HARD PINE
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Contemporary Literature
 

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 11, Number 1
(Spring 2016)

Copyright © 2016
by Leah Browning, Editor.

All future rights to
material published
in the
Apple Valley
Review
are retained by
the individual authors
and artists.

www.applevalleyreview.com
Essay by Colin Pope

1. Friday Night
          He brought the hunk of pine down and it caught her square
across the temple.  It made a wet thud, like a pumpkin smashing
against pavement, and as she doubled over she wheezed hard
between her teeth.  She began stumbling sideways, one arm out like
she was searching for something to grab onto, and he stalked her with
the piece of wood in his hand.  Their feet skittered in the dust.  She
finally found her balance and he took her by the shoulder.  He brought
his arm back and looked at her bloodied head and was about to drop
the hard wood again when my father rushed in, grabbed his wrist, and
twisted it back.
          “Ray, stop.  My son . . .”
          He said it like that, gently and directly, and Ray looked at me
and dropped the wood and my father released him.  They turned to
stare at each other for a moment, the bill of Ray’s ballcap pointed
directly at my father’s face.  Then Ray lit a cigarette and walked
away, muttering and breathing smoke.  The woman, Linda, fell flat to
the ground and wept.  My father picked up the wood and went over
to the fire pit and tossed it in, then walked inside and sat down at the
kitchen table with the others.  I stood still and caught my breath,
waiting for everything to slow down.  I don’t know when I’d started
crying, but I worked to choke it back.  It felt like time had stopped.
When I looked over, Linda was struggling to stand upright.
          “You okay?” I asked her, wiping my eyes.
          “Yeh,” she groaned, “good v gt mih vater?”  She sounded like
her mouth was full.  It was a dark June night and I couldn’t see her
face but for a patch of blood that shined.
          “What?”
          She coughed and spit something up.  “Get me some fucking
water so I can wash my fucking head!”
          The camp was set about fifteen yards from the lake, in a small
inlet beneath the locks that separated Lower and Middle Saranac.  
Frank had scraped together enough money to fix the camp up so we
could come whenever we wanted.  It was sort of like a fort, a secret
hideout for Frank and his friends.  Pine needles and dirt were all over
the linoleum floor.  The walls were covered in a canary-yellow paint
that made the entire place glow under the gas lamps.  Nobody
questioned my getting the ancient, battered pot down from the
cupboard, nor my stealing the Maglite from next to the stove.   
They—my dad, Frank, the others—laughed and smoked joints,
passing them around the table.
          I went down to the dock and filled the pot with water and
brought it back to her.  Linda had an egg on her head the size of a
baseball.  The bleeding had slowed, but only because the wound was
filled with dead leaves and needles and mud.  She began washing it
out.
          “Couldn’t you find a fucking rag?”
          “You didn’t ask.”
          “I’m asking.”
          There was a dirty cloth on the porch and I got it for her.  
After a few minutes of dabbing and cleaning, she turned to me.  She
stuck her face over the Maglite like she was about to tell a ghost
story.  “How do I look?” she asked, trying to grin.
          I nodded.  Faint traces of adrenaline were still tickling the
nerves along my spine.  Though Ray’s violent outbursts were common
when he was drinking, they were impossible to get used to.  I was
twelve years old and I couldn’t figure out why Linda stayed with him.  
Maybe it was because she was scared of leaving or maybe she was
scared of being alone or, maybe, there was just something in her that
made it so she thought getting beaten by a piece of firewood meant
love.  I was too young to figure it out.  What I did know was that Ray
would be gone for most of the night, wandering drunk and high
through the wilderness.  He’d return early in the morning, eyes red
and teary, to offer her an apology.  And then they’d talk for a while,
after the rest of us had gone to bed.  And then they’d screw, loudly
and openly, in the back bedroom with the door half-closed while the
rest of us covered our heads with our pillows.  Tomorrow, the sun
would be out and it would be gleaming in her bruises and cuts.  She’d
smile and pretend she was okay, and we would too.
          I stood with her until my heart had settled into the cradle of its
normal rhythm, then I helped her to her feet.  She was shaky and her
pants were wet.  “Damn—I pissed myself,” she said as we hobbled,
arm in arm, toward the glowing doorway of the camp.
