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       Bed Rock, p.2

           Bernard Fancher
 
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Sitting on the loading ramp built of old rail ties holding back, ever less successfully with each passing year, the earth behind them, he tried not to remember the day his brother went off the ramp they had made of this place and crashed, crumpling to the ground, where now a double row of onions grew obliviously between two outside rows of potatoes.

  What had gone wrong Elgin could even now only guess. He and his brother had each taken the jump successfully at least a half dozen times before, but in an attempt to get a little more jump Jonathan had asked him to turn the carburetor adjustment to enrich the gas to air ratio, and maybe he’d adjusted it too much or turned the screw the wrong way, and so (he could never help thinking) maybe he was to blame for what happened next. He could still feel the screwdriver in his hand, turning it clockwise—or was it counterclockwise?—as he knelt in the grass on the other side of the barn. While he attended the carburetor his brother remained on the motorcycle, twisting the throttle, watching and revving the motor. And then finally giving a last nod as he rode off down the worn strip in the lawn towards the shed opening, where he went inside across the concrete floor, all the while the sound of the motorcycle’s revving continued, somewhat contained and diminished, beyond the board wall. And then the sound dropped off with the motorcycle, sputtering first, before rising again and remaining at a single wailing pitch as Elgin ran after, following a straight path over grass, through the board opening, across the concrete floor, to find the wailing motorcycle turned on its side and his brother sprawled facedown in the lawn, just about perfectly centered where the double line of onions now grew.

  His brother’s lips moved wordlessly as he tried to speak, his eyes showing fear as he tried to breathe, and at first Elgin had laughed, thinking only the wind was knocked out of him and everything would be fine, he would be fine, once he regained breath. But as his brother continued to lie still on his back, gasping and wordlessly moving his lips, Elgin began to suspect what their mother instinctively knew. Having seen all from the kitchen, she came running across the back yard, crying out unintelligible words through her own trembling lips, gasping, “Oh Jonathan, Jonathan,” only momentarily changing the direction of her words and attention to ask: “Oh, Elgin, how could you?”

  How could he? He’d pondered the question and wondered ever since… How could he have changed the course of that day’s events or stopped them. But even were it possible to go back, how would he know to prevent a still unknown future? Yet even all these years later he felt and accepted his mother’s implicit blame, for not knowing what he knew now. Afterwards his mother only ever referred to the accident in the most disconnected way, as if death had visited upon some other family they only knew of by rumor. She referred to the event, if at all, as Johnnie’s fall. Somehow, from Elgin’s perspective, that only made it a worse burden to bear.

  He watched the old Brittany he’d rescued from the pound ten years earlier circle away from the sycamore tree growing at the far side of the lawn. It always ran directly there on being let loose, lifting a leg and spraying, adorning the piebald trunk with yet another image of some foreign yet vaguely familiar place, like France. Elgin called the dog and got up, arching backwards, hearing his spine crack. He took up his cane from where it rested propped against the slowly tumbling cross-tie retaining wall and flipped it end to end in mid-air, catching the brass-ferruled bottom in his still outstretched hand. Then he put both hands together and swung the knobby head at a wasp that had the temerity to buzz lazily too close, hitting it with a small but satisfying tick into the tall and red-fruited asparagus.

  “I still got it, don’t I Ole Boozer?”

  He called the dog Boozer since discovering it would drink beer nearly endlessly from a saucer. Elgin looked at the dog now and the dog looked back, anticipating something, waiting to be told. In former years Elgin had played ball with some prowess. But though the dog knew nothing of this, it still wagged its stub of tail in happy anticipation and agreement. When Elgin asked about the advisability of going for a walk, ole Booze leapt, lifting his chunky body nearly a foot straight up. But he was soon to be disappointed because, instead of setting forth, Elgin only looked to the east where a cloud shadow crept across the blanket of woods on the far ridge. Finally, when he did start to walk, he went only to go climb the ladder, intending (or so he told himself) to glimpse the water drill pounding away in the next yard below. But as he climbed to the top, looked back, and still didn’t see it, for a second or two he debated with himself whether or not he should extend his journey and climb up on the roof, not so much because he was anymore concerned about observing the drill but because, even though he knew admitting the reason would generally mark him as foolish, he simply had always enjoyed taking in the highest and widest possible view.

