Alan Stewart Carl’s work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, PANK, Monkeybicycle and other great places. Most of the time, he can be found down in San Antonio writing and doing the father thing. Virtually, he can be found at AlanStewartCarl.com.
He staggers in unslumbered steps, one leg shorter than the other. Lake. Sun. Flower. Words coming to him now. Wet. Bright. Fragile. He has the sense that the world comes in certain orders. He has the sense he plays a role in that.
A family in a car speeds up when they see him. A woman hurries inside a store.
At an inlet, he sees a girl bending down, blonde. She’s alone like him and does not run when he nears. He thinks of shouts, of redness and heat. But when he tries to speak, he hears only the expanse of years.
The girl turns and straightens. She looks into the nothingness of the blind.
He feels the memory of eagerness. He feels the memory of pride. He takes an uneven step forward and sees the girl listening to his walk. She’s so small. Flower. He bends down, skin pulling at haphazard sutures, head aching with bluebright pain. He wants to ask if she’s afraid. He wants to ask if he’s been there before.
Who’re you? the girl says. Curious. Ready.
Names come and vanish. Percy. Reginald. Hugh. There seems an abundance of men stitched within him; and there seems nothing within him at all.
Here, the girl says with a smile. Here, look.
She bends down again, runs her hands over wisps of white flowers growing from the water’s edge. She picks one and lifts it, holds it as a gift. She asks him to tell her what it looks like.
Fragile, he thinks. Beauty, he thinks. But his hands seem not his hands and, when he reaches out, he crushes what she gives. White. Fallen. A sound comes from within him like something hurt, something wounded, and he grasps for the petals, paws at them and gathers them all. He has the sense of repetition, of returns and ruin and returns and ruin. He presses the petals against their stem. He presses and presses until he feels them tearing in his manfists, until he feels them become silt and powder.
No, he manages to say. No. No.
The girl teeters. She doesn’t know what’s happened. She doesn’t see what he’s done.
He grabs her wrist. He forces her to touch the empty stem. Then he tears his shirt and forces her palm against his scars, the welted skin holding neck to chest, shoulder to arm. What am I? he says, voice choked, ancient. What am I?
From the road comes the sound of people, voices loud and hot. Fire, he thinks. Burn. He takes the girl into his arms and presses her against his chest. He asks her to give him a name. He asks her to scream it out.
The people near. The girl’s voice is muffled. She’s twisting, turning. He thinks he should let her go. He thinks that would be something new, something good. But his hands seem of another purpose and he squeezes her tighter, closer. You’re just a man, he wants her to say. You’re just hurt. You’re nothing wrong.
What am I? he calls out, pulling her as close as he can. There’s the sound of snapping. There’s a rush of air on his skin. He screams out again as the people come to him and stop. He sees them stare at the odd bend of the girl. Together, they point; they shout. Then, in one voice, they declare what he is. The thing he’s always been.