Sunday, July 30, 2006

Barry Takes a Step

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

It was a long walk to her house and Len told him he didn't have to go.

"Why not go on Tuesday when the car's out of the shop?"

"You don't get it, Len," Barry said. "I gotta go now."

"Whatever, just call me in the morning, let me know."

"All right." And he was on his way, not even taking time to lock up the house. He had his coat on, he felt clean, freshly showered, a full belly and empty bowels. There wasn't a damned reason not to go. Nothing that had prevented him for the last seven years mattered anymore. His dad was gone now and Barry had just realized tonight that at twenty-five years old, he hadn't done a thing right with his life.

He went for the straightest line he could figure and that led him over a lot of hills and through a lot of trees. He watched the ground and held his arms in front of his head to stave off all those eye-poking branches that seemed to spring at him in the darkness. He crossed two brooks, Little Elmer Brook and Davies Brook and they were ice-fucking-cold, the both of them. His wet sloshing feet made him more than just a little nervous when he climbed between the wires of an electric fence and when he slipped climbing over a lichen covered stone wall.

By the time Kelly's house was in sight, the sky beyond it was growing lighter. He knocked at her window. If she were anyone else, she would've probably screamed her ass off and dialed 911. But she was used to him now and his window knocks, a holdover from when she used to live with her parents. The window went up and she assumed her position, robed elbows on the sill, woozy head slowly bobbing above them. And Barry looked at her for what he'd thought might be the last time. He'd planned to join the regular army and stay there until there wasn't enough left of him to be of any use to anyone and this would be his last look at her so he wanted to really take his best friend in.

"What's going on?" she asked, in a phlegmy voice. All those nights they'd gone out with their friends and she was all done up and gorgeous, Len and Trish were always telling him to go for it. And yeah, she looked great, but it was Kelly. They were buds, no matter how Barbied up she was (and she could really lay it on). Now he looked at her for longer then he normally would. The puffy brown eyes beneath her pillow ravaged hair. The face that hadn't seen make-up, in what, hours now?

"Jesus," he said softly.

"Well, how good do you look when some inconsiderate bastard wakes you up at five-thirty in the morning?" she said.

He wanted to tell her she was beautiful but he knew she'd never buy it. It was true though. The girl he'd known in school had grown into a woman while hidden behind a mannequin's face. Who would have guessed that her plastic skin could have hidden such softness beneath it?

"What the fuck do you want, Barry? You could have at least brought a newspaper."

"I just gotta say . . . " He looked at the grass where it met the cement of her basement. "I just now found out that I've fallen in love with you."

"Oh my god."

He managed to look back up at her. "That's . . . That's all I wanted to say. I'll go now." But he didn't move and he studied the grass against the cement again. He didn't know where to place his next step. Len wouldn't be up yet and the walk home now felt impossible.

"I though you were going," Kelly said.

"I'm sorry." And that started him on his way.

"Get in here, stupid!" she said. "You're a mess and you're cold and I thought your car was being fixed."

"I, uh "

"I'll meet you at the front," she said and slammed the window down.

At the front she met him in her ratty slippers. Her hands felt so good and so warm on his face. "Christ, you're freezing! Did you walk here from somewhere?"

"I don't want to go anymore," he said.

"You don't want to go where?"

He held her hand in place and hoped his stubble wouldn't scratch her hand. He watched her shoulder and said. "I don't want to cross an ocean and leave my skin to the bullets and the shrapnel and the fire anymore."

"You been drinking?" she asked. He shook his head.

"Come on in," Kelly said. "Come in out of the cold."

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