With Binoculars and other stories

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WITH BINOCULARS

Marth inherited thirty grand. It came in the form of direct deposit, a small percentage of his grandmother’s estate. A cancer of the inside put her away. In memory, Marth spends Tuesday evenings in her presence. Her legs are crossed. She holds a slim cigarette. They sit on beach furniture. She’s widowed, and enjoys straw hats, colorful drinks, and the company of her growing grandson. She tells him, “One day, you can spend it all,” while Marth scratches at the sand, wishing for the sun to disappear completely.

***

He needed a few things now–a new wardrobe (white high tops, black denim, silk button-ups [he will not wear this clothing in the sun]), a 4×4 truck that can dismantle the dunes, a home stereo with the latest Tom Petty record, a pawn shop pistol to ward off intrusion. He put himself ahead on rent. He quit his janitorial job and erased all debt. His friends were friends again. Carrie, his ex, forgave him. She claimed passenger in his new ride. The radio worked perfectly, the FM band bright and clear. Together, they visited someone who recently returned from a spiritual journey in South America. This person sold red brick hash. They were having a good time, devouring sweet smoke. They drove around the strip and yelled at people on the street. At stoplights, they held small conversation with folks driving hot rods. Marth said their engines had “a very fine pulse.” They visited Wolf Photography and Optical, a store on the strip. Marth wanted a pair of binoculars to see what was ahead. Carrie pointed at a camera behind the counter, and Marth shed a few fifties from a rubberbanded bundle. She pointed again but shot a camera this time around.

She photographed the clouds. She photographed alleyway-neon. She photographed Marth gripping the steering wheel of his new truck. He was proud of this truck. She photographed stray dogs with long dry tongues. She photographed people with blurred tattoos and disfigured hair. She photographed the chrome pistol he kept in the glove department. Why not?

He eventually took her to a spot where a horizon of blond grass led to the ocean. “This place is important and filled with peace,” he said. They shared the Pacific until Marth thought of his pistol. He handled it freely, yipped into the air, and fired the gun for the sake of heathen freedom. Carrie photographed this. Camera ablaze, pistol ablaze.

When out of ammunition, Marth remembered the binoculars he purchased at Wolf Photography and Optical. He brought the device to his eyes. Everything magnified, he watched the curved grass tilt in the breeze. He watched critters move in the sand. He watched the diamond ocean and gazed at the sun until it weakened, the star making a slow dip into darkness. In that darkness, he couldn’t see anything except the moon, so he focused on its landscape, its lunar silver, its craters. Carrie asked what was he staring at? With the binoculars, he told her imperfections could be something good, that flaws somehow forgave the earth of its carelessness, that this day was over.

LUXURIOUS THINGS

I told her I wanted to inhale the polish vapor from her toes. She ignored me. I told her I wanted to kiss her limbs as she toodle-a-doo’d around the house in nothing but a pair of drawers. She ignored me. I told her I wanted to conceive a pair of twins with her, and at the last second, decide against the idea. She stormed off somewhere in the house, this cruel ritual of us, and she ignored me.

In a meltdown, I purchased a car, a Buick-make, big-white luxury thing, two doors. “You don’t want to go with four?” I asked.

“This is what I like,” she said. “Driver only. Passenger only. And a struggle to get in the backseat.” Hand on a cross, that’s what she said, and a struggle to get in the backseat. We gave it a test drive, made our way around the neighborhood. She waved at boys on the sidewalk and said she dreamed of leather interior.

“Should I park in the garage?” I asked. “To get a feel?”

“Don’t even try,” she said, “just keep driving.” Bound to her in chaperone-form and doomed to lose a couple grand.

The dealer wore aviator sunglasses, his face glossed in sweat at the thought of a sale. He wanted me to sign fast. He said there were a number of couples, just like us, waiting to arrange budgets around this ride. “Believe me,” he said, “the interior is dandy. You’re getting a deal.” She liked that, the thought of a deal, a man identifying her needs. She smiled at him good. I felt a pinch of pure jealousy. Goddamn him.

