Fiction

The Dead Are More Visible

NMA Gold Medal: Fiction

by
• 5,944 words

A graveyard shift meant time and a half, but she would have worked these January nights, flooding the park rinks, for regular pay. She worked alone and liked the peace of it. In the small office attached to the skaters’ warming hut, she kept a Thermos of heavily sweetened coffee, her new radio/CD player, a few magazines, and a horror or romance novel, neatly packing and taking them home in a duffle bag when the shift ended in the morning dark. Friends would ask if it didn’t get lonely. Sure, at times, but if you have to be alone at night anyway, you might as well be working, earning time and a half, instead of alone in bed.

And working alone saved fuss — dealing with the bosses, or co-workers who always had a grievance to share and wanted you to take their view. Ellen got along fine with them, but they often vexed each other, and who needed to be around that? She’d always found it natural to get along with people. She didn’t understand the general crankiness of the world. Often it seemed easier, if not exactly preferable, to be alone now. In earlier jobs, she’d had bosses peering over her shoulder all the time — often touching her shoulder, in fact. That groping had died out some years ago, and she didn’t miss those confidential hands, though she did sometimes miss the looks, all the candid, famished stares that had helped define her teen years and early twenties. Still, she’d never found it as hard to be alone as some of her friends claimed to. If you got along well with people, you got along with yourself. She believed that as a general rule. In a sense, she was well made for this stage of her life. Look at it that way.

After her first hour or so, flooding the shinny rink and the children’s oval, she would come back into the office to warm up while the ice set. She would unzip the front of her black snowmobile suit and slip her feet out of the big Sorels and prop back in the conference chair by the space heater, sipping coffee and reading. Tonight it was The Shell Seekers, and she would read a good half of its 582 pages before dawn. Harlequins had bored her for some years. No substance, no surprise. They kept you company for an hour or so and then evaporated, leaving no trace. As for horror novels — these freezing nights, nobody around, were just designed for them. She liked Thomas Harris and H. P. Lovecraft, and lately she’d been rereading early Stephen King.

Depending on the night’s coldness, after an hour or two of reading under the lone fluorescent tube she would turn the water back on and pull on her wool gloves and, over them, a pair of industrial rubber gloves and go out for another round of flooding. Her third or fourth round, near dawn, would finish the night. It took at least three really cold nights to get the rinks up and running in each park, and then there was plenty of maintenance, night and day, after that. This park, unofficially Skeleton Park (it had been the city’s main cemetery through the 1800s), was her favourite. She liked its office, preferring the firelike, toasting heat of the space heater to the electric baseboards in the other, larger offices. And this was pretty much the part of town where she’d grown up. It was changing, of course. Students and young professional types were moving in, renovating the old rental properties enclosing the park on four sides — the handsome Victorian redbricks that gave the park a sort of phony, respectable frame, since just beyond were hundreds of smaller places on narrow yardless streets, much aluminum siding, low apartment blocks of bile yellow brick. She was raised in one of those smaller houses and had skated here as a child forty years ago.

Technically, she still had a boss, but out here she never had to deal with him. Not that he gave her a hard time. They got along. He was a short, fit, swaggery man of about thirty who had once had a tryout with an nhl team, she could never remember which one. He treated her like one of the guys, to the point of using “man” — while not exactly calling her “man” — when speaking to her. Sure thing, man. Man, I wish I could tell you. You want Skeleton Park this winter, man, it’s all yours. Maybe he preferred to think that anyone so much bigger than himself, and possibly stronger, must be a sort of man. Ellen was not only sturdy — her ex-husband’s backhanded term — but tall. She came from a side of town where most women thickened dramatically in their thirties and before long outweighed their men. The men thinned to sinew, and their faces got a wrinkled, redly scoured look, as if the skin had been worked with sandpaper, while their eyes grew raw and haunted. Ellen had been spared the puffy moon faces of her older sisters, only to see her features grow meaty and masculine, while her body consolidated, almost doubling itself, like a hard-working farm wife of another time.

Her husband had left, seven years back. No children. Gavin had never wanted any and now she supposed, accepted, that it was too late. She was forty-six and she no longer registered on men. The many she worked with — almost all of the city’s outdoor and maintenance staff were men — were genial and respectful and she never felt so invisible as when they were around: robust, vital men, and they addressed her like a buddy. Or talked about women in her hearing. Maintaining the rink during the days, seeing the boys play shinny or smaller children chug around the oval in their wobbling circuits while the mothers sat watching, cheering — that could get to her, too, of course. Being here at night was better, all in all.

