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Short and Lame

I scope the distance between roof ridge and ground. Long Knife leans out of the car window, looks at me and frowns.

"Hector gets distressed when you do that," she says. "Come down." I have laughing eyes and a scar that has left a lightning streak down my nose. I look up into the hills, the fading sun filling pockets between the hillocks, the occasional brick farmhouse. I inch forward on the roof. She gets out of the car.

"Okay," I say. "Catch me if I fall, like a huge man." She has to slide forward to reach me.

"You weigh like seven kids," she says, catching me. I tumble out of her arms.

"Last one in the house has to wash Hector’s underwear!" she calls and runs away.

I start chasing her through the hallway where I have just finished stacking the boxes in a jumbled pile, not wrapping anything. We go on laughing breathlessly and I get used to it, I get so I like it. Long Knife raises an eyebrow.

"Is there anything you’d like me to store before you throw all this junk out?"

"Nothing, unless you count my brother’s mug with the roses twined along the handle, the black-and-white photos I took in China and Italy and the few books with pictures of bales of straw." I look at her straight on, at those dark brown irises, then shut the bedroom door behind me. I am wearing my red baseball jacket with madras lining. Long Knife smiles, moving away from me.

"How is Libby?" she asks.

"Libby has a strong heart and a weak memory," I say. Long Knife looks pretty nice like this, I think; clean and irreverent. Libby was squat and half a head shorter than Long Knife. I start to laugh to myself and mention that Libby had neglected to take with her: The History of Photojournalism, Light Refraction and Speed.

"What did you do with it?" she asks.

"I tossed all the objects Libby left behind."

Long Knife nods. "Willie Lee," she says. "Hector asked me to bring the brake and clutch pedals for your car. Jesus God. You have to stop sometime, no?" She grins.

I pace the center of her face, and it’s such a good face, such a hopeful face.

"Where will you go, Willie Lee?"

"Florida. I’m going to start an orchid farm."

"You never struck me as the type to be interested in flowers. I never saw you out in the garden."

I look out the window. "The garden is kudzu-covered," I gasp, apologetically. She nods and waves it away. It surprises me that she can be so casual about a thing like that, coming from a family of farm hands.

In the distance, we see Hector. He looks at us from behind the tractor and hay wagon. We can’t help grinning at him partially hidden behind the tractor’s welcoming and well organized wheels, smooth enough for two days of bad road.

"Hector knows machines," she says.

"Except my washing machine," I tease.

"He’s been trying. That’s Hector’s dedication. He’s bent on making all the broken things in the world work," she says.
"Your uncle is quite a man," I say.

At times the weather appears to clear up, at other times threatening a downpour. I see Hector and Lame Bull working in the fields, braving the weather. Hector swerves around to deliver the bales. Lame Bull stands at his side. I’m not sure why, but my old yellow teeth are grinding. Lame Bull has a mouth that looks as though it has lost its foothold and gone over the edge. Two of his teeth were broken by a bull. You could mount that face on a stripped-down car frame. An unfamiliar noise creaks out of my throat, like the sound of a truck.

Lame Bull asked me on a date the first day I moved here. I told him about Libby straight away.

"You must break a lot of men’s hearts," he said.

"For every man’s heart I break, three women break mine."
"What do you see in her?" he asked watching Libby exit the house, dropping her keys and stretching to reach them for in her dumpy, clumsy way.

"What is it you like about women so much?" He leaned in closer. I was bent over the inside of the car, trying to get it started.

"Breasts," I said.

"I have breasts," he retorted.

"Yes, but yours are not very firm."

Long Knife and I go down to the kitchen and she reads parts of the Albuquerque Morning Tribune to me. I let history fall into the very bright evening with the nearly full moon and I remember things that had been favorites of Libby’s: flowery summer shirts and plaid sneakers, a white turtleneck sweater. Hell, why do I keep pursuing relationships when all I really need is a vibrator, decent porn and some good friends?

"Tell me," says Long Knife, licking blueberry jelly from her fingers, "why did you and Libby split up?"

I feel like I am being tested. I hope I am being tested.

"She wanted to come with me to Florida," I replied, simply and truthfully.

"Is that a bad thing?" Long Knife smiles, flirtatiously.

"In the long run, I prefer to be alone," I say. "Libby wanted to settle down."

"Where is she now?" Long Knife asks.

"Back in Ohio, finishing her PhD as she should. I’m glad. I don’t want to be followed around."

Long Knife squints her eyes, peering at me carefully.

Suddenly I am filled with the irrepressible need to drive and soon we are heading west on Route 60. The minutes go from field to field. Long Knife keeps saying I had built the stacks of books well, squaring off the corners, locking each layer in place. I turn on the radio.

"Every blues song stinks of leaving. Backseats, bus stops," Long Knife says.

She sits forward. Raises an arm. Reaches around her back pocket and pulls out her gloves. She gives me that look; the curled promise of a come-on. Hector doesn’t like me spending time with her. He says I love like a straight man. I want to fuck ‘em and leave.

In the morning, Long Knife helps me pack the last of my stuff. We run to the car with the boxes in the rain. She takes a swig of gin, then follows me to the front door. "Fastest tenants we ever had," she says, grinning. "Three months." After a pause, she adds, "Lame Bull is my brother." Her lip lifts into a smile that spreads across her whole face. "Bet you didn’t know that." There’s a lilt to her voice and the trace of a question.

She is wearing a sweater of mine. Through the rearview mirror of the truck I can see Lame Bull on his way to visit. I go back into the house and take my two suitcases. I run down to the car and a giddy sensation comes over me that reeks of jealousy. My hair is wet and heavy.

"I thought Lame Bull was your lover?" I say. The long hard sound of my laughter and hers. She has a slim torso now seated on the bull rake.

"That, too," she grins. "I hope you’re not shocked," but she looks like she wants me to be shocked.

I jump into the car that had been part of Libby’s and my life together— the metal acquisition.

Long Knife’s teeth skim over Lame Bull’s stubble gathering in humidity and jealousy is seeping into my skin. I am damp enough to leave.

Marie Carter is the editor of Word Jig: New Fiction from Scotland (Hanging Loose Press). She moved from Edinburgh to Brooklyn three years ago.


Marie Carter

Marie Carter is the editor of Word Jig: New Fiction from Scotland and author of forthcoming creative non-fiction book, The Trapeze Diaries (Hanging Loose Press, Spring 2008).


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2004

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