The Tight Rope

Writing pithy anecdotal tales since 1988. Starting with an ode to a frog named Goofus, probably ending with dementia.

My hometown nods deeply to glory folded into the past.  It remembers vast strawberry fields and waving lengths of hay smiling into the dog days of summer. The lake to the east carefully archived timber and train cars under a century of debris, expelling old bones every 20 years. 

There was a time when miners filled the mountains, searching for their fortune from far away places - a time when the rich sediment from the lake basin grew tomatoes big and sweet.

At midnight and two trains reverberate through the valley, keeping their course, still stirring coyotes into agitated yips.  The mountains remember  the old ghosts they harbour still looking for gold. The men with belongings on their backs, steel in their eyes, and greed in their chest. 

Now they are just echoes shuddering awake for a moment before they are swallowed into the tree line and time. 

Take the 28 to Majestic.  I don’t belong there.  In Majestic the houses slope to the sea and the Douglas Firs open and close. 

This morning I couldn’t find underwear, but there was a  tracksuit shoved between the mattress and wall. I ran my tongue over my broke tooth smile, tried flashing it, and remembered it’s not enough.

My stomach hurt - but it was like a sign, because a bus groaned past my window and it made me think something I’d forgotten.   

"Got change?"  People can’t decide if I’m trash or not and today everything is gray.  The people, the pavement , the sky. 

"Fuckers"  I’m not whispering.  Tense spines tell me they know. 

Majestic is green and brown and blue.  The sea meets the forest in great wallopping waves.

"Here." There was a band aid on his middle finger.  Don’t look at faces.  I had enough change.   

I left something in Majestic. Something about how big the trees were and how the houses were side by side and how Majestic was good. I’d  forgot something about all that goodness.  Something about how it fucked me up.

I heard once that all those really smart people, like Einstein and shit, that they were all screwed up. 

That’s never been much help. 

The vinyl on the seat is cracked, I can smell myself, and the ride should be 30 minutes. 

The 28 to Majestic. 

I believe in ghosts. 

Not like my steampunk goth cousin, who creates a spectacle of the old country superstition passed down from my maternal grandmother. She tells tales of orbs and haunting demons, peering out through old aviation goggles, laced up in corsets.

It’s never been like that for me.  It’s been movement in the periphery, someone waiting at the bottom of my bed, unexpected voices, and uncanny intuition.  

I remember my grandmother.  I remember how her eyes were foggy blue, how her smile was kind, and her cheek bones mimicked mine.  She was constantly impressed by how much spaghetti I could eat, and I was hesitant to hug her frail body on the last days she remembered me.

I remember how she never seemed to leave.

And though I was 6 when she passed away, there are moments I still feel her - for seemingly no reason. We weren’t especially close, but I am the daughter of her youngest daughter. So maybe that means something. 

I believe we are all interconnected - the energy that circulates in and out of our lives, the whispering trees in the forest, the stillness of air just before the sky cracks. The delineation between individuals blurs in this impossible world. We all need each other and everything comes from something. 

I believe in ghosts. 

It’s like standing on the edge of realization, something you can’t quite understand, but if you could - everything would make sense. It’s like the answer is on the tip of your tongue, but you forgot the question. 

" I would throw myself in… if it meant becoming a beast."  Ellis shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged matter of factly. 

"No you wouldn’t Ellis, you ain’t even brave ‘nuf to jump from rocky point."

"Am too!" 

Both boys looked down into the canyon - “Monster Canyon.”

The forest was dense in the northern tip of the island.  Each sequoia interlocked with the next, casting a verdant glow on Ethan and Ellis’s new skin. 

"What’d Garry say bout this place?"  Ellis sniffed, and made a big deal about it too, just like Garry did when he was about to spit a big wob. 

"Garry says, he knew a boy who climbed down there.  It took him, like five days, and by the time he got there, he was part bear, and now, has like super powers." 

"Yeah right!"