The past few nights, she wasn’t even alone. On the far side of the low-boarded shinny rink, a man was standing motionless under a lamppost by the icy asphalt path. He’d been standing there for three nights. His back to the rink, he was facing the twenty-five-foot-high limestone obelisk that dominated this end of the park. He was not dressed for the activity. He wore a baseball cap and a short brown leather jacket, blue jeans, construction boots. It was about fifteen degrees below zero. He’d spoken to Ellen during the first night’s flooding, while she worked the northwest corner of the rink — close enough for them to talk with slightly raised voices. She’d been waving the hose head back and forth, layering water over deepening ice. Now and then he would take a step or two toward the obelisk, pause, then resume his stiff stance. He seemed to be sighting on the thing. Later, a few steps back, a step to the side. She watched out of the corner of her eye, not especially concerned. The park was known for odd spectacles. It was a sort of open-air hostel for addicts, parolees, halfway house residents, psych hospital outpatients, a shifting population of mainly harmless eccentrics.

He’d veered his head and looked at her over his shoulder, fast, a pitcher checking a runner at first base. The visor of his cap kept his face in shadow, but she could see his beard, light coloured, neatly trimmed. He had good shoulders, a nice build.

Have you ever seen a miracle? he asked.

Here we go, she thought tolerantly. Then, in a cordial tone, more or less the tone she used to broach any conversation: It all depends what you mean. You warm enough out here?

It has to be moved, he said. His voice was mild, reasonable.

What, the obelisk there?

It’s a tombstone. They resent that it’s here. It weighs down the dead.

You’ve been talking to them?

His head tilted slyly. Let’s just say that I have heard from them. There are twenty-four thousand of them. The dead are more visible than we are.

It doesn’t seem possible, does it? she said. In a space this size. Thirty thousand was the figure I heard.

They have a legal right to this ground. There are twenty-four thousand of them. They resent that tombstone. It’s undemocratic.

She’d first read the plaque on the obelisk as a child, in the ’60s. Parishioners had built it with local limestone in 1826 to commemorate the loss of their minister, who had died “in the thirtieth year of his age.” In Ellen’s girlhood and teenage years, the thing had been just another neighbourhood feature, something to throw snowballs at (two points if you hit the point of the top spire, one if you hit the stone orb below it), joke about (the more or less phallic shape, the word “erected” on the plaque), or climb on (every few years, somebody fell off the upper pedestal and broke an arm or got a concussion). Now she guessed she could see what the man was talking about: all the headstones were long gone, pulled from the earth like broken teeth over a century back, while this monument remained, towering over the park and its invisibly crammed, stacked dead.

I can move items with my mind, the man said. I do it at the kitchen table. If I stare hard enough, I can move this tombstone. I will need to get the angle correct. It’s weighing down the dead. Once I move it, I will then dissolve it. I dissolve items.

Couldn’t you dissolve something else? — she amplified her tone of banter to get through to him — the Revenue Canada building? Kingston Pen? This park takes a lot of hits.

His face was dark under the hat brim. The dead want this tombstone moved and dissolved, he said. This is not what I would choose to do with my evening.

Sure is a cold one, she said. For some moments, he stared at her.

Well, good luck to you, she told him. I mean, I can see your point. I’ll have to head across now. Stay warm now. She tugged some slack into the hose and began a slide-step over to the far boards, skirting the freshly soaked places.

And I can tell, he called out to her back, if someone is a good person! I look at them and I know their life!

She turned to him with a grin — who could resist such an offer?

If it was an offer. So, then, what am I?

She met his intent, eyeless stare. She’d never, even lonely or hurt, found it hard to meet a stare. She bore no guilt.

You are a good person.

She smiled again. Thank you. You stay warm.

Third night of flooding, 2 a.m. Plenty of work in the corners and along the boards, where the ice always grew rucked and pebbled. The middle of the shinny rink was still sunken and would take another thousand litres from the hose. But both rinks would be ready by morning.