          This had been Frank’s mother’s place, but she had developed
a thyroid condition and now weighed five hundred pounds and it was
too far out of town for her to make it.  By boat, it took thirty minutes.  
You’d go up the lakes, turn left where the channel narrowed before
the locks, and you’d see the squat, low-roofed camp, tucked under
the looming shadows of pines and spruces on the shoreline of the inlet.  
Then you’d pick your way through blackwater fields of cattails and
reeds and lily pads to pull up to the dock.  I looked out over the
water, into the absolute silence.  It was late, and the lanterns and
dock lights of other camps sparkled from miles down the lake.
          “Do you think I should go to bed?” Linda asked me.  In the
dim light, it looked like one of her eyes had fallen out of true with the
other.
          “No—why don’t you sit out here for a while and get some
air?  Do you need anything else?”
          “Think you could find some aspirin or something?”
          “Sure.  Stay awake out here, okay?”
          She moved toward the moldering couch that was slowly
melting into the plywood flooring of the front porch.  As she sat, she
let out a small whimper of pain.  The mountains stood high and dark
on all sides of us, not caring about any of it.  Somewhere out on the
surface of the night-blackened lake, I heard a motor moving further
away, the engine revving and echoing off the shorelines.  Linda’s head
lolled and dropped.  I didn’t wake her.
          Inside, my father took a big hit from a metal pipe and his eyes
rolled back in his head.  Then he blew a huge cloud of smoke into the
room, and Frank put some Scorpions on the car stereo he’d rigged
into a sound system.  I got the Tylenol and walked back outside to
check on Linda.  She snored lightly.  I left her alone and sat down by
the fire pit, and I listened to the wood hiss and pop and scream as the
fire ate it away.

2. Saturday Morning
          After breakfast, I went out to chop wood.  I took the single
bit axe from behind the door and, with a steaming half-mug of Folgers
in hand, went out back to the wood pile to quarter some logs.
          The nightly fire served a dual purpose.  First, it was something
fun to do.  My dad and his friends had begun calling me “pyro”
because I often played with the flames and had nearly set the camp
ablaze on a few occasions.  But second, and more importantly, the
fire acted as a beacon.  We could expect visitors anytime until one or
two in the morning, and my job was to keep the fire bright and visible
in case any late-night partyers were trying to find us.  The fire pit was
only a few feet from the shoreline, between the water and the camp,
but I had to cut enough wood to build a fire that could be seen
flickering from three miles down the channel.
          As I walked out back, small birds cheeped from the pine
canopy, then dropped and darted between ferns and saplings.  
Squirrels scurried ahead of me, disappearing in the underbrush.  The
morning sun had pushed its way through the trees and was shining in
beams onto the forest floor.  With each step, leaves and twigs
crackled underfoot.  I sidled up to the chopping block, lifted the axe
with one hand, and buried it in the wood.  It was a relaxing morning,
and I wanted to drink my coffee before I began.  I raised my mug,
held it under my nose for a moment, and took a careful sip.
          “LOOK OUT!” somebody shouted.  I started, and the
coffee spilled down my chin and flannel shirt.
          Frank laughed.  He was a giant man, probably six feet tall
and three hundred fifty pounds.  He had a buzz cut and a trimmed
beard, and he wore suspenders instead of a belt.  But even beyond
his weight and appearance, there was something “jolly” about Frank.  
He was a practical jokester and a big fan of The Three Stooges,
particularly Curly.  He trudged into the clearing behind the camp,
headed straight for me.
          “Thanks,” I told him, wiping at my shirt-front.
          “You want some help back here?” he asked.
          He pulled the axe from the chopping block, grabbed a fresh
log, and halved it with a single stroke.  I stood there watching, silently.  
He picked up one of the loose halves, set it, brought the axe-head
down, and the quarters shot off either side of the block.  I could tell
he was showing off, putting muscle into it to try to impress me, just to
show me what a “real man” could do.
          “You know,” he said, breathing a little heavily, “Ray doesn’t
mean to scare you.  He just gets a little emotional sometimes.”
          I stiffened.  Before I’d come out to chop wood, he and my
father were sitting around the kitchen table, smoking a joint and
drinking their after-breakfast coffee.  My father must’ve said
something about last night.
          “I know,” I said.
          “Linda’s a tough woman to deal with.  Know what I mean?  
She likes to give Ray a hard time.”
