Story from the Fall issue: Amanda Miska. Slow Wave.

29 Aug

Amanda Miska

SLOW WAVE

I knew your brother before he died. You have the same eyes—deep river-silt brown with black lashes like feathers. He and I shared a group of friends and the occasional poorly-rolled joint. He was only two years older but he always called me Kid.

I hear you’re afraid of the river now. Sold your boat and your fishing gear a few months back. My dad bought one of your fly rods, and it made me angry, like he was giving you permission to give up on something.

I’ve got a feeling about you, like maybe you’re buried under something you can’t lift all by yourself. I saw you on the porch swing with that girl the other night when I was walking the dog because I couldn’t sleep. Two in the morning. Her giggle made me turn and then I couldn’t look away. She was on your lap, and your hands were under the back of her lacy white top, sliding down to her ass, lifting her up. I knew I should go, but I couldn’t move. I stayed in the shadows, watching, until she left. When she pulled out onto the road, I bent down, pretending to pick up after the dog. When I turned back, you were gone, the porch light switched off, the swing still swaying.

Do you love her? Those things are kind of hard to know. For me, anyway. My mom died when I was four and my dad never met anyone else, at least, not anyone that made him want to try again. I never got to watch him love, and so it feels like that part of me is broken. I know how to ride a bike, how to fry an egg sunnyside-up, how to thread a worm on a hook, but I don’t know when someone says I love you if they mean it or if they just want me to lie back in the grass and hike up my skirt.

***

She was there the night he drowned. She was there kissing your brother, taking in his last breaths, feeling his last heartbeat against her in the rusty old train car where most of us had lost our virginity on secondhand mattresses we covered with our beach towels. She won the Miss River pageant when we were sixteen, and all the boys were half in-love with her. But she was the kind of girl who wrote Call Shellie for a Good Time and her own phone number in Sharpie on bathroom stalls, and then blamed someone else so everyone would fawn over her. Martyr complex or something. I can understand what she wants with you–you have the same eyes as your brother, you carry some of the same blood—but it doesn’t seem right. You’re a substitute. Second place.

Sometimes we all need that, though: the throwdown, the rush. The touch of skin, like being erased. You can get addicted to it—quick as drugs. The danger is that sometimes you might think it’s medicine. But that dark hunger doesn’t heal, just lifts you up and drops you back down until you start to like the pain, to live with it like it’s supposed to be there, like it was something you were born with and can’t help.

I wasn’t there that night, but I could have been. The bonfire and midnight swim were a July 5th tradition for the group of us, but I’d already offered to take an extra work shift to pay for new brake pads on my car. Officer McKibbons was having a burger with his pregnant wife when the call came in. I was so distracted that I gave the wrong change to my customer. I felt antsy and wanted to leave, to run. I thought that if I could just go, I could change the outcome. Because that’s how I felt about my mom. Maybe if I’d been there, buckled in the back seat, she wouldn’t have been speeding in a storm, swirling right down the river bank and flipping over, killed instantly by a sliver of windshield.

***

You still work at the hardware store in your rolled-up western shirt sleeves, and I still come in, even after they built the Walmart the next town over. My dad’s eyesight is failing, so I make repairs on the house myself. I replace the old rusty faucet in the downstairs bathroom. I snake the basement drain when it gets clogged. Our back porch overlooks the river, and the bannister is shaky. I fix that too, haphazardly, but it works: that’s always been my way. Dad’s pontoon boat hasn’t moved in over a year, but sometimes, when it gets to be too hot upstairs in my old bedroom, I sleep out there, let the rushing of the river rock me to sleep like my mother’s arms.

We make small talk while you ring up my purchases. I try to be funny. If I’m strange, it’s only because I’ve spent so much time alone. As a kid, I read books and walked through the woods, picking the mitten-shaped sassafras leaves and holding the ends to my nose. They smelled like citrus, and if you broke off a chunk near the roots, it smelled like birch beer. This is one of the only things I remember from elementary school science class. I would take the leaves home and thread them onto string to hang above my bed like a banner. It would only last a week or two and then the leaves would dry out and crumble onto my pillowcase and into my hair.

I started thinking about boys when I was thirteen. I learned what to do to my body to make it feel good—I preferred this touch to the boys my age with their rough, fumbling fingers and slobbery kisses, tongues darting like garter snakes. I was never beautiful like my mother—or like that girl on your porch—but I was reckless, and that held an attraction for some.

“You need someone to help you with that?” you ask. I want to say yes, yes. I need you.

“Nah, I’m good. Just some simple repairs. Easy enough.”

“If you get stuck, you can call here, ask for Levi. It’s part of the job. Free consultation service.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I wouldn’t stop thinking about it.

“Can I at least help you out to your car?” You smile at me. You have dimples. Your brother didn’t.

“I’m good, Levi. Thanks so much,” I say. Levi, Levi, Levi. It’s a song in my head. A pulse.

***

It’s River Day, the Centennial, a big deal around here. There’s the parade, carnival, boat race, fishing contest, Miss River Pageant, chicken wing cook-off, and fireworks over the water to end the evening. People waking up on lawn chairs on their boats, hungover, the next day, and then heading over to The Cozee Café for omelettes and free refill coffees. I know you’re not going to be there, and I know you’ll be the only one—even my dad has plans to go out on the water with my aunt and uncle. On River Day, the further you get from the river to the outskirts of Freestone, the more it looks like a ghost town.

