(excerpted from the opening of this short story)
Nathan watched the long, straight dirt road ahead of him in the best way he could. It wasn't really his responsibility, nor was there really any need. They would get where they were going without his help, but somehow he needed to feel he was helping in some way.
Occasionally, he would lean just a bit to his right to see around the rickety, brown clapboard wagon in front of him as he waked behind it several paces. And then he would return to his station directly behind the right rear wheel, walking in one of the two well-traveled ruts in the hardened dirt road. The rut was just a bit wider than his foot, and he thought as he walked that it must not have always been so wide. Certainly a wagon wheel was not so wide as that. But he thought of the age of the road and the many wagons that had carved their way along this same path in cold, wet winters and dry, dusty summers and knew that each had widened these well-worn ruts just wide enough to fit his bare feet on this hot, dusty afternoon.
He tried to play with the road. He often tried to turn the unpleasant to play. But with each step, one foot closely in front of the other, both feet staying in a single rut, he would feel knife-like pains, pains seeming almost like they came from broken pieces of glass on his feet. Packed, dry-hard ridges in the road cut at him as he walked and stumbled, and all the time he kept trying to fool himself into believing that he was playing.
His walk was as uneven as the road, and from a great distance where one could not know his size or his age, one might think him a soldier returning from the war somewhere around Savannah. Slow, faltering steps. One foot picked up carefully, then another. Moving deliberately ahead, but not easily. . . .
A child of ten should not be burying his father. But he walked along now behind a casket carrying his father, a casket that seemed it would leap at any minute from the back of the wagon and fall onto the road at his very feet and break open on all sides when it hit the hard, glass-like dirt his feet walked on. . . .
Many other short stories have been published or are in process, a number centering on Fannin County, Texas, the birthplace of Gary Swaim's father.