          “Yeah,” I said.
          “Best if you probably just come inside and get your dad.  Or
me.  Don’t do anything.  When Ray gets emotional he just—“
          “I know,” I said.
          I picked up a log and set it on the block.  He looked at me
for a moment, then nodded his head and split it in half.  I picked up
one of the loose halves and tried to hold it with one hand.  I tried to
swing it, but I wasn’t strong enough.  It would take two hands to
swing it, if I needed to.  I put it up on the chopping block.
          “I’m gonna go back to check the crop later,” he said.  “You
want to help us cut and hang?”
          “Sure.  But can I come get it with you?  Whatever—
harvest
it?”  They didn’t let me go with them, but I was hoping to be old
enough one of these weekends and it didn’t hurt to ask.
          He pursed his lips and we looked at each other for a moment.  
Then his face went crazy, twisted into a gasping grimace, and he held
the axe overhead and pretended like he was going to split me in half.  
I feinted to the side and faked like I was going to poke him in the eyes,
Three Stooges-style.  He started chuckling.
          “Oh,” he sneered, “a wise guy. . . .”
         
3. Saturday Afternoon
          “How long you guys going to be?” I asked.
          “Oh,” my dad said, “a while.”  He was lacing up his battered
tennis shoes.  Everyone else was waiting outside, smoking.  There
were four of them: Frank, Ray, Little John, and Eric.  They had
backpacks and duffle bags.  It was a warm day, so they were
wearing cutoff shorts and t-shirts and sunglasses.
          “Is Linda going?” I asked, knowing she wouldn’t be.  She
was still asleep in the back room.
          “No,” he said.  He stood up and stretched, spreading his giant
arms wide and yawning.
          My father was, literally, the strongest man I’d ever seen.  He
was as stout as a tree trunk, six feet tall, around two hundred fifty
pounds, and he performed feats of strength that no one could
duplicate.  I’d seen him carry two outboard motors up a dock, one in
each hand, and load them gently into a pickup truck.  I’d seen him lift
up the back end of a car, a Pontiac Sunbird, all by himself.  On a
dare, he once chopped down an eight-inch-thick pine tree with one
stroke of his maul.  When I asked a family friend, years later, why my
mother had ever married him to begin with, the friend told me stories
about what my father was like when he got out of the Marines.  “He
was the only man,” the friend said, “I’d ever seen walk up to a street
sign, grab the post in both hands, and lift his body parallel to the
ground with his arms still out, still
extended.”
          My father groaned and bent down to pick up his backpack.  
“Okay,” he said.  “You behave.”
          “I’ll probably go fishing,” I said.
          “Sounds good.  Don’t use up all the bread.”  He ran his hand
through my hair on his way out the door.  I went out to the porch and
watched the group of men walk down the trail, bumbling and pushing
like schoolboys.
          The weed crop was somewhere deep in the woods.  It was
hidden and mysterious and I’d never been allowed to see it.  They’d
be gone for a few hours and would come back, the bags filled with
smaller, gallon-sized Ziplocs, each filled with branches and buds from
the plants.  Frank had shown me how to trim the buds and stalks.  
That night, after they got back from harvesting, we’d all sit at the
kitchen table and cut the leaves away and hang the buds to cure.  
Later, once it was dried, I’d help them recut it into weights and bag it
up for sale.  It was a fun process.  It meant a lot of silliness, a lot of
working with my hands, and I was good at it.
          I went inside and got my pole and tackle box from beside the
old, twenties-style icebox.  Then I opened the icebox and took three
slices of bread from the loaf, grabbed a Pepsi, and latched the door
shut.  I headed down to the dock.
          Frank’s camp was set in a sort of bay beneath the locks.  
The channel was about two hundred yards out, nearer the far
shoreline, and there was a waterway that turned off and led directly
up to our dock and kept going around the circle.  It was like a cul-
de-sac that rejoined the channel if you kept going round, and in the
middle was that monster field of lily pads.  If you cast into there, it
was unlikely you’d ever get your line out.
          I set my things down on the wooden boards of the dock and
looked up at the locks, where some boats were idling and waiting to
get through.  These locks existed to connect Lower and Middle
Saranac Lakes, which were separated by a miniature waterfall.  I
stood at the end of the dock and watched the water as it fell white
and fast over the rocks.  Then the doors of the locks opened and the
boats motored in, waiting for the water level to be raised by the
summer attendant.  The water needed an attendant, whose whole job
was to raise it and lower it and open the lock-doors for people.  I
understood how he felt.  Come evening, my whole job would be to
tend my fire in case anyone was looking for the camp.
