You Remember Hawkeye by Brian Burmeister

 

When Jim returned from Europe, all Tina had to say on the matter was, “Why do you care?” It was August then, barely, and he and I had not talked since he left. That was in April. That was the kicker. In April he left under the pretext of business: one month in Britain. But he had no business, something everyone knew. His money wasn’t really his, not in the earned sense, and I never questioned that he lived those weeks turned to months from one bar or club to the next. Much as he did at home.

            “You can’t stop now,” he said, that first time I saw him again. “You have to keep moving, man. That’s it. Right this way, right this way. Come on.” He was careful to lead me by the sleeve of my shirt and not by my hand. We passed through long hall after hall of what, at least once, housed paintings and photos a former girlfriend spent a year working on, before being dismissed. In any event, I couldn’t see them, even if they were there—my eyes were closed. “You’re doing great,” he said, laughing as there came a heavy glass rattle up on my right—the third object I tripped over; he was intentionally steering me into things. We are both damn near thirty-five.

            I thought, what the hell.

            “Okay, stop. Stop. You can open them.”

            And what I said was, “Oh.”

 

             “I spent a week driving it around in my car. Can you imagine? Absolutely imagine? In the passenger seat, all through Rome—Roma. Her hand raised, waving. I’m a genius, I swear to God—to Einstein.” He smiled, his eyes ablaze.  “But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, so I figured it would probably be a wise idea to send her home before she got ruined or stolen. Damn Italians will steal anything, I swear it—don’t even get me started. So I sent her off in a giant crate and left myself almost immediately afterwards. My fun was done, you know. So I got on a plane. And now I’m here, and you’re here.” His smile crept in at the edges as he took a slow breath. “Isn’t she something?”

            Forever must have passed before I said, “Definitely.”

            His hands pointed here and there, and he bounced in a triumphant arc before it. “I feel lucky to have found her,” he continued. “It sounds corny, I know; it is corny. But I just happened to be there a few days when this dress shop was closing. So I know a thing or two about luck.” He nodded like crazy as he sidled up beside it. “She’s from the fifties, I guess—not that you can tell. Can you tell? You’re a liar if you say yes.” But I said nothing. Not that he would have slowed down if I had. “What’s really amazing is that they only ever made like a half-dozen of her. All by hand. All by one man. What a job! Making mannequins all day. Someone really took their time on this one.” He moved in even closer and slung his arm about it. He was talking to it as much as he was to me. “The old woman selling her said no matter what she was wearing it always sold right away, straight away. Like magic, she said. I gave her twice what she wanted for it.” He nodded repeatedly and with gigantic range of motion; you’d have thought he’d just nailed a game-winning shot. “Have you ever seen one look so real?”

            I mouthed the word no.

“Well, I knew I had to find the perfect dress for her. Knew it, just knew it—it would be a complete shame otherwise. So when I was driving around, that whole time I was driving around, I was checking out stores. Twice I even carried her in to try things on. On the street people stared. In stores they pressured the hell out of me.” He shuffled backwards a bit, laughing, and it was then I noticed the lights. There were four of them total, two on each side, and held nearly as high as the ceiling; each with a red shade or glass. What he had done was turn the shades inwards, towards the center of the room instead of against the walls. From the way he had things positioned, a flattering tangerine glow showered over the figure. Over the long, lean lines. I thought, with the exception of being so heavy on top, it had a sort of Hepburn look.


"I’m not quite sure what compelled me, but I made my move to the kitchen then, slowly, furtively, my movements veiled by the soft hum of the fan above her.


            “Finally,” he said, “I almost gave up. There just wasn’t anything. Stores full of crap. But after I sent her off, sent her home, I got a second wind. I had nothing to do then, and I figured I’d best keep looking. That’s maybe the best thing, too. That’s when I found it. The perfect dress. Feel this, really. I’m seriously serious, it’s amazing.”      

            I obliged him. The dress was far more a chemise than anything. Black silk and silver. With a plunging neckline. I said, “It’s nice.”

            “Oh, come on, show some enthusiasm. Show something. Get excited. This is amazing. It’s better than nice.”

            “It’s very, very nice.”

            He was pleased. “Now, how hard was that?” He stepped away from the figure and began striding to the other side of the room. “Thirsty?”

            “No, no,” I said. “But thanks.” He was helping himself to his bar by then, and he continued to bring out two glasses. I said, “I’ll have to drive home at some point.”

            “You and driving,” he said.

