photo provided by the author
FOX HOLLER, DRIVE Near a full mile of road from here to Wingard's Berry Patch, & there's brand new blacktop, fresh painted yellow lines, I bet you can't get there faster'n me. Yer gonna chicken out, hit the brakes too early, slow down way before the road bends, before the curve into the trees, yer gonna get so scared of a cop hiding behind the billboard, scared of a speeding ticket or a fiery crash. But not me. I tell everyone I'm brave & step down hard on the pedal, push it to the floor, I ain't slowin' down for nobody. Full throttle everything, always. Gonna drive so hard the car shakes like it was built on a fault line, rattles & shimmies to wake the dead. I ain't slowin' down for nothin', not even my own fear. You go on, drive real slow when that curve comes. I know you ain't never catchin' up. Near the end of Brady's Run Road was an old railroad crossing, no rails left but the pavement dipped down just right so if you hit it at a certain speed, gravity would release you from its clutch & you'd bounce off your seat all weightless then plunge back down so hard your bones rattled a perfect strike, a tumble of pins on a polished lane, which is great fun when you're fifteen & fearless, so in the mornings, every seat behind the back axle of the #7 bus was prime territory staked out by acne-plagued prospectors from Sr. High guarding their claim with an arsenal of spitballs, paper stingers shot with rubber bands, Trapper Keepers weaponized for close combat & any elementary student was damned to suffer if they dared trespass on that hallowed ground, the fortress of newly-learned curse words, all that brag & swagger – boys posturing in clothes handed down over the summer by the same older brothers who'd given them their first sip of cheap beer, or slipped them a sticky- paged magazine from some under-the-mattress collection – they were all so terrifying to us younger kids, but Rusty was the worst of the whole lot, rumored to have been held back two whole grades & the legend went he'd once punched a senior in the jaw so hard you could still hear his teeth clattering down the hallway by the wood shop – not the biggest of all our bullies, but mean as a jack russell dog in a denim vest & he'd stand there, right in the center of the aisle, blocking your way, daring you to just try & pass by, just try to take a seat in his domain & if you did, he'd reach out with both his hands, fingers already twisted up, wicked & snarling like two junkyard dogs latched onto a butcher's bone & he'd grab one of your nipples cruelly in each claw & twist left/right/left like he was fine tuning some old FM radio, wouldn't let up until you begged, until you showed him something sweet as tears, & you'd come home wearing a summer night sky bruised across your chest, so wasn't a one of us brave enough to attempt an overthrow, until one day, the bus driver – a little too buzzed from the special coffee in his thermos – took the last turn before the crossing just a little too fast, crashed down the sudden dip in the road like a jailbreak, that old canary-yellow chariot screaming through the air like a majestic bird of prey & Rusty, who we feared even more than our fathers' belts on our backsides, rocketed up into the air & was then met with a sharp suddenness by the metal dome of the bus roof & he sunk to the center aisle some stringless marionette, a bright red carpet erupting from his nose, chips of teeth sparkling stars on the floor, then Joe – who was the weakest of us all – high-stepped over Rusty's broken fountain mouth, took a seat on the now-vacant throne, tossed his backpack in the the pooling blood, the zipper wet & winking at us all, a grinning scarlet skull. EPHEMERA My mother kept a plain brown glass jar hidden in the freezer chest in our backyard shed. Tucked it beneath the frozen strawberries in plastic bags, next to the venison cuts from last year's hunt – wrapped in foil & promptly forgotten, safely guarded by a thick layer of frost – what I mean is that she never meant for it to be found by anyone, least of all some hawk-eyed explorer, twelve years old & pretending to be a wizard. But I was mixing up an especially powerful set of potions in my secret lair that day & if there's anything a wizard is good for, it's finding the hidden mysteries in ordinary things. I heard it beckoning me – calling out, begging to be filled with the invisibility spell I'd concocted, wanting nothing but to serve as the home for my various elixirs. Of course it was already filled with something its rightful owner treasured – blood red petals from a rose, decades ago pressed between the pages of a favorite book, dried & sealed so as to last forever – I wanted them gone. The vessel emptied & free for me to take. I locked the shed door behind me, breathless with excitement, the anticipated plunder. I shook the jar loose from its small tundra, neck twisting open like a crippled bird, & the only memories my mother had left of an older brother – dearly beloved, taken at a mere 17 by the highway crash – spilled out on the concrete floor, spread rust on cold gray & bloomed one last bouquet in memorial before my feet, clumsy, savage, trampled the petals into dust.