A Crack Runs Through Me
by Blake Vaughn
A crack runs through me and all that I have is time.
There are always chances to do it, opportunities, but if I take too many–act too brashly–they might notice me and then I would be erased. I know, because I’ve seen them do it.
Just last week, the man living across the street was repairing his lawn mower. “He might come over here,” I thought, so I was watching him and waiting, naturally, when his wrench slipped out of his hand and he sliced his arm wet and red. He started kicking his machine, smashing it, cursing at it. By the time he grew winded, it was pieces that he ended up dragging to the curb and leaving there, until others came and hauled them away.
They destroy instinctively, mindlessly; I cannot afford to be reckless.
I wait. A few of them pass over me: women’s fleshy parts bouncing on hard rubber soles, boys’ on bicycle tires. Their stops aren’t long enough; strides are too long or brisk. I have only the barest inch to seize them by and none of them step into it. They move on, unaware.
The sky is overcast, forcing me to bide my time. Rain makes it harder for them to see and hurries their footsteps, but they all look down when it rains, which means there’s nothing to do but let the storm pass.
The first drops fall, pooling in my ruts, the letters “KC + BL”. I still remember them: ruddy hair, walnut skin, meticulous little hands carving with a rude stick. My first touch from the living world and it scarred me forever.
Suddenly, a little girl walks on me, stands right on top of me, and stops.
She has gum stuck to the bottom of her left sneaker, its laces trailing loose and soggy. She’s humming a tune and her grass-stained jeans have beads stitched on them. Less than a block away, a commercial van crests the hill, headlights off, wipers off.
I wait, but I can feel the moment mounting…
She stoops to pick through her backpack, causing her bedraggled shoelace to drop down into my jagged edge: it ignites old wounds and old anger. I pinch down on it hard as she stands up again. She doesn’t notice.
The van is getting closer. Its logo is sullied and peeling; its belt sounds loose. I can feel the wheels turning over the pavement.
I imagine how it will feel, the hot red wet splashing in with the cold rain, tasting the skin of her malicious little fingers as they splay across me, twisted and broken.
She looks up and sees the van. Will she risk it? I can almost feel her heart thrum her indecision through the soles of her shoes: cross or don’t cross?
“Cross!” I will into the soles of her shoes, “cross! Cross!”
She blinks–I do not.
The van passes by.
A moment later, the girl steps forward, trips, and lets out a shriek. She lands hard and simpering with her side in a puddle. She tries to stand up again and falls again.
The child tugs at her shoelace but I hold on, gritting down on it. The aglet finally snaps off and the girl runs away, sobbing, her soaked jeans clinging to the sides of her legs. She vanishes as she rounds the corner of Willamson Street and I’m already chastising myself for squandering the opportunity. Unlikely to forget, she’ll be cautious around me from now on, damn her little fingers.
That’s when I hear his voice, and I forget about the girl entirely.
He’s yelling from inside the house. “Fuck you, mom!” A moment later, he shoves his way out through the screeching storm door.
I study his every movement.
He tramps through the grass, huffing and fumbling with his car keys, taking long strides, his hair unkempt. He misses the keyhole twice.
The door pops open again and the woman emerges, struggling to pull a stained robe over her bare shoulders. She screams, “Brendon, you come back here right now!”
He slams the door on her words. The ’97’s engine roars to life with razor-wire memories. I am nauseated by it, listening to it constantly for years as its engine has worn down to a rancid churn; I hate that car almost as much as I hate him.
The woman screams again, “Brendon!” but she is squelched by squealing tires and the engine’s parting yawp. All up and down the street, window shades flutter open. The woman wraps her arms around herself and runs back inside, slamming the door. Their drama is over, the only evidence vanishing as the voyeurs’ curtains close and the ’97’s echoing exhaust disintegrates in the rain.
It is easy to find yourself pitying them, accidentally. They pity themselves, after all, and for the same reason: they have no time.
They throw their used condoms and food wrappers at me and mothers hush their children by in disgust. They toss their news out, already old even as it is being written, leaving it to rot on the lawn. There’s revulsion in their eyes when they see me: see my crack: see their own mortality. Their only recourse is to think of themselves as things apart from the world. Their conviction almost makes you believe that they are.
There was a time when I believed, when I would marvel at them emerging from their houses–children, mothers, fathers–all a-shine in the sunlight. Watch them for a while and you can see why.
They bring out boxes filled with color and draw beautiful things, even on cloudy mornings that promise evening rain. They play hopscotch on you, rest on you, caress you while watching the clouds sweep by and so refresh the fondness of having a partner to enjoy them with. They wait on you, trusting you, tentatively clinging to you while the traffic passes, looking both ways to make sure that it’s safe and you clutch at their shoes and try to tell them “No! Not yet!” or “Go; go now!” and they wait or they go regardless of what you try to tell them. All you can do is hope to feel those happy, eager, lively shoes on you again. You find yourself hoping and fearing for them because they make you love them, these fragile little things with their brief chalk drawings; you feel bad for the short time that they have.