At first tonight the man hadn’t been there. Then, maybe a half-hour back, he’d appeared. She had to guess the time, because she hadn’t heard or seen him arrive. If this were one of her horror novels, he would be a ghost risen out of the earth of the old graveyard. She’d been easing the hose head back and forth, adrift in her night thoughts, which moved erratically, curving, burrowing, doubling back, unlike day thoughts, which had more practical places to get to, when she looked up and there he was, confronting the obelisk, closer to it tonight . . . On the second night they’d exchanged hellos, nothing more. She’d sensed his deepening seriousness and concentration. Maybe he was getting frustrated, too. Or scared of failure. Did crazy men fear failure the way the sane ones did? Thinking of Gavin now. All his short-lived ventures. His departure had been a relief in some ways — making a driven man feel important was an unfinishable job — but she missed him, too. Nights she did. For some moments she dwelt on missing Gavin in the nights. Then she looked up: hoarse, drunken shouting. Three kids, it looked like, crossing Balaclava Street, coming up the path. She was glad the man wasn’t right on the path tonight. She’d lived here long enough to know trouble at a glance. They had the Grim Reaper look — slumpy, faceless, in layers of dark baggy hooded sweatshirts. One of them had a biker jacket over his sweatshirt. Sure enough, they came to a slouching halt on the path not far behind the man, who was facing away from them, apparently unaware. One of them, tall and skinny, was holding something like a crowbar. She shuffled out from behind the boards and stood in the open between the rinks, letting the hose run onto the patch connecting them, keeping an eye on developments. The taunts began — too slurred and soft, at first, to get the words. The man didn’t move or glance back. Maybe he was too deep inside his meditation, or felt he was on the verge of success. The kid in the biker jacket was edging up. Hey, man. I’ve been hearing about you. His voice was firmer, clearer than the others’: Hey, stare at this, man. He shoved the man in the back, not hard, and the man did turn slowly, pivoting from the waist up. After a moment, his dark, visored face tilted like a puzzled dog’s.

Leave him alone, she called.

The hooded faces turned to her in cartoon unison. In some circumstances it would have been funny. The man swivelled back into his posture. The kid in the biker jacket started right toward her, hands in his jacket pockets. In her stomach a downrush of fear. The others followed him with slack, messy movements — they would have trouble when they reached the ice. She turned to face them as they came on through the half-light between the lampposts. She gave the control ring on the hose a half turn to reduce the flow and let the stream pool outward on the ice in front of her. The hose head was a half-foot of steel tapered to a flanged hole an inch and a half in diameter.

He a friend of yours? the leader called to her as he approached.

Gavin had been a connoisseur of confrontations and often gave his views on the best way to manage them. You don’t get into a war of words, he used to say, addressing her as if she cared — actually just reassuring himself. You let your opponent work himself into a state and talk away his wind. You stay calm and quiet and hold his stare.

Guess you must be friends. Neither of you talks.

What’s that? the tall one said.

They’re friends, the leader said. The statue and the Human Zamboni.

The sidekicks laughed, a crude, sloppy sound. As they entered the perimeter of lamplight by the rinks, she could see they weren’t kids. At a distance the baggy hooded shirts had made them look slighter, younger. They were in their twenties. It wasn’t a crowbar the tall one had — it was the wooden handle of a mallet or sledge. Still coming forward, the leader brought his hands out of his pockets and drew back his hood, slowly, with a sort of wry formality. He was smiling, lips closed. For a moment his face took up all her view. He was shockingly handsome. A twitch of attraction plunged downward with another spasm of fear, down into her womb, twin shocks, fused and unanimous in effect. It was a cruel face, beautiful. Strong brows, high-planed cheekbones, hooded grey eyes, plump lips inside a ring of stubble. The dark hair was brush cut, the skull knobbed as if muscled. She kept waving the hose slowly in front of her. The three stopped at the edge of the wet ice, just short of where the stream of water swept back and forth. Beads of spray sequined their trainers and lower pant legs.

You were talking to us? The voice was deep but nasal, grating, unsuited to that face.

I just said leave him alone.

It’s you we want to see anyway. He looked up at her. After a moment his smooth brow crimped slightly, his eyes welled wider. He’d figured it out. He said nothing. It was the third one who said, Is this, like, a woman? He was short and concave, with a pocked face, and he seemed the drunkest or most stoned of the three.

I don’t know, the leader lied. Ask her yourself. Is there a lady in there?

Never fucking seen a woman doing a rink.

I seen her, the tall one said. Told me to get the fuck off the ice last year.

I was hardly here last year, she said.

In that other park. Down Barrie.

Well, I guess the ice wasn’t ready, she said. She took a hopeful glance at the crazy man. He wasn’t seeing any of this. She should retreat to the hut, call the police. Something stopped her. She was slow on her feet — hadn’t run a step in years. At least out here there was the hose and the wet ice between her and them.

Looks ready now, the third one said.

What, her? the tall one said with a stupid leer.

The ice.

