Fiction: “Dumbo Feather” by Nate Liederbach

Abysmal visions I’ve had since Kyoko started waiting tables at Eggs & Oysters. Believe me, I’m happy she’s got gainful employment, a distraction, stoked she’s found release in the twelve-mile round-trip, but still I’m terrified. I’ve made certain she’s covered in lights, reflectors, safety tape on her helmet, got her phone ringer cranked—all this even though she’s been road-biking for years, plenty of experience navigating the wild streets of Seattle, Tianjin, Osaka. Still, I picture a minivan clipping her, or a front blowout sending her end-o, unconscious into a ditch. Worse yet, some Easy Rider finale, a pair of itchy meth-heads erroneously yollaring “Chink!” and “Zipperhead!,” beaming my love with rusty lug-nuts, leaving her bleeding as they gas-off into the Washington mist.

*

Understand this is no random anxiety yanked from my quivering panic glands. Last week, huffing home from Thriftway, pedaling strong with both panniers grocery-stuffed, I’m on a mean, rain-slick climb when two haggard losers, cirrhosis-eyed and leering from a jacked-up Camino, swerve in beside me. Flicking cigarettes at my helmet, they howl, “This is a road, queerboy hippy! Buy a fuckin’ car!” and throttle over the crest of the rise.

Entirely mud-coated, the jalopy was, so a plate number was out. Though this didn’t deter me from spending the next hour fuming, biking all over Olympia’s East Side, hunting the chodes and picturing what I’d do, what I’d say. My seat-post popped out, flipped over for stabbing, for bruising their white-trash kidneys. Or maybe ratchet-off my bike chain? Start swinging it mace-style? Then, once I’ve got Beavis and Buttfuck flat-grounded, I’ll stand between them, a cleat pinching both filthy Adam’s apples, and say. “How about we clarify your critical thinking skills, boys? Why queerboy hippy? Why purchase a car? Do you fellows have a car? Or is the El Camino a truck? Golly, I just can’t seem untangle the complexities of your energy-drink enthymemes.”

*

Fantasy rhetoric, theoretical bravery, sure, but it kept me clenched, riding street-after-foggy-and-puddled-street. And thank heaven I came up empty-handed. Luckily my legs gave out, my fingers cramped. I was forced me to abandon my crusade with I still seven rolling miles between me and home. Out of the suburbs, through the blueberry bogs, into the country. When I finally rattle into our gravel drive, I’m cashed. Top it off, I dismount to find one of my bike bags is oozing sour pink. Seems the bottom’s blood-flooded, my ground turkey completely thawed. Am I pissed? Sure, but still I tell myself—senses collected, adrenaline lost to my sweat-soaked gear—I’m fortunate. Fortunate because had I actually found those morons there’s no doubt they would’ve steel-toe-booted me into the quickest coma.

*

Anyway, we ate the thawed gobbler goop and passed out to wind-spit rain on the windows.

Yes, a full two weeks ago, all that tweaker nonsense was. Really though it seems an entire season. Because, I’m telling you today’s a whole new world. Disney-fresh and crisp as all-get-out. It’s our inaugural scorcher weekend of the year: in a snap, winter’s been blown out in a puff of Pacific blue. Late May. The days are protracting, and the wife and I are just buttery abuzz about it. We’re climbing into shorts, dusting off the shades. Next thing I know, I’m digging out two, lengthy coils of speaker-wire and jerking my vintage, SB-A33 Technics—those bad boys towers of my college days, 260 watts apiece—through the living room windows, into the front yard.

Of course we’ve got Pandora on the iPhones, but in the spirit of greater things, Kyoko unearths a case of scratched CDs and gets Mr. Hearts & Bones himself bellowing off the clicking player: If you took all the girls I knew when I was single, and brought them all together for one night…

*

And my dream of a wife doesn’t stop with just that. Gets our kitchen chairs by the nape, drags the suckers out into these vivid frays of sun. Soon we’re sitting gangster, sprawled, because there’s not a hint of wind, zilch arctic chill. Just luscious, I’m saying. So much goodness here and hell do we deserve it. Sixty-eight days of rain in the last blustering go, a sky so sunk-wet that you’re trudging the eternal, you’re sleeping in clouds, their weight in your lungs, choking all optimism.