          The brown paint on the dock was chipped and peeling and it
crumbled into the water as I moved toward the end.  I picked up my
pole and a piece of bread, unlatched the fish hook from the pole’s
eyelet, and tore a good chunk from the center of the slice.  I rolled
the bread in my fingers until it was a ball—a “doughball”—and licked
it a few times to help it keep its shape.  Then I fixed the ball to the
hook.  I opened the tan plastic lid of the tackle box and found the
sinker kit.  I took out two small sinkers, bit their ends to open their
mouths, and clamped them a few inches from the hook.
          Frank had put a bait trap about ten feet out from the dock.  
He filled it with stale bread to lure the shiners in.  Instead, it became
a magnet for bullhead, which would suck the bread through the holes
in the grating of the trap.  I flipped the bar of the spinning reel over
and flicked the doughball out a few yards.  In the summer afternoon,
you could see straight to the bottom, and I watched the white ball sink
down.
          Frank was good at putting things together for me.  He taught
me how to make doughballs and how to jig for fish, but he also taught
me how to chum.  He didn’t just demonstrate how to do something;
he explained
why things happened the way they happened.  The
bullhead were bottom-feeders, he told me, and they’d eat anything
that didn’t move too fast.  He was the one who explained how the fire
worked, too.  It wasn’t just the wood; you needed air.  The air had to
move because the fire wanted to breathe.  It
wanted to breathe, he
said, as though it were a person.  He showed me how to build the fire,
but then he explained what it needed.  “It needs you to help it,” he
said, “because it can’t breathe on its own.”
          My father was never too good at explaining things.  He hated
explanations and was perpetually impatient.  At the store or the bank,
he hated talking to the clerks.  He hated asking questions of
salespeople, and he was never on the phone for more than two
minutes.  In the three years since he and my mother had split, he’d
gotten even worse, and some weekends we’d hardly speak at all.  
My father wanted to be left alone.  Or, barring that, left in silence.  
There was just him and his strength and what he did, and that was it.  
But I’d begun to think that he didn’t know why he was doing
anything—why he drank or smoked or got divorced or went camping
or sold pot—and maybe that’s why he kept doing it.  Maybe he
never even tried to explain it to himself, and there were only the
crumbs of motives, floating in his past somewhere.  Maybe he was at
the bottom of his own pond, sucking at his own trap, and he couldn’t
remember living any other way.
          I felt a light tug on my line and looked down to see a sunfish
struggling against the hook.  That was the danger of fishing near the
trap: the sunnies loved bread.  This one was the size of my hand, and
I hauled it up to take it off the line.  It wriggled and bent its body,
believing itself still in the water, and I grabbed it around its center to
avoid the sharp edges of its gills.  The hook came out easily, though
the fish had a large hole in its mouth where the barb had pierced and
torn.  I held the fish up and looked at it a moment, and I wondered if
that hole in its mouth would ever heal.
          “Hey,” a hoarse voice croaked from behind me.  It was
Linda.  Her brown hair was limp and matted from sleeping all day.  
She had big tortoiseshell glasses and was wearing a long t-shirt and
cut-off jean shorts.  I was bigger than she was, but not by much,
and had only become so recently.
          “Hey,” I said, the fish still fighting in my hand.
          “You want some lunch?” she asked.
          “No.  Thanks.”  The aroma of live fish had ruined my appetite.  
She nodded and went back inside.
          Out in the channel, another line of boats was waiting at the
locks.  They’d go in, the man would pump the water, their world
would raise ten feet, and then they’d exit to a higher level.  But the
man, the attendant, he only watched.  Once in a while, someone from
a boat might hand him a beer or a soda or a sandwich, but that was it.
          Frank had warned me not to hold the fish for too long as I
unhooked them or else the oils from my hand might damage the
mucous membrane that covered their scales.  I looked at the sunny,
struggling for freedom, then cocked my arm back and whipped it out
over the water.  It sailed in a high arc, twisting and somersaulting in
the air, before making a loud slapping sound as it came down flat on
its side.

