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Authors: Brad Land

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BOOK: Goat
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That way, he says. That way. And the car’s moving again. Inside the car the sound of wrappers tearing and being pulled apart.

   

WE ARE SPEEDING and I can’t stop smoking. I’m leaning all the way against my window blowing smoke over the edge trying to think of a way to be done with this ride and all that comes is this: drive and it will end. I’m telling myself this is nothing, no, nothing, but we drive a long way and the streetlights get farther apart.

   

AND THEN I know that they’re leading me nowhere. They want me somewhere dark. I can feel them looking at me, the smile in the passenger seat, his teeth bared in a snarl, the breath in the back, his frozen silence. These bodies around me. These bodies who keep telling me this: not much farther just up the road just up the road and me nodding my head yes yes.

We drive on back roads and the eyes of deer are caught in the headlights. They stand there staring, dark trees at their backs. The road bends sharply and around a curve I want the headlights to lock a deer in the road so I can’t stop, so it will crush the front end of my car.

But then I tell myself again that this is nothing. That it will be done soon, that I will stop the car and the smile and the breath will leave and it will all be over, this ride, this shaking, it will be done.

   

THE SMILE TUNES the radio. I speed and hope I’ll get pulled. When I take another cigarette the smile is looking at me and I see him but I don’t turn, he’s there smiling, the electronic dial on the radio bleeding blue onto his legs and stomach. Smoke? he says and I say yeah smoke, I smoke, hold the cigarette toward him, shake it a bit, want one? I say and he laughs, says nah I mean smoke, you know like real smoke? and it takes me a minute to get it and then I’m going nah I mean I do (want to sound cool) but I can’t right now I mean I shouldn’t my ma’s got the car in the morning and she doesn’t like that stuff wish I could you know but I can’t sorry sorry, the smile says you know ’cause we wanted to smoke some with you (points to the back) and again I’m saying wish I could wish we could (lying) I mean that would be cool I like to smoke I mean I do it often I mean all the time as much as I can yeah love to smoke. It’s cool the smile says and I take another pull from the cigarette, pinch it between my thumb and middle finger, flick it out the window, it flies, burns like a bottle rocket on the pavement behind us.

——

THE FACTS:

A dirt road.

Parked car.

Streetlights peeling back the dark.

My right hand on the drive stick.

Head turned to the smile.

His teeth like white coals.

So here, I say. Yeah. Take care.

Nod. Look to my right and the moon is the blade of an ax.

I take my eyes from it, turn toward the smile. I smile back.

And the forearm comes from behind me, fills the space between my chin and breastbone. I can feel my neck bend and cave, my Adam’s apple cracking and the light shrinks around me. The smile next to me. It’s motionless, still as the moon.

I blink once.

Twice and my mouth is sucking air that won’t come.

Breath wet on my cheek.

My head goes black.

   

MY MOUTH FULL of dirt. The air comes back as quickly as it left, fills me, pulses. I’m on the ground with feet beside my face, with feet landing on my ribs. Beneath my car I can see the field and the dry soybeans hunched like gimps. I put my arms and hands around my head and then I’m raised beneath the arms, lifted like a doll. I stagger and can’t stand up. The breath holds me around the chest. The smile is in front of me, teeth clenched, puts fists into my eyes, my mouth. Tears a chain from my neck. Dangles it in front of me. And then he’s in my back pockets. Pulls the wallet. Dumps everything he doesn’t want into the dirt. Next: the keys. Jammed into the smile’s pocket.

This is what I say:

Credit card. Code. Four. Four. Four. Four.

Please. Leave me here.

This is what the smile says:

Not enough.

We want it all.

I’m crying.

The smile: stop fucking crying.

The breath behind me: snap your neck.

The forearm around my neck tightening. I’m yanking down, digging nails into the skin. It doesn’t move. And the fists come again into my face. My mouth full of blood. Swallow it. I can feel my heart in my temples. The smile bobs, looks as if he loves me and there is no sound, the locusts have stopped, the street lamps have quit humming. But there is this: my ears ringing, air trying to enter me and the breath behind me, lips wet against my ear, he’s saying this over and over: go to sleep go to sleep.