Check it and see, Zach, said the leader. Zach, the short one, tried sliding onto the surface beyond the pooling water. His lead foot drove through crusted slush. He started to topple forward, waved his arms, slammed backward onto his elbows and ass. You could hear his bones on impact. He rolled over onto all fours — hands and knees — and stayed like that, head drooped.

OK, you can get up now, she said. You’re wrecking my work. You should be moving on.

We’d like to see your office first, the leader said, ignoring his hurt friend.

You’re not going to.

We already dropped in at the hut in that other park. Up in the Heights.

Sure, she said.

You think I’m lying.

His face was pale. He seemed ready to pull out a scalp as proof. Walt Unger, a small, shyly talkative chain-smoker, would be flooding the rink in Rideau Heights.

Zach was back on his feet, rubbing his wet elbows with the opposite hands — a hurt little boy gesture. His wince was angry, yet he glanced timidly at the ice as if it were alive and likely to buck him off his feet if he moved. Bitch, he said, but it didn’t seem directed at her. That was good — she didn’t have to respond.

Let’s go, the leader said, and for a soaring moment she believed that he was addressing his friends, telling them they were moving on. Then she felt his cold, dire eyes pushing deeper into her.

Lead the way, he said.

If I go into that office — it’ll be to call the cops. And there’s nothing there. You think any of us bring money out here for a graveyard shift?

He seemed to be giving this some thought. Then he said, Your friend at the other rink did.

What?

Brought money.

I doubt that very much.

He went even whiter. He didn’t like being doubted.

You know what? he said, frowning, as if he had just now discovered something that surprised him very much — you’re a goof.

What?

A goof.

Zach let a single laugh ride the silence. Goof. Not the A-word, not the B-word, not the C-word. Gavin had never done time like others in his family — he’d run a series of video and corner stores, trying and failing to franchise them — but a few of his boyhood friends had done time, and so he, of course, had considered himself an expert on Inside. And goof, he’d told her, was the worst thing you could call another inmate. Fucker, loser, asshole, shithead — that whole repertoire could get you into big trouble, no question, but goof was the worst. Maybe because it felt so silly. So dismissive. A fucker, after all, might fuck you, or fuck you up, or fuck you over. A goof was just pathetic. Maybe handsome here had done time. Certainly he’d done time. He knew how to use the word. But the use of the word bothered, enraged her, for another reason altogether and now she jerked the control ring fully open and turned the hose on him — narrowing the mouth with her gloved thumb so it sprayed even harder. Bitch she would have preferred. A bitch at least was female. Fat bitch, even. Bull dyke. Anything in that line. This was worse than being invisible — worse than being looked through or past, which happened all the time, and so be it, she could take it, a small daily heartbreak, things could be far worse. She doused him from the knees upward, quickly but thoroughly, finishing at the face — how she resented that sculpted, cocky face! — then aimed the hose over at the tall one, but he and Zach were both shuffling fast backward off the ice.

The leader was rigid with the soaking — face twisted, shoulders hunched up, arms dangling. For a few moments his body stayed like that while his face slowly relaxed, refocused. He unzipped his jacket, reached in, pulled out a pair of red-handled ice picks, the sort snowmobilers use to pull themselves clear if they fall through the ice. One in each bare hand he came at her, his trainers stammering over the wet ice. She backed away but it was too slow. She turned the hose on him again. He kept coming, head lowered, squinting hard. The other two converged on her from either side at the same clumsy shuffle. She took her thumb off the outlet. The leader’s face was shiny, sopping, his narrowed eyes fixed not on her eyes but lower — maybe her mouth or throat. His eyes had glazed over, unreachable. He was quivering as he came. There was no use trying to talk. She was backing into the darker area between the lamppost and the warming hut, her heart punching at her ribs. She gripped the spouting hose head like a club. He lunged, swiping the picks in front of her face, then slipped forward, off balance. She didn’t know whether to club or stab at him with the hose head, but her body decided, thrusting at his face as it came up — the eyes wide — her full weight and strength behind it. Gavin’s advice again. Never be tentative with a first blow. Though it hadn’t helped Gavin in the end. He’d died three years back — four years after leaving her — in a confrontation on John Street, screaming in through the window of somebody’s cube van until he dropped, his heart finally imploding with the decades of rage. He’d needed her after all, she realized. He relied on her outlook. To Ellen, anger was a rare detour, not a lifetime of highways.

She connected, but it was an odd feeling, blunted. Her attacker’s face jerked down. The hose seemed stuck. In a panic she yanked back and he was sagging to his knees, dropping the ice picks, reaching for his face. The other two men stopped and froze.