4. Saturday Night
          After dinner, Frank took me aside and said he wanted to
show me something.
          “I saw it—it’s a lot of weed,” I told him, smiling.  The group
had come back from the afternoon harvest in high spirits.  It was a big
haul.  The weather had been accommodating that summer and the
plants had grown tall and heavy with buds.
          “No, no, we’ll get to that after.  Come out on the porch.”
          Everyone else was relaxing around the kitchen table.  My dad
was leaned back, picking his teeth with a long sliver of firewood.  
Linda sat perched on Ray’s lap.  The low, dusky sun was reflecting
off the water in front of the camp and was shooting bright beams
straight inside.  Linda’s black eye shined in the light.
          There was a worn and frayed brown paper bag on the porch.  
The bag had been so overused it had the texture of cloth.  Frank
grabbed it and led me down near the fire pit.  We sat down on the
cracked and faded lawn chairs by the pit, and then he reached inside
the bag and pulled something out.
          “This is Pyrodex,” he said.  He held up a plastic jar that said
Pyrodex across the front.  “It’s what black-powder hunters use.  But
we use it for something else. . . .”
          He reached in the bag again.  This time, he pulled out what
appeared to be a toilet paper tube.  It had wax plugs in each of its
ends and there was a green fuse coming out the side.  He handed it
to me and I gawked at it, grinning.
          “Can we light it?” I asked.
          He pursed his lips.  Then he took it back and stuck it in his
mouth like it was a cigar.  He had to open his mouth wide.  He took
a couple of fake puffs and laughed maniacally.
          “Suuure” he said, patting his shirt pocket, “just lemme find my
matches here. . . .”
          I laughed.  “Chowderhead!”
          “Okay—hang on,” he said.
          He dug around in his pockets and pulled out a lighter.  Then
we looked around for a good place to set the thing.  There was a
small stump beside the camp, right near the trailhead that led into the
forest.  We put it in the knuckle between two roots.  Frank lit the fuse
and danced away.  I crouched by the corner of the porch, watching,
listening to the hiss of the fuse.
          “WE LIT IT,” Frank hollered.  The fuse was about five inches
long and it burned slowly and I could see it would take a minute or
two.  Everyone piled out of the camp and I pointed toward the little
bomb.  It sputtered white sparks onto the dried pine needles on the
ground.  I was giddy with excitement and I turned to look at all their
faces.  They were all there, bumping and leaning over one another to
get a better view.
          I couldn’t picture how they’d become the people they were
now.  Had they once been like me?  During the weeks, I was a good
schoolboy, getting good grades and doing my homework.  I did
chores for my mother and helped rake the neighbor’s yard every fall.  
But on the weekends, I played witness to dozens of crimes.  It got so
that breaking the law seemed to be a weekend activity.  But it wasn’t
that way for my father, for the rest of them.  I knew they lived like this
all the time, sneaking away to secret places to cut drugs and light fuses.  
I’d always pictured myself as growing up to be a lawyer or a doctor—
had they ever thought of themselves like that?  Or did they know they
would end up this way, as outcasts and bandits, pushed literally to the
edges of civilization?
          People—family friends, my mother, relatives—called my
father “a lost soul.”  It wasn’t my parents’ divorce that caused him to
be the way he was.  He had always been that way; these last few
years had merely seen the exaggeration of his condition.  But if he
was lost, then so were all these people.  None of them quite “fit” into
society, as society wanted them to.  They wanted to have fun and to
feel free and, occasionally, to blow something up or burn it down.  I
was starting to feel like I was one of them.  Would it be so bad?  
They laughed and drank beer and didn’t care what anybody thought.
          The fuse crackled its way down to the cardboard tube and
the sparks disappeared momentarily.  Then there was a pulse of
phosphorescent white light, sudden and bright against the coming
darkness of evening, and then a slightly delayed clap of thunder which
seemed to spray dirt into the air ahead of itself.  The sound bounced
around the forest and camp and off the water and distant shore.  I
heard it echoing back and I looked toward the far mountains, high
and dumb in their distance, and I wondered if someone hiking up
there, so many miles away, would hear a faint noise and look back in
our direction and wonder what it was.
          Everyone cheered and clapped.  I went with Frank to check
out the damage.  The explosion had completely obliterated the
makings of the bomb.  There was no trace of it.