But then, overnight, ten thousand dandelions scream forth from the dark-loamed lawn. A field of gold medallions, and they’ve called out the sun, got that bastard to ante up. When he finally did the apple trees around our sagging farmhouse detonated a pink-white against the crispest green. It’s a fete of pastel fireworks, lust painted stiff in the afternoon air and colors even brighter than this epic day.

So here I am, and I’m thinking, Christ, steel-toed-coma’s right. Where would we be if my macho fantasy fulfilled itself? Not sipping chardonnay straight off the green glass teet…

*

I didn’t finish with the true metaphor of my redneck vignette: see, it’s not about meth-heads and their Caminos, but about how dark-lining creeps into its own stuffing. It’s about how a powerful imagination such as my own consumes its own necessary reality. Ironically, my primary anxiety is how my anxiety is worsening with age. And worse than that, how I can’t stop it. No, not without anxiousness itself being the impetus to stop it. Hell of a pickle. Guess it’s the Croat in me, my mother’s Balkan bloodline—the sky’s always falling, a southern Slav jumpiness over yet another Ottoman, Venetian, or Nazi force marching in to backflip your entire paradigm. And then there’s my Evangelical childhood of an indeterminate Jesus thieving my nights. The hippy-lamb gone all Rapturous Lion of Judah.

*

Good thing Kyoko’s patient and kind, always texting me immediately when she gets to Eggs & Oysters, letting me know when she loading up to leave. Still, after the incident, even though it was me it happened to, I offered to buy the wife a gun. She wasn’t down with this, demanding who I thought I was, what had I done with her husband. Jesus, who I thought she was.

I went back to the drawing board, pitched her a tazer. Told her how, online, I’d found a miniature stun gun called “The Eel”—size of a flashlight, but 950,000 watts of hick-twitching vigor.

“Genius,” she said, “so I shock myself cold, piss my chamois, make it easier for those hillbilly Bundys to haul me off? Huh? That your rationale?”

*

Front yard. Canted opposite, blissed, gulping that cheap white. The delicate movement of her flushed throat, her glistening lips. Now my precious paragon hands it round for yours truly. Soon we’ve got delicious rhythm, taking turns slurping and lurching to our feet so we can half-ass chuck sticks for the dogs.

I’m shirtless, and my wife’s in that red bikini top. She’ in those too-short cut-offs. Oh sweet imagination. Here’s Kyoko, but not Kyoko. Like, Hallelujah, who is this divinity? Who is this half-stranger behind silvered sunglasses? Just ten minutes of sun and before my very eyes she’s gone shimmery. A sweat-sheen that’s driving me some kind of pagan horny. Such a promulgation of flesh and I want nothing more than to swallow the slightest shiver of her movements. Yes, we’re both glacially pallid, but my queen will be turning fast brown with that spicy Okinawa blood. I can hear the melanin percolating her surfaces and in my mind it’s already there. I’m already steam-wrapped in her smoky sesame scent, lapping it up, everything forgotten, the past seven months of fog, doubt, all those fucking Lazarus concerns.

*

The dogs tire in the heat, collapse-panting into our waxy laurel hedge. Follow suit, I do. Sprawl the lush sod staring up at fast, sterile clouds scrawling my too-blue vision. And what have we here? Kyoko’s looming over me. It’s some Kate-Beckinsale-Underworld stance. The vim of her biking thighs and that rich shadow along the lips of her shorts. Suddenly, I’m swearing we’ll never have babies. Right now, misogyny be damned, I’m swearing I’ll never ruin the curves of her hips with gluttonous offspring, and amidst this very thought she lowers. Knees in my pits. Ass on my rapidly un-evening lap. Hands loving zookeepers nursing me back to mother summer, patiently feeding me cold slugs of wine, dribbles over my cheeks, sticky in my whiskers so she can lean over, lap it up.

And on and on.

