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"Playing Legs," short story excerpt

Friday 9/9/22

Dickey and Leyna lay in the grass talking about the future they had promised each other as if it were sufficiently assured—a matter of when rather than if—that there was nothing they could say to jinx what would happen.

The grass itself made Dickey uncertain. He was prone to the feeling, though. It might not have been grass and instead some variety of plant because it grew so high that it covered their bodies as if they’d been sown into the earth, human-shaped buttons that could turn from their back onto their sides and face each other instead of just saying words up into the air. No one could see them unless they knew where to look and no one did because this was their spot. Ticks were abundant in the pasture, but Dickey and Leyna never seemed to get any, or the ticks had no affect and fell away of their own accord, prior to detection.

"What kind of apartment do you want to have in the city?" Leyna asked.

They never talked about what city, just that there'd be one and that would do. It wouldn't be the country, or this farm where Leyna lived. Nor would it be the room that Dickey rented ever since he graduated high school above a mechanic's shop where he also worked, with its bathroom down the hall and another room in which someone occasionally lived for a week or two, people who didn’t speak much—Dickey felt worse when they were women—and wore looks like they were being chased by decisions they had to make, any of which the resulting outcomes would be unpleasant or worse.

Dickey hadn't known his dad and his mom was his hero, which made him, he figured, the only kid who looked at their mother that way, but she died before senior year. The principal at the high school told him that a small town pulls together in ways big towns don't, as though he should be grateful and big towns didn’t have the required means of healing on offer for a young man like him. Weren’t part of the program and infrastructure. Or budgeted. But here, well, here was different.

Those were the words he read in her smile, one of those soft smiles that you can grab and throw to the ground that also reads as, “I’m sorry this happened to you.” She was older than his mom and she wasn't even old. Popular. Some kids danced with her each year at prom because she was young enough and pretty enough for a teenage boy to want to, but not so much that it wasn’t wholesome and mannerly, a soft smile-inducing gesture of respect for anyone who watched.

He'd wanted to hit her, hurt her but in a way that didn't really hurt her but it would feel for him like it did. He was grateful, though, that she wasn't wrong, because he'd been so scared from the very moment it happened. His first thought was that nothing is as irreversible as death, and though this didn’t seem real, nothing could be more so. Within that same thought, he thought of himself. What might be next for him. The miraculous recovery hadn’t transpired and now it was official. He didn’t believe it would, but he couldn’t plan like it wouldn’t. Now he was struck by the idea that there is nothing as inside—like there were degrees of inside-ness—in the physical world to rival a hospital room. They were the opposite of everything occurring right outside the window. As untouched by the likes of rain as the deepest abyss in the ocean. Or did the rain get down there, after a fashion, in some technical form?

He was letting go of her hand—or else a nurse was easing him away, he couldn’t even remember as it happened, couldn’t understand how anything in the present tense would already be a memory—as he tried to determine if he’d have to live outside and go from the woods to school and everyone would think he was this wild man with nasty fingernails and one toothbrush he carried around in his pocket because he had nowhere else to store it. He conceived of stashing this most important of utensils under a rock, but how would you remember, and wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of a toothbrush anyway? The soil and the worms. Chunks of clay.

A nurse had hugged him. He was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to do that. He couldn’t remember her name or what she looked like to a degree that it seemed impossible she had a name or a face. He’d never been more grateful for anything, nor felt guiltier that that had been true. Then he was out of the room. Some time later he was outside and had to tell himself that it was raining, as if he couldn’t remember what weather was either, or was on the verge of forgetting if he wasn’t careful.

He was able to forgo finding a ledge under which to subsist, or a cave, the superior potential long-term solution, though he didn’t trust caves. People in TV shows and movies were always throwing rocks into the back of caves to chase out whatever might be in there, but they never appeared to have a plan for what to do when it came out. His friends' families housed him. Saved him. Not for the whole year. A few weeks here, a few months there. He was a roving tenant. And he still had Leyna who promised it would be okay. They got him through, but he knew that come graduation any further getting through would have to be because he did it. There were understandings that didn’t need to be said in words within those houses. If he forced the issue, didn't go when he should go, he'd discover one night that there wasn't a seat for him at the dinner table and he was pretty sure he couldn’t handle the looks of "What did you expect?" and “The time has come, son,” from people he had needed almost more than anyone besides Leyna.

“What are you thinking?” she repeated as she turned on her side. “What kind of apartment?”

"I don't know," Dickey answered, which is what he said when he wanted a miracle but didn’t think he could get it, or just something he wanted that he hadn't had before. They were weirdly alike, in his view. Didn't have to be big, but this would be bigger than anything.

"I want us to have a lot of room," he said. "And to be near a pond. Within walking distance."

"Walking distance for you or me?"

Dickey could walk far. Far enough that Leyna rated walking as one of his abilities. If the pond was three miles away, he’d still go, but Leyna wouldn't.

"For both of us. Like, ten minutes, tops,” he emphasized, cognizant of Leyna’s preferred extremes.

“How long until you’re ready?” he’d ask if they were going for a drive.

“Ten minutes, tops.”

“How long do we have to stay?” she had inquired when he wanted to stop at the store to check out a new fly reel he was going to buy himself before they left town for good, because what he wanted most was happening and it was okay now and would always be until they were incredibly old.

“Ten minutes, tops.”

“Okay,” she acquiesced, as if to suggest that five would be better, and eleven would really be pushing it.


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