Shane? the tall one said, voice shrivelling. What’d she do to you, man?

He was making coarse, braying sounds. She crouched down, holding the once-more streaming hose, grabbed the ice picks, put them in her outside pocket, stood up.

Shane? said Zach.

My eye, he said. The words were muffled. He lowered his hands and turned his face up toward hers, his friends still behind him. She flinched and gasped — a ladylike sound — a lady in a film, about to faint.

She dropped the hose and knelt down. Oh my God.

Get away, he said.

You, she said to the tall one, who was closest to the hut — go in, call 911.

911? Are you fucking joking, lady?

Now she was a lady.

We need an ambulance, she said.

No way, they’ll take us in.

Just ask for an ambulance!

He’ll be OK. Come on, Shane.

My eye!

Zach started toward her and Shane.

Don’t move! she told him. You might step on it.

You mean . . . ? His mouth was loose, frown tight as he strained to understand.

We have to look for it. Call 911, she told the tall one — step carefully!

He glanced over at Zach. Zach said, We could, like, call, then run for it.

I need you both to help me look.

They always send a cop car, too, the tall one said.

They can put it back in, she said, the eye. She was pretty sure about this. She looked at the hut. She needed to turn off the water. It kept spewing from the hose lying at her knees, so water was lapping out around them, maybe carrying the eye farther into the dark. But it couldn’t have gotten far. Shane was on his side on the wet ice, curled up, rocking and grunting, one hand over the socket with its dangling nerve as she searched around him, tearing off her four gloves, peering hard, easing her hand over the ice. There were only a few spots of blood. No eye. The stream from the hose must have pushed it out of reach after the hose head plucked it out.

Please, he whispered, help me. I’m sorry.

We’ll find it, she said. Tell your friend to call an ambulance! The tall guy.

I need help, Gabe, call!

Zach was shuffling around, hunched almost double, searching. Pretty hard to see over this way, he said with the casual tone of a drunk looking for a dropped coin. Gabe picked his way toward the office door. Ellen was crawling over the puddled ice, tracing a circle around Shane. She would spiral outward in widening laps till she found the eye. She glanced over at the crazy man — still confronting the obelisk, oblivious. The door of the office swung open and light spilled onto the ice.

That’s good! she called. Leave it open.

Hey, I think it’s . . . shit. No. Zach was bent over, groping at something on the ice. As she watched, he toppled slowly forward. Gabe was emerging from the office. In the doorway he stood silhouetted, panting as if he’d just run back from a distant pay phone. Her new radio/CD player was in his hand.

I did call, he said. I’ve got to go. Sorry, man.

She wasn’t sure who he meant by that. Pushing with one foot, sliding with the other like a curler, he skittered away to where the ice ended at the path leading up Bay Street. As he hit the pavement he began sprinting, impressively fast for an intoxicated man with a large object in one hand.

Zach, now on his hands and knees like her, had stopped looking for the eye. He was watching Gabe disappear. She figured he would leave now, too — but then he went on searching.

She said, Zach?

I’m Sh-shane. A whisper through jittering teeth. The black leather of his jacket was frosting over.

No, I mean your friend.

Me? said Zach. His head turned vaguely.

Come more over this way — I doubt it could have got over to the boards.

Be careful, Shane hissed, they can put them back in.

She was moving away from Shane, outward in her circles. Then she thought she saw it. It had slid off a good twenty feet, to where the wet ice met the hard bank of snow shovelled to clear room for the rinks. It was in the shadow of that bank. She was sure now. She crawled toward it, trembling. The eye seemed to watch her with unnatural alertness, even a kind of indignation, as if she were too slow in coming to its aid. Closer still, it seemed to stare not at but through her, as if at something behind or beyond her.

I think I see it! Zach yelled. He must be watching where she was headed.

Go into the hut, she called back. There are bags in there, plastic bags in a Kleenex box, by your feet on the right as you go in. Get one and fill it with snow and bring it here. No, just bring it here. There’s snow here.

OK! Just a minute!

You found it, Shane said behind her.

You’ll be all right, she said. She reached for the eye, then paused, wanting to put her rubber glove on. The glove was back on the ice beside Shane. She didn’t touch the eye. She might damage it. It was hideous but riveting. Solo eyes made occasional appearances in horror novels, but those eyes were usually conscious, vigilant, a threat. This one was glassing over, as if losing interest in the world. Maybe starting to freeze. It didn’t look real. Porcelain with an iris of blue glass, and too perfectly round to be real. If this were a film she would complain about the special effects. Like when the Twin Towers fell, soon after Gavin’s death — how it looked less real than the artificial disasters in films.