Garry was 4 years older than Ellis and Ethan, he knew a lot of stuff.

Ethan and Ellis shuffled closer to the edge, their matching tennis shoes crunching the undergrowth, punctuating the stillness.  

"That’s the deepest pit I’ve ever seen.  Like, even 5 of our schools would fit in there."  

"Duh, that’s why they call it Monster Canyon!"  Ethan liked to use "duh", it made Ellis feel the right amount of stupid and Ethan the right amount of smart.

"Bet you are too scared to climb down there and see for yourself!"

Ellis’s hazel eyes widened.  He didn’t really want to start climbing now. His mum had pb & J’s at home.  He would rather ride bikes and make loud noises to stir the birds into the sky.  

"Let’s just go.  I’m hungry." Ellis said.

"Ha chicken!  I’ll do it then."  Ethan skipped right to the edge and crawled over using protruding shrubs to shimmy.  Garry was going to be pretty impressed when he heard about this.  Especially that Ellis was too scared to do it.  

"Ethan, don’t!  I think Garry was lying.  He always lies to us." 

"Don’t be a baby Ellis. You just wait there."

The filtered light seemed dimmer than it had moments before.  Butterflies rose in Ellis’s stomach, tickling their way into his throat, his eyes stung.  He didn’t want to cry.  Instead, he took a deep breath. 

"I’m coming too!"  Ellis pushed himself over the edge, his fingers gripping the loose soil and rough roots as he descended.  

Garry didn’t tell anyone about his Monster Canyon story. He was just joking around. When Ellis and Ethan didn’t come home for lunch, he didn’t think much about it.

Their bikes had been abandoned on the left side of the path. In the thick underbrush their footprints had been lost.  

Or replaced, by bear prints.  Two sets, “cubs” a tracker said.  

Garry never told stories again. 

They found her truck – that old rusted ford her brother had driven before her.  It sputtered and spat through the “main drag” daily. Her brother had gotten it for his 16th birthday and passed it on to her 2 years later when she was 16 and had to take Charlie to daycare.    

They couldn’t find it at first.

A week, maybe more, her face was pasted on the front page of the local newspaper:  “Have you seen Amelia Gilbert? “

At 6:03, January 10th,  she grabbed her coat and danced out the door with an “I’ll be back” evaporating into the winter air.

Her brother would remember how happy she looked- like when they were kids picking blackberries in the late August heat, sticking out their tongues to see whose was “bluest.”  That image would be comforting to him for now; but later, when Charlie started asking questions about his mom, he would resent it.

The taillight reflected the morning sunlight right into your eyes if you paused on Oak River bridge.  Betsy Schnieder, 45, and rosy cheeked caught a glimpse on her morning walk. The truck’s old body had broken the ice on its way in, the water froze around it

and Amelia Gilbert was just gone.  

Tammy found black garbage bags most versatile - placemats, ponchos, impromptu shelter, and improvised storage.  Shiny, soft and pliable, they were beautiful billowing out the sides of her walker, which vibrated as she ran along the shoreline. Tiny black pirate sails against the gray sea.

With the middle finger of her right hand she pushed up her horn-rimmed glasses.  She moved her legs faster and faster sweat running down her cheeks, smelling vaguely fruity. Tammy’s fat mimicked the billowing garbage bag sails, armpits, love handles, and back folds emphasized by her bra, waved behind her. The skin of her face was pulled taut.

Tammy had been the captain of the track and field team in college, invented oil painting, and poetry. She had been to the moon twice, and suggested terraforming before “they” knew what terraforming was. She’d been an artist, a ballerina, and written, in her opinion, the best satire of the Russian revolution currently available. Unfortunately, all works and accomplishments had been credited elsewhere in detailed accounts of history.

The front wheel of her walker buckled and flew off in a whirring tizzy.  Tammy remained stoic.  The wheel-less nub hit the pavement and sparked. She guessed she had about 10 seconds before she became airborne - such was her speed.

