Yoharie (part two)
He felt something. An intrusive prod, a dull instrument’s pinpoint of contact…a pen, his mind told him, was what this was. Todwillow, who did not wash often enough, and wore drugstore aftershave, was leaning over him, poking at him. This bodily proximity made a picture for Hibbler, of himself, lying down. And…he realized he knew it…they had rules in this place. They threw people out. Why would they not throw Todwillow out?
In fact, there was a voice. Todwillow’s, saying, “Bullshit, lady.”
Roberta’s, saying, “Sad news. Don’t let the door hit you.”
“When do you think?” Zack’s voice, hushed.
She sighed, a stranger, a big sigh of being responsible for people who ask the impossible. Farther away, Zack said, “Oh, you think he can hear? Well, I mean…understand.”
Zack, hey Zack, he said inside himself. You here too? When.
The shimmering moiré that parted before his eyes exposed a church, a minister’s white robe at his left—his right?—and Kate, in a gown of crackling taffeta. He recalled that to kiss the bride, he’d had to get past the skirt, and hadn’t known how. He had shuffled nearer until it bowed away, swamping his in-laws in the first pew, snagging her father’s vest button. Laughs. Everyone standing, sorting, sitting. Hibbler’s face red, his Dad starting “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” when the kiss finally landed. Even so it was a good memory, that day.
But the light vanished, and he was not getting married.
It peeped in again, coy. It roared like a V10 engine. He was outside the tent, and there was no time for zipping up. He jogged shirtless in bare feet, thankful to have slept in his jeans. Another crawling RV let a bunch of cars back up behind. Jeremiah charged, desperate to get across, just missing the one coming opposite.
“Jesus amen, little fat ass! Look out!”
That was what she’d rolled down her window specially to yell at him. It was like…suppose she’d knocked him down? Maybe she would have killed him. How much would she have hated him then, for making her do it?
He had taken a really long piss, and Dick’s chuckle, growing to a guffaw, began to impress itself.
“You lay off the hard stuff, buddy.”
Dick stopped to wash his hands; Jeremiah didn’t, zipping out with smarting eyes.
He hated asking Dad to give him money for a Coke. He banged the machines, scanned for dropped change, crossed the path behind the shelter, stepped over the chain and waded into the ferns, in the part you weren’t supposed to go.
The sign said: KEEP ON TRAIL.
He wandered, happy in the woods alone. He heard whoops die and watched the yellow rafts tail off. Maybe if Zack wanted to…ride the river, they would sometime.
Rocks above the water were hidden under needles, dried up moss, dead leaves. That was why people would fall, they thought they were on ground. This stuff would crumble under your shoes. Jeremiah smiled to himself. He felt his way with bare toes, lay on his stomach and inched forward. Right here, chin hanging over, he caught a burst of atomized water.
It was cool…in some way, he began to feel wiser.
A crack, the noise of a stick breaking in two. Then, like a string of firecrackers, a whole lot of sticks. A bird chittered, flapping just under Jeremiah’s nose. Another loud bang, and he saw it—a boulder tumbling huge and square, a full grown tree, slowing, buffeted aloft by its branches, settling into the river a second, a millisecond, before the boulder splashed into its crown’s midst. Jeremiah, astonished, blinked away drops of water flung into his eyes.
“Come on, Dad, come on.”
“Get back over here! Christ, kid. Kill yourself.”
“No, you have to get up to the edge or you can’t see. It was this huge rock. If fell right into the river.”
Dick walked to where the chain ended. Dad followed his friend, and came to a standstill where he couldn’t see anything.
“You have to be careful…” Jeremiah wanted to tell the part about the crumbly stuff.
“Don’t worry. Gimme the signal if the cops show up.” Dick grunted one foot, and the other, over the chain. He stepped to the cliff and hugged a cedar. Pushed himself away. “Nah. I just saw a couple rafts go past.”
And what did that mean? Why wouldn’t they? Hibbler thought Dad might have listened…he didn’t blame Dick exactly…
He just remembered how now and then, his father had been nice.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)