            I moved around to the sofa, some feet diagonal to the bar, and took a seat. He was out of my line of vision then, crouched behind the counter. I could hear a frantic shuffling of objects, glass and expensive.     

“When’d you lose the beard?” I asked.

            “Oh, that,” he hollered. “Another lifetime ago. Forever ago. Right after I got there. Do you like it?”

            I told him he looked like a kid.

            “I hope to God so!” he said, popping back into view with a bottle and smiling. “I don’t know how you’ve stood keeping your face clean all these years. Too much work. The whole process is awful. I can’t even go two days—two days!—anymore without itching.”

            “A Shakespearean tragedy,” I said. “Macbeth at the least.”

            His mouth still hung wide, though, from the nervous little nod he gave, I was sure he’d not heard me. He was intensely admiring the label. “You sure you don’t want any?”

            I shook my head, no.

            He poured the drinks with focus and style, a combination I’d seen in years past bring other men tips and phone numbers. Only now, the benefit was his to give himself; a look of accomplishment overtook his eyes. When finished, he held a drink in each hand and came out from the bar. I watched as he approached, nearer and nearer and nearer. He smiled. Passed by me. Kept walking. Returned to the figure. Carefully—carefully—he slid a martini glass into the mannequin’s upturned fingers. It balanced and he stepped back, disengaging, appraising the situation: in addition to the drink and dress, he had the figure sporting several thin and expensive-looking bracelets, a gold choker, and—somehow!—earrings in its ears. He clanked his glass against its. “Betcha by golly wow,” he said. “Isn’t she something?”

Jim’s party was that weekend, and I was telling Tina about it. She was in the kitchen folding towels, and, really, I’d been yelling to her. I was otherwise relaxing on the couch. “It’s supposed to be big,” I said, “something quite big, lots of people we don’t know. To celebrate his return.” I stopped my explanation as a man on the TV used a knife to cut through a tire-iron. All it took was one fluid swipe, as if it had only been air. The gorgeous blonde next to him was astonished. I held out one finger, pretending, slicing the space in front of my mouth. There would be no applause.

            “He doesn’t even want to have the thing,” I continued, “which I can’t get over. But I guess he sent out the invitations, or whatever it is he does, weeks ago. He wouldn’t even have the thing except some friends of his parents are supposed to be there. So he feels like he has to. A sense of duty. We’re supposed to dress up.”

            Tina took her time before speaking. “You get your suit from the cleaners?” she eventually asked.

            And what could I say?

            “I’m not getting it for you this time, do you hear me? I’m really not. It’s closer to your office, anyway.” And with that, all was quiet for the longest time.

            I’m not quite sure what compelled me, but I made my move to the kitchen then, slowly, furtively, my movements veiled by the soft hum of the fan above her. Once I was in close, I put my hands to her hips—“I’m working here,” she said—and I brought her mouth to mine. She didn’t move at all, gave not even the slightest ounce of forfeiture. I could barely taste her coffee.

            I pulled back.

            “You think I forget things,” she said. “You think we’re totally okay now.”

            “Babe,” I said.

            “You really actually think things.”

            “I don’t.”

            “You promised me.”

            “I know.”

            “You think we’re totally okay now.”

            “Tina,” I said, and turned to the window, searching.

Jim’s trip reminded me of what never was. At twenty, he and I agreed, made a pact, were on a five year plan—so within five years, it would happen. By then we’d be settled and ready and able to do it, able to coordinate our lives for two weeks of one year. We’d pick somewhere and go. An adventure in the making. Jim never cared where it was.

            But I had plans, specific plans, and so they were ours:

            When we would go, it would be Australia.

            I’d seen a show on it once, caught totally by random. The men in the program drove around in jeeps and trucks and were amazed every second. They slept in tents. Made fires. Ate the plants that they found. Once they set the wing of a broken bird. For two hours I was their friend, and the life I lived with them on that show seemed more real than anything I’d ever known. The narrator and my conscience were one: “Here there is but the cohabitation of independence and adventure. A country and culture bred by mystery and exclusivity: the aborigines, kangas, and bugs. Dangers and rarities. The remnants of a world long gone. Here there is so much beauty, so much beauty, and such isolation.” And the men came away from their journey greater men.

            At twenty, I was goddam well sold on Australia.

The dark sea of people at Jim’s party was even denser than had been typical in the years before. I stood off to the side, scanning the crowd, counting numbers. Beautiful people, all of them, all dressed in emblematic ebony suits and dresses. They moved in waves, touching and laughing and knowing how important they were. I laughed, too. Briefly at my own insignificance, then at the recognition that I stood in the midst of a voyeur’s dream—though I cut myself short on the latter: there were as many men as women.      

