We buried the dog this last winter, wrapped in an old navy blanket my mother gave me when I was a boy. I carried him out to the sheeted hillside. You followed with two shovels and a crude grave marker with dates and his name and ours. The sun stood solemnly off behind the gray sheet of sky, lancing down at us like gunfire from a shelled out watchtower. The sound of your soft crying lay over the crunch of our boots through the blank landscape. My eyes kept wandering up the sides of the shucked trees to the abandoned limbs like the joists and beams and rusted iron girders of felled skyscrapers, all twisted and mangled and unmanned. We found a spot with a view and proceeded to dig. Shovel loads of black earth spotting the white like an x-ray of spreading cancer, the wrapped beast laid off to the side leeching the moisture from the snow until the Navy blanket grew dark with wet. A smudge of soil across your forehead like a checkmark, a lock of black hair tinged with gray glued down, your white teeth clenched, and your muddy eyes red-rimmed and soft. We covered him patiently, still cowled in the rough, woolen, blanket, as though making a cast for a model we might dig up someday. There was no need to hurry now. The empty body quivered with the impact of the loam at first and when it was done, the area around us lay wasted and I wished it would snow again to conceal the scarred land. You looked at the sky and seemed to be thinking the same thing.
We left in the night in the spring. We drove east in the soft sweetness of the new season’s oncoming mornings and felt, for some time, renewed, reshaped, unafraid of the people we knew we were. The sugared air tugged hard smoky lines from the end of my cigarettes and I left my arm on the window there to be hardened by the sun. You sat with your shoes off, sideways in the seat, your toes niggling at the armrest and wrote in your little black notebook with the band stickers patched to the cover. You looked up from time to time to see the wasted plains thrown around us, the great openness of the land stretching from the verges to the limitless sky above. Spindly remnants of clouds shot by as if seeking shelter.
There was a for sale sign laying in the grass when we went by. The phone number had been bleached to near invisibility by the sun. No one would’ve answered that call. A phone would jangle in an empty room where the dishes were all covered in dust and the light bulbs had burned out or been stolen.
The house’s large windows, bereft of glass, looked like eyes with their lids ripped away, staring out at the sun drenched land there, through which the locomotives rumbled and screamed and through which our gaze could move freely to the horizon. We stood on the decimated porch, holes in the boards that remained, an empty bird’s nest in the corner of the roof, our bony fingers lightly touching. Someone had leaned the whitewashed door against the frame. The hinges had torn free of the jamb. It looked like it had been kicked in. You spoke. You said we could live there, your voice acrid and cracked, your face worn by the years to show its hardest, most essential parts. My heart hammered around in my skull to shake loose a kindness, an innocent word like the ones I used to know. I managed a filial grunt and nodded before you walked away to investigate the rest of the place. I stood in the doorway and looked out over the salt flats and admired them for the plainness and rest. I coughed and felt sand in my throat. You were somewhere behind me in that big house and I could hear your footsteps and, for a moment, I thought I might have dreamt it all.
We had never met; we had never spent those years sewn together with a remorseless, restless, desire, a rude tool with which to attack each other. We had never laid together on a weekend afternoon and spilled our weak little hopes on the soft coolness of the pillow that lay between us, and gazed at them wondrously, uncertain of how people like us had formed such dreams, how we had rendered them so lovingly. I reached out my right hand, pressing it into the air before me in the hope that I would feel the presence of God or someone like Him. I held it there until my arm gave out from weakness. There was no wind, but there was thunder in the distance over the high-backed crest of the ridgeline. Somewhere, it would be raining. At first, I sat, then, laid full on my back half in the door half out, the rough plain floorboards creaking. I could hear you when you started singing. You were in what used to be a child’s room and the sight of it tore something loose in you.
You stood over me and your look fell hard on my face. I remembered you and reached out and grabbed your tanned ankle. Your face took on a smile, an old coat with a forgotten twenty-dollar bill in the pocket. You left my things in the gravel drive, pointed the car east again, and drove away. I sat up and watched the dust kicked from the tires until you were gone completely. My face, long, ill made, and unshaven, creased and broke with a grin.
There was wood and matches and the fire rose heartily in the hearth as the rain came down. I wrapped myself in old blankets smelling of mold and rot, to wait like a sailor at the edge of the world. The ceiling leaked like a sieve, some celestial miner panning the heavens for what gold could be sifted out.
Ruder Forms Survive by Andrew States is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.