*

Until we’re seated in the chairs again, whole CD on repeat. Somehow a platter of brie and meaty Kalamatas has corporealized between us. Somehow we’re making the most beautiful sentences for each other. Words so easy, so unhibernated. And her smile! A relic of last summer. Like she hasn’t had since she arrived Stateside on the cusp of last fall. I can’t keep my eyes off that mouth. This isn’t the burning animal in me, but the believing dream. In her easy grin I see Kyoko back in Tottori prefecture, biking Yonago’s thin side-streets or huffing up Mount Diasen’s sea-sprung spine, her pack lumpy with Lawson onigiri. Because it will happen. A straight-up fact. In two weeks we return to Japan, grab the remainder of her belongings out of storage, bringing them here, home.

*

Though Japan isn’t some straight business mission. Jesus no. We’re going to soak in her past, remind her who she still is. The plane tickets I bought as a surprise, three weeks ago. Left them on the kitchen table then hopped in the shower all ears for her to find them. Of course when she did she starts crying. So me, I just stroll out in my towel, totally straight-faced, going, “Hey, what’s the goddamn conniption?”

I better stop with that part of the story. Better, before physical logistics of the kinky kind disrupt my linear abilities. Suffice to say, maneuvers got dangerous, swollen, damp. In the kitchen, in the hallway, now rug-burning figure eights in the bedroom floor. Dangerous, as in I couldn’t lift my eyelids. Just sprawled there absorbing the cadence of rain on pane, Kyoko nuzzling my neck so holy. That’s how it felt. As if I’d crossed over into supreme godhood, all human frailty drained in warm pulse draws.

*

Except the rain had continued and continued. Pillaged our heat, forced us onto the bed, under the sheets, the heavy blankets. This point my heroic cloud slipped into sheepishness. Because truth-be-told I’d bought the trip out of dread, never generosity. Out of the idea I was losing the woman and that if I didn’t get her back to Japan, even for a mere ten days, there’d be fuck-all left for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m floored to jet back across the Pacific, to Honshu-it gangbusters—binging fried octopus balls, downing pints of Ebisu Dark at Jun’s Chicken, hitting the karaoke booths until six am. And let’s not forget our good faith charge of ensuring a nostalgia-fling in the Doma Doma bathroom—tennis skirt folded back, panties yanked aside, breathing sighs of hot sake while outside the frail door a line of teenage drinkers giggle and giggle—

*

“What?” Kyoko says. “Why’re you smiling? Why’re you crying?”

Her toes. Her toes under the table. Her toes petting mine and grass applauding all around. I’m back in my spring skin once again, back from daydream land. UV’s to the cheekbones, wine to the veins. She takes off her shades, stands, steps over, folds into my lap. My chair groans. Her arms around my neck, she whispers that we’re fine, whispers into the bake of my ever-silvering hair—

But irony be damned our Shangri-La’s shattered. The approaching whine of a sportbike, another Red Bull cockhole on his crotch-rocket screaming our road at an easy hundred-plus. He blows past our house, drowns everything out. This mayhem’s been happening nearly every day for the past week and a half, increasing in direct proportion to the slow-tapering rain. Because we live six miles outside of town. We’re on a chunk of rural peninsula, our rental along a two-mile stretch of country road running straight out to the end of Levaster Point. Asphalt’s virgin here, doesn’t so much as hiccup right or left from Hank’s memorial cross to the bend right before Levaster Park. What this means is that by the time these gas-phallic fuckers gun it at the cross, a hundred yards later they’re at top speed in front of our property.

*

No, no, no, no. Hear me out, I beg you. No way am I that curmudgeony. Not yet. Not at all. So I’d be worse than a liar to assert that part of me can’t grasp why they do it—because they don’t do it. It’s something older fanging up into the ever-leaking and drying meat of youth. Something primal teased from man’s muddled core, called forth to race the sun. Not its heat, understand, but its ticking countdown in that furry lobe of your brain where space and time collapse into coveting and before you know it you’re clenching every muscle in a swan-dive for the ineffable.

