But not tonight, tired today. The air dusty spider web tufting from attic lumber. Smell of crushed cicada shell, grass, other. I’ve got a face for nothing. There isn’t any cost in that. Not in the short run. There’s the moon, hiking up like a mom on a hill, slow and steady and overwarm and a little breathless, but still moving and then there, eager. All that sudden light you knew was coming, making the black leaves green for a spell, and slight shadows where there weren’t any before. There’s mine, spilling down the porch stairs and onto the sidewalk, where the dog lays and pants and scratches in the day.
The dog was a mistake. He’s a good boy, but he’s not right for me. He’s got his issues. I can see them coming a mile away. I hit him once. Stunned him on the low back, just where the tail sprouts. How he went into a sit. Just like that. Standing then pow then sitting. Thought it was a bug sting. How he u’d around and chewed at the point where I clocked him, those little front teeth nibbling away. We sleep in the same bed when she’s not around. And when she is, he warms the floor, cocks his head when the springs curse and jumble.
When he ran off, I watched him go, his stiff hind legs toggling back and forth. Fine, I yelled after him. See if you don’t come back! Of course he did. Circle of fur on the welcome mat, brambles and burr seeds woven into his hide, tick the size of a hailstone poking out of his ear.
When I think of my brother. When I think of us as kids. When I recall how I took a knife to him and how he just moved his fork through his food with his eyes closed. And how we drove together to the land that wasn’t ours.
She’s got the cards out and is bridging them between her hands then making them dance on the table. Her fingers are short but deft. We’ve got a glass bottle out and the bubbles are hitting surface and popping. She said we should pretend being high rollers. That the cola was some fancy wine. That we were playing cash games. Ok, I said, then I’ll bet the limit, and pushed across my pile of pennies and nickels.
What’s it matter? Brother’s in Montana now, anyway. Or is it Wyoming. Same kind of look to the land from what I know. Long weeds and gray rocks jutting through it, and emptiness, and clouds. Gave up the short weeds and red stones and cloudless skies of New Mexico. That bowl of sky. Long curve of mountain road, rusted guardrail, mile marker dappled with birdshot. That rounded valley where we’d struck out then.
She’d written me actual real letters, with glossy photos between the trifolds leftover from the envelopes they were sent in.
When I drink my cola, I try to dredge up some other taste beyond sugar. It’s hard being dry. I read that this wasn’t the way you had to do it. That there was research that made it fine to go back in but slower, without the heavy foot. But she insists. Says you said so. And I did say so. I get up for another bottle and pour it out. I’m gaining weight with all this sugar and ice. I say let’s just call it was it is.
About those three years. Flatbacked in the dark and on the floor, receiver volume between the thumb and forefinger, up and down with the swells, the ceiling rotating, a heaviness between the shoulders and gut.
And she in the bed, the lights off, the rustle of sheets heard through the heat register. What could she have been mouthing? I didn’t adjust, kept on humming and turning the dial, patient enough to watch the dark crystallize, no other choice.
This was her handwriting. Like a song sung in a car when you’re alone on the road. Nothing held back. The joy, the communion of voices. On those letters, is what I mean.
Sometimes the pictures weren’t even of her. A set of potted plants, some old timer with a cane and a belt. Or were of her but weren’t of all of her. That one with the lens an inch from her skin. Could have been the top of her thigh.
The dog tripped running down the hill. Tumbled and went ass over tea kettle. When he got back on his legs, his snout was red and dusty. I went up to him and he licked my palm and when he did a tooth came out. It was yellow as beach sand. I held it up to him and he sniffed it, then went for my arm, licked the sweat that was beading there. He left his spit and blood and seemed happy. He panted. I put his tooth in my pocket. But then I took it out. Looked at it again. It was aged, like an old tree.
I can’t get any cards to make a hand so I bluff and bluff again. I smile when I do. Or set my face and stare off. Sometimes she calls. Mostly she folds. And sighs. And says why’d you do that? Gotta pay to play, I say. There’s water on the table from the glasses. I clap my thigh and the dog comes over. You old son of a bitch. It goes into a yoga pose and stretches its shoulders. Just like my brother did in the morning on the dirt when the sun was just a pool of colors and not an actual round thing.
I think about the one place where the center actually held. It’s not much. Just cold comfort. But it’s there. It’s something. And who needs a picture when you got it right there in front of you. Real as anything. More, sometimes.
Edmund Sandoval resides in Portland, Oregon.