I am reading your letter and I am thinking: Nobody should write anything to somebody they love in their first language.
Our words should be filtered. Deliberate.
You are gone now, and I am standing outside, the moon so bright everything has a shadow.
I have become long, dark.
I cannot see the shadow heart inside this new me, but it is there, Miljana. Cast in black and beating: All that I am trying to say to you. ::
About the Author: Chad Simpson is the author of Tell Everyone I Said Hi, which won the 2012 John Simmons Short Fiction Award and was published by the University of Iowa Press. His work has appeared in many print and online publications, including McSweeney's Quarterly, Esquire, American Short Fiction, and The Sun. He lives in Monmouth, Illinois, and is an Associate Professor of English at Knox College.
Story Song: "Bird's Lament" by Moondog
ATTICUS TOLD ME TO DELETE THE ANTLERS & I'D HAVE THE FACTS by AARON BURCH
No matter what I tried, Chad turned everything into a homerun. I toyed with one finger, two, three, I palmed the ball. Homerun. I lined my fingers into the open slits, I kept my fingers to the solid plastic; I tried curveballs, sinkers, overspin, under, in, out. Homerun, homerun. I tried to fool him with something of a knuckleball, keeping it as free from rotation as possible, but it was a wiffle ball—knuckleballs didn’t act any more or less randomly out of my hand than anything else. Actually, maybe less. And none of it fooled him.
Not only did nothing fool him, but Chad sat back and hit everything to my backyard’s right field, like acknowledging that it was easier to pull it than go oppo, easier to be out ahead of my less-than-searing velocity. But he waited, patient, placed everything in the tall shrub bordering my backyard from the neighbors. Two summers ago, neither of us could hit more than one or two out a game; last summer I could average maybe one per inning to Chad’s three. Early this summer, we implemented a 10-run per inning rule, lest I’d never even get to hit at all.
I dropped down and sidearmed it. I missed far outside, but it felt good. I liked the different angle and path the ball took to the plate, thought I might have finally found something that worked, and so tried again. Chad crushed it. Deep right, such a high, soaring arc that I chased it back, thinking I might be able to get back by the time it finally came down, could leap up into the bushes and steal the run, but it kept going, up and over.
I stood at the shrub line, looked back at Chad, holding his pose and admiring his own shot. Then, “shit.”
“That was our last one, wasn’t it?”
“I think so.”
It wasn’t unheard of to lose one to Mr. R’s yard, but we’d never before hit out two in one day. Losing one was the price of playing homerun derby, but the bushes were tall enough they normally caught all but the deepest of Chad’s homers. Chad had started the match with a line drive down the foul line of the yard that looked like it was still rising by the time it barely cleared the shrubs, but, somehow, nearly all of his homeruns were just deep enough to land in the bushes but not over, like the yard was the perfect size or maybe Chad was placing depth, too, in addition to practicing going to the opposite field. Two over today, one last time we’d played, and two lost not to the neighbor’s yard but cracked from one hole to another, Chad having literally hit them too hard, though both times saying he was sure it had been cumulative, we’d both done some damage. I realized this would probably be the last summer we played—I surely wouldn’t catch up between now and then and make it more competitive and keeping score was already moot, but also, I could see into the future, Chad no longer able to keep more than the token hit in the yard, one ball after another lost to Mr. R. Were we going to start buying the balls in bulk instead of packs of five, filling the whole yard with them?
Chad joined me in the outfield, looked through the bushes into Mr. R’s yard.
We called him Mr. R because he was creepy and we’d just had to read To Kill a Mockingbird in class that year. “That’s like your neighhhhhbor,” Chad whispered to me, after the class where we’d been introduced to Boo Radley, Radley getting soon shortened to Mr. R, for fear of something, him, hearing us and knowing what we meant, and also just because we were young and it seemed fun and cool to have code names and secrets.
In Mr. R’s backyard:
a parked tow trailer with huge plastic barrels. Containing some kind of likely-cancer-causing hazardous waste, no doubt.
an old, rusty and sun-bleached Winnebago. With some kind of lab inside? Or, and despite its outside appearance made to look as unassuming and out of use as possible, actually ready to hit the road on a moment’s notice, a prepared escape plan?
a collection of what looked like, what must be, missiles. Air or submarine, we weren’t sure. But…they were out of commission and he was a collector? He couldn’t keep ready-to-launch missiles out in the open of his backyard, could he?
and, finally, antlers. A huge pile of antlers. We couldn’t understand why antlers—why antlers and no other part of the deer; why so many; why out here, in his backyard, and not in the house, mounted, on display. I’d never seen his car return with a deer strapped to the roof, never seen a deer hanging in the backyard we were equal part fascinated by and scared of, waiting to be gutted and cleaned.
“There it is,” Chad said, and pointed. Like looking for our wiffle ball was what we were doing, not our normal, curious fascination with the yard. Like now that we found it, one of us might actually cross the threshold into the yard, might venture into that other world.
And just then, as we both stared at the wiffle ball, looking as out of place in that backyard as a wiffle ball on the moon, Mr. R appeared. We hadn’t noticed him exit the house or close the door behind him, but now he was walking across the yard. Carrying antlers. He kept his head down, his eyes on the ground. He didn’t seem to notice us watching. He held antler in each hand like it was nothing, weightless. He crossed the yard, tossed the antlers atop the pile, and returned to his house, never seeming to notice us at all.
“Did you see that?!”
“No, I missed it.”
“No,” Chad said. “His head. I swear he was bleeding, up on his head,” and he rubbed his own recently-shaved-for-summer head, and looked at me.
:: About the Author: Aaron Burch is the author of Backswing and the editor of Hobart. Find more @ aaronburch.tumblr.com.
Photos by: Jane Carlson & Loran Smith