Still, I loathe the chodes. Hate how my sounds, Kyoko’s sounds, all the good sounds—dogs panting, blackbirds trilling, silent waves of blue sky crashing against towering firs, hell, even the yelps from those paunchy brats across the street, sugar-blitzed on their trampoline—I hate how these things are instantaneously overwhelmed, flattened under the shriek and echo of RPM’s.

Anyway, that’s one thing, the noise. But another, or the most viable grievance, is safety. We’ve got dogs out here. All of us. Dogs and cats and horses and llamas, and a handful of endangered teens, the sort who still, by God’s untechnologized grace, toss Frisbees or baseballs, still wander around in an emo-haze with scratched notebooks and fiery pens, teens not yet addicted to Final Fantasy or Grand Theft Automaton-maker.

*

Kyoko’s whole body jerks, stiffens. She pops off my laps, face falling, now tightening. Hurrying around our detached garage, she tries to catch a glimpse of the douche, but he’s dematerialized. Just the sick whine of his engine hanging in the air like a steel fart. So back she marches, shaking her head. She grabs the second bottle, drains a good two inches. “Goddamn it all,” she growls, and narrows her eyes at me. I try to shrug, wanting to keep things bright, floating above. I focus on how the sun’s already releasing the Irish in her Crackerjap freckles, grin at her luscious tits, jog my eyebrows to let her know what’s in store when the third bottle’s tapped—but none of these insinuations work.

What to do but stand, reach for her shoulders, intend to pull her into a hug except she spins away. Staring at the road, she hisses, “Nan-dayo omae-wa? Do it. I dare you. Come on back, you selfish shitfuck.”

“Look,” I say, and I’m crossing my arms, “look, don’t tell me, I’m just as pissed. God, I’ve got this daydream were one of those fuckers wipes out and comes tumbling into our yard, his bike on fire, the bastard writhing around in our grass with compound fractures poking our everywhere, and he’s face-down, and there’s me mowing the yard, just ignoring him, mowing around him blowing mulch in his bleeding mouth.”

Kyoko says nothing. I say, “Guess I’d have to pull off his helmet first though….” But she’s not listening. She flips over the wine bottle, gets it by the neck in her white fist, strides past the garage.

*

Good noises—kids, dogs, yes, but then there’s our final gripe: real bikes. Bicycles. Early evening, torrential wind or rain, nothing stops Kyoko from her pedaling. She got me into road-biking, too, last fall when she moved here. Or actually, it was in January, for my birthday. That was it. See, I’d sworn all I ever needed was my mountain bike, but she found a refurbished Bianchi that fits me perfectly and now I’m in the best shape of my life. That’s precisely why these warp-speed Ducatis fully gut my goat—it’s the larger tenor. Sure, a postulant Vin Diesel in his 426 Hemi does as well, but somehow wheelie-squids are the basest of the base. It’s the notion of biking with filched power and unearned speed, like the world’s just a keyboard or game controller, all synapsis and hands, and damn the rest of the body.

Post-humanism, forced ignorance. Now Kyoko, should she hear a motorcycle yearning for terminal-v, well the first thing out of her mouth is, “Just once! Just once, Impo, I’d like to see you climb on a real bike and I’ll burn your Gold’s Gym ass up Courthouse Hill.”

*

Ah, my bitter paradox, right there—how it turns me forever on when she growls such challenges. I’m practically mass-mailing thank you cards to Ducati, Yamaha, Kawasaki. My wife, she’s so small, five-feet even, but the woman can climb like nobody’s business. It’s not fast; it’s steadfast. Me, I fry out on big hills, standing on my pedals, but not Kyoko. I’ll reach the top first, undoubtedly, but then I’m squandered. Dismounting, eyes dizzy, I’m gripping my ribs as here comes the tortoise to my hare, smiling, gliding right by me chirping, “Oyasuminasai!

It’s not so much my own premature exhaustuation, but that some streamlined Zen occurs when my wife clips-in. She becomes more herself, more realized. All timidity, self-consciousness, and ex-ex-pat confusion vanish into smooth pace. Not that Kyoko’s timid or self-conscious, but the transition back to the States was more than bumpy. Six years she’d lived in Japan, running an English school, making amazing yen, feeling respected, whipping up a difference in her community, etc., etc., but then she moves back here, to Washington, to be with me, and all she can land is a thirty-hour serving gig at a moldy, port diner.

