[ToC]

 

POSTWAR: LIVE FROM LAKE MICHIGAN

Michael Credico

 

 

I'm a runner.
     I slip into bed like I don't mean for it to be so late. She isn't asleep. She says, "I saw him in our pool again."
     I say, "It's been warm."
     "It isn't his, is the thing."
     I fold my pillows for elevation. I sleep sitting up, facing the window. We lost a tree to the zoning commission. The view is all sky. Enough I feel myself moving. Enough I think the next morning I might be not here.
     "I mean it," she says. "He was here."
     "It's late."
     "You don't believe me."
     "I can't do anything about it."
     She pulls a flashlight from under her pillow. She shines on my sky. "It isn't a home if anyone is welcome."
     "There's no one else."
     "We can't teach the kids to swim with anyone."
     "I can't swim. There are no kids."
     "My mother taught me." She gives me the flashlight. "It's ours."
     I don't need it. It's moon enough outside. I see everything. I see the body in the water, facedown like a pillow. I pull a rake from the garage. I poke at it. It floats out of reach, the middle of the pool.
     She puts her arms around me. "I told you." She's naked.
     I say, "Get dressed."  
     She says, "But he's dead." She kisses the back of my neck. She pulls my clothes off. She says, "Inside me."
     It's too late.
     I come onto the water. I watch clouds form over the moonlight like smoke.

The evacuation is calm. I know this way out. I stand on the edge of the street. A man approaches as I light a cigarette. He says, "Fire?"
     I say, "Drill."
     "I've always wondered what you do."
     "I'm a runner."
     He reaches for his own cigarettes. "My father was a runner," he says. "I weld."
     "My father ran here," I say. "I took over when he retired."
     "The only time I scared a man is when I was born."
     "I mean, I run between warehouses. I work in quality."
     "Numbers?"
     "Graphs."
     "I'm not smart. I have good hands."
     "I thought I'd be doing something else by now."
     "Is this government?"
     "We're the bombs."
     "What for?"
     "The Arabs, is what I've heard. I only know the metallurgy."
     "I don't read the paper as much as I used too."
     "We're classified, mostly."
     "I stopped when I got work. It's union." He can't find his lighter. I give him mine. He says, "What happens when all the bombs are made?"
     We laugh.
     I say, "We make planes too." I say this knowing it'll never end: this place. I put out my cigarette when the fire drill does.

She says, "My sister's pregnant again." She turns over so I can't see her face.
     "It's a good thing," I say. "You're a good aunt."
     "You missed dinner."
     "Production is up."
     "I was the only one there who wasn't a parent." I put my hand on her hip. "I was the only one drinking wine. I spilled some. My sister said, ‘That's cute.'"
     "She didn't mean anything by it."
     "I made a wish tonight."
     "What for?"  
     "I thought, I wish, and that's it." I pull the blanket over her shoulders. She pushes it off the bed. "It was 100 degrees today. I couldn't go swimming, even."
     "He's too far in for me to reach."
     "I thought you were a better man than that. I'm afraid sometimes you don't love me. The body is just part of it."
     "I can move it in the morning."
     "You're gone by morning. Always gone."
     "It's a living."
     "I couldn't drown if I wanted too."

I stand at the edge of the pool. It's been a few days. I expected dissolution. The body is only getting bigger. I have a rope. It takes four throws before I can hook a limb. I put on mittens. I flip the body over. There's no face. It isn't a drowning. It looks more like a bludgeoning.

My father said, "This is where you'll die." My mother smiled whenever my father spoke.
     I had almost left a few times. At least, I turned the key.
     Then the house was paid off.
     Then it was mine after the next-of-kinning.
     I said, "I never thought I'd still be here."
     "It's home," she said. "It's easy being home."  
     We married the summer of crying mothers. A journalist lost his head to war. His mother said, "He was adventurous." The president took her hand. He called for a surge. I was old enough to take arms. I thought about taking arms.
     She said, "But you make them."
     I filled out the paperwork without her knowing.
     The soldier in the office unbuttoned his shirt. Chained around his neck was a MOAB tail. "Quality," he said. "You have a good thing here."

A plane has gone missing over Lake Michigan. It's a model on which I've signed off. Production slows for the day on account of tragedy. Even the company flags are half-staffed.
     I'm home early.
     She says, "Imagine someone just vanishing."
     I look out at the body lying on the patio. I expected disintegration, evaporation. But it seems the flies are building entire lives inside this dead man's body.

I light a cigarette. The man is there again. He says, "You killed him."
     I say, "No one knows anything."
     I give him my lighter. He pushes it away. He says, "I've been thinking about everything I'm responsible for."

I pull the body out of the sunlight. I pull it onto the tarp I've set on the garage floor. I spray away the flies.
     She knocks. She says, "Early again?"
     "It's tragic."
     "I like it when you're home."
     "I can't figure out how it happened."
     "Gone is gone."
     "Could be he headed the pool edge," I say. "You think he tripped?"
     "It wasn't his," she says. "He wandered the wrong place."
     I cover the body with another tarp. I shut the garage door. I stand over the pool. The water is puss-colored and thick.
     She says, "A nice day for swimming."
     I say, "Death's run off in the water." She wraps her arms around my waist. I say, "I can't."
     "We don't need to," she says. "I'm pregnant."

I have to lie down. She sits beside me. She pulls my hand onto her stomach. She says, "We're happy."
     I say, "I'm tired," but it's hard to sleep with the sky so bright. I reach for my shoes. My shoes are covered in blood. I say, "I think it's you."
     She says, "Baby." It's her last word before collapsing.
     I hold her hand in the ambulance. The paramedic gives me a Kleenex. I say, "Should I be crying?" 
     He says, "Your shoes are a mess."

She's still out after surgery. I'm bedside when the doctor walks in. He says. "You're the family?" I squeeze her hand as proof.  "What do you know about the cervix?"
     "I don't know."
     "Think of it as a way out." He makes a fist. "What happened is it was about the size of this."
     "The baby?"
     "That's a different kind of handful."
     "Cancer?"
     "Granite." He pulls out a stone. He throws it onto the bed. "You're family," he says. "It's all yours."
     I say, "That's it?"
     "Could anyone ever want anything more?"

She wakes up. I put on the television. It's an hour of war, of plywood boxes unloaded off planes. She says, "I'm not afraid to bring anything into this world."   
     I say, "There isn't anything being brought in."
     She cries until the nurse comes to IV her back to sleep.
     I stay awake until the television is postwar: live from Lake Michigan. It's a clamoring for wreckage. Every interview is the same question: how does a man just disappear? This is where millions look out at the water, entire lives spent blinking. No one believes no one saw nothing.
     But I do.
     It's because nothing happened. They'll comb the lake for disaster. They'll never once think to search the air. They might still be there: this plane, this man. They're gone in the way that doesn't fit on screen.
     It was an escape. Half a mile of elevation. See an opening and take it.
     The rest of us pull on wetsuits, snorkel-tips reaching for the sky like we're drowning. I can't watch anymore. I have to turn it off.
     I look out the window at a sky that isn't mine. It's as tall a building I've ever been in. I'm above so much it gives me gooseflesh. But then I realize I'm beneath so much more. And isn't that the loneliest little feeling? Is that what he was thinking when he set the throttle to full?

 

 

 

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This is my contribution to Great Lakes mythology via the news cycle of Spring and Summer 2014. It was a bad year to have a heart, a conscience.