Tammy had once been loved by wiry man with a penchant for pickles named Patrick.   For six months she made him sleep on plastic garbage bags to prevent his night sweats from ruining the sheets. Eventually she replaced the sheets with said bags, then the comforter, pillowcases, carpeting and blinds. She admits some fault in the dissolution of their relationship.

The south wind was strong behind her, only increasing Tammy’s extreme acceleration. “5” she screamed  as sparks ignited her jacket, “4” she bellowed as her grip on her walker broke, “3” she exclaimed as she stuffed her pocket with last minute trash bags, “2” Her voice was lost in the wind, “1” almost a whisper… “Take off.”

Brittany was pretty sure the Devil invented tacos… and the way coffee leaves a shit taste in your mouth after five minutes.

She wasn’t a pious person, but gave due credit to the Devil when he deserved it.

The Devil was responsible for the porcupine prickle growing out of her scalp.  He told her to hack it off with her roommates razor because it was progressive and shit. She all but felt his cloven hand or foot or whatever guide her own. Brittany took a picture of her lonely dark locks on the linoleum floor and instagramed: #startingfresh.

The Devil was responsible for the Big Mac’s and pepperoni pizza she ate on the sly - because, you know - she was Vegan. If people were meant to eat meat they would have fangs, like wolves.

He was also responsible for the way Brittany’s nose rolled into a snub right at the tip.  He christened her Pig Face, and cursed her with long nose hair.

At least three people had told her Brittany she could have been beautiful if she had a rhinoplasty - she wasn’t sure who was responsible for that.

Brittany ran 3 miles every day.  But the Devil forced her to stop at the nearest coffee shop and eat donuts for exactly 35 minutes. Guilty, she sprinted up the stairs to her apartment, and took time to chastise her egg eating roommate. They were birds, given no choice to live.

The Devil made Brittany look in the mirror every morning and pointed out her snub nose, her ugly hair, and her stupid face. He would tell her to go eat tacos and drink coffee so she would never forget how bad she tasted.

Donovan and Tyler were found holding hands.  Their grasp so tight that the paramedics struggled to separate them.  Instead they unanimously decided to cut two tiny symmetrical holes in the body bags.   

Donovan’s distended belly was the kind that belonged to a renaissance cherub. Tyler existed as xylophone ribs attached to a knobbly spine, punctuated with sinewy skin.

Bartholomew guessed that Tyler had passed first; Donovan’s body was in slightly better condition. Maybe a few hours? Then Donovan curled into fetal position and held on tight. 

Holding hands leaving the world behind.

Bartholomew snapped his latex gloves, adjusted his eye wear, and examined their desperate hold. One of their hands would barely have spanned his palm - fingernails broken, striated, dirt to the quick.  He gingerly held the wrist of each boy, and attempted to separate them. 

Knuckle to knuckle, unrelenting grip.

Bartholomew hadn’t seen anything like it. He was glad they went together in the saddest way. No more than five, their bodies both fit on the stainless steel table top. The report said they were found under newspaper, on cardboard, in a shithole on the wrong side of town.   

Bartholomew stroked each of their tousled heads, sorting through matted hair, pausing over purple temples.  He had a son who lived very very far away, with his mother. 

 “You know boys.  Some people aren’t meant for this world.” His voice boomed in the sterility and silence. 

Bartholomew took off his gloves and laid his warm hand over their stiff, cold, heartbreaking handshake.   For the first time in his life he felt a pain that burned and writhed in his soul. A pain that would change him forever.   

Peter Costello was a simple man.  In fact, it surprises most leading Peter Costellologists that he procured a mate.

The leading theory postulates the combination of rancid beer-breath, Peter’s premature beard, and the dim- almost absent lighting were part of the Mary procurement process.  Mary remembers what peach schnapps tastes like twice.

Mary became pregnant and financially dependent on Peter who towed cars and changed flat tires for an independent garage.  None of that Mr. Lube bullshit.   

