Bewildering Stories

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Made It Way Up

part 20: Essa

by Ian Donnell Arbuckle


He makes me laugh. He tries, but he swings his arms with such conviction it just proves he isn’t in on the joke. That’s not what’s important, but it’s kind of sweet.

I’m six months older than him. It shows.

I’m in on the joke, which is probably why I don’t laugh. Heard it too many times. He tried with his fists, and then he brought over a bottle of something that smelled horrible. I joined him in it. He was trying to forget. Picked the wrong company. It’s obvious he doesn’t understand and that he’s just not cut out to be a father. I’ve got a list of observations that I could confront him with, watch the blush creep over his knuckles. Just a few friendly hints for home improvement, Bernie.

First step is to take the person and to put him into words. I’ve done that. Not here, but I’ve done it. I picked some good ones. Step two is to forget the words. Not strike them from your vocabulary — otherwise I wouldn’t be able to say some damn fine words — but to just gradually forget the order that you put them in. You know how quotes from your favorite movie fade, until it’s the crowd yelling, We are all individuals, and then one guy going, I’m not, and your memory says that’s the way it’s always been but it’s not right. Then, before you know it, you’ve watched another, better movie and the whole litany or list is up and gone.

He just doesn’t get it. But that’s enough words wasted.

We drank until about eleven last night. He kept trying to touch my hand. He has big power plant hands, always pumping out heat. It’s so hard to get comfortable around him. I always feel like I want to open a window. About ten-thirty, I let his palm fall over my wrist. It seemed better than fighting. He looked so lost, so lost he looked unfamiliar. A smart guy; Lane wouldn’t have fostered their friendship otherwise. Smart and easily cuckolded, if I can believe the stories. But I never really saw anything else in him. Good luck that’s enough to build a life on.

He started to squeeze. I felt as though his fingers were branding me. Desperate pulses of such hot blood through small capillaries. I let him talk about Lane for half an hour. He barely stopped to breathe. As he ran out of things to say, I realized I was crying. It happens; it even happens during shitty, manipulative movies. He finished up by saying, He made me learn a lot, which is no good way to end a life, unless the life in question was that of a teacher.

I led him by his hand into my bedroom. He wanted to burrow in the covers, but he wouldn’t have been able to breathe. I laid him on his back, stilled his heart, and took him quietly. He was asleep almost before it was over.

The windows in the kitchen were like mirrors. I stood naked between two of them. They didn’t make it to infinity. The dim light wasn’t enough to reach that far, and most of it was spilled onto the lawn anyway.

I went back into my room to get my robe and watching him as he slept on his back, a snore just beginning to form in the corners of his breath, I had plenty to keep me thinking for the next few minutes. It was cold outside, but not cold enough. I felt the air wicking away the last of his heat and starting into my own. I smiled and shook my head at him. What would Kelly say when she woke up and he wasn’t there.

That’s crazy. She wouldn’t say anything. She’s too observant to bother making comments. The girl creeps me out; more now than ever. She watches me, and she keeps comparing me to Wonder Woman, or maybe to Green Lantern.

I shuddered. It felt like time to leave, right then, barefoot in the field, a couple hundred yards from the launch pad. The feeling would lessen between then and the morning, but, unlike most things I think of in the night, it would still be there.

I had never heard the wolves that Lane always insisted were out there. Occasionally, on evenings with the TV low, I could hear the stunted laughing of a coyote, and always the dogs from however many miles down the road, but never a wolf. I stood there, taking root, just waiting for the long sad sound that my internal dramatist said should be the soundtrack of my life. I was getting tired, and awfully close to firing him.

It was time to leave. I wanted to hear a wolf snarl tangling through the trees, hear the strangled yelp of a fawn between its jaws. The fawn would be losing its dusting of white. The wolf would be silver, with a pair of eyes the shade of green you get from new shoots in a bed of ashes. There’s the perfect world, the parallel one.

I got so sad then that I couldn’t have heard a baby deer’s death rattle. Made me laugh, wiggle my toes and laugh. If I cried, it was my own damn fault.

Proceed to part 21.

Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle

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