            Jim, I thought, had lost his touch.

            Tina made a face as she returned from God-knows-where. She handed me a glass of water and a small plate of food. “Have you talked to Madsen yet?” she said.

            “No,” I said. “What? He’s here?”

            “He’s looking for you.”

            “Damn it,” I said. “And he doesn’t even like Jim at all.”

 

Some minutes later, Jim asked if I remembered Liz. We were in a small room then, alone, just off the main hallway. The door he locked.

            I said, in response to his question, “Yeah, why, of course, what’s up?”

            “Her sister’s here.”

            Bingo. “So you think she’s here too? You’re hoping?”

            He shook his head, his eyes skipping across the floor. “But her sister’s here,” he said. “With a guy.”

            “Huh,” I said.

            “Yeah.”

            “That’s interesting.”

            “Very.”

            He pocketed his hands in his jacket. He was the only one at the party wearing a white suit, yet, alone with me in this darkened room, he stuck out all the same. He swung each half of the coat towards the other, overlapping the two till his hands passed each other. He held them there, snug around his torso, a sharp fabric V forming at the sunken part of his chest. Headlights poured into the room for a second and we both turned to face it. When I looked back, Jim had his lower lip tight in his mouth and was grinding the ball of one foot into the floor as if smashing out a cigarette. He certainly could have used one. His eyes were still caught out the window, staring at air and silence. After a time he began shifting his weight in quickening intervals, leg to leg, leg to leg, dancing.

            I took a breath, then said, “It could just be nothing. It really could be. This could just be nothing. Think of it sort of in reverse. I’ve gone lots of places with you—do you get what I’m saying? Reverse it. Point is, they could be friends, or work together, or—”

            Jim grinned like a madman. “We’re not on the same page,” he said. “I know what you’re saying, but that wouldn’t matter at all. Not with what I’m thinking.”

            He might as well have been a drug addict, the way he began clawing the hell out of his arms. He dug and dug, and seconds later his face flexed, hard; his mouth wide-open, teeth clenched. When the release came, it was with a heavy blow through the nostrils and his arms streaking upwards, the forearms forming a momentary X across his chest before falling. “Not at all with what I’m thinking,” he whispered, and moved to the back of the room. There, in that darkly shadowed corner, was the mannequin. It was dressed exactly as before, and I can only assume he relocated it there in order to hide it from the guests.

He placed both of his palms to her face and shook his head slowly from side to side. A few seconds later, he leaned in until the top of his head pressed into hers.

            I thought of forcing myself to smile, conjuring it, willing it into existence, but didn’t. He wouldn’t have seen it anyway. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to you right now.”

            He turned back to me then, arms flailing once more in gesture. “He’s a goddamn big guy,” he said, and never left the room the rest of the night.

 

Madsen was orbiting closely near Tina when I returned.

            “Johnson, hey, how’s it going, how are you?”

            “Good,” I said, “yeah,” forced to shake his hand. Even now, stuck in that present: Shaking, shaking. Aching. Dying. Instantly noticing Tina’s retreat. “Excellent,” I said, “really.”

            “Same here, same here. I’m in the city a few days for a conference and then I hear about this. One hell of a party.” He looked about himself with the overwhelmed wonder of a child. Then back at me with something far less innocent—though still that grin on his face. “J.’s doing well, too, she is. She’s this close to finishing her dissertation—this close—which I’m sure you know is going to be a huge relief off her back . . . And there’s some strong leads for her already, some strong leads. A couple we wouldn’t even have to move for. So that’s great. And then Dan—he’s still doing really well in school. Really well. He just got into the talented and gifted—”

            “That’s what I’ve heard,” I said. “Jill wrote me. It’s great.”

            “Thanks, it is. And he’s going to be in the play this year—which I thought you’d like.” He stopped and nodded and smiled. “So how about you, though? How the hell are you doing? T. said business was really starting to pick up for you. Said you were able to add on some more people. That right? That you might even open another office?”

            “Yeah, well—”

            “Said, too, if things keep up you were thinking of finding a new place for you guys as well. That’s good. Something out of the city. I’m pulling for you. After everything that’s happened, you know. That’d be great, be real good for you guys. Real great.”

            “Yeah, that’s—” my head swung like a carousel, the neck and shoulders following suit. I must have looked brilliant. “I guess that’s the plan.”

            “D’you lose something, tiger?” he said.

            “Yeah,” I said, “no.”

