The Bend

by Shane Jones

(From “Red Giant,” a novel-in-progress)

After work and into late evening, Megan walks. She wears thick, navy colored sweatpants with the white letters T.O.U.G.H. stretched and cracked running the left thigh. Gray sneakers laced tight. Like the sweatpants, her son bought the shirt she wears – a lumpy orange colored thing possessing a centered sun with googly eyes, a giant smiling mouth, and two stick-legs pushed into white shoes. This is Megan’s exercise outfit regardless of the weather. When she’s done, covered in a heavy under-layer sweat, she undresses, neatly folds the sweatpants and shirt, and places them in a stack with the sneakers on top in the closet for the next day. Clothing is washed on Sunday mornings. Laundry day.

Megan lives three miles outside downtown Ellsworth in the suburbs, which is a term she enjoys. She pronounces the word Sub-urb. Her house is located on Babbling Brook Lane. The home is small and white with a healthy front lawn and a mailbox corkscrewed in flowers a woman once took a photograph of.

Megan power-walks with arms pumping. Her legs move slow, she raises the knees high and brings the feet down hard. Her odd outside walk is a result of walking in place, from the video she played each morning during the winter months. When cars pass, two out of three drivers subconsciously slow down, their foot easing off the gas. They stare at her exaggerated exhales, her knees to bright orange covered breasts, the arms upper-cutting a barrage of opponents. Megan is short, squat, heavyset, the motions so serious drivers can’t help but laugh and save the night for guilt. She’s a sight demanding attention and she is totally unaware.

Megan walks an area called The Bend – a U shaped road extending over a cliff, going further into the farm than all other city points. When the road starts to curve and she can turn to her left and behold the little brown shacks of the farm, Megan knows she has completed half her walk.

A turquoise blob oozes upward from the horizon before splintering into thin creases that arch like tentacles above. This type of sky happens several times a year. Megan’s favorite. She admires the colors and wipes the sweat from her forehead with a forearm. The air is thick with heat that is unwilling to break even in late evening.

Tall grasses lean away from a guardrail, wanting to hide from the sun.

Megan walks in place at the peak of The Bend. She looks at the farm, at the black swirl of crystal mine, a few green trucks sixty years old rumbling through the dusty streets.

Homes, the trucks, children playing tag in a patch of dirt, wheelbarrows on their side in front yards, metal fences, stone curbs, and the mine itself, all glazed over with the color from the sky, a weird metallic blue.

She sees a child covered in black-dust wearing red shorts running like a dog.

Megan forgot her water bottle at home even though she made sure to wear the nylon belt with the holster. Her throat has been gathering gunk ever since she turned off her street. Whatever is climbing up her throat needs to go someplace, so Megan spits over the guardrail and in the direction of the dog-child. Nearby, a grown man playing with a radio controlled car raises an eyebrow, smirks.

She walks in place, heart-rate peaked, thread of spit on her chin she doesn’t notice through the sweat, knees pumping high.

The dog-child stands and barks.

The distance down the cliff is substantial, but Megan thinks maybe, possibly, the dog-child thought she spit at her. She waves at the dog-child and mouths the words sorry about that. The dog-child howls on two feet. Megan breaks from her stationary marching-band motion, waves again, and finishes the rest of her walk in a near jog, the sides of her stomach spiked with pain, her hair a brown mop of dried frizz.

When Megan is inside her home she undresses.

In the shower she catches her breath.

In bed she can’t sleep but is safe.

Megan lies under the covers on her back, arms flat against her sides. She’ll have nightmares of the dog-child as a miniature dog-child running the length of her body. The miniature dog-child will mouth-dig chunks from her flesh and spit the gnarled squares into the sky, her favorite colored sky, above her thighs. Waiting inside the nightmare is a second nightmare about work. It’s the nightmare with Megan sitting at her computer in the office and the entire ceiling is a bed of white light. She’s alone in the office. The computer screen is black, and in the center, at a far distance, is a seven-year-old Megan, the body glowing red, waving at her.

 


Shane Jones lives in upstate New York. His first novel, Light Boxes, was originally published by Publishing Genius Press and reprinted by Penguin in 2010. Light Boxes has been translated in seven languages and was named an NPR best book of the year. In 2012 Penguin will release a new novel, Daniel Fights A Hurricane. Shane is also the author of the novella The Failure Six.

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