          “Now,” he said, grinning, filling in the twelve-inch-deep hole
with dirt and moss, “let me show you how to make one.”
          I nodded eagerly and we went back over by the fire pit.  He
took all of the things out of the bag—fuse, cardboard tubes, wax,
Pyrodex, silicon rubber—and showed me how to put them all
together to make bombs.  I asked him questions and watched as he
pantomimed the actions of putting a bomb together, measuring the
explosive, cutting the fuse, melting the wax for the ends.  We sat there
until the last light of day was blinking between the trees.
          “Jeez—I’ve got to make the fire,” I told him.
          “Well, after that, come inside and help us out.  If there’s time,
we can make a bomb.”  I stood up, clapped my heels together, and
gave him an exaggerated salute.  Then I went back to get a few
pieces of firewood.
          It was nice to have Frank around.  Maybe it was because he
was the most immature, or maybe it was just because he recognized,
every so often, that I was only a kid, but on the weekends when
Frank came to camp I felt less alone.  He talked to me.  I think, in
many ways, he was still a twelve-year-old boy.  My father was the
opposite.  He had been old, it seemed, all his life.  I’d never even seen
a picture of him as a child.
          By the time it was pitch-dark, I had built the fire high and
bright enough to be seen from miles away.  The flames were taller
than I was and I had to look up to see their tips.  I made sure the fire
was stable and safe, then I went inside and sat down around the
kitchen table with the others.  Every so often, I’d peek out the front
door to check on it, and I’d feed it wood when it needed.
          Inside, the fixtures of the gas lamps hissed and shined.  There
was a giant green pile in the middle of the kitchen table.  We cut the
leaves away from the buds and left a few inches of stalk per growth.  
The stuff was wet and sticky, and it took a light touch to hold it and
cut it right.  When someone had to make room for more, they’d put
down their shears and take their trimmed buds over to the hang-wires
by the wood stove.  The wires would eventually be lined from wall to
wall with buds hung to dry, almost like strings of green garland tacked
up during a celebration.

5. Sunday Morning
          The next morning, everyone was busy packing and making
ready to leave.  We were all moving around, joking, putting things
together at a slow, leisurely pace.  The icebox had to be emptied and
the coolers drained and the gas turned off.  There was a list of little
things that had to be done before we were ready to go, and nobody
was in a hurry to do any of it.
          There was an odd, loose feeling to those Sundays.  We all
knew that we had to go back to the world, back to school and jobs.  
My father was working as a handyman at that time.  Frank worked as
an orderly at a mental hospital in Tupper Lake.  Ray and some of the
others did construction.  The doors to the real world were waiting to
be opened, but we could pretend they didn’t exist for a few more
hours.  At camp, reality was tough to imagine, let alone remember
and consider.  That was the feeling of those Sundays: a vague sense
that reality existed, but there was no empirical evidence to prove it.  
There was only a whacky, untainted denial of everything that was
waiting for us.
          But first, there would be the high-speed boat ride back to
town, flying down the channel and rooster-tailing water.  We’d zoom
by the little channel islands and camps on the shorelines, the boat
bumping and bouncing over the waves.  The motor would be loud
and the water would spray in our faces when the hull caught.  And
then we’d idle up to the dock on Lake Flower, and we’d tie the boat
off and shut it down and the weekend would be officially over.  
Unpacking the boat, hauling everything to the car, was the hardest
part of the trip.  It meant more than it meant.
          I put all my clothes and things in my duffle bag and waited for
everyone else to finish up.  Linda was cleaning dishes in the kitchen,
the side of her head still swollen.  She looked malformed, like a baby
who had been squeezed the wrong way when it came out.  But she
and Ray were fine, acting like two loving people.  Nothing would
come of her beating.  He wouldn’t apologize to me or my father, and
he’d probably never mention the incident to anyone.
          Actions didn’t seem to mean anything to those people.  All
mistakes could be forgiven, and all kindnesses could be forgotten.  
Linda hadn’t spoken to me about that night either, and she wouldn’t.  
It didn’t matter.  And that, I think, was what scared me most about
them.  People ranted and raged, but what was worse was that nobody
seemed to care to what extent.  Had I not been there on Friday night,
had I not witnessed Linda getting beaten, who knows how far it would
have gone.  It was my presence that had saved her, but nobody cared.  