   

AND THE TRUNK open, the light from inside falling onto the smile’s chest. Behind him the field black, the treeline black and shrouded with the faint white of the moon touching the heads of pine. The smile throwing a broken golf club into the field. Throwing my book bag. The books spill out, the pages flutter like wings. Everything dirt and dust. I’m watching from the ground, head straight down, eyes raised, my mouth open in the dirt, all blood and spit and clay, arms laid straight at my side, the breath his foot on my back grinding my spine down with his heel. He drags it gently up my back, lets it rest on my neck, mashes the toe into my skull, holds it there and I can feel my nose breaking. The breath takes his foot away, the smile down next to my face on his knees, palms laid flat in the dust. I don’t want to look at him but I turn my eyes up anyway. His eyes level with mine, he smiles and smiles.

   

THEN THE SMILE’S feet in my mouth. The breath beside me, his feet in my stomach. Picking me up beneath the arms again and I’m limp, my eyes clouded and the blood foaming on my lips, running down my chin. It’s falling down my chest and there’s so much blood I’m drinking it, the smile in front of me now, his warm breath on my cheek, he’s looking me square in the face. Wake up, he says, slaps my face with his rough cold hand, walk motherfucker, walk, he says, move your fucking legs and they’re moving. The breath is carrying me, legs all wobble and shake, I’m dragging my shoes leaving lines in the dust toward the trunk. It’s open for me. I crawl in and lay down, curled like a baby holding my legs up to my chest and my eyes move up, the light from inside the trunk on the smile’s chest, on the breath’s chest, they’re both standing there and the breath sees my eyes on them and says don’t fucking look keep your fucking eyes closed you want to breathe huh? you want to breathe? Then the trunk snaps shut and the light is gone.

——

INSIDE THE TRUNK of a car the fetal position is most comfortable.

Here is what you do:

Draw knees up against the chest.

Wrap bicep and forearm over the shins.

Adjust to the rise of wheel over stone.

Lie silent.

Breathe deliberately.

Know this:

All that is real is the shrunken dark.

Smell of blood and sweat.

Of dirt and smoke.

Sound of bass and blunt laugh.

Open my eyes and it is all dark and I squint to make them work to make them see but they will not. I’m lying on my side with my knees pulled up against my chest. I push one hand into the dark. I trace the steel ribs of the trunk’s frame behind me and I know that if I’m left in the trunk I can push the backseat’s cushions, wedge myself through the ribs. I learned this once when I locked the keys in my trunk. A friend said you know you can pull the cushions out right? crawl through the frame? and I shook my head no I did not know that, but now I do, here in all this dark I know. I run my hands through the space around my legs, my chest, try to find something to hold, something to use. There’s a plastic pen near my face and I take it, trembling, and I love the smile for leaving it for me and for a moment I see myself rising from the trunk when the door is opened, rising like mist, this pen held like a knife, I’m tearing the smile’s throat, I’m jamming the pen into the breath’s neck, we’re covered in blood and blue ink, me holding a foot above the breath’s neck and then I’m stomping the pen down, nailing him to the dirt and the smile is holding his throat, gasping, fingers painted red and blue. But then I know that I will suffocate here, that I will be left to bake. I pull the ink shaft from the top of the pen and what’s left is a hollow plastic tube and I’m thinking that this hollowed-out pen is the only thing that will let me breathe, and then I have the pen clutched between my lips, jamming it into a space where I think there might be air and I’m sucking and the pen drops to the floor and rolls away and I put my whole mouth over the space like it’s a nipple.

   

I FEEL THE road beneath me change from gravel to asphalt. The tires smooth. I find the hollowed pen and hold it with a baby’s grip, pull knees tight to my chest and let my eyes close.

The tires stop. A car door opens then shuts. The car moves again.