OK, we live outside a hip-enough burg, but it’s surrounded by dank hollows. Yahoos spill out of the fecund underbrush to refill their cholesterol batteries and tip worth shit. Or the trust-funded, neo-yippies waltzing into Eggs & Oysters to leave piles of salt-grain art and poems taped to pennies. Then come the worst of the military ball-sackers. Don’t get me started. These aren’t the real soldiers with an appreciation for the blurred binaries of the world; these are new guys, barely blue-heads. Never seen the enemy, seen combat, passed basic training but still think they’re a goddamn commercial, an Army of One. Off-base they come streaming, down from Tacoma, always happening through our little city to quip and grope, desperate for some kind of proof that there’s no need to ask about what they haven’t told.

*

Question: do I fear that Eggs & Oysters will send Kyoko’d reneging our matrimony, hightailing it back to the shores of Lake Nakaumi? No, not that, though what I have been seeing in her eyes, hearing in her pensive sentences, is much worse; the truth that the sacrifice is gradually poisoning her. A moss clogging our libidos. Because we’ve barely frogged in the past two months, really just the plane-ticket surprise, but what’re our options? Move to Japan? Two grand it costs—or more—to fly each dog across the Pacific. On top of that, my bootlicking position at the paper finally has me half-way molded into a salaried editorship. No way I can sever these things, not yet, not now…

*

At our country road’s weedy shoulder, my wife cocks her head, listens, waits. I follow her, stop right beside. As evenly as I can, I say, “They always turn around and zip back. We’ll hear him. We can try to get his plate number, a description.”

“That’s not what I want.”

There’s another minute listening. Nothing. With a snort, Kyoko stomps back to the house and then our music’s gone, off.

*

…not to mention it was doubly hard for both of us coming off the high of her first month here. How we went all Bruce-Springsteen-style. Racing to the courthouse on our bikes, stumbling in with Black Butte Porter grins and no one else knowing about the pact but a couple of witnesses I wrangled from the part-time staff at my office.

Anyway, in the rush to relocate, she left most of her stuff over in Yonago, still in her old closet at her old school. That’s our Dumbo feather, at least for now—clutching in our trunks a plumy hope everything will be different once she’s gathered the remains of her context, once she’s reminded again of who she is, how Japan was but a chapter and not her whole book.

See, Kyoko grew up in Seattle, in these perfect northwest summers, just like today. No humidity, brilliant blue, verdant green trees and clear skies from the 4 a.m. dawn to the 10 p.m. dusk, and this is what we’re both thinking, both absorbing, my wife tucked on my lap, nose in my hair, our cocoon of chardonnay and light and then shattered when this son of a bitch rips along.

*

Kyoko’s back, both of us side-by-side at the edge of the road, listening. My tongue’s gone sour. A needle headache’s weaseling into my right temple. Heat creeps off the asphalt, oppressive and nauseating. I look back at the house, see the dogs have moved to the shade of the porch, pressed against the door, panting, red-eyed.

Then we hear it. The tool u-turning to zoom back.

Cued, Kyoko, in those short-shorts and high-heeled flip-flops, re-adjusts her grip on the wine bottle. Before I can protest, she strides into the middle of the road, sets her legs firmly apart, the long, green glass weapon dangling casually against her left thigh. “Let’s do this,” she mutters.

I panic, spot a soft-ball-sized stone in the grassy gutter, scoop it up. Barefoot, road boiling my soles, I step out, too. My knees tremble. The bike’s whine is bearing down. A white glint in the distance and the dude’s a good football-field off when he must see us. Because for a second I hear him lay off the throttle. He’s analyzing, maybe.

But then he guns it again, full-hum, keeps coming. Sun-flares shoot off his small faring, his silver helmet, and his whole form wavers in layers of pavement heat. Forty yards off now. But he only slows down to twenty or so. And he’s swerving, he’s looking for gaps, looking because Kyoko and I have spread out, eight feet apart. She yells, “Get off your bike! I wanna talk!”

