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"Hoag Head", excerpt

Tuesday 12/24/19

Time gets measured a lot more efficiently when you are on your own. I discovered that when I was fourteen and Adam Hoag used to kick the shit out of me behind school. Limbs get measured a lot more efficiently, too, when you’re on your own. Sometimes you can be with someone and it’s as if they have twenty limbs, and twenty seconds is like twenty years on account of how the seconds feel. You might measure your mouth differently as well. Not as the normal parts—tongue, insides of cheeks, hard and soft palate, glands. But pooling blood. Vat of it. Everything that was once hard becomes a syrup. There’s no way it could take thirty seconds. You wouldn’t believe it if you timed it. I didn’t time it.

I might have timed my time in the woods, alone, but I didn’t have to, I had a sense of that time, when an hour was an hour, when I was about to cross the point of staying later than I should have. You walked through a lot of greenery to get where I sat in the woods. It was calm enough there that I could feel my mouth healing, losing viscosity, returning to solidity, the inside of my cheeks not smooth and sleek, lubricious on account of the blood, but rusticated and starchy, like my tongue was pressing up against patches of unpeeled banana.

Dryness was a theme of this patch of woods. There were no leaves on the trees. They were all dead but they didn’t fall over, crumble to ground, begin their rotting process, as you’d expect, didn’t wilt or give when you put a shoulder to them, thinking you’d hear a snap, a bole coming apart and away, though they never did.

I called this part of the woods Dagobah, because no one came here. Sometimes you thought snakes passed, but you didn’t see them, you heard them under a carpet of leaves, looked for them in gaps, until you accepted they’d see you but you probably wouldn’t see them.

Hoag’s brother was dead. His dad coached our hockey team. There’s a fountain in town, in the middle of an intersection, but one of those faraway intersections where you question why there would be a fountain. No water in it. Leaves. Spilling over the side. The other kid who was driving was the drunk one and he survived the crash, and I remember a friend of mine said, “Isn’t that always they way,” despite the fact that he had no clue what was the way of anything. Same kid who told us when you were inside of a girl you came the entire time, not just at the end like when you were by yourself, and that was why it was so magical, why everyone wanted it.

Someone made a Hoag head. I think it was out of a gourd. Pumpkin. Maybe a big ball of hockey tape. They put a picture of the dead Hoag on the ball and they stuck the ball on the edge of the fountain, atop the spilling over leaves, like he got decapitated and medics or street-sweepers forgot to gather up the head in the clean-up. Hoag’s dad never played me, though I was the best one on the team. Or near about. I’d say to my dad, “do you believe this fucker?” and he’d tell me to cool it with the language, that life was going to go up your ass more than a time or two before you were done, so best start practicing how to handle it now. Besides, one season doesn’t last forever.

When in doubt, measure time, was how my dad liked to roll. And like I said, I couldn’t measure the time when Adam Hoag kicked the shit out of me and my mouth pooled because he thought I made the Hoag head. I think he might have said “Motive, fucker,” but you imagine a lot when you on the ground and two legs feel like six, or twenty, and pebbles in your mouth and nostrils might as well be walnuts.

“You don’t have to take that shit,” I’d hear a voice say to me when I sat on the ground in Dagobah, not caring about the snakes and the berth I did not give them under the leaves. He’d always step out from behind one of the dead trees, not ashen-brown as they were, but caramelized, like he had been a person once, a tree once, got stuck somewhere between both, had his skin melted. “I can take this fucking guy out for you,” he’d say when I was woozy, which is when he made his pitches. “I am aching to go,” he’d add.

And one day when I was out there, when I had swallowed a tooth, wondered if I would know when I shat it out, or if it would dissolve, get absorbed into my blood stream, maybe pass through my mouth once more when I got the shit kicked out of me, I said yeah, okay, do it.

We used to joke about getting the AIDS. We put a “the” in front of it which made it funnier, not that it was funny then. I thought maybe now Adam Hoag would get the AIDS, because he fucked everyone at school it seemed. Then his father would outlive a second kid, and when I told my dad a joke that after that there wouldn’t be enough guys for the team and he’d have to play me, it was my dad who knocked me on my ass, but he used his open hand, not his fist, and he didn’t kick me after, unless you count “I am ashamed of you,” which I did count.

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