Life is a competition: it’s won by those who serve.


· American Heart Association

· The Home Depot

· Doritos 

· Capital One
· The Virginia Lottery
· Kellogg’s
· Sprint

· Short Fiction 

Dave Graddick
Growing up in a military family, I always had to sport buzz cuts. Father's orders. I didn't discover until college at Northwestern University that I actually had honest-to-God curly hair. #GoCats. 

My dad traveled the world working on missile defense. I want to do the same carrying massive ideas. I don't think advertising has reached its full potential yet as a creative arsenal for good.

I’ve done stints at Leo Burnett, Big River Advertising, Capital One and UWG. 

I'm for hire, curly hair and all.

Currently, I live in Chicago. But every army brat knows your duty station can change at the drop of a hat. And that home is wherever there are people who love you, dearly.


dave dot graddick at gmail dot com


I really am capable of telling a story. Kick back, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy!

Departures and Arrivals

Sarah brought her seat to its full and upright position, relinquishing any claims on rest. The engine of the plane hummed soft like a laptop fan, clearly present, though soon overlooked. Twenty-five thousand feet up and sandwiched by deserted seats, Sarah endured her private hell. All the times she barred intrusions on other flights, she never thought she’d pray for a soured- breath consultant or even dicey weather. Without distractions, all Sarah could churn were moments that she would undo.

“Jackson, what are you talking about?

“Seriously, Sarah, if you’re not coming, just say so.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“You should be there.”

“I said I have to think about it.

“No you won’t You're not going to show up.

“Don’t tell me what I'm not going to do.

“Okay, sis, prove me wrong. Prove you won’t flake on mom.”

“I’m not playing this game. I’ve nothing to prove to you or Lynn. Got it!”

“Jeez, someone needs to get laid. Seriously Sarah, a dick does the body good.”

“I’m hanging up,” Sarah retorted, only Jackson had already beat her to it.

Sarah sighed. She raised the shutter of the window and looked out into the widening, cloudless dark, smattered with only pockets of light. Absent was the illuminated grid and constant flow of vehicles like arteries, pumping life, sound and people into raucous city streets. This was her home with all its threats of quiet and conversation. Even at thirty-two, she only mostly believed that she didn’t need to explain herself to anyone.

Detached from her hearing, Sarah deplaned. The regional airport still fought updated color palettes and progress, a forgiving standard for her to measure herself against. The same four small gates and thin burnt-orange carpet greeted her arrival, evoking a muted grin from Sarah. When she was little, a wide-eyed stick of a girl, mostly knees and elbows, she loved this airport. Not the planes, terminals or ticket counters so much, but the people. Everyone seemed to whisk about carrying a sophisticated air, she hadn’t yet learned. Among the jumble with Lynn and Jackson, waiting on Chuck’s return from wherever the Army last ordered, she discerned the lives of those coming and going, as if they read like nametags.

As Sarah made her way to baggage claim, her ears finally popped. The time had come to dial down any hints of unease. Her steps were leaving security. Sarah hunted for Jackson, letting her eyes wander around the two baggage carousels, looking for the crop of brown wavy hair, pulled into a short ponytail. He was not there. Instead, as the carousel lurched to life, she waited where the handful of others gathered to retrieve their luggage. A couple pecked at each other’s lips. A toddler whined at his mother’s skirt to be held. Sarah could see her stuff heading down the conveyer belt when a set of eyes locked back on hers. Spine straight. Feet together. No crook of expression escaping disciplined lips. Hoisting her duffle, Sarah’s molars clenched, and she felt the rushing urge to pee. At the post that Jackson was supposed to occupy was Chuck.

“There you are.”

“Where is Jackson?”

“He sent me for you.”

“Something wrong?”

“Still a lot of party prep to be done. Pickup’s out this way.”

“I need the head first.”

“Over there.”

“I know.”

“Here, I can take your duffle.”

“Wasn't worth my weight, if I couldn’t shoulder my own duffle. Isn’t that what you used to say?”

Sarah walked off. She needed relief. On the toilet, she prayed her body was done peeing rivers, so she would not have to ask for a pit stop, not from Chuck. Sarah envied the women who had stopped in this stall before her. There is a release in wrapping a pad in tissue and dropping it carefree into the white bin. Only a matronly janitor mopping in the entrance of the restroom could possibly bear witness to her unease as she fixated on a diaper-changing table.