            We stood there nodding like morons. Him smiling. Goddamn tiger! I got the fantastic notion to look at my watch. “Ugh,” I mumbled.

            “What is it?”

            “Oh, nothing, nothing. It’s just we’ve got a sitter right now,” I said, and he was completely, appropriately dumbfounded. “A little girl, really, and she has to be home by a certain hour.”

            “A sitter—for the house?”

            “No, no. Sorry. We’ve got her sister’s kids, this weekend.”

            “T.’s? That’s nice of you. Must be nice for you, too. You get to see them often?”

            “Heavens no. God no! Maybe once a year if we’re lucky.”

            You’d have thought I murdered his favorite childhood pet. “And,” he froze up, sorting this out, “you both came to the party?”

            I damn near burst out laughing, my smile was so huge. “We don’t really know any better,” I said.

            He clapped his hands together and held them there, in front of his chest, pressed and shaking. What he wanted to say, he couldn’t. “Well, I’ll be sure to say hi to J. and the kids for you. I’m sure she’ll be glad to know how well you’re doing.”

            “That’d be nice.” I shot my right arm up and rubbed the hell out of the back of my neck. From what I could tell, there was no one resembling Liz anywhere, let alone some giant beast of a man looking to do Jim harm.

            “Well, I better...” he said, and nodded his head back and behind himself.

            “Good seeing you,” I said.

            I practically broke an ankle, and then her arm, racing back to Tina. “Why the hell do you let him call you T.?” I screamed.

When the rumors came in, they came in with smiles. “Jim got a girl pregnant back there,” claimed the first. And Tina thought I should ask him. I shook my head, fierce. I told her, that’s not what friends do.

            The second came right from her mouth, direct from what she called a good source: So and so said Jim had taken up a male lover while in Rome. Said the situation began when he was sleeping with the man’s sister. Said things sort of just carried over.

            This, conveniently, came some days after I mentioned to Tina how few women there were at the party.

“This is probably stupid,” Jim said, some weeks later, long after everyone thought him a homosexual father-to-be, “but I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while. Can I ask you? It’s really dumb. But I keep thinking it, all the time. It keeps coming into my head all the time, and, so—”

            “No,” I said, “I’m not pregnant.”

            He flipped his head back slightly then, all of it shaking, his eyes and mouth twitching as if a pill he couldn’t swallow was dissolving in his mouth. “No,” he said. “No.” And then it came: “Do you remember drinking Hawkeye in college?”

            My head swayed to one side, mouth agape in disappointed confusion. “Yeah,” I confessed. My head still tilted. “But you were always too good to drink it.”

            “That’s why I’m asking you,” he said. “Do you remember it?”

            “Yes,” I said. It was terrible vodka. I mean terrible. I drank it because it was cheap. We were kids. It wasn’t good. I only had it a few times—and when I did I had to mask the hell out of it with Kool-Aid or something. He stared at me as if I had just lodged a knife into my face. I watched him wet his lips. “Where are you going with this?”

            He flashed me a smile, his perfect ivory blades gleaming momentarily, but he became instantly more serious. His voice then tired and rough: “But you remember, not just the fact of it, but doing it, actually doing it—where you were, whose party, things like that. You can put yourself there. You can do that.”

            “Or course.”

            “You can taste it. If you try, if you think, you can—” Jim nodded. He was nodding at his own words, and I said no more. What could there be? I didn’t know what else he was looking for, and he took some time before speaking again.

            “This,” he finally said, swirling his glass sloppily in front of his face, “is good. Very good,” and the same brief smile he’d used seconds before came upon his face. “And you know how many glasses or bottles—or storerooms—I’ve had of this in my life?” He waved his free hand through the air as if searching for a word, the word, his wrist and fingers flicking all over the place. But it wasn’t a word he wanted, and it couldn’t have been three seconds before he dropped his arm. He seemed suddenly exhausted. “This is practically all I drink,” he said. And with that his eyes, so electric weeks earlier, anchored some feet away from me. He wasn’t smiling or frowning or anything. I wished he would’ve been. “You remember Hawkeye,” he said. “I don’t remember shit.”

            That’s when I did it. I regret the hell out of it too, but that’s what I did. I began walking towards him.

            “I’ll drink to that,” I said.

Another two days and the call came from Jim.

            “What are you doing?” he asked.

            “What do you mean?”

            “Right now, what are you doing? Can you come over?”

            “No, why?”

            “I really need to talk,” he said.

            “I can’t come over right now. Can’t we do it on the phone?”

