Friday, January 3, 2014

#FridayFlash--Bent Guardrails, Route 99

The inspiration for this short short story came from a photograph by David Torcoletti. (You can view the image HERE)  The road reminds me of the place I grew up. I like the black and white, which gave the picture a somber feel, as though it were a reminder of some old sadness.
I posted the story at ReadWave yesterday and then decided I'd like to post it here as well.

Bent Guardrail, Rte 199
It's old, that's a fact and that may be why it's bent. The guardrail, I mean. It's been guarding the pasture since before I can remember. Even when I was a girl, long before David and I got married and bought the farm from old Mrs. Tucker, it was there. At least, I think it was. I have a vague recollection of such things. I rode the school bus past this stretch for thirteen years and I must have, at one point or another, noticed the guardrail. It must have been newer then. Maybe it had glint and shine, like the new piece of rail that's being put in at the intersection. The place where they need to fill in the gash made by Billy Garrison's Plymouth.
Billy rode  the school bus, too. He used to sit up front, near the driver. Mr. Moses didn't like trouble, and Billy was trouble from the get go. Folks around here would tell you  it comes as no surprise that Billy's short wild life ended at the corner of 199 and 10 . That's what happens to the Billy Garrisons of the world. They don't live long and they don't go out easy.
 David and I have lived in the farm house for ten years now. The road is long and straight here and I suppose that makes a difference. There are no sudden curves or stops that could trip somebody up in the middle of the night. The guardrail here guards a gully. And not a particularly deep gully, at that. A fern filled little ditch, it's nothing like the steep bank up road a mile.
When we were kids, Billy and David and I used to play down by the bridge that crosses the river just before the intersection.  Billy liked to jump from the bridge. He jumped easy, covering the distance between steel and water with his arms spread like wings, always trusting the water would be deep enough. He’d climb out of the river with water caught in glistening drops on the thin spikes of his bush cut and dripping from his cutoffs and the T-shirt he hadn't bothered to take off, smiling. He always smiled when he'd tangled with something dangerous and won.
"Come on," he'd say, "Nothin' to it. You're not chicken are ya?" David always took the dare. His thin arms flailed in circles as he careened toward the water. Billy would sit on the embankment watching and laughing.
I only jumped once. I remember it, remember the falling, the way the cold river hit me like a hammer, the breathlessness as I sank far below the surface. I remember being awed at how Billy could take in all that terror, how he'd search it out and revel in it.
I think about Billy a lot these days. David has caught me staring at the road more than once. He doesn't ask, the same as I don't ask when he stops at the intersection and waits even though there's no traffic coming. He walks out to the bridge often. He and Barney lumber up the road together, the old dog limping beside David's narrow legs. When they come back, David's eyes are marked with something I can't put a light to.
The days are quieting now. Summer's moving on. Traffic going past the house to Mullet's lake has slowed. Soon it will stop all together and we'll be deep in snow again.
I find myself missing the summer, the way it was when we were all still in high school. The way we'd all go to the lake together, me and David, already cemented even then, and Billy with whatever girl. 
David and I got married two weeks after high school graduation. Billy was the best man. It was hot that day, hot as it is today. There wasn't anything but a fan at the VFW hall for the reception. I remember it clear as yesterday, how David and I were dancing and Billy  cut in. Up close, he smelled of cigarettes and gin from the open bar. He stumbled a little, and when I asked if he was okay, he stopped leading and we just stood on the dance floor. He  held me so tight I nearly couldn’t breathe.

The last time I saw him, we’d had a cookout at the house and Billy sat at the picnic table, the ash of his cigarette long in his hand. My kids played tag in the yard while David flipped burgers on the grill. That's the picture I keep of Billy, the ice cubes sweating in his drink, his eyes focused on the yard, and everything in them just watching.

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