Made It Way Up
part 22: Bernard
by Ian Donnell Arbuckle
I swore I wouldn’t lift another box again. Moving my life to Seattle was bad enough; it came across the country in two trips, though I only made one. Coming out here, I had to do it all in one, because there aren’t a whole lot of airports in the area. The nearest one is down in Tonasket, and that one is just barely wide enough for a man wearing styrofoam wings. I threw my back out twice between Patty and here. Books in the box, box down the stairs, box in the truck, truck down the flat freeway, cheap highway, sandblasted path, and home. Home which is supposed to be the end. Well, the end kinda keeps going on for a while. Nothing written down the says the end has to stop. Revelation is that at the end of the world Jesus comes back and starts it all over again. Except this time everybody gets to stay happy, because if they don’t, Jesus is gonna bat them in the nose. There’s the Bible stories I told my kid. No wonder she turned out weird as she did.
Home is where I took the boxes down again, threw my back number two, tripped on the lick of a porch step, and never dropped a thing.
Kept a lot of the things in the boxes they came in. Not because I was too lazy to unpack. Lazy for two whole years. You know when you keep an action figure in its original box its worth a lot more. So, in case anyone wants to buy my history, it’s all there in boxes.
And now Essa says she’s getting ready to move, which goes to show that plans are really better left unformed. She wants to go back to the big city, bright lights, short bridges. Too wide; she’ll get lost. Too bright; two things are. Too short. Well. I could have kept it up.
The bruised rising clouds made it look as though bits of sky were on fire. I was chopping wood because Essa said she’d have to start packing, and I said we’d still be here a few more days. I asked her, probably erring on the side of angry, what she expected us to drive out of here. The truck was still in the ditch and miles away. If she had asked me to push it back here, I would have, and that’s why I came out to chop wood.
Kelly came outside to help me, to pick up the splinters of bark that would go bulleting off to either side when the maul came down wrong. She scuttled in the dirt while my arms were raised over my head, and was gone when the axe came down. She didn’t say anything, so I did.
“Don’t worry about it, dad. I saw what you did.”
“Daddy lost his temper.” Crash went the axe, and, sneaking under it as though it was a drawbridge, scuttle went my daughter.
“When are we moving,” she asked. It was like a cough in the middle of a death scene.
“It won’t be for a while. I have to get Laddy out of the ditch. Um. How did you hear about that?”
“You told me.”
I set the maul down carefully; couldn’t cut my toes off — it’s far too dull — but I could squash them to crap and back.
“No I didn’t, honey.”
“Yes you did. Yes you did. You made it very very. On the teevee.”
She was crouched on her toes, leaning forward, scuffed jean knees not quite adding to the balance. She had arranged the slivers of bark in front of her to form a three point semi-circle. She had angled smaller twigs beneath the circle, aiming toward her.
“What’s that?” I asked, shouldering the maul again and feeling the weighted bruise where the head rested on my shoulder. And not just that.
“It’s the sun, dad,” she said. Then, with her head falling over to the right, “Why are we leaving?”
Down off the shoulder again. “Honey. We can’t stay here.”
“Don’t you miss Lane?”
“No. I don’t. Does Essa”
I caught myself right on the edge of laughing. She was so simple. She didn’t know how to lie. All the books I read to her, and she didn’t have one pulse of someone else’s thought fluttering in her brain. She looked up at me with blue eyes. I know children change their colors as they grow up. But weren’t they brown. A bunch of things that don’t matter. I put my hand against my forehead, finding it uncomfortably sweaty, to shade out the sun just as it slipped behind a column of smoky cloud.
“She does,” I said.
“Then why doesn’t she stay here?”
“Because she misses Lane, sweetie.”
“She’s moving to the city.”
I didn’t know how long she’d had to make sense of the whole thing, but the city must have felt like a fairy land to her. She was too young to remember much when we moved out here. I bet she mainly remembers the car ride; she was yelling her head off at me for most of the time because Patty had promised to take her to the zoo that day. Or maybe kids don’t remember what they yell through.
“It’s going to be very nice there,” I said. “Essa has lots of friends.” And they all love children. “There are a million things to do.” Reduced rates for kids eight and under. “We could even try to get an apartment near the forests.” Hell, we could get the landscapers to come by and flash grow a new forest just for you.”
“She misses the city,” said Kelly.
“Yeah, she does,” I said. She stared at me until I did something else. I lifted the maul and let it drop, using its own splintering weight to carry the head through the brittle tamarack fiber. Twice more, each time I was afraid that Kelly would dart out at the wrong time and I’d catch her neck. It wouldn’t cut; it’d crush. I turned to tell her to go play somewhere safer, but she was gone.
I had gotten through most of a cord before Essa came out to check on me and to bring me a glass of water.
“You know what your daughter just told me?” she asked as I drank. I shook my head, spilling a few drops around the corners. “She said that now she’s going to live on the moon.”
I smiled my thin smile and handed the glass back to her.
“I read to her too much,” I said.
“Yeah. I called her a lunatic. She got it.”
“Yup.” She was smoothing the glass between her palms. She bit her lower lip, on purpose at first, then she swore and dabbed it with a finger.
“She’s a smart one. I’ve done a pretty god job if I say so myself.”
“You don’t need to,” said Essa, lowering her hand. “Listen, Bern. I appreciate helping me move and all that, but you guys don’t have to move back to the city. It’s dark and messy and the only shared dream you’ll find is for stimulants in the morning.”
“Yeah, I know. I lived there too, remember?”
“So why do you want to go back? It’s not like this place. This is peaceful, a retreat from the world, and that never gets old.”
I shouldered the axe, wincing as a sort of plugging my ears against my collarbone’s protest, and started for the barn to put it away. Essa followed.
“Besides,” she said, no less hesitant but a good deal quieter. “Doesn’t Patty still live there?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “It’ll be bad. It’ll be horrible. I’ll keep running into her at art shows and dream theaters. Only the more expensive ones, of course. The ones where they put whisky in the champagne.”
“I’m trying to help, Bern. You love it here. Kelly loves it here.”
“She wants to live on the moon.”
“So do you.” She didn’t do much else. Neither did I. “I don’t want you to come.”
“Well, it’s not like we’d be living in your house,” I said. I was a little hurt, as from a needle digging at a splinter. Except that simile loses cohesion when you think about who is the needle, who is the splinter, and who is digging. That’s three parts for a two part harmony.
“Sit. Stay,” she said with a smile.
“Essa,” I said, as though to a small child. “I don’t want to live here anymore. It’s too much to wake up in the morning and have this dry, brown thing sitting in my face. It’s a hiding place. It was a hiding place. It’s doing a crappy job. Do you understand.” It was the smallest excuse, but the most coherent. I leaned against the barn wall.
And she nodded, and she smiled with her head still down, and she went away to pack. I left the maul against what was left of prototype two. So I wasn’t going to haul any more boxes, but it’s not as though I remembered that until just now.
Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle