Made It Way Up
part 14: Bernard
by Ian Donnell Arbuckle
Part 13 appears in this issue.
Why does your stomach go cold. I don’t know.
“Where did you meet him?”
“He guest-taught my Bible as lit class.”
“Great Christ on a cracker!”
Why did I ever like fireworks. Did I ever like fireworks. I don’t know.
I was driving underneath and getting left in the dust. He didn’t kick it up. It was just the wind biting past on its way into town, beating up the road. He was going to have a three hour wait, at least, if he got all the way to Chesaw. Such primitive land bound transportation. Leave it all in the dust, under the wind, in a hole.
What did we do wrong. I don’t know.
I told you not to no I can’t pretend it wasn’t my told you not to kick the shit out of the if it wasn’t mine then whose don’t even go a second breath without admitting what am I going to tell her watch the sky watch the stars watch the sky watch the stars a new one he’s so much older than you will ever be dead is not an older we made something of ourselves I made something an expanding ball of gas up.
And then I came home. There was no one there. I went over to his house. Kelly usually comes out running when she hears Laddy give up, but she was hard into a book on Essa’s lap. A battered old copy of The Way Things Work. She said, Hi, daddy. I meant to wave but nothing was getting across from my brain to spinal cord. Everything on automatic pilot. Essa looked up and she knew it. She lifted Kell off her lap. She said, Can you go get me a drink of water, and Kell said, I can and will.
Essa came over to me and said, What happened. I had to tell her I didn’t know. She kissed me long enough to lose a lungful of air through her nose. I breathed it in and smelled thick something. She backed away and looked at me. Kelly brought her glass of water. We all drank from it.
The first time I saw him, he was frowning. It’s the look he got when he was concentrating on anything. He was chopping wood and trying hard not to hit his leg. He missed the block and caught his foot. I always felt it was my fault because it was right then that I had called, Hello. Even though he must have heard the truck. Things were bad enough. I left Kell with the Essa she had never met and drove back into town with a bleeding professor in my passenger seat. He talked down to me, but I didn’t really hold it against him, since I never made it through my freshman year. He asked me what books I like and that was the start of the snowball.
I went outside when Kell’s head fell over onto Essa’s shoulder. It was a backdrop night. I couldn’t move either of their faces in my head; they floated there and wouldn’t sink or fly. There wasn’t anything to do. I opened up the barn. We made a good start on the second capsule, in case something went wrong with the first one. I asked him if he had ever been skydiving. No, he said. It wouldn’t be much fun to come back down.
The lights were all on in his house. Essa was standing by the kitchen window with the phone in her shoulder. She was washing the dishes. I stared at her. She had one thin braid sliding down the side of her face, just touching at the corner of her eye. It was the imperfection that drew my attention. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, didn’t know who she’d be calling. The police in Chesaw; the ambulance. For more light and screaming. Oiled metal hinges.
I got in the truck and drove off. Three hours plus pulling over to the side. The wind was getting harder. Even more in the dust. I drove hard, imagining that it was my heart in the pistons, shattering over and over in the surging exploding never sleeping power. The trees bent the beams from my headlights around their branches. In the future, all our greens will be more vivid. And you won’t be able to see it. Not with naked eyes, not without consumer surgery. Just an old kid from Virginia. Nothing got back to me. I couldn’t see.
It would have right if I had flipped and crushed my spine, severing my brain from body. Would never be able to put their faces further than the bridge between my thoughts. But it was nothing flashy. I just hit a drainage ditch and heard something scrape and tear out from the bottom of the truck. There was a flashlight in the glove box. I took it out and peered under the chassis. Nothing I couldn’t fix in the barn. But not out here. I didn’t know how long I had been driving. Long enough to take me all night to walk home.
I kept my eyes up the whole time, thinking maybe his light would echo back to me, and maybe this second time I could be happy for him. The second time it would be warm light, not incinerating hot. But the god-damned universe is unresponsive; you say, Hello, and you can wait forever for the sound to make it back to you. But if it does, it won’t be in response. It will come up behind you, take you by surprise, tear the fucking ears right off your head. Didn’t know you had it in you, did you.
We’ll all be long dead by the time he makes it back. Not even mistress moon bothered to reply. She just sat there in the cold sky, pulling at the tides. My heartbeat slowed to the rhythm of my steps. I made it home in time for breakfast. No one was awake. I mustered a little enthusiasm, like before, and killed myself straight to sleep.
Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle