The boy was good. And with his boy fingers he found crouching hidden things in the grass. He found snakes smooth and slick on thin bellies. He found spiders molded from dust and clutching pebbles. He found the sharp fractured edges of arrowheads. He found the sun spoiling the earth. He found pieces of the wind breaking like tide on yellow weed-long grass. He found the barefoot tracks of god. He found the remains of tears yet to slip beneath the surfaces of dirt and skin.
Their hands clasped and tight the girls skipped, bounding across from cottonwood to barn. From house to coop. From well to fence. Their trajectory always and ever unpredictable. It was impossible to set nooses in the grass for them. Their trails were never clear or worn. To stick those girls like stuck pigs the nooses would have to be dressed as swings. The girls would see ropes hanging from branches. The girls would climb and pull and tangle. Enticed and then entangled. The girls would swing swing swing.
And his father too was without a clear path. He appeared and disappeared at intervals on the land. Rising and falling like embers from field fires. Floating on invisible currents and glowing only in ugly needless rhythms. For his father the loop would have to be delicately laced around an uncorked and halfed bottle of useless endeavors. He would tip back and up, and as his apple bobbed the noose would slip and trim, tightening as he liked, their father, in a confusion of drinking.
The boy grew tanned arms in the sun. Leapt from the clutch of hay as off a cliff. Dripping the dry intangible water of never raining landscape and creeks of bone. Singing in his head songs that no one else knew, words like flies, melodies and jars of honey. Scrambling over wheat fields like bodies unruly and half-digested in the heat. Lifting and pushing and dragging until his hands were no longer boy hands. Until his hands were no longer hands but tools. Working alongside his ghost of a father, their father, disappearing and reappearing in spaces along the horizon.
Their mother had stood in this open place long before. Had stood on this world. Balanced on its small expanse. Their mother had placed her hands like their father’s, on her hips jutting out, seeing boy girl girl. Flatly ignoring the wind and the heat and the sun and the dust. A refutation. Reciting in her head boy girl girl. Boy girl girl. Boy girl girl. A chant and a prayer and a labor. Leaning over her own ribs and cleaning shucking swathing picking. This mother, their mother, composed entirely of rain and painted on the broad side of an endless hill.
His mother, their mother, she was a breed different than the sky or the sun. She was strong and daunting. In her steady hands the earth peeled. And he was most like her. The girl girl of the boy girl girl, they were slim like clotheslines and windy in their breathing. Humming grasshopper heartbeats. Stringing that father, their father, along dirt stretches that led nowhere. He was his mother. This boy. Working hands and notions of forever. He would hang nooses for her sometime, surely. But as a boy, in this boy state, he could not yet imagine the stretch of those ropes.
Their father, the boy’s father, he could easily explode the sides of a dust covered jackrabbit from the barn one two three hills further on. He could steady the rifle, unpropped from its corner post, and rush the left side of a rabbit through its middle and on past its right. Powerful and steady enough as a father to pick up a pair of back feet and a head limp above two front paws. The middle a myth like a rainbow. A legend or a tale or a whisper or a hint. Pink spray clouding momentarily from a distance and then drying carelessly amongst the points of sage brush.
The boy’s father laughed when he blasted those jackrabbit skulls into thousands of white seashell pieces. Unfit for the dirt. Fragments that dreamt of oceanic lullabies. He strung tobacco juice like a kite on the heated winds, and left what was left. Kicked at their bodies with a calloused toe beneath a leather boot. Winked at the boy like a father does to a son. A blink in one side of his face, the making of a stroke, crushing his own father’s skull, disintegrating it as a jackrabbit head. Leaving his smoking laughter somehow in the air, a kind of shit covered pink spraying cloud.
Their mother, the boy’s mother, watched with her hands in an apron. Hands twisted and turning in the folds of another wrenching piece of cloth. That mother stood and watched and twisted turned her hands at every moment of shell on dirt. Jackrabbits soundless in their sudden explosion. She revered this place, sacred to her like the hands of boy girl girl. And he, the father, this boy’s father, he severed the place, like jackrabbit feet from jackrabbit heads.
And the boy, he never touched the gun in that way. He only fingered its trigger when he knew it was time to soothe the skin of a bullet. Understanding the necessities of a life on an earth that was sun sun sun and dripping down itself. Understood. So he set nooses in their dust tracks and nestled in their curved and gently laid movements. Nooses set on weak sticks and made to suffocate quickly in the tension of fear. Things he was always looking for. Losing breath painlessly and without seeing whose hands they were. Who was living in him again.
Dim mornings were mornings with hung and cooling rabbits settled in the grasses. Pinned to the earth like butterfly wings worked dustless in the wind. And he, this boy, would say wordless things to the sun and the sky. To the sunrise and the earth. To the way it sometimes had to be when the world was spinning. Because the world was spinning. And his mother, this boy’s strong and daunting mother, her hands turned and twisted on her apron when she watched him walk, jackrabbits gutted and slung about his always tanning shoulders. Watched him walk with his father’s insolent gait underneath it all. His father’s hulking glare between the eyes. Creasing his brow even without him knowing it. Like nooses working.
The boy was a good son. The boy responded to demands quickly and without words. The boy sang songless waves in his head and did what was asked. Did what was asked and what was needed and what was necessary and what was right. Slowed at the sunset and washed his boy face. Bowed his head to the warble of prayer. Didn’t call to the old bewildered man, grandpa daft grandpa daft grandpa daft. And when the boy found his mother’s weeping in the spill of the ground, in the tall grass underneath millipedes and the breath of men, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t say any words. He kept those things in his pocket, quiet and still, and went on like a good boy does. Father’s son or not.
J. A. Tyler is the author of the forthcoming novellas SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE (ghost road press) and IN LOVE WITH A GHOST (willows wept press) as well as the chapbooks THE GIRL IN THE BLACK SWEATER (Trainwreck Press) and EVERYONE IN THIS IS EITHER DYING OR WILL DIE OR IS THINKING OF DEATH (Achilles Chapbook Series). He is also founding editor of mud luscious/ml press.
This Zine Will Change Your Life previously published A love story that takes place on the inside of a whale by J.A. Tyler. Check it out.