The car sped through the southeastern Pennsylvania winter’s night. Past a Quaker cemetery. Jack leaned forward, put his hands on the dashboard and scooted his ass up to the edge of the front seat with a thought in his mind then turned around to share it with Brandon in the backseat of the ’71 Ford. It was something funny, a witty observation bordering on the obscure which his fellow passengers could appreciate. That acknowledgement always startled him, as if someone was being underestimated and he was shouldn’t sure who it was. Maybe they were just bluffing him, understanding half of what he said but humoring him just the same. Still, that said something about the quality of their friendship, at this time, in this age, in the place they all still called home though more than a few had moved away. Some had even died. But still it was home.
He turned just about a quarter of the way around to his left to face the backseat while keeping his eye on the driver so his profile was split right down the middle, half in darkness and half in the dim green radiance of the LTD’s radio spewing forth Molly Hatchet’s “Beatin’ the Odds” and decided, nah, I’ll keep it to myself and swallowed an acrid burp.
Looking like he had something to say his buddy busted his balls, “A little louder there, Cappy…” which only drew good-natured laughter from all the other travelers. “Have another beer,” said the blackness behind him.
He laughed, tried to hide his chin in his chest, then pivoted on his left butt bone and inched his ass back into the warm, well-worn groove Kenny’s mother had made in the seat on countless trips to the Shop’N’Bag, JC Penney’s and St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church. As Kenny overcorrected the Ford out of the oncoming northbound lane of Gullytown Road into a right hand turn just over the bridge spanning St. Joe’s crick the momentum pulled Jack backwards pressing him against the door where a belt loop on the back of his Wranglers caught the door-handle. Kenny looked over. His right hand was at 5 o’clock. The wheel began to spin counter-clockwise through his grasp. Jack leaned forward, toward Kevin and managed to hand him the bottle but his buckle had already pulled the handle open and he was sucked out like an indiscriminate extra in an airline disaster movie, an angel cast out of the warm celestial glow of the Ford’s cabin into the dark, cold, winter night whose only light was a gray fibrous mist of filtered, third-hand luminescence bouncing off the snow after refracting from the moon.
He realized the earth hadn’t approached him as quickly as he had anticipated once he understood he was tumbling down an embankment. There was a veneer of ice atop the snow which softened his descent but then cracked the recent storm’s remnants into a thousand diamond-tipped barbs that decorated his face and hands with scratches which bled ruby-red in the amorphous light of the early a.m. winter morning. He came to a stop on his back, feet first toward the ribbon of mumbling water, his cheeks stinging, his eyes open towards Heaven. He closed his eyes and saw more stars than ever before.
He woke up walking. Why was he walking through these woods thinking good things happen in threes and bad things happen in threes? He saw the numeral in his mind then thought of The Father, The Son and the Holy Ghost. A guy and two chicks. Saltines, peanut butter and milk. Joplin, Morrison and Hendrix. He got the Father and the Son. What the fuck was the Holy Ghost? Or was it who? Then he fell. Again.
He woke up freezing. In the creek. Freezing in the creek. As if the marrow of his bones had been sucked out and replaced with frozen cables of metal. His eye opened on the clear stream rippling in winter moonlight like it was the world. His eye and the stream. Two worlds. His one eye opened on two worlds. Itself and the moon on the water. He exhaled and the moon disappeared. One had to go. It wasn’t going to be him. Not now. Not tonight. He clamored up the banks. Each step forcing his weight back into the stream. His arms would wave like he was dancing his way off the stage. He would his stamp his foot into the frosted muddy bank. He stomped it into the sucking mud. He felt each tiny ice crystal being corrupted through the toe of his Chuck Taylors where the sole flapped opened. The mud leaked into his sneaker. It invaded his sock. It infested every available opening. There was no defense when the assault occurred on such a microscopic level. He found a cold slick root. He shook hands with a cool slick root and hauled himself up until it burned through his grasp. Burned through his grasp on a night when it 20 degrees outside and he was outside. He grabbed again. He waved as the root shook avoiding his hand. Finally, he grabbed it and pulled himself up out of the stream in one lung-emptying lunge that filled his windpipe with coarse sandpaper going down his gullet and he vomited. He vomited again his knees pitched into the bank. He prayed. Clasping his blood-stained hands. He vomited. He clasped the loamy earth, scratched at the lip of the world. Got up to his knees. Penitent. Then fell face first into his own pool of steaming vomit with his head resting at roots of a pricker bush. This time he said. I’m not going to open my eyes. If the moon wanted to shine go ahead and let it. He didn’t care.
He awoke inside a cabin. All was white or muted, smoky brown. Next to him she blinked her eyes a few times as if she was waking to a new day, too. Her eyes were clear as ice with only the faintest suggestion of water running beneath as if minimal effort was required. As if all that was required of life was an urge rather than a pulse.
She shared with him the enjoy of wondrous things; the curves of her hips like slopes of snow, her small concupiscent breasts were drifts rising and falling as if each measured tempered breath was the wind shaping impermanence. Her manicured nails raked his hips. Her tongue traced his mouth in sober, wet kisses that wrote passionate soliloquies that he could not quite discern from her passionate grunts. It was raucous and warm, damp, the cabin soaking up all the sound like a winter’s day unwinding in intemperate weather. He entered her and thought how often two people fucking was met with an extreme opinion by the small worlds around them; either extreme distaste or passive indifference when it could be such a kindred act. But he knew why. Love could be love for no reason. Or it could just be faith. He felt as if he was working backwards towards a new regard, a new regard of all that came before and would follow while keeping a vigilant hope that each subsequent climactic exhalation would melt the ice in her eyes. Her tears flowed eventually but by then he was sound asleep.
He slept a peaceful sleep that started to blur at the edges. The edges of his sleep were blurred with frost. His blood ran cold. Colder than the stream yet not frozen. He expelled the crystallized air from his lungs and woke up tasting a faint hint of peach schnapps in his nostrils. He told himself two more breaths and then he would stand up and walk home to whatever awaited him there. One more breath and he would stand up and be on his way home to catch holy hell.