Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Breath by Aaron Tardie

This is the first installment of a short story written by Aaron Tardie.  My sister first introduced me to his work and I am so grateful that he was gracious enough to share it with us this week.  

The window opened and the cold air escaped the room and made its way out onto the porch. As I looked through the window I noticed the chipped paint, curled and resting on the sill. The frayed edge of the frame speaks of age, but it’s still strong. The cracks in the paint appeared fresh and the porch was lit. The door slowly closed behind me, followed by Jack. I made my way over to the white wicker chair and Jack sat down at my feet, panting as if he’s discovered something yet again. 

Ignoring him, I focused my eyes outside. The sky came to an end and color seeped into a sunset, casting a pink umbrella above—the color rained down, almost reaching the top of the oak tree. I stared blankly at the color in the sky and became amazed by the beauty. I understood that it was a mystery, but still peering at the sky I sought after something. I searched to see if it was still there. It was. Just like it always was. It hadn’t moved and for good reason: it couldn’t. It was a part of me just like the head is a part of the body. There was a point when I wanted it to move, to disappear, but even then it always seemed to be, hiding, perhaps for a moment but never for too long. It wouldn’t want me to worry now, would it? No one likes a worrywart. 

Jack got up and headed for the roses. With his left leg hoisted and tail taut he looked back toward the porch and snickered at me, almost as if he were saying, “Hey! Look what I can do!” Jack scurried off and barked at the top of his lungs at the plane in the sky. He hated them. And for good reason. They come into the sky without warning and pass by screaming down at you. I checked the sky to make sure it was still there. It was. The color from the sky was fading, and the sun began to hide its face. Darkness was soon to follow and my stomach reminded me of the time. I began to turn inside, and Jack came shooting up the porch into the house. He always needs to be first—it’s a little game he plays. That thing in the sky followed me inside just as it does every time night swallows day, making its way into my chest, heating up my shirt—the warmth never seemed so strong. Gently, I closed the window, trapping the air inside, and began to fill Jack’s bowl. He never seems to be full—odd for a dog so small. 

After dinner I returned to the porch and made use of my hatchet. I spent a half-hour or so splitting wood for the fire and organizing the wood into piles of kindling and logs and put them next to the fire pit. The sound of the hatchet hitting the wood was constant inside of me—it was a rhythm that I loved. After I was done collecting kindling, Jack came out to the patio to help with the fire. He loves watching the fire start up. I went back inside and grabbed a bottle of wine and two glasses. Jack loves wine, but he’s allergic. I also grabbed the guitar. 

Jack and I sat out there by the fire for hours and I sang to him and he howled back at me and I drank my wine and we laughed. I started up my old habit again and pulled out a cigarette. Jack doesn’t like when I smoke so he moved over to the other side of the fire and curled up on the ground next to a different wicker chair. By the time I finished my cigarette Jack was sleeping, and I crept around him trying not to wake him as I walked around the yard and went to light another.
I used to stand out here on these bricks staring out at the neighbor’s light—it made me feel like Gatsby. I often thought of my yard I have and how I had gotten to this point in my life. I ran my eyes along the bushels of raspberries and blackberries clustered together on the ground against the white picket fence. I noticed the yellow dead spots painted in the lawn, and made a mental note to rearrange the sprinklers so the dead grass would come alive. I looked out at the chicken coop and remembered how she loved to take care of those chickens and now, how I had to feed them in the morning. The oak tree needed to be trimmed soon and its leaves covered most of the lawn—the branches reached down and kissed the grass. 

As I stood out there thinking I recalled that it was here, in my yard, that I heard the voice, God’s voice, I suppose. The sound echoed in my soul like music at the peak of a steeple—a sound I will remember for a long time. I was told about the voice and the importance it would hold for me, but until recently I didn’t fully understand. It was rough for a while after it happened, and they kept telling me that things would bounce back, that I would make it, and would be all right. But they were wrong. At first things didn’t bounce back, I could hardly breathe. I lost everything that day. It was gone and I was alone with this damn dog. But when I heard that voice as I stood out here on the bricks I began to breathe again. It took a while, I’ll admit, but I came around. 

The fire was dying so I walked over to the side yard and grabbed more wood. I turned on the outside light, and Jack came over to check on me just like he always does. I reached down and scratched his back and kissed him on the top of his head. He needed a bath soon—maybe I should toss him in the pool tomorrow. 
Jack and I haven’t always gotten along. Actually, I used to hate him. He was always running around and peeing on things, and he had a knack for waking me up just after I had fallen asleep. It wasn’t until after she was gone that I began to care for Jack. I began to love Jack as she had. I remembered how Jack used to follow her everywhere she went. He would be right up against her while she was in the kitchen making dinner, or curled up on her lap as she read in bed. He adored her. I wished sometimes I could have been more like Jack. 

Wesley? Is that you?
Yeah, it’s me. 
Come here would you?
Do you need me to bring you something?
No. No. I’m fine. 
Well, what is it that you need? 
Would you dance with me?
Yeah. Like we used too. 
I don’t think that’s a good idea.
I’ll be fine. I swear. 
Molly, I don’t think…you shouldn’t be…you just need to rest.  

I grabbed the hatchet and split the wood in half several times. The rhythm was pumping inside of me again. My hands were steady as I hacked down on the top of an old tree and made more kindling. With each swing of the hatchet the blade drove further and further into the wood until the wood finally gave in, and the kindling fell off. I walked over to the fire with fresh wood stacked on my arms and placed the wood into the fire, fanning it with the unread newspaper. Jack curled up on the chair opposite me and I strummed a few chords and sang to him again. The fire was spitting back shards from the fresh, sap-filled kindling and Jack jumped up and darted over to my chair, whimpering a bit. I picked him up and let him sit with me as I continued to play a few songs. 
“There’s nothing to be afraid of Jack. That fire won’t get you, boy. I won’t let it.” I said to him. Jack looked up at me with his dark eyes and his long droopy ears rested on my jeans—she picked him out when we were first married because of those droopy ears. 
You don’t like him?
But he’s so cute. Look at his ears! They cover his little eyes. 
What kind of a name is Jack anyway? 
If you’re going to be like that about it then let’s just go.
Fine what?
You have to look after him. He is not my dog. 

I lit another cigarette and Jack moved back to his other chair. I noticed the smoke from the end of my cigarette curling around my fingers after each inhale, how it lingered around my hand for a moment and then disappeared into the darkness.

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