by Dan Korgan
The world was Papa’s idea. He spent months in the basement toiling under floodlights, working small paintbrushes and screwdrivers with his fingers, molding clay, gluing lichen and moss to trees. After a few months of hard work, limp streams of water poured from lion fountains into kidney-shaped pools, rolling lawn dipped and rose, wrought iron lanterns hung between Greek pillars. When he was all finished, he bent over the model, cupped his ears forward with his hands to listen for the squawk of jays.
In Papa’s office, talking, Mom finally asked him, “Were you not friends?”
“Some time ago.”
“First your perpetual motion machine and now this.”
“Please,” Papa said.
“Like I said...”
“All right, Edith. All right.”
They were off to the hardware store again. Our Coupe de Ville parked in the drive was hitched to the rickety trailer we used to haul clippings to the dump. And there was this hill scattered with dandelions. It shot straight up and then down to land at the neighbor’s side.
“What’s this?” said Papa.
“Thought I’d mow.”
“Well, let me show you.”
Papa wiggled the spark plug. “It’s got to be tight. It ignites the gas. The gas explodes. The explosion moves the shaft and the shaft turns the cutter.” He turned the mower upside down and ran a finger along the blade. “Blade cuts the grass.”
He flipped the mower upright. “To start the mower, pull the rope.” Papa pulled the rope. One of his legs left the ground. One arm flew past his right ear. The motor sputtered and gurgled.
He yanked again, his eyebrows narrowing. The rope snapped back, coiled around the spring and the motor took, sending a gray cloud adrift through the dogwood tree.
Papa breathed heavy.
“Careful around your mother’s daisies,” he said.
“Be careful!” Mom shouted from inside the Ville. “That’s how your Grand Papa lost his big left toe. We’ll be back sooner than you think.”
When the Ville turned the corner, I started to mow. I had shaved the third row and the fourth row and the fifth row and a few more rows when Torbin squealed into the driveway. I had nearly finished the grass, but there was still this big hill dotted with bright yellow flowers.
“Speedometer reads 900.”
“Wanna sit at the wheel?”
“Your Papa ever even go a hundred?”
“You wanna mow?”
“You’re workin’ too hard, kid.”
“You pickin’ up the contract or what?”
I stuck my head inside his fast car. Black leather seats. Three round meters. Dash stuck out like a giant chin. So I met the mower, pulled the rope and the motor took.
“See this hill.”
“We go a hundred, then I’ll help.”
He tossed papers onto the dash.
On the Interstate, the speedometer read sixty-five. I glanced at the road. I glanced to the meters. I glanced at Torbin, the backer. His red poodle hair, fat fingers bent around the wheel. His silver ring held a large, flat green rock. This forever-stretching highway between stalks of corn and trees of pine.
“Ever think you’d go this fast?”
The meter read seventy.
“Go ahead, touch the wheel,” he said.
Wind swept noisily through the cabin. The meter read eighty.
“Touch it, man. Touch it!”
We were pushin’ ninety.
“When you mow a hill, kid, you gotta turn it on its side, swing the hill this way and then that way. You gotta push at every little thing, even when you’re upside down.”
“Rush at it?”
“That’s what I do, kid. You have to allow yourself to expand into the never-ending universe,” Torbin laughed as the pages drifted out the window.
“Touch the wheel, kid. Just touch it!” yelled Torbin.
So I reached across the cabin. We drove up the hill. We drove until I felt horizontal. A stream of blue sky divided the moss on shingles from the wispy clouds. A sparrow brooded upside down. Then we padded against the ether, pushing the pedal until we gasped and felt stuck to our bucket seats.
“Keep treading. Keep pushing. Even if you don’t believe it,” shouted Torbin.
Torbin dropped off the contract. As he drove away, I watched his car get smaller and smaller as he aimed for a break in the clouds. Then he disintegrated as an unbearable glow as he raced for the sun.
And the hill might give me problems. Mom had told me how her family members had lost various body parts. Bobby’s sleeve got tangled up in the power take-off of a potato digger, and it chewed off his left hand.
Franklin fell off a tractor. His right leg was run over by the plow, and the doctor had to amputate his left foot. Carl Lee’s brown hair was eaten by the flat belly and pulley transmission of a water pump. When I put the mower back into the garage, I began to wonder where Grand Papa’s missing toe might have landed.
Papa always drove the Coupe de Ville carefully. He did not want to be careless or reckless or anything like that. When he looked back, I gathered he did not see a giant blue orb but rather the details of his handiwork wagging within the trailer behind us. He took a right, then a left, then a right until we settled upon the industrial boulevard.
“You know, Karl, it could be art.”
“It’s not art! It’s real. Not just art!”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t real,” said Mom.
“Fine,” said Papa.
In the green light from the dash, Mom searched inside her purse. She stabbed the console lighter with her long pink fingernail. A few minutes later, the cabin filled with smoke. The ends of their cigars moved across the windshield like comets. The sun sank behind the West Hills and the stars began to sparkle.
“Look, Mike,” Mom pointed, “there’s your skyscraper.”
I craned my neck to a place behind me. The columns in the city slowly disappeared and we entered a neighborhood with swings and well-trimmed yards. A row of maple tree branches scrubbed and scratched above us.
“Hey, Papa,” I said.
“So he tells me he believes in reincarnation!” said Papa.
Mom took a deep breath and sighed. “We have never had anything against the idea of reincarnation.”
“Maybe he thinks we’ll come back as a tulips or beetles.”
“Whose side are you on anyway?”
“All sides. All sides. Would you stop, please?”
“I’m not yelling.”
“Fine. OK. Fine.”
Papa parked in the circle drive. “OK, OK,” he gasped.
We climbed out of the car and began to walk in different directions, a soupy fog lifted and fell, separating and then bringing us back together again.
Poplar leaves trembled. The jays were squawking. Inside a red barn I climbed upon an old green tractor. I started it up. It sputtered and gurgled.
I started it again. I jerked forward and grabbed the nervous wheel. I rattled past the iron lanterns that swayed between ancient pillars, and Papa mopped his face with his paisley handkerchief. His stale breath was as swift as a gust of wind; it kicked me back. The wrinkles in his brow, mountainous caverns, the tip of his narrow nose nudged me along.
As I started for the hill of dandelion flowers, he cupped his enormous ears in my direction.
“Hey, Papa,” I said. I vibrated with the machine, this machinery. “Hey, Papa... Hey, Papa...”
Copyright © 2016 by Dan Korgan