   

THE MOON HANGING over the smile’s shoulder. He is shrouded in dark, holding the trunk open. The breath beside him, dark arms at his side. They are shadow. The light inside the trunk burns my eyes. I hold my hand above them and blink hard. Squint. The breath’s fist in my head, told you not to look boy he says, put your fucking eyes down, and I drop my eyes, cover my head with forearms. The smile says get up don’t look get up and don’t fucking look and I’ve got my head down, moving my legs over the edge of the trunk, the breath pulling me out. And then I’m on my knees in the dust looking up again. Don’t look the breath says, his foot in my ribs and I want to say I can’t see you I can’t you are nothing. I want to say leave me here just leave me, take the car, just leave, I won’t tell. And then my lips are stuttering the words, I won’t tell swear to God I can’t see you I can’t just leave me here. The smile says nah too late, tells me to get up and I can’t, my legs won’t move, the breath drags me by the back of my shirt, my knees against the dirt and stone. Pushes me down in front of the car. Headlights against my back. Presses my face into stones on the road. They cut into my cheek and forehead. He leaves his hand on the back of my head for a moment, holds me there, says put your hands behind your head don’t look up don’t look up you want to breathe huh? yeah you do don’t move your fucking head and his hand is gone and I leave my head there pressed into the rocks as stiffly as when the breath’s hand held it and my eyes are open not looking back into the light but sideways across the stones, over a ditch into the tangled woods, and I want to run, I want to stand up and leave but I am locked here and I know that I will die soon.

But then I am calm. It spreads over me like rain. I concentrate on the outline of tree pressing against tree, dust moving through the headlights that fall over me and I am waiting for a gun’s steel to press against the back of my skull, I am waiting for the click of the trigger, I am waiting for the soft kiss, I am waiting for my eyes to go black.

And when the car starts I am waiting for the tires to break my skull, to crush my ribs. I brace and tense my muscles. Eyes closed. The car whines backward. The sound gets smaller until it is nothing, until nothing is left but the moan of insects.

——

I RUN UNTIL my heart explodes and my legs crumble and I fall into tall grass to my right, fall into a ditch. The grass swallows me whole. I sink, dig my hands into the mud, curl myself like a fist, wait for the sound of one engine to return, the sound of car doors opening, clicking shut, the smile and the breath panting, snapping tree limbs, parting the grass inside the ditch, dropping their hot eyes down onto me. And inside the grass and mud my head goes black.

   

WATER IN MY mouth wakes me. I rise to my knees and cough there in the grass and the blood from my mouth mixes with the mud and standing water. Painted red and brown I am a ghost. My face, my arms, my clothes are covered. Inside the ditch tall grass wraps my shoulders, my arms, my neck. I am standing in water up to my ankles. My feet sink into mud. Over the edge, through grass, I can see the road strewn with granite. The moon lights the granite’s sharp faces and they shine, sparkle like a long bed of jewels reaching out in both directions into black. Behind me the woods are thick and moving.

   

I WILL NOT take the road. I crawl out of the ditch and run to the woods at my back, hunch down beneath the pines. I can hear every movement, every branch snapping, every break of dried leaves and for the first time I think of my brother sleeping beside the girl with the torn shirt and muscled legs, her breath on his chest, his mouth open toward the ceiling, and for the first time I know that I have to move through these woods, that I have to move toward him and I see my mother and father sleeping and my bed lying empty and still. But my legs won’t move so I stay bent over staring out into the dark.

I move away from the road, into the woods. I push branches aside, my feet tangled in thorns and the teeth tear into my shins and calves when I pull each leg up and the roots hold firm and the teeth tear deeper and the pain is hot and the blood is filling my shoes again but I raise each leg and jerk until the teeth are lodged in my shins and calves but the roots give and I’m trailing them behind me.

The woods open into a field, and in the black I see a set of eyes cast silver from the moon. I’m taking steps, walking toward the burning eyes. I drop to my knees and stare, the eyes shake, trail silver streaks in the dark. When I’m still, I can hear my heart pulsing. Behind and below the eyes there’s burnt dull red, a muzzle white and dark gray. It’s this fox stepping toward me, placing its feet cautiously into the dirt. And we’re both bent down staring at each other and the fox just looks straight at me with the white eyes and the neck bent to smell the soil and for a long time I just stare and the fox just stares. The fox turns the dirt with his front feet. Lies down and breathes and I can see the outline of rib. I am stomach down. Forearms beneath my chin.

And then I know that I can talk to this fox.

I ask the fox for a name.

No name, the fox says, just fox or red fox or red, whatever, nothing like you’d think, you know?

The mouth never moves, the voice comes through the eyes.

BOOK: Goat
8.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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