And then they break you.
They break your back, and they laugh about it. They stop playing hopscotch on you because you’re crooked, stop drawing on you because there’s nothing pretty about a broken thing. They dig at your shattered edge, trying to pull you apart, piece by piece. They let the wild grasses tear into you and the birds’ beaks peck. They look at you–shattered, different–and they frown.
And you wait.
He won’t be coming back this morning; I already know that. He’ll slip in to change his clothes and shower in the evening while the woman is away. He might have his girl with him; when they come out, they always have the used-condom look about them. I’ll be able hear them a long way off when that belching monster, the roaring ’97’, comes back this way.
He never needed it anyway, the car. When he walked, he had me. He might not have laughed back when he needed me.
But he did laugh. He laughed because he was who he was, in the narrow way that all life is, from the very first seedling to the dead oak tree; all that he could grow to do and become, he did, and became. Don’t let them fool you: they are not special, only dangerous.
The house door opens again, earlier than I expected, and the woman steps outside, carrying a pack of cigarettes with her. She sits down beside me and flicks at her lighter.
This is only the third time she has ever done this. The lighter catches. Before, she had menthols, but this time she’s smoking something fetid and thin. I recognize it in my palate, but with as many brands as I’ve tasted, they’ve all started to blur together.
There was a time, not long ago, when I found my body invaded: a colony of ants had made their home right under my skin. Crawling, chewing, reproducing–an entire microcosm of life writhed inside of me. It was maddening.
That is when I began collecting cigarette butts. I started with only a few cheap brands, milking each one of their residues and excreting their husks before expanding my taste to richer, blacker tobaccos. It took months, but eventually, with all cigarettes and sunlight, rainwater and time, I poisoned their entire colony. I wrung arsenic out of my bones and it killed their workers outright, polluting their eggs; truly, it was one of my glories. I savored the final aroma of the queen’s pheromone screams for help as her own deformed children tore her limb from limb.
“What do I do?” the woman sighs, startling me out of my reverie.
I watch her, waiting, but she says nothing else. She stares ahead, seeing nothing, her back wilted. It occurs to me that this is the first time that anyone has sat beside me since I was broken. She rakes her fingers through the brown grass surrounding her and frowns. Everything she plants by me dies: I don’t want any company. She flicks her ash, her eyes unfocus and after a moment, sitting together with her, I feel nearly alone again.
As long as he has been here, this one has too; his creator, I believe. Living things harbor no profounder hatred than that which they bear for their own creations. My condition is proof of that.
If only they shared my perspective; I know they would all come around to my way of seeing things.
“Where did I go wrong with him?”
Talking to herself again, or to me? Does she think that I will answer?
She says “go wrong” as if there was ever a time before. If there was, I cannot recall it.
There’s so much dust that mixes in with the dried skin, the leaves, the grass, and the blood; it is difficult to bring any one thing to the surface untainted by other recollections. Even harder it is to get at the deep-buried things, moored beneath cigarettes and stones and a delicately-cradled beetle’s shell. Most of what came before is gone anyway: before I cracked, there was no way of keeping it all, no reason to. The past would simply blow by or submerge beneath the sod and the soil’s grasping. I keep everything, now.
But wait. Here! A few flecks of spattered paint from the house when it was beige; here! A fragment of red basalt from some long-foregone landscaping; here! A tiny rubber prong from a new bike tire–deep-buried artifacts of a time before. And then there is the fissure itself.
The crack–of course there was a time before that, when I was unbroken and whole. When was that, I wonder? I cannot remember those times; only the loss of them.
How long has the woman been here, in this house on the corner? I remember her whole and untarnished once as well, long ago. Not any more, though. The damage is plain to see in her blunted eyes and shredded hands.
“Damnit, Brendon,” she says.
A steep-angled breeze tingles my deepest sediment.
Surrounded by all these dredged memories, I look at her and at once I know her. I remember that she was not always so broken, before he came along. She was happy back then…back when I was happy. For the first time, I see in her a reflection of myself and my wound.
But where is it? Where is her seam? Perhaps the crack that runs through her runs deeper than mine, concealed beneath the surface. I am certain it’s there, though. In all the years, of all the people I’ve watched, I never imagined that I might find one that has been as damaged as I have been by the living, but look at her: her hands are shaking, she’s crying…perhaps it is him. Perhaps this is how he shapes the world.
Watching her like this, I can’t help but remember what I went through when I broke. Trapped alone with the pain, for a long time I clung to what I once was, hoping for my two halves to rejoin at their last splintering seam while the masses continued to tread on me. Eventually, I found resignation, and afterwards, resolve: I realized that that they would never stop breaking things, that they would never stop ripping me apart until either I was gone, or they were. I vowed to make it them.
