Fat Man in the Middle
You reach to displace two Diet Tonic Waters, two regular. The gin and vodka are at the cashier’s. Cradling the four liters, cold against your chest, you work to close the cooler, then press up against it so as to let a man in his wheelchair squeeze by. Thick-shouldered and log-armed, the man’s head is shaved and his right leg is gone. The bulk above the knee is hatted with a white plastic knob—something to fit into a prosthetic? Gloved, and certainly capable of working the chair’s wheels, he is, at present, being pushed by an Asian woman, probably Korean, whose jet hair shines. Her eyes and teeth are bright stones. The man’s tee, scum-green and stenciled with jump wings, strains against his pecs. His shirt looks like Batman’s armor. When he wheels by, it is as if a train has passed. There is almost the smell of diesel. The girl pushes the soldier and the bottle in his lap to the cashier and her counter. The cashier, middle-aged, burdened, no doubt, with a twenty-five-year-old of her own, looks as if she might be serving in the line of a cafeteria at a junior high. She is—how to say it?—dumpy and bland, in need of a hair net. Money is exchanged, a receipt produced. When she forks over the receipt, she intones, as if capitalizing each word: “Thank You For Your Service.” The man in the chair capitalizes too: “Go Fuck Yourself.” The man’s words, though hostile, are not shouted. They are calm and direct: intended. It is, of course, this intention that startles. The pretty woman spins the chair to wheel it toward the door. You expect the soldier to kick at the tempered glass with his boot heel, but he doesn’t. He carefully props the door open with his good leg and right arm. You stay to pay for the gin and the vodka and the tonic, but, like the fat man in the middle, are sorry for being present. To whom should you apologize?
[First published in Southeast Review, 2015] Donald Anderson © 2015. All rights reserved.
Driving from Denver, I’m boxed in on the Interstate. To my front is half a long mobile home; to my left a brand-new concrete-gray cement truck, barreling south. Pulling to my rear and filling my own truck’s mirror is a GMC four-wheel-drive from Texas. Its interior is wedged with hunters. I count them: six. There is some sort of rigged rifle rack behind the second seat, and I spot sleeping bags and piled gear, and what look to be tents, or parachutes. Two deer are strapped to the roof that gives with the weight. The men sport three-day beards, flannel shirts, and Blaze Orange vests. Each of the shirts is a version of red. Dome lights on—maybe even a Coleman lantern—the faces seem both front- and back-lit, like a ’40s flick. Somebody is smoking. Two of the men wear hats. The dead deer are strapped with white rope.
In this state, in this season, only male deer are shot, antlers the proof. The trigger finger of my right hand throbs. There is, I see, blood clotted beneath the cuticle. The hunters flash their lights, but no exit is at hand, my front and left still blocked by a cement truck and someone's severed home. The hunters flourish Colorado beer cans, wave at me to move. Unable to not, I check for weapons, peer for six. The roofed deer do not budge. The one to my mirror left rests formally on his side, the other more nearly on his back, forelegs bent and up, head turned, exposing belly.
Again the hunters flash their lights, kiss my bumper. I edge to the right, work the narrow shoulder, and the hunters swerve, saluting as they pass. The passenger windows are mottled with blood—the deer gutted but not hung? In tow is a low-slung trailer, stacked with four more bucks and what my father pronounced “tarpauling.” One buck’s legs have been chopped or sawed off.
I roll to a stop to draw a breath. Five feet in front the sign: NO PARKING EMERGENCY ONLY. Despite the warning I perch on the shoulder. I wait for Texas to roll closer to Texas, and for the home and the truck to establish their positions. Why does it seem a stretch to think of a cement truck as new and of a house as perfectly divided? I ease back into traffic, the skin of the shoulder ice cracking. Once, I was helping my father split wood, and in steadying the steel wedge for him, had my hand smashed, when the wedge sprang sideways. The tips of my fingers ballooned and my nails turned blue and purple, the color of pulped things. With his right thumb my father struck a wooden match to heat a straightened paper clip he then pressed through my nails until each finger’s pooled blood erupted: geysers. He then re-gloved my hand and we finished our work. When we stacked the wood, I worked as though my hands were burned. The heated clip had pierced my nails as though they were wax. How was it he was carrying paper clips and matches?
Cars motor by. Considering the road and the weather, it makes sense to drive below the limit. Near Larkspur, I depart the Interstate to drive a parallel frontage road. It is a cloudless and full-moon night, and with the snow and no traffic, I can drive without lights. Lowering my window, I crane for the sound of unequal war, faint and persistent from the hills.
[First published in The Michigan Quarterly Review, 2003] Donald Anderson © 2003. All rights reserved.
When I dream, I am a boy with my father in my uncle’s car, an old Chrysler with FluidDrive. It is unclear where we are headed in my uncle’s blue car, but in the dream we are crossing Kansas. My father shakes me awake to see, in the distance, an overpass. My father, wobbled by the construction, wants me to see it. The overpass grows until we pass beneath it. My father threatens to stop my uncle’s car. What he does is accelerate. There is a scent of something. I know because it’s hot and the windows are rolled down. “Get your head in here,” my father shouts, still mashing the gas. Then he softens, sends me to the back seat to look through that window.
The overpass has been perfectly constructed except that there are no roads to it—the bridge connects air. Each time I turn, my father’s still glaring at this shoreless bridge in his mirror. He doesn’t complain I’m blocking his view.
In time the bridge drops below the horizon. My father backs off on the gas. He calls me back to the front seat. He explains the bridge disappears because the earth is not flat, but round. “Even Kansas,” he says. He seems surprised himself.
My guess is the bridge is real—that I saw it with my father. That if I were to drive along long enough in Kansas, I’d sight it. Somewhere near Junction City, say, or Salina, or Wilson Lake, or Hays. The bridge would arrive. Or I would.
The perfect pointless construction astraddle a road, triumphantly idle: a sundial centered for a nation, an altar, a permanent needle of a compass facing north, an Andy Warhol joke, an unfinished road from home.
[First published in The North American Review, 2001] Donald Anderson © 2001. All rights reserved.
In The Kingdom Of The Blind, The One-Eyed Man Is . . .
Deaf or Blind? I speak for myself: Deaf. I eat the world with my eyes. You? I don’t want to read with my fingers. My son dreaded his high school wrestling matches with the School of the Deaf and Blind. The kids aBending that school and choosing to wrestle were tough. My son was better if he drew a deaf wrestler but beside himself if his opponent were blind. How to pin a blind kid to win and how not to pin a blind kid to lose?
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The woman was so small—the height and size of a three-year-old—that the clerk behind the Starbucks counter in the Cincinnati Airport didn’t see her. When the clerk asked for my order, I, along with a hand gesture, said, “I believe she was first.” Was I trying to pretend it was normal for a grown person to be 30 inches tall? The clerk—bless her heart—then leaned over the counter. To be fair, it was a wide counter, though I don’t think higher than standard.
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