Sunday, March 26, 2017

Garbage, Day, Break

Howard picked up the last trash bag, grabbed his can of WD-40 and headed out the door. He'd discovered that spraying the bags kept them from getting stuck in the bottom of the can, which he knew was the result of overstuffing. But what could he do? They generated a great deal of trash. Perhaps, Howard thought, an inordinate amount. His neighbors never had bags poking out the tops of their cans. Raccoons never tore into their trash, strewing food wrappers, feminine hygiene products, and tissues across their lawns.  Howard used to wonder how they did it, how they kept it all contained, but then he stopped.

At the curb, Howard set the black bag next to the others, retied his robe against the cool pre-dawn air, and surveyed his quiet street. The elms, not yet winter-thinned, seemed, he thought, to know what was coming. He watched his neighbor, Max, back out, hoping to beat the commute traffic. As the SUV's headlights illuminated Howard and his well-lubed bags, Max honked and gave Howard the thumbs up before speeding off. Howard watched the taillights recede. When the car reached the end of the block, Howard slowly raised his arm and gave Max the finger, holding his hand aloft until the vehicle turned out of sight.

The sound of impact was unmistakable, contact steel on steel. A few neighborhood dogs barked and then fell quiet leaving only the stillness that follows any violent event. It's there after the metallic twist of a car crash, but also, Howard knew, after smaller impacts—a dropped dinner plate, or knuckles against the bathroom stall door at work. Howard shoved the bags into the can and turned back toward his house. High above, much too high to hear, a jet heading east left a contrail, just visible in the brightening sky. Howard followed its path for a moment, considering destinations, arrivals, possibilities, and then he stopped.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Context Unabridged

When Howard threw his dictionary out the driver-side window, he noted three things:

1) It was definitely a two-hander. (He had to steer with his knees.)

2) The flapping pages were much louder than expected. (He had    
   held the book momentarily aloft, like an offering, before    
   releasing it into the roaring night.)

3) It felt right. Not good. Not bad. (Necessary, Howard thought.)

After he rolled up the window, Howard considered the amplified silence. The absence of wind-wild pages and rushing night air made Howard feel what he 
thought might be a twinge of something, but it passed.

Howard drove for some time. He tried to tune the radio, but he'd lost reception miles ago. He settled on a station with faint conversation, an interview perhaps, behind the static hiss. When he reached the top of Ryan Slough Hill, Howard turned around and headed back toward town. On the long straight stretch where he'd let go, he started seeing pages, exotic in the headlights, here and there on both sides of the broken yellow line. Howard closed his eyes. He imagined pages spreading for miles and miles over days and months, farther and farther along the road and out into pastures and woods. Pages lining hawk nests and raccoon dens in hollow fallen trunks. Page 729 (ekphrastic, Elamite, élanyears of penciled notes) caught in an eddy along some secret, rain-swollen creek.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Howard Has a Second Cup and Takes the Day

Howard wondered how long the rhinoceros had been there. Had it come in the night? A cold drizzle began to fall, and he wondered if the animal felt the chill. Howard glanced at the clock on the coffeemaker. He knew he'd be late for work. He also knew nobody cared, himself least of all. His tardiness had become something, like weather or the price of gas, noted out of habit and not because there was anything to be done about it. He set his breakfast dishes in the sink, took three steps toward their bedroom and froze. He recovered the distance walking backwards until he was centered in front of the window above the kitchen sink. A rhino in one's yard, Howard thought, shouldn't go unsupervised. Separating the blinds farther to get a better view, he watched it shifting its tremendous weight. He considered calling out to the kids, or to Janet. But they were already gone. Out of the house on time, as usual.

Howard knew there wasn't a rhino-holding zoo for hundreds of miles, ruling out an escape scenario. He was also quite certain that rhinos were not native to northern California, ruling out everything else. The rhino raised its enormous gray head and stared in Howard's direction. For a moment, he hoped it would charge. He figured that the animal's tonnage could easily propel it through the wall and send him sprawled and broken into the next room. That, he thought, would be something. But before Howard could begin to contemplate the obituary that would run in the local paper, the rhino dropped its head and began to graze. Janet had been nagging him to mow the lawn. Now, perhaps, he wouldn't have to. As he watched the beast munching the overgrown grass, he thought about a recent conversation with his daughter. She was conducting interviews for a class project. When she asked him his favorite color he lied and said, blue. The lie pleased his daughter. Me, too! she said. Howard no longer had favorites. But when she asked him his favorite animal he said, without hesitating, rhino. Much to Howard's surprise, it was true. Rhinos are weird, Dad. Interview over.

Howard poured himself another cup of coffee and went out the sliding glass door onto the deck. He had neglected to close his robe, and the drizzle stung his bare legs. As he walked slowly toward the rhinoceros, he recalled seeing one in a zoo as a child. He remembered that something had excited the animal and it began loping around the enclosure. The ground shook with each hoof-fall. Howard grabbed onto his mother's leg but when she asked him if he wanted to go he shook his head, no. For a long time after, Howard could feel the animal's thumping strides in his small chest. All that summer, when no one was looking, he would jump and land as hard as he could, but nothing ever moved.