Ten-Year Stare

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Ten-Year Stare

by Steve Mitchell

It was a look I seen and I seen it true. Then I forgot it til I seen it again then I remembered it. All of it. Every minute in the between and that one on each end.

Like memory comes full circle pulling a kind of noose round my neck slow, tightening from the first look to the last. For a second then I seen into his world. We were together then for a second. And it felt alright. Clear. I could see the inside of the noose where the air was. And inside the noose it’s light blue. The color of a finished sky.

Before. He’d been sitting on the floor in the living room of the trailer, his trucks and cars all around him. This was before his mom left before everything started to rust. And I was mad about somethin or I’d been drinkin or I was just a son of a bitch or he was a pain in the ass but I told him to clean that stuff up and get it out of the floor and he just kept right on and I reached down and jerked him up by the arm and slapped him hard and dropped him again right there on the floor.

He didn’t cry. I think I scared him more than hurt him. He laid all balled up on the floor there and he looked up at me, them blue eyes big. I thought he’d hate me but that wasn’t what I seen. I wished it hada been hate. But it weren’t. It was like I’d disappeared. He just looked right through me like he already seen a time when I was gone. He rubbed his face. He looked right through me. Then he started pickin up his toys. That was then.

His momma she was working down at the convenience store then and I thought he’d tell her when she come home. Thought he’d come whimperin’ in to her his bottom lip all stuck out. Hours later like it had just happened. They did stuff like that him and her. Come back at you with somethin you done long after you already forgot about doing it. That woman’d get in my face now and again and my brain’d be whirring, spinning back, trying to find what it was she was talking about.

Anyway, he didn’t tell her. Just climbed in her lap when she sat down and lit her cigarette, climbed up there and clung to her like a little monkey.

I mean, it ain’t me he should be all mad at anyhow. She’s the one that left us. Came home from the plant one evening and he’s sitting on the cinder block step out in front of the locked door. School bag on the ground beside him. He’s reading a magazine he got at school and she’s gone. We know it as soon as we open up the door and that goddamn ugly ceramic clock ain’t on the kitchen counter where she put it the day she brought it home. I hated that damn clock.

He come in dragging his bookbag behind him, looked around the living room and kitchen for a second then sat down on the couch and kept lookin through his magazine. I lit a cigarette and sat down next to him and we just sat there awhile. Him reading, me smoking. Then we went out to Hardee’s for dinner.

It’s her he should hate. Not me.

Maybe he does hate her. I wouldn’t know. He’s a goddamn mystery to me.

Living’s just a blur, you know. A whir you feel streakin by like cars on a highway while all the time the edges are pullin in tighter just outta sight and the space around you is gettin smaller and smaller, pushin the air outta itself. It’s hard to know what I did and what I didn’t do.

One day don’t bleed into the next. There ain’t no difference between days so there’s nothin to bleed into or out of. I’d come home from the plant or from drinkin or from just being away and he’d be fine. He’d a made himself a sandwich and be all curled up on the couch or his bed with a book or a magazine. Weren’t no kids to play with, trailer too far back off the road, but he found things to do.

Living’s just a blur, you know, it all runs together. It’s hard to know what I did and didn’t do. He never said nothing about it. He’d come in from school or wherever he’d been outside and not say nothing about the night before. He got quieter and quieter. Days we hardly saw each other which was fine with me. While he got bigger that goddam trailer got smaller and smaller. Further back in them goddam woods.

Then one day there he was all nerve and bone. All six foot what-the-hell of him. And the trailers cold and my back aches and I’m tired cause we’re workin overtime at the plant and I can’t say no cause they’re layin people off and I’m tellin him how things are gonna be and he gets himself up off that couch and he just looks at me. Looks at me for the first time in probly ten years.

And it’s the look I already seen.

And all the news of the past spins out at me all at once. Suckin the air outta the room, pullin the noose tight around my neck. There ain’t no blue left no more in the space inside the noose.

We were together then for a second. It had been a long time. I could see him for a second and it was alright.

I stand in his way in front of the door but he just walks around me. Don’t even look at me, he’s all finished with lookin at me. He just walks around. And he leaves. Leaves me in a place where there ain’t no space to move around in and a lot of time to do it.

Screen door flappin behind him. Slappin itself against the hollow door frame. This trailer gettin empty, and colder and colder.

***

Steve Mitchell has published fiction in The Southeast Review, Contrary, The North Carolina Literary Review and The Adirondack Review, among others. He is currently completing on a novel, Body of Trust. Steve has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He is open twenty four hours a day at: http://www.thisisstevemitchell.com. The above story is reprinted from his collection The Naming of Ghosts.

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