J. Edward Kruft
We mixed together the cans of old paint we found in the shed behind the tavern. The result was what I would now call teal, but it’s what we would have thought of as merely green, and we painted that bridge over the slough, and damn weren’t we proud, and your grandpa paid us $3 apiece, and damn weren’t we rich?
The bridge was weather-beaten and it was dark the last time we drove over it. You me and Jimmy. No telling the color now.
My question: why’d you take off your shirt? Knowing? Not knowing? Wanting? Not wanting?
You and Jim, you loved hunting polliwogs in the swamp, but me, I just went along, didn’t like the slime aspect. So after a bit I’d start a dirt clod war and we aimed those clods, hard as we might, at each other’s balls and laughed as we did; laughed all the harder when one of us made contact.
You broke your arm yelling Geronimo out of a tree. Broke it bad, so that the bone poked out, so that when you weren’t passed out you were crying like a girl, remember that? Your grandpa made a call on the tavern payphone and about 20 minutes later a two-seater Cessna glided over the grove of hemlock and landed in that stretch of clearing between the powerlines. The drunks from the tavern fitted you into a wheelbarrow and hitched you up the hill. I don’t know if I ever told you this but we were all swearing under our breaths that there was no way in hell that plane was gonna get enough lift to clear the tops of those trees, but there we were, wishing you goodbyes and good-luck. And damned if within minutes, you weren’t out of sight.
As I write this it naturally gets me thinking. As far as I recall, we were only truly on the outs twice, excepting this time which I can tell you is the last and final. Once was when you and Jimmy fought over Sasha Bills. I don’t remember who claimed her first, only that I was asked to break the tie. I picked you, of course, and that landed me in deep shit with Jim. And later, when Sasha inevitably got bored and unceremoniously released you back into the pond, you blamed me. So, yeah, fuck you for that, too.
But even before that: the school fair, fifth grade. In the parking lot was a junker car they’d brought in and for fifty cents they let you pound it three times with a sledgehammer. A pre-pubescent orgasm if ever there was. The three of us, we pooled our money and took a swing apiece. You put so much muscle in that you missed entirely and started to laugh it off until you saw your old man, watching, silent. You ran into the school field and I followed you, not really knowing why (of course I did) and when I caught up, you were out of breath and crying and you – remember? – you dug your head into my shoulder and your words were muddled but I am absolutely sure you said: He saw me. He fucking saw me whiff. Now he knows. He’s gonna know. Later, you denied the whole scene, called me a liar, a psycho, a homo. I never pushed it. Just like I never pushed it when your grandma died and you showed up at my door and asked to sleepover, said you didn’t want to be alone, and I thought you’ve got your mom and dad, your brother and sisters, but OK, come in, of course come in.
You still had keys to the old shithole. Still smelled of stale beer and, now, what I guessed was raccoon piss. Jim lit a joint and fiddled with the jukebox. That’s when you took off your shirt, postured, flexed, though you did it in that way that you have – like you have no idea. Highway to Hell filled the room and Jimmy perched himself on the bar and after that and before I blacked out, I’ll admit, what I remember is approximated because we were high and drunk and flying on account of being together again, or so I thought. You told me to break and I watched you as you watched me chalk my cue, and the break wasn’t pretty and I leaned against the wall and then you made some just-like-the-old-days shots, and then after a scratch you scootched between me and the table so that your ass couldn’t miss rubbing against my cock, your bare back already browned, so soon in the summer.
You called me Faggot. Not in the endearing way we used to. No, this was with knowing, with intent and what felt like foresight. Jim was on me now too, forever your blindly loyal flunkey….
Why am I writing you this? You know the story, you were there, although I’m sure you tell it different, different to all those smalltown goons I was lucky enough to escape and not become. I’m writing this because I need you to know that Iknow you. Always have, in good ways and in bad. I guess there’s just enough good left for me to remind you that this time, it’s unlikely any Cessna is going to crest that hill over the hemlock grove and take your broken self off to be fixed. It’s just you, Jeff.
Goodbyes and good-luck.
Love (and despite it all (or is it to spite it all?) I mean that),
J. Edward Kruft has had stories published in Barren and MoonPark Review, among others. Loves include watching all iterations of the old Password game shows. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adoptees – Siberian Husky Sasha and Pom-Chow mix Nina – in NYC and in the Catskills. His fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.comand he can be followed on twitter: @jedwardkruft.