*

The stone feels too heavy in my hand. A life of its own, peaceful, complete, wanting no part of this. But I yell too, yell for the guy to stop, to dismount. I tell him to converse with us like a real man. That’s what I say; it sounds at once absurd and incredibly solemn. But it seems like he gets it, seems like he will. His boots come down off the pegs and he slows even more, inching forward and Kyoko says, “Good, good—we just want to talk.”

Ten feet away, idling, rolling, eight feet, seven. She makes a motion for him to take his helmet off, but then the hands twitch and this faceless man cranks his throttle. He leaps forward, not between us, but weaving to the left of Kyoko, a hair from toppling her. Severely off-balance, his back tire drops off the shoulder, spins out. It throws grass, dirt, rocks, but then finds purchase, heaves forward, carrying him away from us with a sucking whine and the hint of exhaust and new rubber.

*

Though fourteen days later and all’s forgotten. Seattle to Kansai. Our trip to Japan runs better than smoothly—unfiltered sake smothering my brain, I’ve got Kyoko in a tennis skirt, on the counter in Doma Doma’s bathroom, and then we’re working off our hangovers the next day at Jun’s chicken. After that, a hike up to the Ogamiyama Shrine, then three more nights of karaoke booths with her old buddies…

Well, better than smooth except for our very first night: nineteen hours of travel, then getting off that miserable Yonago train, that cacophonous beast jostling and shuttering, light blinking in and out, leaving us nauseous and wobbly as we checked into our hotel. We drag ourselves thirteen stories up, strip off our rank clothes, shower, and yank back the covers, and what do we find but three feral pubes glinting black on the white sheets. Two more hours it took to get our money back. And another to get set up in a different hotel. Both of us too angry to speak. But we slept in, saw her friends, and I … I … Ah hell—

*

This isn’t working. Look, there’s one more facet to this story. One more thing I better divulge no matter how heavy-handed it feels. Then again, it can’t feel nearly as apocryphal as trying to leave it out: my college roommate, dead.

Ten years ago, this was, and not long after we’d graduated. Happened on the second day both of us had our brand-spanking Ninja ZX600s. These were garish and uncomfortable machines, a bike Tadd had always wanted, so I was certain I wanted too. But I bought mine in black, not red like his, to keep myself convinced it was my choice.

Red or not, it didn’t stop my nerves going bunk. How just mounting the thing made my muscles drain most of their impetus, a gnawing fear the second I clicked into gear. You know those dreams where you’re making no progress? Trying to catch something that’s not moving, and you’re moving but still never closer? Or, better, that scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where Lancelot’s charging the castle gate and not getting any nearer, the guards watching, perplexed, unconcerned, because he’s always a hundred yards off and then, in a cut, he’s on top of them, slicing and dicing…

*

Funny because I had no business on that bike and Tadd absolutely did. He’d ridden his whole life and I think that’s why, that day, he kept me ahead of him. Ahead, but I thought he was right on my ass. Anyway, it was one of those long, curling off-ramps, off the freeway, that we were taking, and there this massive U-Haul doddering along in front of us. The truck’s straddling both lanes, so I pass it on the left, rocketing forward because it doesn’t seem the driver sees me. Then once I’m around in front I check my mirror to see the truck’s over, fully behind me, finally in the left lane, but, ignorantly, his left blinker’s still on…

What do I do but move back into the right lane. Do this to spot Tadd’s bright yellow helmet. Or try. Nothing. Slower, slower. I dropped my speed until here comes the U-Haul again, passing me, but its rear’s shooting sparks, making a horrid noise with no brake lights on, no laying off the gas, no clue they’re dragging an entire motorcycle.

*

Our faceless antagonist gone around the sudden bend. Our eyes with nowhere to look but right at Hank’s small memorial cross. Kyoko’s crying. It’s not hard, not sobbing, and not, I’m sure, only about what just happened. I watch her walk off, head for our recycle bin by the garage. Then I look away. A sharp clatter of glass, the closing lid. I rub my eyes. The hat’s still there, on Hank’s cross. And if I squint there’s a blue and yellow cluster of flowers on the ground. But I’m not really seeing it. Hot sweat leaks behind my ears. Dropping the rock from my hand, what I’m picturing is a bare skull in the coffin. They say hair grows after death, right, but for how long? A week, two?