I walk up Main Street, past all of the Closed for River Day! signs to the dirt road that leads to Miller’s Farm, where I pick a bunch of wildflowers to take to the cemetery. I almost don’t see you resting against his headstone with your eyes closed. I cough softly to see if you’re asleep, but your eyes flip open, so I say, “Hey.” And you say, “You.” I’m not sure what that means, but it’s almost like my name in your mouth. I smooth my dress down at the hips.

“These are for my mom,” I say, nodding at the flowers. “She died when I was little.”

“I remember.”

“No one in this town’s much of a mystery.”

You take a sip from a can of beer, and then hold it out to me. I take it and put my mouth where your mouth had just been. I take a sip and hand it back. Then I sit down next to you, closer than I should, but you don’t move away. I pull a daisy from the center of the bunch and lean across you to set it on the ground in front of his grave, covering the graying stack of daffodils left over from spring.

“Let me go take these to my mom.”

You stand up, take my hand and pull me to my feet. A chivalrous gesture, but your hand lingers. This is almost how I imagined it—I feel like I thought about this moment so much that I somehow conjured it into being. I am hesitant to let go of you even for a second, as though it will break the spell. I want to talk more about our lives, about the things I know, but what I want most is to touch you, to feel your body under me like a slow wave.

“I’ll wait,” you say.

We wind our way back down the quiet streets, blinded by the July sun.

“It’s too damn hot,” you say, letting go of my hand, wiping at your eyebrows.

“We could swim. Out at my place.”

“You got a pool?”

“No, but I have a dock.”

“I don’t do docks. Don’t know if you heard.”

Your voice is harder. Your eyes are focused on the distance instead of me.

“The river didn’t swallow us,” I say. “It took them. But we’re still here.”

“You don’t know me.”

“I know more than you think.”

I take your hand again. I see that look in your eyes, like you’re coming unhinged too, and I know this—our intertwined fingers, the sensation of being found—is one thing that scares you more than the rushing Allegheny. The suspicion that something good could come from what we’ve gone through, some divine purpose.

“Just walk with me.”

There is a trail leading to the bank, worn down by years of fishermen’s footsteps. We have a little dock, just some planks nailed together. Growing up, when the river was super cold, right at the beginning of summer, I used to pretend I was on a pirate ship, being forced to hop off the end at the very last second or perish by sword.

The trees are in full bloom, a green canopy over us. We are hidden from the road by the summer growth, and it smells like heady honeysuckle. I don’t want you to come in the house, don’t want you to see how rundown everything is, so I decide that we’ll skinny dip instead of grabbing a bathing suit.

“Is that all right with you?”

“Long as you remember it was your idea, wild girl.” There are your dimples again. And there, you’ve christened me already with a love-name, a name that’s true.
When I start to take off my dress, you turn away but I say, softly, “It’s all right.”
You turn, keeping one eye shut.

“Are you winking at me?” I tease, curling my spine so I can reach back to unhook my bra.

I’ve gone skinny-dipping hundreds of times by myself and with my girlfriends, or at parties where everyone was a little high or tipsy. This feels different. I am paler than the moon. My nipples, in contrast, are the color of juice of the ripe blackberries we used to pick as kids. My hair is a bramblebush. My heart is beating like a fish in a human hand, just before you decide to cut it open or toss it back.

Before I can think too much about it, I strip off my underwear. I am naked, and it’s hot, but I have goosebumps.

“Your turn,” I say.

You pull off your boots and socks. Then your pants. You unsnap your shirt slowly and pull off the tee shirt underneath. You stand there in your threadbare cotton boxers, which leave little to the imagination.

“All or nothing,” I say. “Take ‘em off or I will.”

You slide them quickly down your hips.

“See? Like ripping off a band-aid.”

You take my hand again, and we walk a few steps closer to the edge.

I count to three.

We jump in.

We resurface.

 

empty dock_751695410_l

6 Responses to “Story from the Fall issue: Amanda Miska. Slow Wave.”

  1. Anthony Martin August 30, 2014 at 04:55 #

    Well done, Amanda–I especially appreciated the ending. I am looking forward to re-reading this one in print!

  2. tonycayman August 30, 2014 at 21:23 #

    Well done! So surreal, like brilliantly written Japanese literature.

  3. bettysueblue August 31, 2014 at 15:59 #

    Reblogged this on Beth Gilstrap.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2014 Pushcart nominees | pea river journal - October 7, 2014

    […] “Slow Wave,” a story published in PRJ3. Amanda Miska lives and writes in Northern Virginia. Her work has been featured in or is forthcoming from Whiskey Paper, Buffalo Almanack, CHEAP POP, jmww, Cartagena, The Collapsar, Storychord, Five Quarterly, Cartridge Lit, Cactus Heart, and Counterexample Poetics. She is the fiction curator at Luna Luna Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @akmiska. […]

  2. “Ill Not in the Mind” nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize | Anthony Martin - October 7, 2014

    […] “Slow Wave” by Amanda Miska […]

  3. the top 15 most-read posts | pea river journal - October 1, 2016

    […] Amanda Miska’s story Slow Wave […]

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