She wasn’t sure how soft an eye was — her impression was that the main material was more or less like pudding, though held firm by a membrane. She could imagine her fingerprint remaining on the eye, a pattern he would look through for the rest of his life. She would wait for the bag of snow and ease it in with a knuckle.

A far howl of sirens, the sound slowly mounting. She stayed on her knees, crouched low over the eye as if to shield it from the cold. She cupped it with her shivering hands without making contact. This way she didn’t have to see it. She glanced back. Zach had paused as he reached Shane on his way to the hut. He stood wobbling above his friend.

You’re going to pull through, dude.

The hut! she cried. I need that bag!

OK. He staggered on, almost fell again. Then his head tilted with a drunk’s abrupt, temporary alertness. He’d heard the sirens. Suddenly they were near. He ducked into the hut and emerged briskly, as though instantly sober, and slid toward her across the ice. A hunted gleam in his eyes. She had her left hand out for the bag and he relayed it to her with his stretched right.

For a second he stood above her, captivated by the eye. He glanced back at Shane. I got to get out of here, he whispered loudly, then stepped up on the bank and bolted across the white park — in the opposite direction from Gabe — his shoulders pitching and his sweatshirt hood peeling back. He ran past the obelisk, the man there turning his head stiffly to watch him pass. As the moan of the sirens merged to a single delirious scream, she stuffed a handful of snow into the bag — they were kept in the hut for picking up the dog turds that cluttered the park and sometimes the ice — and with the knuckle of her index finger nudged the eye over the lip of the bag. It rolled right in. Unsure whether to seal the bag or leave it open, she turned and crawled back toward Shane. She was afraid of standing — she might slip, drop the bag, even fall on it. She crawled on two knees and her right hand, the left holding the bag clear.

Shane sat up as she approached. The back of the hand covering the empty socket was blue and unbloodied. The other eye fixing on hers. He was seeing her now, really looking. One of those rare times. Sometimes life seemed little else than a struggle to win the attention, the gaze, of others. That was what Gavin had really been doing, she supposed, screaming into the van at the end . . . The ambulance and two squad cars flashed into sight, driving east on Ordnance. They would circle around and enter the park from Bay Street, by the hut. They vanished again, but the sound kept ripping the air apart.

It’s going to be all right, I think, she said, reaching him.

If I can just keep my eye. You will.

I’m sorry.

They’ll have that face of yours up and running in no time. She wasn’t sure if this was true. She’d almost said good-looking face.

If I have to go back inside, he said, slurring the words through purple lips, I can take it, but not blind. Can I see it?

Guess you’d better confirm we’ve got the right one, she said.

His torso jerked, as if shaken by a single laugh, but she wasn’t sure. She opened the bag. Oh . . . Jesus, he said, stared back at by himself. She set her bare hand on his shoulder. His body quivered under the leather. The folds in the denim of his low-crotched jeans were frozen and it looked as if he had a giant erection. He didn’t flinch or look at her — he wouldn’t now.

Did you hurt Walt, at the other rink?

Not like this. Hardly at all.

That better be true. She gripped his hood and pulled it roughly onto his head.

And for t-t-twenty bucks. Nobody could believe my life.

With a face like that? she heard herself think. The crass assumption she now sometimes shared, that life must be a June breeze for the nice looking. As if her life had been easy in her teen years. Shane would have been all over her then, and she would have craved him for the danger in his look. Why had nature given bad men all the attractive vitality? Like Gavin, years back. Why did horror and romance so often overlap? She pushed her hand farther, around his shoulder, kneeling on the ice, feeling uncomfortably huge next to him. He seemed about to rest his head against her arm, then pulled back. A wall of hard, hot light came at them and lit up the back of his hood. To shield her eyes, she ducked her face, got a closer look at him. He seemed to be going into shock. His living eye stared off to where their twinned shadow was fast lengthening across the ice and the shrouded park as the ambulance and squad cars shrieked up behind. The crazy man was lit up at the edge of the headlights’ fanning swath. Turned toward them at last, he seemed to be staring, his posture solemn, noncommittal, his baseball cap in his hands like a mourner. You’re going to be all right, she told Shane again, though really she wanted to take him by the chin and roughly turn his face toward hers and say, Look at me.

Steven Heighton recently added Workbook: Memos and Dispatches on Writing to his many works of fiction and poetry.