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Authors: Lou Beach

420 Characters (7 page)

BOOK: 420 Characters
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I WAS NEW, and scared. We were hunkered down behind a berm, taking heavy fire. Stein looked at me: "Fear is just another weapon, like your sidearm or grenade. You can use it to shoot yourself in the foot or blow up the platoon. Or you can turn it around and use it on the bad guys." Standing by his casket at the memorial a month later, I wondered if grief was a weapon, too.

 

WHEN I WAS TWELVE I took all the coins from my parents' change jar. I went down to the end of the street where the train tracks were and laid all the coins out on the rails and waited for the train. After it passed I gathered the flattened coins and brought them home and epoxied them to the coffee table. It was stunning! I was so very proud of my achievement. When my parents came home I was given a beating.

 

I WET my lips with the tip of my tongue, leave it protruding for a beat, reel it back in. Is she watching? She must know I do it for her. Is she watching? I sit up straight, order whiskey, no rocks. Is she watching? I laugh, make a joke. Is she watching? I walk to the men's room, saunter. Is she watching? I return, swing my leg over the back of the chair, knock over a bottle of beer. Damn, is she watching? Is she watching?

 

THERE IS A TURD on our wedding cake, a child's poop. Deirdre is weeping in the ladies' while I push through the guests looking for Sheila, that loser, the only one who would do such a thing, another one of her "messages" claiming I'm the father of her ugly baby. We spent one night together. One night! And no, I won't submit to a DNA thing ... I don't do well on tests. There she is! Grab her, someone! Stop that woman!

 

THEY PUT ME IN A CHAIR, hand me a container of warm yogurt, a spoon. It is like eating flannel. They've forgotten to search my pockets, request that I stand. I don't feel like it, cross my arms to indicate my refusal. The gag doesn't allow me to tell them and hoisting my middle finger would be seen as combative, an excuse to use the prod. I get up, of course, and they find your picture. They pass it around and smirk.

 

THE BLOODLETTING commenced at first light. Swooping into their camp, we trampled and savaged all life before us, giving no thought or quarter to the age or gender of heathen. Some fought back, valiantly, admirably, I admit, while others cowered in their huts holding onto amulets as if some pagan god could protect them from our sabers. There was nothing of value in their sorry camp, and the women were not pleasing.

 

THE BRIDGE buckled and collapsed. Cars grill-smacked the river or hit trunk-first, springing hatches, spreading contents over the water—flip-flops, rope, plastic toys, funnels, tarps and bags from Trader Joe's, hats, bottles of sunscreen, cardboard boxes—in a yard-sale flotilla without buyers that drifted through the channel, then out to sea to join the rest of the shit in the ocean.

 

 

THERE IS A TERRIBLE ROCK in his chest. It burns and pushes. He waits for it to bloom. He knows that to grow wings he must kill everyone downstairs. He gets up and removes his socks, looks for his knife. He stands at the top of the stairs and takes deep breaths. He can already feel the wings pushing through his skin.

 

WHEN I DIE there will be no burial or cremation. I have contracted with Spacemetery
®
to store my remains aboard an Eterna satellite. My body will forever loop around the planet and emit a flashing light whenever it passes over a memorable location. Like that bar in Redondo Beach where we first met, or IKEA.

 

YEARNING for insight, some spiritual pointer, I lie amidst the shattered pieces of mirror and bleed. I had stumbled home drunk and, mistaking my reflection for an intruder, rushed at it, split my forehead, smashed the glass, fell to the floor. I turned my head and saw that the shards reflected the ceiling. I realized then that what is whole above is mirrored in broken pieces below.

 

HE DISMOUNTED at the dead end of the canyon, took a shovel and walked to a spot near a cottonwood and began to dig. When he was knee-deep in the hole, an arrow passed behind his head. He felt the air move and thought it a daring bird. The second arrow found its mark in his neck and the life seeped from him and he folded, inches from some letters and a lock of hair.

 

THE SEA is under the sky. The clouds are in the sky. The sun is between the clouds. My keys are on the table. I will be in the car, driving beneath the sky, toward the sea. There is a small house on the beach. The door is red. I will open the door and put my keys on the table. You will be in the blue chair near the window. You will turn, fold the corner of the page in the book you are reading, and rise to kiss me now.

 

HOT IN THE BAIT SHOP today. Guy walks in, all big city, Jew hair, glasses. I'm thinking, only thing he's ever fished for is a compliment. "Can I help you?" "Yes, would you happen to carry any Yamamoto 9S Senko freshwater lures in a four inch?" Man, I felt like there was shit on my shoe. The dude was DEEP.

 

THE RAVEN SWAYS in the wind at the very top of the pine, a lone black pennant, an ensign signaling to those who watch that a storm is imminent. The wheat will boil, the saplings fold and snap. We close the barn doors and soothe the stalled horses with whispers and hands. A crack of thunder sends a shudder through them that passes into us, and we stand together grounded, all legs trembling.

 

Grounded, Ian McShane (0:28)

 

YEARS BACK the river overflowed, flooded a nearby apple orchard. Grandpa was sitting on the high front porch watching the water rushing down the street when he saw a flotilla of apples bobbing past. He quick got his waders and proceeded to fish for fruit. Grandma made pies and applesauce and fritters for weeks. That's how the local saying "When the river rises, make fritters" come about. That's the origin, true story.

 

THE ORCHARD reminds me of Christmas, the trees hung with shiny round fruit. Pawel and I walk the long rows, remark on squirrels and birds we see, the bees. He tells of his father, found face-down in a creek nearby, arm broken, foot caught in a root. "What happened?" I say. "He wished for a better life." A jet flies overhead and Pawel falls to the ground, twists his leg beneath him, screams. "What happened?" I say.

Acknowledgments
 

I am grateful to Will Amato, who helped me realize the value of these stories; to Ed Ward for being gracious enough to introduce me to his agent; to that agent, David Dunton, for helping secure the publication of this book; and to Tom Bouman, my editor, for his sound advice and enthusiasm.

A tip of the hat is also in order to Dave Alvin, Jeff Bridges, and Ian McShane for their exceptional generosity in recording some of these tales for the book's website, as well as to Jonathan Lethem, J. Robert Lennon, Joe Frank, Terry Gilliam, and Gary Panter for their kind words and encouragement. Many thanks to good neighbor Pete Sepenuk.

This book would not have been possible without Facebook and the many fans and followers of my writing there. I am most indebted to them.

And of course, Issa.

BOOK: 420 Characters
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