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"The Echo Blow," short story excerpt

Thursday 7/15/21

The people of the town pretended they weren’t looking when one woman went over to another woman at the annual bonfire on the beach somewhere in the middle of October.


Everyone had a technique to observe and not observe. The history teacher, for instance, pulled a sip from his beer, swallowed it, and said to the JV football coach, as he ostensibly stared past the women, out to sea, that it looked like that was the Coast Guard ship, with her lights on, coming in for the night.


The JV coach also gazed towards the log where the two women were now sitting, and barked a command at his boy as he chased his younger sister who’d made off with his soccer ball.


The boy kicked up sand, oblivious that sprays of it were getting on the pants legs and dresses of everyone he raced past in his hot pursuit, because what else was there to do at this dumb event? His buddy, who was the son of one of the log women, had stayed home and texted a joke about beating his meat because he said corny things, but in all probability, his friend knew, he was just going to go to bed early, which is what he did a lot of.


“What?” he said, halting in protest. “She just gets to keep it forever?”


The interposition allowed the JV coach to really lock in on the two women behind his son, one of whom was now crying, the other of whom did not know how to console her, or even if she should. They didn’t necessarily look like two people who could handle the other’s touch, uncertain in the manner of someone not knowing if a pan from the oven is safe to grip.


It was as though an existential conundrum that could stump even the muses had been put forth to the JV coach, who preferred to design 3-4 base defenses that gave his head coach more options for the coverage schemes he wished to run.


“For now,” he ruled.


The boy, dejected, in the “that sucks balls,” manner, made a downward throwing motion, as if spiking something into the ground, but neither the coach nor the history teacher could see if he actually had anything in his hand, given the darkness, despite the fire.


“Good call, coach,” the history teacher joked, and they both took a pull of their respective beers.


On the log, the woman who was crying wanted to say “thank you,” but saying “thank you” would signify to her a confirmation of the forgiveness she’d been offered, and she didn’t wish to complete that particular transaction of outright expiation.


The woman who could not bring herself to touch this other individual, desired her to think she was forgiven, but she didn’t know whether she’d ever forgive her, or would if she could. Those years in that chair. She thought about them know as she felt the charred log beneath her bottom. It was good to feel her own ass again. To know it was there, and not by sight. That damn mirror she’d stared at for so long, torturing herself.


She’d lost most of the weight she’d put on, but the strength that had gone into her hands remained. She wondered if she could break off a chunk of the charred wood. The log that must have survived the bonfire of the year before. Her boy, who hung out with that idiot coach’s idiot son who was again chasing his much-smarter sister, was a big fan of comics featuring the Hulk. She could make a joke to him, say a “roar!” with the hunk of the blackened wood held aloft. “Hulk angry!” But the boy did not smile anymore. Or he didn’t for her. With her. She hoped he did with his friends. She didn’t know how to ask him.


Once she thought in terms of the knowledge she’d acquired. Whereas now she focused more on everything she didn’t know.


What should have happened? Lives stop? Or is a person supposed to lie? Is that best? Then the time comes when the lie is no longer needed. What was, for a period of time, closes, is shut down, because what was missing is now back. The lie has served a purpose, and the substance of the lie—the contents of the lie—can dissolve. Melt into the past. Be left there.

She tried to imagine how he would have said the words he never said.


“Amy has recovered, I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you, you’ve been an amazing friend to her, and to me you’ve been…”


How would he have finished the speech he must have dreaded making?


What I needed?


That was probably a true fill-in-the-blank answer.


A piece of ass when I only had my hand in the shower.


That probably had an equally true component. At first she’d actually hear him grunt from the bathroom. The water was nowhere near as loud as he must have assumed. Once she laughed when she thought of the Big Bad Wolf going, “And I’ll grunt, and I’ll grunt, and I’ll cum your house down.”


Or how he would have said the words to her, which might have been forthcoming.


I know this is a double blow.


Wait. He’d stop himself—count how many forms of a blow it really was and there had been. There was the blow that halted her movement, her legs. Undoubtable blow. The blow of a marriage on pause. She couldn’t regard it any other way, and if she couldn’t, he sure as shit couldn’t. Blow. The blow of not being able take her kid, in the whim of the moment, at half past three on a Friday, off to get a pizza because his grades kicked ass once again, and he’d struggled for what seemed so long when he first started school. The blow of her friend being something to her husband that she no longer was, and conceivably never had been. How many blows was that? Sixteen? What to do with the rest of her life? Clearly the presence of the question and its validity and desperate need for an answer was a mega-blow. That just when she had herself back, she was losing everything in a new way—well, that was the irony blow. An irony blow crossed with a mega-blow was an infinity blow, and good luck. Maybe that’s what he should have said to her. Business-like.


The “we” would belong to someone else, and thus account for the blow of the blows.


Or was it that she wouldn’t know for sure?


The question mark blow.