HEAVY DOES IT
by Sharla Yates
We were seventeen. These guys—at least twenty-five. The shorter had a shaved head and wore jeans tucked into his Doc Martens. Introduced himself as Omar. His lanky friend, Rodney, wore all black and sandals and stood with slumped shoulders. They asked if they could bum a smoke—an obvious ploy to start a conversation.
Issue #141 soundtrack: Kate Mick “The Rain Cometh”
“You can come back to the van, smoke some weed in exchange, but you have to promise to stay awhile,” Omar, the shorter, said. “No smoking and dashing.”
I hadn’t decided if he was attractive or not, but leaning towards not hot. Their offer was an unplanned but fortunate turn of events. I looked at Jenny; she looked at the ground.
Jenny had orange, silky red hair that made her hard to miss in a crowd even though she stood nine inches shorter and seventy-pounds lighter than me. She was quiet. I was not. By the way the two men kept glancing over my shoulder at her, I knew she was the reason they had approached our campsite, had bummed smokes from minors.
“Sure,” I said.
Omar’s van was a white VW bus with a black canopy, some sort of artifact from my parents’ teenage years. Not that my parents were hippies. They had only been contact high, if ever. Rodney pushed open the door. The insides were stark and dirty. The nostalgia made less remarkable. I stood with Jenny where we could still see our campfire. Ashes from our dinner plates floated into the trees. The moon spread thin over the river’s rippling surface.
Omar said it had been a while since he had spent any time with Rodney. That they knew each other from high school.
“We’re still in high school,” Jenny said.
Rodney’s eyes met mine.
Rodney would tell me later that year that though he was attracted to my friend, he will have forgotten her name by then, he knew he’d end up with me. He will also say that I ended his friendship with Omar, but it will be Omar I’m missing while he’s telling me this.
But that, like so much of our story, will be later.
Omar sat in the open driver’s-side door, under the campground’s one streetlamp. The light made half-moons on his glasses. He was grinning.
“You listen to them?” Omar pointed at my Grateful Dead T-shirt.
I hadn’t, but I did recognize the dancing bears from bumper stickers and figured they must be good.
“How about The Butthole Surfers?” He turned the ignition key, pressed in a cassette tape, and an electric guitar’s slow strumming pulsed through the speakers. I was reminded of how an alien ship sounds in the movies when descending to Earth.
“This album…” Omar nodded along, “is my entire life up to now. You want to know me, listen to this.”
Rodney spoke up only to say where he lived—not far from where we were camping— over the hill—and that he was part Jewish and related to Chief Sitting Bull.
I stuck out my tongue and sawed at my neck with my finger. “I’ll fucking cut my own throat if I hear another person say how their great-grandmother was an Indian princess.” I had given a similar tirade earlier that day. “What are we British or some monarchy?”
Jenny didn’t let on that it was rehearsed.
“You royalty?” Omar asked.
“It’s what I was told,” Rodney said.
Jenny rolled her eyes. Spending the evening with old guys wasn’t our weekend plans. That year had tempered her, I knew, but anything had to be better than more of the same.
Jenny and I linked arms as we walked back. Their following footsteps rolled over gravel. When we entered the fire’s low halo, Jenny slumped down at the picnic table and poked at the coals with a long stick. Omar sat down next to her. She lifted the stick. Its end a glowing red tip.
“ET phone home?” Rodney asked.
The joke was dumb, but we giggled anyway.
Omar rested his hand on Jenny’s thigh, and without a word, she stood and entered our tent, zipping it closed behind her. Omar stretched out on the table, hands on his stomach, and laughed a laugh like giving the open sky the middle finger.
“I don’t think Jenny’s interested,” I said at last. “I mean. She probably wouldn’t want me to talk about it.”
Rodney shrugged, which made me want to explain.
“She had a baby a few weeks ago. She just gave him up for adoption. We wanted to get away from all that.”
Omar rolled over on his side. “Usually, I’m a mean drunk.”
“You don’t seem that mean to me.”
Rodney motioned at Omar. I glanced at the tent. We were close enough for Jenny to hear us.
“Jesus. Okay,” Omar slurred.
The two of them stumbled toward the van, into the streetlamp’s parenthesis. In that space I wanted them to want me like they wanted Jenny, like Omar wanted to be known, like how we all wanted to feel better. I poured a warm wine cooler over the fire and crawled into my sleeping bag. Jenny and I lay across from one another, listening to the fire as it died, the trees creaking in the faint wind, and the river rushing against the dark.
In the morning, Omar’s van was gone. Left behind was a puddle of oil.
Jenny and I sat side by side on the river’s rocky embankment. Our hands searched for stones as we watched water break over slumped boulders. We had done this so many times before; it was ritual.
Jenny threw first. Her stone skipped far over the surface before disappearing, silently without much of a ripple.
This time, I found the largest boulder I could carry, and heaved it from between my legs. The river gasped then birthed a ripple. Another came. Then another. Rings spreading wider, larger—reaching.
Sharla Yates lives in Pittsburgh. She is the author of a nonfiction story, “Address” — a finalist for the 2015 Columbia Journal Writing contest and the 2016 Penelope Niven Award — and of the recently-released poetry chapbook, What I Would Say if We Were To Drown Tonight (Stranded Oak Press, 2017). Her poems are published in The Boiler Journal, Lynx Eye, Shadowgraph Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is the Director of Education at Creative NonFiction and teaches graduate creative writing courses for Southern New Hampshire University. For more, visit sharlayates.com.
Hannah Richards is a visual artist whose work describes layers of being in terms of physicality and consciousness. Her paintings and monotypes locate moments of interacting forms in environments that convey a sense of dissonance or uncertainty. Within these is a fluidity of surface and time. Process is central to her practice. She earned an MFA in fine art from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a BA from Smith College. Her work has been exhibited locally and internationally, most notably in several shows across the UK and at Manhattan Graphics Center in NYC. For more, visit hannahrichards.org.
Kate Mick is a folk musician living in the tiny town of Warren, RI. Her first album, Undertow, was released in December 2016 with Kate on banjo and vocals. For more, visit katemick.com.