But now, this one draws the same conclusion from my old wellspring of pain. What does that make us? Allies? Friends? It will be interesting to watch her bid towards destruction, motile as she is.
She stubs her cigarette out on me and marches back to her house. Her evaporated presence smolders on in a sharp point of cinder. Moments later, she leaves for work. A stony look is in her eyes, hard cement in her footfalls. She drives away.
Oddly, I find myself missing her.
As the daylight wanes, only a few come by: A jogger who keeps to the road, many cars, a small band of giggling teenagers, maybe Brendon’s age, maybe a little younger. So much life in such a hurry; I jab at the teens’ toes and one stumbles while the others turn and laugh.
Nothing ever changes.
A school bus passes by, empty. There is no one else. I resume grinding at my pivot, trying to make its movement smoother, and while do I consider a story I overheard about dilapidated house that collapsed last month, killing five of its inhabitants.
How wonderful it must have been to be that house. How marvelous, to blast it all in one, great, crushing act instead of my own desperate war. I feel so impotent by comparison, but, of course, one cannot fault oneself for one’s limitations. I have done some great work, even within my narrow margins.
I ruminate, in the waiting hours, over bloody knees and torn-up arms. I think on the glories: the great works.
Joanne–the fat woman; the way her eyes fluttered open as she fell with that great tumorous lump dragging her down to snap her wrists as she breathed, “oh God, no,” her blood trickling on me from somewhere between her legs. “My baby,” she kept blubbering stupidly, “my baby!” even though there was no child to be seen.
Barbie–name unknown, save for a logoed bubblegum-pink backpack; her face cracked on the eroded street corner, spilling her teeth and blood into the gutter; the sounds that came out of her…
Schwinn–a testament to my genius; two of them on their bikes while I lay half-buried in mud; in a single masterstroke, I turn one into the other, laying them both low and bloody.
Every time they fall, they reassure me–the parents who come running, the onlookers from across the street, the paramedics in blue–that it was their fault. “It was an accident,” they say, “you should have watched where you were going.” I believe that in their wet, fragile hearts they know it is their fault–all their fault. Why it is that only by suffering they realize the wrongs they have committed, I do not know. But I am willing to oblige their conscience.
It’s getting late and Brendon isn’t home yet. The sun is long gone before his mother returns. She pauses and looks at the empty space in the driveway before going inside.
I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that I won’t have another chance at him today when, less than an hour later, I hear it. The sound of the ’97’s engine rumbling in the distance is unmistakable–it makes my sediment quake. Minutes later, its headlights flare over the tip of the hill in a miniature sunrise that bobs drunkenly left and right, swerving in and out of lane.
He takes the driveway corner hard; my gravel cringes as the car hammers over the curb. He jumps out, leaving the engine running, the door ajar. His face is flushed red. He runs to the house and then there’s shouting inside. It’s time. This is the moment.
Everything is here: every breath and gust of air, each eddy of dust in that disgusting machine’s exhaust, every pebble and every star–they are all ready for bloodshed. All of my gathered poison waits; the thousand ant corpses wait; all my baked-in bird shit waits, moldering in the crack.
I wait for Peetie Green.
For seven months, every Thursday, an hour after the sun goes down, Peetie has walked to this corner, stopped, and then crossed the road. Every Thursday, like a clock: corner, stop, go. He’s slow–slower than the others–and he has a shambling, low-dragged gait that makes him easy to trip. I’ve tripped him several times and he never seems to avoid it. I’ve been saving him for something special: something like today.
As the pieces assemble, I feel cold and bilious.
I’m planning my angles when the door groans, and Brendon steps out.
Peetie isn’t here yet–where is he?
Brendon’s at the car; he’s getting in; soon, he will be out of my reach. Then the screen door rends again and his mother is there, pleading in echo of earlier today. Only this time, he stops.
I can’t hear what they’re saying and I don’t care–all that matters is that he’s stopped for a moment, giving Peetie some time to catch up…there! There he is! There’s his vacant little head bobbing up the hill.
This will be better than the fat woman or the two-for-one. I will have vengeance as brutal and sudden as the shock of my back breaking under the weight of the ’97’s coarse rubber tires. For this moment, I’ve made an engine of myself, even now adjusting the angle of my step to match Peetie’s, watching each and every gear clicking as I approach perfection.
I study him and the woman: he gesticulating wildly, she so plain, so patient–just like me. Peetie creeps across the road; he looks up inquisitively at Brendon’s shouting.
The woman embraces Brendan.
What are you doing? Get away from him! Move, woman!
Over the sound of the wind and the idling engine, I hear the woman say, “I don’t know how I could live if I didn’t have you.”
One of the gears, buried at the heart of my machine slips its teeth.
The woman lets go of Brendan.
Brendan steps into the car.
Peetie looks down at the sound of the breeze chirping through a dead beetle’s husk.
The ’97 clicks as it shifts into reverse.
Its brake lights flare.
The angle is perfect.
The woman’s smile falters.