Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bill Floyd

Cataclysm

One of the worst parts is when the girl’s parents come by. They want to lay down flowers at the foot of the tree in our front yard. The trunk is splintered there where the Jeep hit it, but the tree is still standing. There is a great scattering of loose branches and pods strewn around the trunk. Jess and I stand in our front yard and we shake their hands, feeling wholly insubstantial. I tell the girl’s parents to take as long as they need to take, and then we walk up to the house. I linger by the front window a moment, watching them looking at the ground, and then Jess gently pulls me away.

“Leave them be.”

We heard the impact near eleven o’clock Friday night, just as we were getting ready for bed. The whole house shook. I ran to the front door and turned on the porch lights and called for Jess to dial 911. Other neighbors had heard the crash, too, and came running. Glass shards in the grass, the smell of engine fluids. Someone had brought a flashlight and everything was kind of encircled, images at the end of a telescope. The girl was in the passenger seat, twisted into an impossible shape. Later on, the reporter on the news said she was only seventeen. Just a kid. The flashlight briefly found her face, a fixed surprised look, pink lipstick and aqua eye shadow.

When I was just a kid I used to drive careening through the streets of my hometown, drunk and high on whatever was available to my grabby little hands, and sometimes I’d turn the headlights off in the middle of a curve. Sometimes there were people in the car with me. I steered on instinct, and my instincts were bad. A great bewildered hurt turning to fury inside. A tremulous bluff masquerading as "I don't give a fuck."

Thanks to the reliable twenty-five-year cycle of fashion, the culture of the 80s has recently made a sort of cosmetic comeback. I graduated from high school in 1986. My friends and I weren’t into new wave and we hated preppies and we hated rap. I saw Ghostbusters three times the day it came out. I remember the first time I fell in love, saying the words with no restraint, all heart and no future. Defiant. We knew MTV was bullshit and we watched it anyway. Nostalgia is for kids who weren’t even there, who seek a veneer to cast the present in a manageable light, an imagined culture that was in reality nothing but what little we didn’t scorn from the abundance we were handed. When I hear all the synth-y music the kids listen to these days and I see their popped collars and their aquas and pinks it doesn’t take me back to the prom or the good old days. It takes me back to that whirl of anguish and faith and headlong surrender to impulse that made me smash the bottle and gun the engine and suck in the smoke as deep as it could go.

Sometimes I still have difficulties breathing.

They found the Jeep's driver staggering through another front yard a block away. He was bleeding and dazed and in shock. He reeked of alcohol. When the police brought him back to the scene you could hear him saying he was sorry, over and over. But his eyes had the calculating look of someone accustomed to formulating lies, bald faced lies that were so ineffective they might’ve only served to muddy the waters in his own head.

I thought the parents might come up to the house when they were done praying or whatever it was they were doing. They didn’t linger, though. I wasn’t surprised when they never came back. Unimaginable, or maybe that's not really the right word at all.

I mowed around the spot for a while. Mowing the yard used to be something I looked forward to, a couple of hours a week mindlessly steering the mower back and forth, considering things in a purely hypothetical sort of way.

Eventually I threw the remains of the flowers in the trash. One day I came home and found Jess kneeling in the dirt out there, planting a rosebush. Talking to it, or to someone.

© William Floyd 2012

Bill lives in central North Carolina. His first published novel was called The Killer's Wife and came out in 2008. He's been doing more experimental work since then, but is currently trying for a commercial follow-up so he won't have to go back to a day job.

2 comments:

  1. I am impressed with the immediacy of the beginning and how impactful, in contrast, is the retrospection. Deeply painful for that, because in one form or another such impulses are common to us all.
    Nice work, Bill.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This bears a sadness past and present. Tight work Bill

    ReplyDelete

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