            “The phone’s no good.”

            “Why?”

            “It’s not. Are you coming over or not?”

            “I told you, I can’t. I need to be here. I have to.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “I mean I can’t come over. I can’t. I have to be here.”

            “What the hell are you talking about?...Because of Tina?”

            “It’s just the rule, okay? I’m not to leave or—”

            “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

            “No. It’s just the way things are. It’s the rule. To and from work. Nothing else, I’m not to go anywhere else. So I have to be here.”

            Silence.

            I said, “Hello?”

            “Yeah.”

            “No, I can’t.”

            Another silence, but longer.

            “I can be there tomorrow,” I said.

Tina made a point of it during the following breakfast that she was going to put me to work the moment, the very second I got home. She wanted me to help her get ready for her mother’s remarriage. I left a message for Jim.

            What Tina seemed to want more than anything was my help with her hair. The wedding wasn’t for another four days.

            That night I asked her, “Don’t you normally pay someone for this?”

            “Yes,” she admitted. “But once you learn it, you can do it. All. The. Time. It’s called teamwork.”

            I asked how long it was going to take.

            She said, “Do you want me to lie?”

            She threw me a book. There were arrows with numbers and the smiling caricatures of average-looking women who, in reality, would never get looked-at twice, no matter how their hair was done up. I did them a favor and glanced, top to bottom, the page over again.

            She said, “This will guide you right through it. An eight-year old could learn this. Simple.”

            I said, “I don’t know anything about hair.”

            But I did.

            I recalled, instantly, insanely, two prior occasions. Both taking place at Jim’s parents’ home. Both involving his mother. The first one was brief. We were walking up to the house, his parents on the porch. It was midday. His mother sat on the steps, sandwiched between her husband’s legs, reading a book. Jim’s dad was simply enjoying the day, but—rather than cradle his arms around her waist, or rubbing her shoulders—as might be expected—he had both hands busy swimming, one after the other, through his wife’s hair. The palms facing outward, the strokes smooth but quick, racing from the bump of the skull to the square of her back. Then repeating. And repeating and repeating. Occasionally he’d interrupt this to flip the hair in the air as if he were tossing and catching a ball. I slowed my steps. She was substantially older than him and several years past the age at which most women are wise enough to wear their hair short. Jim and I nodded hello and continued into the house. I didn’t say one damn word.

            The second occasion was a year or so later. We skipped our day’s classes and drove the four hours out to Jim’s house. We wanted to borrow the Jag, and the folks were to be gone for a week at the Lakes. So this was to be golden: us, the car, the Adams sisters! God! But when we got there, his mother was home. Playing Solitaire on the computer. At first she didn’t even know we were there. Jim thought he heard something as he fished through a bowl of keys in the kitchen. “Did you hear that?” he asked, and crept upstairs. She was in his room, her back to the door, playing on his computer. Jim always claimed she was a softy, and so he didn’t even ease into asking the favor. I knew how he was, and still this blew me away. There was no “I’m surprised to see you home.” Only, “Hi, Mom,” and the asking for the car—to which she smiled. And we should have been at school! She darted her hand, pointing, explaining where the keys were, not knowing they were already secure in his pocket. Jim nodded and I turned; the night before us was to be one of the best of our lives. I started my exit, irrevocably trapped in visions of thighs and mouths and glory! But his voice continued. When I turned back, he had not moved, but sunk into an attack on our college—and this stands out as much as anything. Until the moment he was awarded the car, he had been completely and unmistakably upbeat that entire afternoon. Then there was this: There was an incident, some weeks prior, for which Jim, myself, and an acquaintance spent a night in custody. Let me just say it was nothing. We spent the night, paid our fines, and were home in time to watch football. So it was nothing. The event occurred off school grounds. No disciplinary actions involving the University ever followed. But Jim was convinced it was the University, not the city, who was screwing him over. He felt his department was trying to squeeze him out, that somehow they’d known—and cared—what he had done; that his advisor and professors wanted him out of the program; that everything was a trap against him; that he wanted to transfer to another school. That fucking killed me. He never, not once, not ever mentioned the idea of going anyplace else. And he wouldn’t again. “Goddamn that school,” he said, this one time, “and everyone there. It’s all bull crap. Not like when you went there. You must have had it so good. They just want us to live in a time capsule like we’re preachers’ kids.” I thought of digging my knuckles into his face. But that’s not why I remembered this time.


"I thought of digging my knuckles into his face. But that’s not why I remembered this time.


            “James,” she said, “I want you to come here. I want you to listen.”