He worked there from 16 straight through to 45, spitting chew into old low-fat yogurt containers he grabbed out of the garbage.  Mary had been dieting for 20 years straight.  Their kitchen was an ode to the low fat gods, with the exception of Mary’s treat drawer, that was stocked every other day with chocolate and brownies and chips.  “A girl’s got to have some meat on her bones, you don’t want me wasting away do you?” 

Peter had widened the door frames in the house at least twice. 

Their son wasn’t as simple as Peter would have liked, but he was a good enough kid.  He was always obsessed with riding bikes, or building birdhouses, or punching kids in the nose at school.  He was their pride and joy.

Peter remembers himself as a high school king -slinging cigarettes and girls, drinking beer like water, participating in competitive sex. The mirrors in his house liked to tell him a different story.  His dull eyes peered at him under tufts of graying hair.  Peter had lost his feet 10 years ago to his ever growing girth, a taut mass held tightly by his t-shirts.

He can remember a time a flash of his smile made 20 something girls giggle nervously.

Peter tried it on the teller at the bank, pulling his lips back in a charming smile.  She cringed at his yellow teeth, and explained patiently to him that there wasn’t enough money in his savings account to pay off his visa bill, would he like to pay the minimum?  Her lipstick was stuck slightly to her teeth.

Peter Costello had expected so much more.

He said we were all Gods, all Gods, drinking gin.  

“I’m 7000 years old.”

“I’m Mother Teresa,” I replied, “Nice to meet you.”

“Just because it seems impossible, doesn’t mean it is”

Our feet dangled off the overpass.  Glyn passed me the bottle of gin mixed with a sweet liquid I didn’t recognize.

“Was Glyn a popular name that long ago?”

“I’ve gone through a lot of names. What do you think suits me.”

“Tom. People like a Tom. You could even spell it t.h.o.m”

“I like that. Call me Tom then.  Do you know why I’m here?”

His hand rested on my knee.  We only met earlier that day. 

“Sorry!” I gasped.  I walked right into his chest, crushing my coffee between our bodies, “are you okay?” 

The front of his shirt was stained brown, and my coffee was half empty. I quickly reached out to pull the fabric of his shirt away from his body.

“I’m okay.” He replied, “wasn’t that hot.” 

“Seriously, I’m so sorry.  Drinking problem..” my face burned.  

“Really don’t worry about it.”  Crow’s feet stretched prematurely from the corner of his black eyes to his temple, but his smile was warm. 

“I’ll buy you a new shirt.  Coffee stains…”

He laughed, “Look, why don’t you just buy me a real drink later? I’m Glyn by the way.”

Glyn met me outside my apartment?  We walked the coastline, while the sun set over the sea turning the waves pink and orange with every undulation.

He’d been everywhere, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, the furthest reaches of the Amazon, the Arctic, the Antarctic, Ohio.  When he woke up, his body bent into a sun salutation, when he went to sleep he said he floated into the stars.

“No.” The drink stung the back of my throat.

“Right after you left the coffee shop.  Do you remember?” When I met his gaze I didn’t know where night began.

The taste of blood lingered in my mouth, my jeans were ripped, and when I walked my hip crunched under the pressure of my body.

“I’m going to be okay.” I turned to him. His profile looked old and young, “Glyn?” 

“Yes, you’re going to be okay.  We’re all gods, we all have a place to go but you can’t stay here.” Cars slipped away below us - a stream of headlights, “If you jump from here it won’t hurt.” 

After I refilled my coffee, I stepped off the curve to cross the road.  My head full of Glyn, his black eyes, and reassuring smile.  The car came around the corner too fast. 

“Where will I go?” I asked

“I don’t know. I can’t go with you. I’m just here for this. It was your turn.”

My head hit the windshield, spider web cracks touching every corner of the glass from the site of impact.

Glyn held my hand as we walked away from it. 

“Who are you?” my question was lost in the roar of traffic beneath us.

“It won’t hurt I promise.” No eye whites.  Just consuming black. And I fell.