Stow Away Home
Ryan K. Jory

New inmates come with old advice: establish dominance; rough up the biggest guy, first thing.

Ragnar, who is big, spends an awful lot of time dodging sucker punches, saying, “Sweetie, no, just no.”

I never swing at Ragnar. He calls me sweetie in a different way, muttered in sporadic, sincere moments that seem hard to come by and impossible to hold.

He and I break out one day. We run from the desert to San Diego Bay, where we watch fishing vessels return from open ocean. They dump their excess smelt with the bilge water. Sea lions gather, diving from docks into green whirlpools of no-longer-live bait, growing fat on free rations.

Ragnar mimics their croaky grunts.

“I love barking at creatures that bark back.”

“Me, too.”

Sun sets. I say, “You must come with me to the City of Quebec.”

He holds his nose. “Canada is too far.”

I say, “No, it’s the name of a bar—a pub, rather—in London.”

But that’s so much farther.

We stow away on a 747, disguising ourselves as British flight attendants. It’s remarkably easy to slip into a flock as they march through security, toddling like emperor penguins, handsome cravats around our necks.

Onboard, we ditch the scarves and turn from birds to men again. The only empty seats are in first class. A striking, ash-haired man seems to realize we’re fare-dodgers. He says, “At first blush, it is impossible to tell a rich American from a vagrant.”

Ragnar says, “I’m Nordic, originally.”

The penguins pour us small flutes of champagne but keep dumping them out before we can sip.

“You won’t appreciate it stale,” they say. “Let us freshen your glass.”

In London, the pub is more quaint than I recalled. I keep apologizing for broken springs in the vinyl booths, as if I were the one who wore them out. “It was nicer in the Nineties,” I say.

Ragnar says, “You were an infant then.”

“You flatter me. I was fifteen.”

“Still young.”

I say, “Look at the older men, how they dress for this dump. All in blazers, as if they’re somewhere fancy. Would you ever see a thing like this in the States? In London, it’s the hustlers who pay wealthy men for the privilege of their company. I went broke here, had to leave.”

Ragnar says, “I’ll never understand the English.”

“Oh, you speak it fluently.”


Ragnar misses Lillehammer, with its picture-postcard gingerbread houses caked in ski hill snow. He does not miss Oslo, where all his family live, but they’re family, so we visit. Flights from Stansted Airport are only £5, as long as all our luggage can be stowed in the cavity of a pistachio shell. We must agree, in lieu of assigned seats, to stand in a lavatory.

Still, it’s the economic option, cheaper than buying new neckerchiefs.

Oslo is so pretty. Coastal towns always remind me of home, but this one makes me wary.

Norwegians all speak perfect English until they don’t want me to know what they’re saying. I surmise, from the look on Ragnar’s brothers’ faces, that whatever they’re murmuring translates to him, there, dog-shit man.

His parents serve fish tacos for the middag meal. I say, “I feel like I’m right back in California. How thoughtful of you to plan dinner with me in mind.”

Mom says, “We have tacos every Saturday. How American to assume everything is about you.”

I can take no more cold shoulders, so I stand from the table. “I don’t have to impress you people,” I say. “I just desperately, desperately want to.”

That night, I curl next to Ragnar on his childhood bed. “When we’re captured and back in the pen,” I say, “will you take a pretend beating from me, first thing, so others don’t push me around?”

He shakes his head, a genuine sadness seeming to harden the air in his lungs. “I wish you wouldn’t have asked,” he says.

I realize I’ve spoiled things between us in a way I can’t easily mend. But I must, so I give him the needy sort of hug, grasping to get my arms all the way around his tree-trunk chest, knowing perfectly well that the inches don’t add up. It’s a mathematically impossible gesture.

“If I could grow my arms for you, I would.”

He says, “Aren’t you happy being small?”

I say, “With you, I’m happy any way.”

We remain like that until daybreak, vines of ivy jealously clinging to the bark of a mighty oak.

Ryan K. Jory studied creative writing at the University of Michigan and Miami University of Ohio. His flash fiction has previously appeared in Hobart. He currently lives in San Diego, California with his husband, Matt.