            He went to her, bent down.

            She whispered in his ears. For some minutes he nodded and grunted. He seemed to calm down. I watched, hearing nothing, surging with dreams and boredom.

            At the end of it, she said, “I hope you understand all of this.”

            He nodded. He leaned in and kissed her on the back of her head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I love you. I do. You know that, right. I love you. I’m sorry.” He held his head there, eyes, mouth, nose pressed into her hair...

            Tina snapped and snapped her fingers in front of my eyes. “You’re an asshole,” she said.

There is a sign in Jim’s yard. A big white and blue sign with a woman’s smiling face. I throw the car into park prematurely—metal grating, tearing, breaking other metal. I slam the door and sprint for the house. I must feel like my parents the first time I brought home a D. I don’t even ring the bell.

            I fly into the house, stamping my feet everywhere. He is the one who finds me.

            “I thought that was you. I’m so glad you made it.”

            I shout, “You’re selling the house!”

            “And the cars.” He is beamingly pleased with himself, and waves for me to follow.

            All I can think or say is, “What?”

            He leads me through the main hall, towards the back of the house. Along each of the walls he has arranged a series of black-and-white photographs of the mannequin: her playing pool, her smoking a cigar, her tying a tie. Jim makes no mention or motion towards these. There are more photos, too—but I miss the specifics, save that they’re her, all her, in varying shades of gray. Jim’s pace is quick and loud. The slap-slap-slapping of his sandals dig like nails in my brain; I scratch and can’t get them out. He flings open the doors.

            Outside, everything is as it has always been: bright and white and blinding. A long row of recliners forms a barrier between the house and the pool. I remember the second chair from the end, and Liz. Liz lying, her chest exposed in that chair. Then Jim lying with her. Jim and Liz. And Jill and me. I will always remember that. Tina will never lie in these chairs.

            Jim raises his arms as if in prayer. “Is this not grand?”

            Before us, the early fall rays disperse through the water. They form ever-changing ivory veins through the transparent blue, and almost all is quiet. The only sounds are that of a chair, large and comfortable, floating, scraping, failing to press its way onto the ground at the other end of the pool. Jim keeps walking until we are practically in the water.

            I say to his back, “I thought you wanted to talk.”

            “I did.”

            “And?”

            “Now it’s fine. I worked it out. It’s nothing. N.B.D.”

            “For Christ’s sakes, you’re planning on leaving!”

            “I’m leaving tomorrow,” he says, correcting, and turns his vision back to the pool. “Could you even ask for a better day for a swim?”

            Before I can breathe, his shirt is off and over his head. “Don’t worry about your clothes. There’s plenty in my room upstairs.”

            “No, Jim, really.”

            He kicks his sandals high into the air and in the direction of the house; one hits the siding with what I am sure to him is a solid, pleasing thump. He says, “Or you can swim naked for all I care.” He steps several strides back and fills his lungs with air before attacking the pool in a rush. He submerges head first.

            I have to wait for him to surface. “So you’re back to Europe, I assume.”

            “God!” he yells, but it seems more of an act than anything; his smile has gone nowhere. “Don’t even judge. You don’t know.”

            “No, I don’t.”

            “What’s there, you’ve never seen. You’ve never been anywhere.” And his smile somehow broadens. “But that’s not even where I’m going.”

            “Then where?” I ask. “What would you do? Where will you go?” My muscles instantly relax and I slouch in epiphany. “Australia,” I say without even the slightest hint that this could be a question.

            But he dies in laughter. “What the hell is there? I mean, really?”

            What is there? “Then where?” I practically scream.

            He raises a finger to his mouth, shakes his head, waits. “But the real question,” he slicks the overgrown hair out of his eyes, “is what’s here? In this place? In this town? Really, what is it that’s here?”

            I say, “I don’t even know.”

            He snaps his fingers into a pretend gun. “Exactly. A nail on the head.” He fires at me, takes a breath, then bobs back under. When he comes up, he spits water high—high into the air. “Now, are we going to have a nice swim or not? I’m quite bored of words.”

            He swims effortlessly to the other end, to the chair, and climbs aboard. He gives a strong kickoff back into the water.

            I stand here, staring, waiting, as if there’ll be more.

 

Brian Burmeister photo.jpg

Brian Burmeister teaches communication at Iowa State University. He is a regular contributor at Cleaver Magazine, and his writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He can be followed on Twitter: @bdburmeister.

Get to know Brian by checking out our exclusive interview with him on the Orson's Publishing blog.