Inside Chuck’s pickup, the warmed night waves of Highway 72, County Line Road and Old Railroad Bed lapped at Sarah. Sarah, feeling the full relief of an empty bladder, somewhat settled into her seat. The citrus of orange peels, discarded in a cup holder, and an open bag of corn nuts perfumed the cabin. Scarce was the time when she could not recall some pickup, carting those smells, being gassed up and ready for Chuck’s whims. Back then she was the first to jump in beside him and go, wind roaring in her face, red clay dust rocketing in the rearview.

“Not a bad night to be out on the roads. Not a drop of rain.”

The statement caught Sarah unaware, not supposing Chuck would be interested in making conversation. She could feel him inching his way into one and there was no place to retreat. Sarah decided to attempt to steer things from the passenger’s side.

“Lynn didn’t want to tag along tonight?”

“Oh Jackson didn’t tell you, I see.”

Sarah didn’t know how to respond. Chuck seemed to gloat in this, sitting up straighter. Whatever it was, it probably wasn’t worth knowing.

“There was a time I’d hand you two an M-R-E,” Chuck said, “and you’d and Jackson be happier than shit-covered flies, munching on dried fruit cocktail, only sharing amongst yourselves.”

He laughed at this for some reason. Sarah’s laugh didn’t follow.

“The party’s a surprise. If your mom knew you were here, our cover would be blown.”

“It’s comical of you to think she doesn’t suspect.”

There was Sarah’s laugh, pointed and sharp, right at him.

“Humph,” Chuck grunted. “My backside didn’t spend all that time in rice paddies not learning how to pull off a surprise.”

“I would’ve hoped Lynn had gotten smarter at knowing your ways.”

The truck sped mile by mile past marker 86, 74 and 62 before exiting onto County Line Road, where Lucky Jim’s Bait and Tackle stood. A rusted marquee sporting chipped blue paint offered five pounds of chicken livers for three dollars. The silence grew until Sarah was forced to make room in her seat. Sarah flipped on the radio knob to put sounds back into the cabin. An oldies station came on. Hank Williams crooned. Chuck immediately clicked it off.

“I guess it’s better you get this piss attitude out your system before tomorrow night’s party”. He took his eyes from the road to give her a full-on look. “Jackson and I put in a lot of sweat and money to do something real special for your mom. Am I understood?”

“A surprise isn’t a hard concept,” Sarah said.

“Am I understood?”


“Yes, what?!” Chuck pressed.

“I said, Yes.”

The glare of a car that didn’t dim their brights blinded Chuck, forcing his eyes to the centerline.

“If you’re waiting for – sir, you can pull over now. I’ll walk, Chuck.” The sudden flip out of Sarah’s mouth was resolute. “And then I’ll call Lynn for a ride.”

Sarah kept her eye on the odometer seeing if the gage would fall. It didn’t.

The truck passed Sarah’s old high school and the Piggly Wiggly, where Sarah first tasted the independence a paycheck brings, stocking cans and scanning coupons. SUCK IT, spray painted in black, adored the water tower past that. It was Hartsville’s only real marker as a town. Sarah knew the rush of climbing atop there, filling every crevice of lung fiber with air and booming it into the night: THIS WON’T BE MY LIFE.

Finally, Chuck and Sarah arrived. Sarah jumped out of the pickup truck, slamming the door, her store of energy near depleted. She had only a handful of moments to grab her duffle from the back before Chuck sped off, spewing up gravel. Sarah hated most how quickly she could be pushed to exhaustion, her huffing pants sounding like taunts to her ears. Sarah lugged herself and her bag up the front steps and paused on the porch, taking measure of the bench swing. She lowered her duffle from her shoulder and gifted the swing her full weight, knowing the ease of life to be had, if she just kept swinging and let the weekend tick by.

The porch ceiling began to creak as Sarah swung. It was only faint at first and then steady, low rhythmic sighs. There wasn’t a doubt that the swing would hold her. It was only signs of Sarah splintering a little, hearing the whines of a baby in the creaks, any baby, not her baby. There is no baby. She understood the lump of cells inside of her, constantly dividing, driving forth toward birth, was no bigger than a raspberry, she didn’t cared if it carried a detectable heartbeat, she couldn’t feel it. So why should she have to call it a baby?