Driving the car home, I accepted everything. Passion runs until its empty, a drought land. I’m to the point where hearing her piss in the toilet causes frothing at the mouth. Madness in the midsection. Damaged, I’m to the point where I trade money for a shot at household skin. I’m to the point where I drive, drive, drive until I make it to the garage. I’m to the point where being ignored is physical pain. I’m to the point where I’ll propose anything for a feel.

PATERNAL STONE

To calm myself in nervous situations, I force my mind to visualize the shape of an arrowhead, a symmetric vision. I know where it comes from. The one I had when I was a kid. Gray-colored stone, a treasure in a decent collection, smooth and jagged at the same time. Either my father or stepfather gave it to me. It’s foggy.

My stepfather was responsible for most of the collection. He came home with a hunk of obsidian one afternoon, volcano glass from the center of the earth. He found it after digging a ditch for the city. The best backhoe operator in Lexington, he was paid overtime to drag mysterious waters around town. A jailbird once confessed to putting an eighteen year old beauty queen into a waterhole, but my stepfather found nothing except silt and junked tires. One time, he bought me some tiger-eye onyx at the Casey Jones Train Museum. He told me this kind specifically was good luck, so I stuffed them deep into the pockets of my denim cut-offs and hoped for the best. Mom would receive a miniature fortress of crystal quartz as an anniversary gift for their two year. Then she went back to bed. A few months later, she was awake and re-gifted it to me. I put it on my nightstand and made a habit of touching the crystal every morning before school.

But that perfect arrowhead, it could’ve easily come from my real father when he roused me from sleep early in the AM. This was the small window of time when he wasn’t divorced. He woke her, said we were going for a Huddle House breakfast and then yardsales. She didn’t come with us, and we didn’t go to a yardsale. We stalked Pinson Mounds and looted the former ceremonial site of the Chickasaw tribe. Dad told me to be quiet, we could get in trouble, a federal offense, thrown in prison.I remembered thinking the mounds were little mountains with oak trees.

In October, I wore a black windbreaker. The sun came in, moments before dawn, and I followed the grim reaper tattooed on my father’s elbow, the insignia to a motorcycle club he was in debt to. He dug his fingers in the grass and dirt, picking pieces of pottery, translucent chert, and hammer-rocks. I wondered if the native phantoms would come at us with tomahawks and warpaint. But the Chickasaw were a peaceful tribe, and we left the mounds with our Huddle House to-go bag filled with theft, a true father and son moment. Months later, he set up a tent in the parking lot of the local fairgrounds, selling the artifacts for as much as twenty-five dollars a pop.

Yeah, the arrowhead came from either my father or stepfather and disappeared in the same fashion. My dad could’ve taken it with him when he left, something to remember me by, a good luck charm for the highway in front of him. He needed it as he fled to Florida to escape an assault charge. I can almost recall him coming into my room, thinking I was asleep, and putting the perfect arrowhead into his military backpack. Or I gave it to him personally when I ran outside, hearing the crank of his ’79 Harley Knucklehead. I told him, “Take this for the road. Come back when you can.” His leather-gloves accepting whatever was in my hand. I want to believe this happened.

The vanishing could also be blamed on my stepfather. I left in a hurry. Things had turned strange–bills weren’t paid, no electricity in the mornings. He began staying in the shed after work, pulling all-nighters. Strange men appeared with cruddy teeth. My mother was awake and found cut-up straws in the washing machine. I was blamed.

Later, my stepfather’s backhoe entered a no-dig zone, piping busted. The city gave him a piss test. He failed, couldn’t be trusted with a backhoe no more, lost his job. We needed money. He liked crystals so much he learned how to make them in the shed. More men in mesh ball caps with scabs on their elbows appeared. Paranoia brewed. My mother slept. So I packed a bag, touched the quartz on my night stand, deserted everything.

Now, to calm myself in situations where I’m in the dark, where isolation is full, the edge near, and there’s nothing left but meditation, I think about that symmetric arrowhead, the color of an overcast sky, something that could fit in the palm of my hand, serrated, sharp, and I always come to the same idea, the same question: Who do I blame?

 

 

 

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