From Noble/Gas Qtrly Issue 202.4


His arms tense up. The man does not ease them until he feels his afflictions swim to another part of his body. Some place saturated by dull, resin pastels. By glowworms. Lyle Everette quells something in his head with tar from a dimpled tin cup, and cannot bring himself to see past the porthole of the cabin. Glass frosted with snow so ancient that their years cannot begin to be comprehended. And the icicles are only getting sharper, stronger at their dams. There is solace in the moments where one draws from the parasite fingers of responsibility. In procrastination.

Each suspender band is pulled loose and let to repose at the sides of his gargantuan, plaid torso. Transfers his weight against an armchair of leather and brass bolts. In his fist, a locket. Pried open to reveal the girl. Lyle feels her judging the mire caked under the oak grain slices of his fingertips, and hides them as if her gaze were an actual presence there. He makes his way to a stove and rouses sleeping embers with a rail spike. Ignores the space where firewood is kept, now empty and strewn with sawdust. Woodlouses lay crumpled up like discarded plans, with their legs frozen toward Heaven. He sweeps them into a dustbin and stands in a square of light. The tables and floors are masked with blueprints for man-made hiking trails sketched with electric ink that blots at the edges. US LOPES: Nature Manufacturing, watermarked to each page. The World the Way it Oughta’ Be.

He is haunted by trees he has halved. Chased by things that have been cut down.

A symphony of burning chemicals permeates his head and scatters everything in it. Lyle is kept warm from the cremation of blank CD-Rs, paper towel rolls and Hustler magazines from the early 90s. Red labels melt with the images of women who have long since died. He watches their crooked smiles and bronzed skin glow brilliantly before turning into a powdered lichen tinged smoke that twists and cannibalizes itself. Lyle’s now dormant aspirations fall far from venturing beyond the door. But the feet are already stuffed into boots, and his bonfire of pornography and polycarbonate has already gone on for too long.

Outside, he regrets his lack of an overcoat. For it has gotten brisker than it was three days ago, and three days prior Lyle had sworn it was the cruelest air he had ever felt against him. The arms cradle as much timber as they can hold and they beg his legs to march on. Yet they stick. All of the icicles have now grown sharper, angrier in their profile. Three mornings ago they were ribbed glass and almost charming to the eye. Today they are densely white, and clustered as if lining the parted jaws of some cave-dwelling beast.

“I’m watching the lot of you,” he warns.

Lyle moves back through the entryway, never averting his sight from the mass of fanged wax nestled behind him. Locking the door. The mechanism is so loud that it fills the cabin, and he is afraid that the clack will disturb some invisible, sleeping presence. Lyle scrubs frost off the porthole and mocks the cold from the safety of his shelter, yet his skin still stings from it. He empties his haul into the mouth of the stove where its yellow tongue lashes at the cedar and crosses himself in some ritual. Hot cola still warm in the kettle. Collapsing back into a chair, he reopens the locket and studies the soft features of her face. Not quite smiling, but distracted as if someone were standing in the corner.

On his lap now is a plan for rotting limbs crowned by fungus ridges strategically arranged over moss as thick as mattresses. Tropical leaves that turn complexions of brick and bloodshot apricot when Fall comes. Kingfisher bird sanctuaries located right in the paths of hikers. Bred without fear of humans. The US Lopes company provided pen barely holds its charge and dispels a final reservoir of ink, hushed and pewter. A company renowned for engineering canines sold exclusively at Urban Outfitters LLC. Crossbreeds that stay puppy sized forever, with plush coats and clumsier paws. Designed with impossibly drooping brows. US Lopes harvests coral reefs in hotel swimming pools. They will bring hiking trails to wetland areas with ‘lackluster nature.’ Lyle shakes the pen and drowsiness begins to lurch up behind his eyes. There is no use.

He begins to drift off, so that his conscious may weigh his tribulations within a dream.

Lyle dreams in hues of restored film. Black and white Cary Grants and Lauren Bacalls remastered in vibrant, digital technicolor. But instead the actors are friends and lovers from his past. A two decade career that started with raising cell phone towers in wild lands. Scouting and measuring remote topography. Lonely old saps he shared silences with at bars to popcorn ceilings of mid-western motel rooms. Mid-western women that remain the object of his longing. They speak to him in these visions, but even there, they do not say the things that he wishes to hear. But they talk nonetheless, and their Nebraskan dialect seems euphoric in the back of his throat.

“Are these years getting too sharp for you Ly?” She asks, pouring tar into his cup. Frothing hot Diet Coke. The snow on the ground is foam and polymer. He is observing some giant bird outside the window of their cottage and she is about to turn towards whatever distracts him.

But he is awoken by the gash of silence. Gone are the blueprints for benches placed in the wake of a curtain waterfall that would crash and eventually lather into perfect, milky froth. Lyle makes a sweep from one corner of the cabin to the other and shoots upright, but here it smells more like the first floor of a raised ranch. Like the decade old dust cloud from a severed vacuum cleaner bag. He fears the icicles may have assembled.

“Reveal yourselves, you old cowards,” he growls. Comfort has kept him at bay only for so long and the air is fat with stove smoke. The locket is missing from his grasp. The familiar feel of the chain, like the lace of her garments, is absent. The harpoons. Winter’s harpoons have finally come for him. Lyle tears the door open into the world. To midnight swallowed by impenetrable cypress. The axe he holds for preservation. He calmly paces under glacial teeth, prepared to swing at whatever is real and what has been fabricated.

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