And had I not been there to be noticed, had Ray beaten her
unconscious or worse, I can’t say anyone would have cared either.
          I took my duffle and my fishing gear down to the dock and
waited for everyone else.  Frank and Eric were smoking a joint on the
porch.  The others were still packing and cleaning up.  I took my
shoes off and sat on the dock and put my feet in the cool water.  My
dad was inside, sweeping the linoleum floor.  He looked serious and
steady, concentrating on the ground beneath him.
          I can’t say he stopped Ray that night because of me,
necessarily.  He might’ve done it to avoid the hassle of having a nearly
dead woman on his hands, or he may have done it just to keep the
night going.  I’m not sure.  But he’d done it anyway, and I’d never
thanked him, either.  Was I becoming just like them?  Would I end up
like my father, whether I wanted to or not?  That’s what everyone
was always saying: people become their parents.  But, really, I was
just a kid.  I shouldn’t have to thank anyone for stopping a vicious
beating.
          That’s what unified them, all of them.  They’d been beaten so
much—by work, by their parents, by the cops, by each other—that
they didn’t know a world without beatings.  Beatings were inevitable.  
When my parents got divorced, it must have felt to my father like the
obvious conclusion of a long series of conflicts.  It was one more
beating.  Linda, by virtue of some psychological miscalculation, must
have thought she “had it coming” from Ray.  And when, a few years
later, poor Frank shot himself in the head with a shotgun, he must
have considered it the last beating, the one to end them all.  When
Ray got sent up for coke, when Eric drowned, when Linda got cancer
and had to wheel around an oxygen tank—each beating, small or
large, was part of some big beating that these people carried on their
backs, all their lives.  It was what was
deserved.  The earth deserved
to be blown up by homemade bombs, the wood deserved to burn,
the weed deserved to be smoked, and my father and his friends
deserved their beatings.  They took them and went on until they
couldn’t anymore, and they didn’t explain themselves because they
didn’t have to.  It was the one freedom they had, above all: they
didn’t have to thank anyone or explain anything or open their mouths
at all.  And neither did I.
          Linda came down to the dock and offered me a few pieces
of toast and bacon. They were left over from breakfast. I nodded and
took them. As I chewed on the salty, cold bacon, I reached over and
pulled the line for the bait trap.  I tugged the thing up to the dock and
opened it.  It was rusty and slimy, and it had been emptied out by the
bullhead in the night.  I put the pieces of toast inside it, then tossed
the thing back out, swinging it by the rope a few times to give it
momentum.
          “You don’t wanna fish before we go?” Linda asked.
          I shook my head.  “Nah.”
          She was standing over me, looking down.  I shielded my eyes
against the sun and looked up at her face.
          “You know,” she said, looking down, “you’re looking more
like your father every day.”
          “Okay,” I said.
          “No, I mean it.  Your face.  The glasses.  You’re even going
to be built like him.”
          I leaned over the dock and looked straight down into the
water.  My hair was greasy and unruly.  The cowlicks in the front of
my scalp stuck up in crazy ways.  I was overweight and had chubby
cheeks, and I wore plastic-framed glasses like my father.
          “I was thinking of getting contacts,” I told her.
          “I like the glasses,” she said.  “They make you look smarter.  
Plus they suit you pretty well.”
          “Okay.  Shut up,” I said to her.  She was making me angry.  
I didn’t want to talk about how I looked.  I didn’t want to look like
my father.
          “You could probably play football,” she went on.  “Or maybe
hockey.  You’re gonna be a real ladykiller, I bet.”
          “Shut up!” I hissed at her.
          “Don’t be embarrassed.  You’re just about old enough
anyway.  You had a girlfriend yet?  You know what to do?”
          I thought about hitting her.  Or pushing her into the lake.  
Then I shook my head and got up and went inside.  My father was
still sweeping up.  I found another broom and started sweeping with
him.  I kept my head down, focused on the bristles and the dirt.           





_________________________________________________________


Colin Pope grew up in Saranac Lake, New York.  His work has
appeared or is forthcoming in
Slate, Willow Springs, Harpur Palate,
The Los Angeles Review, and Texas Review, among others.  He has
held residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Gemini Ink and is
currently a PhD candidate at Oklahoma State University, where he
serves on the editorial board at
Cimarron Review.    


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