With her shirtsleeves stretched over her palms, she held them to her eyes, hoping the cotton would preemptively wick her ducts dry. This wasn’t a family of criers. Stop it. Tears are for the weak. It was her body crying, not her, she was the detached entity hovering hanging her head in disgust at the feeble woman on the swing, boo-wooing in the dark. Buck it up, Sarah. Get a handled on that quivering lip you— stupid bitch. The tears stopped.

Sarah knew if she had been one of those women who hid themselves behind foundations and liners her face would be an irreversible mess. Her arresting plainness is what Bruce called her best feature, giving her a mature innocence that belied toughness. Bruce told Sarah upfront that he was separated from his wife and seeking out a no-holds-barred divorce attorney, a detail Sarah didn’t take stock of – only paying him for guitar lessons, not his life story. Soon though, the half hour lessons, a birthday gift to herself, stretched into an hour and then coffee afterwards until one day Sarah, on a whim, invited Bruce over for Indian food. Sarah didn’t cook, having not clocked much time in the kitchen with Lynn, but she knew of great carryout only a shout from her walk-up apartment on Broadway near Diversey. Friends had coffee. Friends invited each other over. Friends fed each other warm, ripped pieces of naan, hiding smiles behind half empty glasses of red wine.

Sarah stood from the swing, picked up her bag and inhaled a few calming breaths. She looked into the bay window. The window stood open like those of a department store for her to wander by and take measure of the contents within. A light spilled out past the staircase and living room, beyond the dining room table and benches to where the kitchen was. She knocked as she entered, taking note of the exposed ceiling beams, the window seals, the polished floors, the in-inlaid bookshelves and staircase railing. It was clear that Jackson had been up to some major renovations since she was last here. The scene belonged on the cover of a magazine. Somehow it was like he had carved out a tree and made a home for himself and his partner, Scott.

“There she is.” Jackson said, emerging from the kitchen. “I told you they wouldn’t kill each other.”

“No, I said Sarah was going to kill you,” corrected Scott. “There’s a difference.”

“I can’t believe you sent that man for me.”

“The sooner you and Dad sniffed each other out and retreated to your corners the better for everyone.”

“I told him not to.”

Sarah hugged Scott. “Thank you for not being a douche. You’re too good for Jackson.”

“Everyone only has to get along for one night. For mom. And then we can go back to the Donovan usual.”

Sarah walked to Jackson and tweaked one of his nipples, hard.


“You’re lucky I’m too tired to knee you.”

“There are still more party favors to bag. Come take out your frustration on curling ribbon.”

“No, I want to go to bed."

“Sure thing," said Scott, "I'll show you to your room.”

“You’re seriously not going to help with anything?”

“According to Chuck, it’s better I get this piss attitude out my system before the party. Night, Jackson.”

Scott grabbed Sarah’s bag by the front door, but she took it from him, as he led her up the steps. In times past, Sarah and Jackson would have passed the night eating fattening calories and talking till dawn. Sarah could have easily gushed about all the improvements Jackson made to this old house, what a master carpenter Jackson was, shown a big sister’s awe and pride. But Sarah was hovering at empty thanks to his stunt.

“The guest room is this one to the right now,” Scott said. “Jackson has a special project going on in the other one.”

“Does this door lock?”

“Yes. It does.”

“Good. Tell that fuck-face not to bug me until at least ten.”

“Oh, you two,” Scott shook his head, sounding like their mother. "Night, Sarah."

Sarah closed and locked the door. Her duffle thudded to the floor. She undressed down to a t-shirt and settled into bed, determined to sleep. Yet, there was no use.

At night is when Bruce would drift back to her. If Sarah had to lay awake and think of him, she veered her mind into the groove of their lovemaking, how he strummed out of her private folds notes no one ever had. She could hold onto the thoughts for a bit, enough for her nipples to harden beneath his t-shirt, but soon the moment would slip and come crashing back down, no matter how hard she inhaled the fading scent of him as she touched herself, her middle finger circling as if on the rim of a tiny glass.

Sarah was six-weeks pregnant, not that Bruce cared. He said that he and his wife were reconciling. Sarah didn't know what was going to come next, but she knew some things for sure. She wasn't going to cry about it.

"I can shoulder my own shit," Sarah repeatedly said slowly and aloud, before sleep finally came and offered her some peace.