Thursday, May 27, 2010

Age Of Man by John Sweet

They’d built a garage next to their trailer up on Burnt Hill Road, and we were sitting in the shade of the doorway, were sitting in these battered plastic chairs that I’d taken from a restaurant I’d worked at a few years earlier, and it was July, was beyond hot, pushing 100 degrees, sun like a fist, like a smothering blanket, blurry through the haze and irrefutable.

And he had a beer, and so did she, and I was drinking a Pepsi. My third or fourth in the past couple of hours, my teeth coated with sugar, my mouth starting to get that think, burnt feeling, and all afternoon there had been low rumbles of thunder from further up the lake. Empty promises, more than likely, but I held on to hope. Could feel the sweat pooling in the small of my back, stinging in the corners of my eyes, and I was looking at their gazing globs on the edge of the lawn, out by the driveway, a deep, profound blue, this beautiful concentration of light where the sun touched it and then, just beyond, at the edge of the road, a few kids from the trailer kitty corner across the street, shirtless and filthy, digging with spoons in the loose gravel. Running tiny metal cars through the trenches they were digging.

And he was horribly thin, was already dying, and he knew it. Kept telling the doctors, and they kept answering him with shop talk about possible treatments, about stronger medication, kept discussing options, and he would just shake his head. Would just sit silently in the passenger seat while she drove the thirty miles back home, and I kept looking at him next to me, sitting there with his eyes closed, sweating hand held loosely in a claw-like hand, and I couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not, and eventually he smiled. Said I’m still here in a soft voice, like he’d felt the weight of my stare, and I flushed a little. Took another swig of Pepsi, and she asked What do you suppose those kids names are? Said They’ve lived over there for almost two years now, and I’ve never done anything more than wave at their parents, and he shrugged. Brought the beer can to his lips, took a slow swallow from it. Sighed.

And they made me think of my own kids, of course, spending the summer with their mother down in Virginia, and the feeling in the pit of my stomach made me wish I drank. I took in a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Looked at the gazing globe some more.

Asked Think it’ll rain? just to be saying something and neither of them answered. None of us moved. If I kept my mind blank, it almost felt good just to sit there beneath the soft drone of a distant plane. Almost felt human.

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