Chris Thompson

A Miserable Shitehawk Production
A Miserable Shitehawk Production

There is a sense of the order of things, but even that is fading.

It started with basketball, somehow. There they were, playing basketball, but the court made little sense. There was a low ceiling, too low. No, not a ceiling. Something hanging from the ceiling, hanging too low, something large and squared, obstructing the path of the ball. It seems to always be that way — it can’t just be the thing, it has to be an affront to the thing.

And the court was slanted, uneven. It sloped away severely on one side, a drop of several feet. Recreational courts aren’t always to spec, but no one would choose to play on this court. Never mind, the game was on and the game was fun and competitive, the faces familiar. But who were they? Nameless amalgams, representing what? The mind has use for such things, some part of the mind, a transaction whose mechanics are vital behind some Chinese wall between consciousness and subconscious. And we never ask, do we? Just play the game. You are among friends.


The ball found him, and it was a ball, and he was dribbling it. There was some unexpressable disconnect between his mind and feet, such that his feet addressed themselves to his intentions only in broad strokes. He wanted to make a move, to dribble the ball and move toward the basket. This intent was communicated to his feet with something like the mechanics of a subatomic game of telephone, and then they took off, making their own route to the basket, carrying his consciousness along with them, surprising him in the how at least as much as they surprised the other players. Something good happened, but the what has faded beyond recovery. Whatever it was, he would spend the rest of this game trying to recreate it. There was laughter and frustration, his actions constantly undone by this strange insurmountable disconnect between brain and body. At some point the ball became something other than a ball — a book? often a book — and he did make a basket, but by then the game was breaking up and maybe no one noticed.

Was this familiar? It is now familiar, now recognizable as just another of those, and those happen often. Even now, so soon after, this thing only exists in the retelling, and with every word of retelling it becomes the retelling, separated from its essential self by the distance between sensory intake and limited descriptors. Describe the color red. Well, it is like orange, only less yellow. Describe orange and yellow. Well, orange is red plus yellow, and yellow is orange minus red.

Somehow the court and basketball became a journey, but this is the most faded of all. There was a car, and he was in it, driving it. There were others in the car around him. Friends, probably. There was a sense of familiarity but also a need to impress in some way. The retelling yanks it away in chunks. There was somewhere to be. All around the car were buildings, a town. The road was rough and sloped steeply upward, and there was snow. The road was treacherous but he was not worried about danger, only delay. The car seemed to fishtail constantly on the slick surface, up and down steep hills whose features later receded quickly and permanently. Then downhill into a basin beyond which was an uphill drive of great length to a spectacular mountain peak, a worthy destination. The basin was awash in mud, a roiling current of thick, viscous mud the color and texture of smooth melted chocolate. There was moisture falling, freezing rain or sleet, the snow around the basin — now an intersection — was heavy and wet, compacted, and smeared with mud.

Still there was no sense of danger. He plowed into the mud, which crested over the hood and seized the car from his control. There was laughter in the car and no fear. The car had to be abandoned but the details of how are lost. They were standing in the dirty snow, out of sight of the intersection and the river of mud, in a cold drizzle and with perhaps miles of uphill journey on foot still ahead. They walked some distance in a hurry and with purpose. One of them who’d been in the car was absent, had become disconnected from the group in the ditching of the car. He hoped this friend would find his way but was not afraid for him.


He led them somewhere to something they were all eager not to miss. Great distant peaks loomed deep grey beneath a bright silver sun, blinking in patches of sky among a featureless expanse of heavy cloud cover. The car was somewhere over there, in a basin, pointed tiredly upward toward an unattained destination, cold and mud-choked but waiting. Soon they arrived at their new destination, by bus? Or the one who’d been lost arrived by bus? He was filled with gratitude that they’d all made it, but where? Another intersection. There was a bus, they would all take it, now dozens of them, friendly familiar faces, milling about happily in warm clothing under a grey sky, exhaling plumes of hot breath into the cold damp air.

Somewhere in this crowd she was there, and he wanted to find her, but here were familiar faces. Kristin and Maggie and a third face he recognized but without a name. They were happy to see him, overjoyed, and they stared at him with an intensity that gripped him and swelled his heart with pride and affection. He leaned into them and they leaned forward and their foreheads touched and in this huddle of bodies he told them he loved them and had missed them. This was out of place even as it was happening but he suddenly meant it and they felt the same. There were so many others there and he felt the urgent need to lean into each of them, one after another, clasp hands and touch foreheads and communicate a love he’d never felt for them when he’d actually known them, which was years ago, decades ago, in a former life he’d cast off disgustedly for reasons that made perfect sense to him at the time but had become a sort of internal dogma, definitional of his current self but unexamined.


This feeling bloomed in him, an awareness of something to be recovered in these moments, but soon they would all be on the bus and though they would all still be together the moment would be lost. He had still not found her. He knew he needed to, but how could he walk past any of them without grabbing their hands and facing them and apologizing or thanking or congratulating or just crying, and by this display of emotion express finally what he was now overcome by. He needed to find her. She was there somewhere and she needed it and deserved it most of all.

Something buzzed and there was a loud sound of bells. He shot upward and his first thought was he must not wake her. His hand reflexively moved to the bedside table and his index finger found the button and he pressed it. The room was quiet. In the gauzy predawn light he made out her form, still motionless beneath the quilt beside him, the eyeshade in place. He rose quietly and showered. He dressed quietly and watched her, thought how tired she must be to stay asleep through his waking routine. Always the same. Always trying to be quiet, but always a clumsy oaf whose feet would fall asleep while he sat on the toilet and would subsequently fail him as he tiptoed through the bedroom. But not this morning. Quiet as a mouse.


He considered whether to say goodbye. It would wake her, and once she was stirred she would be unable to go back to sleep, but she would be so glad for the closeness, as long as he was gentle and woke her gently. That decided it. He’d been gentle and quiet so far and he could be gentle and quiet and loving here. He walked over to her side of the bed and watched her lying flat on her belly, warm and peaceful. As gently as he could he lowered himself onto the bed and slowly eased his weight onto her, lay his head between her shoulder blades and relaxed his form onto hers. She let out one single quiet sound of unmistakable appreciation, and he lay with his ear to her back and listened to her breathing. He would be late if he stayed much longer but he owed her this gesture. When he rose he did so gently and leaned over her and kissed her dryly on the temple, spoke quietly into her ear.

Outside the morning was cold and clear. The sun rose orange and brilliant behind the line of trees to the east while he made his way to the car, and something about its vibrancy there in that crisp blue sky grabbed him, and he resolved to stand and watch for a moment. He stopped and stood beside the car and faced the sun, obscured helpfully by the naked trees, and felt the morning around him, heard leaves shifting on the ground and birds in the catalpa overhead. Looming anxieties began to take specific shape in the edges of his thoughts, as they always did, and he was most vulnerable to them in the morning, when his mind was loose and undisciplined. He pressed down upon them, as was his routine, and they receded easily, his efforts aided by the great orange light beaming beyond the tree line. He breathed easily and was grateful for the sun, for this scene, for the serenity. The sun moved slowly but perceptibly, seeming to shift up and southward as he watched, and he stood and stared. When at last its shape cleared the treetops the light burst free of their silhouettes and was blindingly brilliant, and he looked off, blinking its purple spot away where it had burned into his vision until that, too, was only accessible via recollection, and indescribable.

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