I should be getting used to this, but on these cold mornings it’s wicked. This is her way of never forgiving me. Gray light seeps around the shade as she pokes, her new fake nails working at the line where my feeling stops. “Wake up. I heard the geese coming in.”
“What do you want from me?” I know damn well what she wants.
“I’m that lead bird. Now fall in line.”
“Bird, alright. Loony bird.”
When I turn my top half away from her my useless doll’s legs stay put, totally unlike my dream last night, where I was Superman, righting my flipped car with arms and legs and adrenaline; where Cole was wearing the seatbelt instead of the windshield; where he wasn’t dead.
There’s no fighting her. She wrestles me into the wheelchair and says, “Good God” as she peels my damp long Johns. “Why didn’t you get the bottle?”
“Maybe I didn’t wake up. Maybe I was having a good dream.”
She slides a new pair up my hairless legs which, today at least, have no phantom fire.
“Saving him again?”
When I don’t say anything she says, “Too late for that.”
Her coat is checked red and black and smells of wood smoke, while mine is a new mail order poofy parka that came white by mistake and which makes me look like a marshmallow. She won’t send it back. She dresses me in it for humiliation, but at least has the courtesy to not make me wear it to town. The fucker is warm, I have to say.
Outside I glow in the black light of the new winter day. She maneuvers me to the dark van with frosted windows. I remember my car windshield back then, how I pulled myself across the pebbles of glass on the road, believing in my delirium they were ice cubes that could soothe my burning legs.
“It’s fucking cold. You could have started it.”
The big side door groans, ripping the silence. Inside she curses levers that work the lift. Anything that moves whines against the cold, including me, caught midair in the swirl of blue exhaust, coughing and vibrating on this shuddering mechanism before being drawn in like a giant marshmallow eaten by a ramshackle robot.
She locks me in place, probably tempted to forget, the way I overlooked Cole’s seatbelt and underestimated the drinks I had at Dewey’s before picking him up at his friend’s house.
The road is still black as pitch beneath swirls of ice-fog. The tires are Al’s retread, studded but still slipping as she guns them. We’re all over the road and thankfully no one else is. I’m tossed in the harness with something like the amusement park terror of the kidnapped. Pink strips of morning spin through black trees, making me dizzy.
“Trying to kill me?”
“Isn’t that what you want?”
A pearl colored sky opens above, and she sees a V of them heading in. She follows. Braking at the trail road, the van does a 360 and she says, “WOOOOO!”
“And you love me. You’re going to fuck me.”
She can’t see but knows my sneer is there. She knows my pain, the love-hate balance tipped. I haven’t been able to fuck in years of course but she’s still included me, humping my unfeeling leg like a mad dog, or the other thing, rubbing it in my face literally. She hasn’t cheated, won’t give me that satisfaction, has managed to satisfy herself on my body in creative ways, but she’ll never forgive me. “I’ll hold it against you but I’ll hold it against you,” is what she says.
In the empty parking area the van spits me out in surreal clouds of my breath: crippled marshmallow floating in marshmallow clouds. She regards me a moment while smoking a cigarette and dropping the ear-flaps of her wool hat. She leaves me in the air for a minute for no reason, like the bored ride operator. She has that hungry look. She snatches a quilt from the back.
Above the geese continue to arrive, legs unfolding like landing gear.
She purposely left my power chair at home so I could be at her mercy. The public trail has been recently paved. She coughs her smoker’s cough but it doesn’t hamper her breakneck speed or wheelies. At one point a front wheel catches stray rock and I’m thrown into frosted yellow grass. She lifts me back in, panting, her lips blue. The coat has saved me injury, like an airbag.
“I look like a rabid polar bear. Someone should put me out of my misery.”
“Someone might.” She wheezes.
I flip the hood with white fur over my head. “There, there’s a big deer tail. Shoot.”
“Believe me, if I had a gun.”
I believe she has one.
At trail’s end the finger of land dips to water, frozen in spots and covered with hundreds of the snow geese. The sun is just starting to touch ripples of water and ice and frozen tips of grass. She tosses the quilt and dumps me. My legs fold under and I make a croaking sound, but I’m used to this. She rolls me to my back and straightens my legs, stands over me, her small mouth with a frown but not of distaste. She throws up her arms as in triumph over an impending kill. The closest birds swell their breasts and flap their wings as a warning.
She rolls her ski pants and long Johns to her ankles: wide pelvis and legs like bone and bush now lightly frosted with age. Yellow goose-flesh. “Coming in for a landing,” she says, lowering bush to beard. I keep the hood on, fur tickling the loose skin inside her thighs. I guide her hips and slide rough hands under her layers of sweater. Steam rises from her, but the taste makes me think of the cold fish at lake’s bottom. She moves with the rhythm of the beating wings, her hoarse cries returned from lake and sky. Finally she convulses, and her thighs clamp my hood shut along with my air supply. There’s no getting her off until she’s done. I nearly pass out. Finally she stands trembling and pulls up her pants and then stretches her full length on top of me, light as one of those birds must be, chest fluttering to catch her breath. I enclose her in the marshmallow arms, and we rest.
After a while I think of how I used to stand and lift her over my head. With a sudden burst of strength I press her as far as my arms will go. Her laugh is startled, girlish, like nothing I’ve ever heard, sharp enough to flush all the geese at once. They thunder overhead and drown her out. Frigid drops of water rain from them and sting my eyes. I squeeze my eyes shut and imagine myself holding Cole at arm’s length, getting one good last look at him and saying, “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry…”
She slaps my face: once, twice and again, until I stop crying and laugh with her. My arms tremble, close to losing her, but I fight it and hang on.
“Open your eyes,” she says. “Look at them.”
They’re close enough that I can feel their wind and hear the creaking wings. They’re chaos, and I wait for lines to form, for sense to occur. She hits me again. Ice shatters from the birds’ feet like shards of a mirror, and in each falling piece I see my son’s eyes.
Click here for Gary Moshimer's bio