Hank was the neighbor’s college-bound son, two houses down, who died only a month or two before we moved in last year, before we left the dingy duplex and decided this road, this property, was where we wanted to really start our life together.

Hank, and what do we know about Hank? Story goes the kid was in his Jeep backing out of his drive when he got t-boned by a woman in an SUV. Not just any woman, but his own kindergarten teacher. Supposedly, she was thirty over the speed limit, but some neighbors say she wasn’t. They say she was talking on the phone, but others say she was fiddling with her sun-roof. I don’t see how it matters now, the cause, the connection between the two. At some point all coincidence is reduced to cheap narrative, to easy punch lines.

*

Tadd, Hank, Hank, Tadd. This is a road, you queerboy hippy, so buy a fuckin’ car.

Last week, though, maybe on the anniversary, Kyoko pointed out that someone had hung a Mariners hat on the cross. I said, “Yeah, must be Hanks.”

She said, “Must have been.”

*

The stopping, the turning around, I don’t remember. The truck passed me, kept going. The sound faded and then there was no traffic. Me alone. On this empty freeway ramp and next my memories burp. I’ve got Tadd, still alive, for a few seconds, head on my lap. Under his gear his chest and hips are crushed but nothing’s leaking, not yet. And there’s no damage to his face. Looking up me, he’s gulping—but listen, me, I’m not sad, I’m giddy.

Giddy and I don’t know why, how. I’m some kind of ecstatic with the displacement, with this look on my friend’s face. Because this look, it’s complete bullshit. It’s a sort of cross-eyed sneer that we’re always giving each other, our jackass sneer. But here Tadd’s doing it without meaning to, like this is his most natural face, his essentialness, and the whole world’s some big, skewed gag he’s just delivered.

I remember my muscles were perfectly calm. Perfectly. Because of this look on his face. And I remember the only thought in my mind was this: Wow, well, shit, that’s over with.

*

I stop staring at Hank’s memorial. Strolling back to the porch, I’m thinking about Tadd. The dogs aren’t outside so I’m expecting to walk in through a dim kitchen and find our bedroom door shut, our day over too soon. In fact, it isn’t until my fist is on the doorknob that I realize the music’s back. Back and just lower volume.

Kyoko’s behind me. She’s in her chair again. I walked right passed her. She’s on the front lawn, sunglasses on, the third bottle of chardonnay clenched in her thighs. She wrestles the cork and I sit. We talk in low voices, and it works, this pacing ourselves back to where we were.

*

Then, somehow, it’s hours later. Coming on sundown. Barn swallows thread the glowing surface of our north field. They’re banking and gliding in underwater motions. Kyoko says, “Then you must have taken it off for him.”

For him?”

“Of him.”

“I must have, yeah, because he was making that face. But, Jesus, I don’t remember taking his helmet off, not at all, and that’s always bothered me.”

Her sunglasses are up on her head. Eyes wavering between brown and green, she stares at me for a long moment. She says, “Bothered, huh.”  It’s not a question. She says, “The fallen sky can’t fall.”

“Tadd,” I say, “anymore I can’t picture him staring up at me any better than I can picture Hank.” And I’m staring her down as I speak. I want her to tell me that’s not goddamn true. How all my worries are justified by love, by genes, by history and childhood. How I’m getting older, more paced, more emotional, and these are good things, but she only says, “Wine’s gone. Sun’s gone. You’re really burned, Baby. Looks like someone gave you The Eel.”

Nate Liederbach is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah. He is the author of Doing a Bit of Bleeding (Ghost Road Press) and Managing Editor of Western Humanities Review. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Mississippi Review, Keyhole, Versal, Silk Road, Phantom Drift, South Dakota Review, LA Review, and Best New Poets 2011. He splits his time between Salt Lake City and Eugene, OR.
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