  “The world never looks better than from atop a barn.” He spoke the words his father had said to him so many times Elgin had taken them for true, even before climbing up one day to see for himself. And the day he did, he saw, and confirmed, a view of the world he had never before apprehended. But as it seemed to float on an extended plane below, he seemed as well to float, suspended, above it. He likened the sensation to passing by in a balloon, except the view from the balloon would more quickly be changing. One day in fact a balloon had gone by, passing low overhead; he had talked briefly with the girl hanging partway over the basket, extending her arms downward as he extended his upwards, thinking they already had something in common because they had both, after all, seen that nearly exact part of the world in a similar fashion.

  But now he had grown too old for such foolishness, so he reluctantly climbed down off the ladder. Hitting the ground again with both feet managed somehow to slightly twist his right ankle. Immediately he forgot all about the girl in the balloon and taking the dog for a walk, and instead hobbled, his mood darkened, back to the house.

  He made a ham and rye sandwich then lay down on the couch, feeling, despite the throbbing pain in his ankle, suddenly at peace and all tuckered out.

  He lay relaxed and half dreaming, listening through the open window above his head to the rhythmic pounding of the water well rig in the near-distant realm beyond the other side of house. Listening to the relative silence between thuds he heard the soft hiss of a breeze high up in the trees, imagining it to be the sound of a far waterfall as he fell off to sleep. He dreamed of meeting someone he hadn’t thought of in years, an Indian girl who could neither hear nor speak. At the start of the dream he sat on the ledge beside the top of the high falls at the creek and watched as she approached from below. She wore tan shorts and a cuffed tee-shirt. Seeing him she stopped to wave before, turning and bending over, thrusting her rump high in the air.

  He went down to meet her up close and when he held out his hand she accepted it, allowing him to guide her up the dry rock face to the relative seclusion of the high pool where, by a large slab known locally as the bed rock, they stood together and kissed. For awhile they only kissed until she moved her hands down between them, unbuttoning and unzipping her shorts, stepping free of them as they fell to the ground. Then she turned and bent as before, holding her rump in the air, placing both palms square on the bed rock as he came up behind and pushed against her.

  The well rig’s pounding impinged on his dream so that it became the sound of his own action. The Indian girl turned her head sideways, as if to look back, allowing Elgin to observe the wide jawed high cheek bone at the side of her face. As well, he could see the near half of her mouth moving with the futile effort of which she seemed trying to communicate a silent yet urgent message, repeatedly opening and closing her pursed lips in a manner reminiscent of the wordless language of fishes. Her mouth reacted in concert with his movements. Each time he pushed, it opened; each time he drew back, it closed. He watched this phenomenon with interest until she turned her face away, leaving him only a view of the black shiny braid at the back of her head bobbing up and down to the connected rhythm of the well pump.

  Elgin woke and sat up saying: Kayla. He r
emembered the Indian girl’s name, only because in a last remnant of dream she had once more taken his hand, unfolded it, and impressed the letters on him, as if cutting them into his palm with a thumbnail. All these years later he could still feel the sharp edge of the nail on his skin as it formed the letters, marking him it now seemed forever. He wondered if he was alone in receiving her mark, or if there were others. He knew there were others she had accommodated, but he might be, probably was, the last person left in the world who would remember her, or her name.

  One day after that summer she simply disappeared. He’d heard a rumor she’d been sent away somewhere to have a baby and he wondered somewhat idly then, as now, if he might have been the father.

  But she had never returned and so the questions he asked himself, and might have also asked her, remained unanswered. Elgin got up off the couch. His ankle felt stiff still, but he barely acknowledged the limp as he made his way back to the kitchen to warm up a leftover plate of spaghetti for his supper. By the time he finished eating, he felt the resurgent desire to take the
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