Monday, September 13, 2010

a bag of pulp

The ribs in me were like the needles of pines that day, taking in the air that happens once February starts dying.

I was riding my motorcycle along the inner arm of a bend in The Big River, a few dashes from the towering trestle bridge that attaches our town to another state. There are shacks on water down in that bend, and I was going to see someone I didn't know not well but well enough to go to see. His name, back then, was Robbie.

Now it's Rob.

We all tend to shed some things as we get older.

Robbie was the same age as me, 24, but you'd never tell that from the sick color of his skin, the way he walked leaned really far back with his stomach leading.

He looked off balance. Or out of. Unsteady, I mean. You almost wanted to grab him by the elbow like you would someone who was triple or more your age and frail.

His dog (of indistinct breeding - fat as a retired defensive lineman, with tight-knit fur and a bald tail) ran shrunk blind circles around the shack, stopping to take occasional pulls from the river water, thrashing and spitting up chunks of ice.

Hearing the noise of his dog taking me in sight, Robbie came out the door but left it open. He raised his right hand to set the sky right.

Above the platform of his hand, I Robbie had on the crown he often wore. It was made from chain link fence that had offset his childhood home from many acres of state land. He'd filed the sharp ends down so they didn't jab into his temples, forehead, scalp.

In his left hand was holding onto what they'd handed to him and asked to give to me.

It was in a paper bag that looked soft, like it was wanting to turn back into pulp. He urgently motioned me on-board with that bag and I thought everything'd scatter.

I take what happens next with the lightness of, say, a tank.

Out of the narrow edge of my left eye, I saw this huge bird with exotic, important colors curl its beak around the latch of the cramped metal cage it was in. It made a sound like the snapping together of wet fingers. The cage made a rattle sound, a metallic shiver.

Then again. That's it. Twice, and the door was open, the bird out, unsteady at first, but its wings remembering their role quickly, and the thing balanced in the air, flew over to where the dog was standing, totally weirded out—we were all frozen by the onslaught of what was going down—and did a several foot free-fall right into the huge dog's mid-back, dug in its claws.

Its wings had to work hard to make it happen, but eventually the bird found its stride and was far off down the river, holding the stiff, stunned dog.

"Robbie!" I said.

Robbie said my name, dropped my bag, then went back inside, closing the door behind him.

On my Yamaha, headed home with the bag bungeed to the seat behind me, a scarf tied around all my head but the eyes, I realized this: There are certain things in life you can understand perfectly, certain things you can't at all.

It doesn't matter.

What it comes down to, when someone asks, What was the craziest thing you ever witness first hand? or What’s the saddest thing you’ve seen? or Do you believe in chance? or What makes you laugh? or How do you define pure true real love?—when you’re asked these things, or anything really, you just need to have some words you can use.

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