i find a vice grip holding the futon’s crossbeam together as i search for a sock. because the evening before had swelled like a 70’s b-grade monster to include tapas, desert, an ice bucket full of flowers, a cabinet of broken shot glasses, angry pounding from the upstairs neighbors, i squeeze the handle, pop the grip free. when she sits down to her morning coffee, last night will suddenly seem so much more.
a cloud of blood catches my eye as i lead my horse to the rail. at first i think its someone’s steamed breath in the morning light, but then she’s looking at her hand, holds it so i can see, three painted nails and two bleeding nubs. i sit her down, feel my horse bump against my back as he wanders away. i look for her digits on the ground. she’s got her other hand pressed against the bleeding, the fingers she has left twining together. a woman sees the mess, doesn’t scream, but now things happen. before someone can find a first aid kit, she’s already dripped through a scarf and part of a sweatshirt. her colt stands over her, unable to see because of the tether, ears twitching wildly, upset at the commotion that’s happening under his belly. but he’s a solid barrel racer and is trying hard not to step on anyone. she’s quiet, but once or twice, holds her hand so newcomers can see. someone pulls a pickup close and she gets in. someone hands a thick wad of tissue to the driver. after the truck turns the corner everyone is excited and then begins to wander away. eventually i pull the jerk knot and lead her quarter horse back to his stall.
i clean out my fridge because i need to see freezer-burned beef after so much rawness.
i find myself heavy with gestures. raise a finger and find in it a promised land. wipe crumbs from the stool so that they constellate at her feet. spread arms like strides. piss letters into dirt. leave after a landslide of manhattans, let others read the vomit.
there’s a homeless man between my backdoor and the dumpster. half his head is shaved, and as i approach he brushes thorns from the bottoms of his bare feet. he asks for the name of my landlord, for his number. i salute him with my garbage, keep moving. he asks again, now standing between myself and the door, still wiping at the goatheads with each half-step. i tell him i’m not giving him either, walk back inside, observe from the upstairs window to see if he dives after my old credit card statements. he shuffles to one side, lights a cigarette, watches me watching him, the childhood staring game.
i can’t see through the windshield it’s so fogged. she’s still splayed across the back seat, working at the buttons of her shirt. i would offer her mine, but instead i decide to wipe at the rearview mirror. i twist the key, roll down the windows, feel the wind on my scalp. i keep my eyes sideways, aimed out of the car as i listen to her climb into the passenger seat. i hear her pull down the vanity mirror, say that she’s happy i came to see her. i nod, keep my eyes where they are.
i watch my fingers whenever i tie knots. i didn’t used to, but now i can’t stop studying the creases of my joints against the weave of the nylon. i see where it went wrong. where she inserted a digit instead of using the coil. i do this once, twice, gambling. My hearing sharpens every time i do.
i wake to a cumulus cloud hovering over my stereo. i climb a chair and stick my head into it. it smells like the insides of a humidifier. it feels like a fall morning. not knowing what else to do i open a window.
although i’m wearing a suit for the first time in a decade, when my niece’s basketball rolls down the hill, i chase it. it gains speed along the gutter, and i feel my flat soled shoes cutting into my ankles. if this were a movie i’d meet the 90’s version of renee zellweger at the bottom, and i arrive a full minute after the ball comes to rest against a storm drain with half a hardon. i slow to give her a chance, stop to increase the odds. by the time i make it back my pits are stained, and i can’t see through my fogged sunglasses. i hand the ball off, lay in the lawn, listen to the rhythm of her dribbling, listen to rhythm of my veins. eventually my niece sits next to me, gathers a pile of freshly cut grass on my shirt, speaks, but it’s already in a tongue i can’t understand.
we watch the torrents from inside an unused stall. her hand is a ball of bandages, so i hold the half-door against the wind. i tell her of the baptism, and she tells me of the surgeries she has planned. when it lets up a bit we lean against a rail, count the rivulets falling from the brim of the other’s hat.
on sunday my neighbor shows up at my door, says his car’s been broken into. i bring a broom, and i brush at the shattered glass while he picks ratchet nuts from the concrete. later he brings me a beer, and we lean against the rail. a woman rides a warmblood along the other side of the road. she winks at us, and we whistle back. a minute later a car pulls into the parking lot with rap blaring from its open windows. two women get out. one works at a baby seat while the other heads our way. my neighbor vanishes before she gets closer than the lawn flamingos. i hold my breath when she rages by. the other woman is short and walleyed. i let her hold my beer. in return she lets me hold her baby.
i don’t have dress boots, but i tell her i do. i spend the night brushing at faded leather, chipping dirt and shit from the soles. at brunch she sits at the opposite side of the table. i spend the hour talking to a great-aunt and a boy who keeps shooting me with a cap gun. an uncle pays the bill, and i introduce myself, thank him, give answers of which i am only half.
the snow comes down as hail. i hunch low, trying to cover as much of myself as possible, but it’s not enough, never is, and i hope to see her headlights soon. the hail stings my shoulders. i want to step inside, but to leave would to risk missing her. that’s happened enough. already. always.
About the author:
Patrick Kelling is a doctoral student in the Creative Writing program at the University of Denver and is the fiction editor for the literature magazine Gambling the Aisle. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and to Best New American Voices.