate to set her grocery bags down, shoves the little girl into Kate’s arms, and runs back to her son.

The girl stiffens and digs her bare feet into Kate’s belly. Kate says, “I’ve got you, honey. It’s okay.” She walks some distance away so the child won’t see her brother lying there, her mother kneeling beside him.

People come out of the grocery and the hair salon next door; others get out of their cars.

Sirens, distant at first, getting closer. Police, an ambulance. The day Joshua died must have been like this, Kate thinks, but she wasn’t there to see. She shields the little girl’s face and edges closer, wills the boy to move, to speak. When he starts to cry, the breath Kate’s been holding becomes a sob. The little girl pats Kate’s face.

EMTs load the boy into the ambulance, and the mother comes and takes her daughter. She locks eyes with Kate only a second before she hurries away. Kate’s first thought is she knows what this woman feels, but it isn’t true. This child will probably be all right.

The crowd drifts away. Kate gathers up her groceries and walks to the bus stop. Riding back to the village, she still feels the little girl’s weight and smells baby shampoo, as though the child has imprinted herself on Kate’s body. She presses her hands against her abdomen, hoping she might detect something alive.


Max looks up at the curve of the iron stairs and wonders if they’ll hold him. He tests each step before he settles his full weight on it. The stairs creak and sway. At the top, there’s a trap door made of wood strapped with metal. Max can see light through the gaping holes where the wood has rotted away, but the rusty hinges are stuck. He throws all his weight against the door once, twice. On the third try, the door gives. One more good shove. He pushes it open and climbs onto the landing.

The sunlight blinds and disorients him. He grabs the rail, closes his eyes, opens them. He can see beyond Yemassee Island to the Atlantic. To the north, buoys mark the Savannah River channel. To the east and south, the bay and the marshes stretch away like a moving velvet carpet.

The shush of water and wind, the clanging of a bell, the call of sea birds circling overhead. A dolphin tour boat passes, and people wave.

He resolves to bring Kate here. The salt air, the laughing gulls, the crumbling lighthouse whisper survival.

Watching for rotten boards, Max walks around what’s left of a framework that must have contained the lamp. He wonders if the light was vandalized or taken away and used somewhere else. On the west side, there’s Eden Island, the mainland beyond. A red ball of sun sits above a cloud bank, the sky turning lapis, coral, pink. He looks down. Water laps at the base of the lighthouse. The sand spit has disappeared under the rising water.

He checks his watch. Seven-thirty. He has completely lost track of time.

Stupid, stupid not to think about the tides. He hurries down the spiral stairs and out the door. The steps are nearly under water. He stashes his phone in his shirt pocket, hoping to keep it dry, and shoves his keys deep in his jeans pocket. He goes down the steps, stunned by how cold the water is at the end of a hot day. The spit is narrow, the terrain uneven and shifting under his feet. If he can somehow keep to higher ground— But he steps into a depression, loses his footing, goes under, comes up flailing.

He strikes out swimming, but the water is fast with currents he can’t see. After what seems like a long time, he wades ashore. Climbs the dunes, and there’s the car. Feels in his pockets for his phone, his keys. Gone.


Kate tries Max’s cell. His inbox is full. She wants to tell him about the accident, about holding the little girl. The hotel construction site is a couple of blocks from a bus stop on her route home. She’ll get off there and find Max.

In the heat the two blocks seem long, the grocery bags knocking against her legs, making bruises. The new hotel rises four stories, the windows like reflective eyes. Storm-proof, Max says. She walks to the office trailer, taps on the open door, and asks if she can speak to Max.

“He’s not here,” the guy behind the desk says.

Kate’s hands tingle. She sets the bags down. “He must be. Max Parker. He’s been working here a month or so.”

The man pushes back from the desk. “Max was let go two weeks ago.”

“Oh,” she says. Oh.

Out the door and down the steps. The man calls out, “Hey, wait!” and hands her the bags. She thanks him and heads for the gate.

If Max hasn’t been at work, where has he been?

A fifteen-minute wait for the bus, a ten-minute ride to the stop nearest their house. She keeps trying to call Max. At home she puts the groceries away. She won’t cook the chicken. She can’t bring herself put her hand inside it and draw out the bloody scraps. She is so, so angry with Max, but then she thinks about the terrible things that happen to people. A drunk driver crossing the median, the faulty wiring in an old house, babies locked in hot cars.

At eight-thirty she picks up her phone to call the police, puts it down. Max is only a couple of hours late. Besides, the thought of talking to the police makes her sick to her stomach. 

After Joshua died, Kate felt weightless as air. For weeks, she couldn’t taste food, although people kept shoving it at her, demanding that she eat. She felt no anger or resentment toward Max, although some people seemed to think she should. Her mother, who came for the baby’s funeral, wouldn’t speak to Max. She hammered away at Kate to leave him. But her mother hadn’t seen Max cuddle the baby in the middle of the night. She hadn’t seen him take the pre-dawn feedings, regardless of how many hours he’d worked. She hadn’t seen his harrowed face when Kate got to the hospital emergency room that awful day, the look that returns without warning, like a haunting.

Kate stood up to her mother, who left in a fury. Because Max felt connected to an island town that no longer exists, they came here. But Max has changed. Why didn’t she expect that?

At nine o’clock, she goes to the bathroom. There’s a red stain on her panties.


Max hikes out to the highway to hitch a ride. His boots squish and squeak with every step. It’s getting dark. People whiz past him. He doesn’t blame them; he must look a sight. He has given up and struck out walking toward Yemassee when a trucker stops. Max thanks him and apologizes for the puddles he’s making on the guy’s seat and floor mats. Mercifully, the trucker asks no questions.

Back in Yemassee, Max gets out near the center of the village and walks the rest of the way home. It’s only a little after nine, but there are no lights on in the house. Is Kate not here?

He lets himself in.

Her voice comes out of the dark and startles him. “Where have you been?” He snaps on the overhead light. She blinks, frowns. “Jesus, Max. What happened?”

He looks down at his wet clothes, his ruined boots. “I went to Eden Island. I didn’t have a cell signal, and then I lost my phone. I —”

“You lost your job. That’s what you lost.” Kate’s eyes spark with anger.

His relief unravels like a frayed rope. No need to lie. “How did you find out?”

“Something happened today at the grocery. I couldn’t wait to tell you, so I went to the construction site. The guy in the office said you were fired two weeks ago.” She wraps her arms around herself like she might fly apart. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The damp clothes, the freezing air conditioning, Kate’s hurt tone. Max shivers. “I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Worry me? Sure, it would have worried me. But after all we’ve gone through, I would think you could tell me anything.”

He feels the room closing in. Still so much to lose. “Kate. Tell me what happened.”

She picks up a framed photo of Joshua and hugs it to her chest. “The woman I saw at the market before, the one with the little blond girl? She was there today.” Kate tells Max about the boy getting hit by a car. “The woman brought her little girl to me. It was like she chose me, Max. I held her, and it was okay, you know?” Kate shakes her head. “I don’t know why it seemed important to tell you, but it did. And then I couldn’t find you.” She sets the photo down, looks at him, her eyes brimming. “I got my period. I thought I might be pregnant, but I’m not.”

He wants to close the distance, to hold her, but he’s afraid she won’t let him. 

“I’m sorry,” he says. And he is. Sorry she isn’t pregnant. Sorry about lying. Sorry, so sorry he left their son in the blistering car.

“I know.” She swipes at her eyes with the backs of her hands, something so Kate that he weeps.

She says, “Go take a shower.”

He does, and after, Kate is waiting in the kitchen, bowls of soup on the table. They sit down. They eat. He tells her about Eden Island and the lighthouse and how he got trapped by the tide. He tries to tell it funny, like he used to tell her stories, back when they were dating.

Author's Comment

I write often about women in crisis who manage to survive. “Tell Me Anything” isn’t autobiographical, but it was difficult to write. The story explores the aftermath of the accidental death of a child. How does a young couple deal with such a tragedy? What happens to their relationship in its wake? What can they possibly do with loss too deep for words? There are no easy answers.

That Pinson Girl
Gerry Wilson
Set in the harsh landscape of rural north Mississippi during World War I, Gerry Wilson’s debut novel, That Pinson Girl, pits a white teenage mother against betrayal, hatred, and violence. Seventeen-year-old Leona Pinson gives birth to a son and refuses to name the child’s father. Luther Biggs, a biracial sharecropper with deep ties to the Pinson family, is Leona’s only ally against her brother, Raymond, who inhabits a world of nightriders and violence. As the secrets that haunt these characters come to light, Leona must rely on her own courage and cunning to save herself and her little son. In prose that has been called both lyrical and unflinching, this dark historical novel engages timeless issues of racism, sexism, and poverty. “Devastating and beautifully written, Gerry Wilson’s That Pinson Girl is at once a heart-rending tragedy and a testament to the indomitable human spirit.” — Clifford Garstang, author of The Last Bird of Paradise and Oliver’s Travels “In Gerry Wilson’s gripping debut novel, 1918 in North Mississippi becomes tangible again; here are the red hills, the suck of winter mud, the scrabble of subsistence living, and the intricately crossed lines of race and kin.” — Katy Simpson Smith, author of The Weeds, The Everlasting, and Free MenThat Pinson Girl is a beautiful novel about the destructive power of dark secrets.” — Tiffany Tyson, author of The Past Is Never and Three Rivers To learn more about Gerry, visit
That Pinson Girl is available from Regal House Publishing, Bookshop, and Amazon.


Gerry Wilson is the author of a literary historical novel, That Pinson Girl, and a story collection, Crosscurrents and Other Stories (Press 53), and was a finalist for the Mississippi Arts and Letters Fiction Award in 2016. She is a recipient of a Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship. Her story, “A Language of Their Own,” was runner-up for The Porch Prize (fiction) in 2024. A seventh generation Mississippian, Gerry lives in Jackson.
gaye gambell-peterson, 84, dances with two muses. Her collages are widely displayed in the St Louis region, often with a poem alongside. Her collages also serve as companions to the poems in her chapbooks: pale leaf floating and MYnd mAp. She gets enough positive attention to keep both dances going.

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