Rough, Grooved Surface

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Chapter 9


The state I’m in,
Got goosebumps on my skin.
See the water I’ll jump right in.”

—David Gray, ‘Caroline,’ A New Day at Midnight (2002)

The scattered, nonsensical logical of a fever dream. Random repetition of phrases and images, bugs that have burrowed into my brain, chewing their way out.

I see Tommy reaching for the stereo as I light another smoke. He’s playing David Bowe again, the Hunky Dory album that I hated at first, but Tommy just kept saying…just listen. Listen one more time.

Without warning we’re stopped and I’m sitting on a picnic table with Aimee, on the overlook at Baird’s Bluff. We’re kissing, and I can feel her warmth and smell her hair, but then she’s out away from me, dangling on the edge of the bluff, looking back at me over her shoulder, biting her lip as she drifts towardds the edge of the cliff.

“There’s nothing down there,” I say, but she smiles and nods her head, pulling me towards the cliff as she points over the edge at a rusted snarl of a wrecked car.

“Yes,” she says. “it’s there. You just need to see it.” She’s holding my shoulders as we lean out over the edge, her mouth so close to my ear I can feel the puff of her hot breath. “Just listen,” she says. “ Listen one more time.”

I look back behind me, and Tommy is sitting on the back of my truck. The new truck, the one I bought years after he died. He’s standing there, and he’s dancing to Bowe’s “Life on Mars” and he points in my direction and laughs.

I don’t know why but it makes me angry, but I’m furious. I run to him and tackle him off the truck, forcing him down into the dust and gravel below. I’m shaking him by the shoulders, desparate to make him stop, but he just keeps laughing. Louder and louder until I can’t stand another peep…

And then I realize why I’m so damned mad. It’s Tommy’s body that I’m shaking, but it’s not Tommy’s laugh. It’s Whistler. His high-pitched squeal of a belly laugh, coming out of Tommy’s mouth.

I look down, and Tommy’s not the same. It’s him, but he’s transformed into his final self, the body riddled and sunken in by the cancer. He’s thin and frail, and he’s covered in dust from the gravel road, and I can’t even raise him up out of the dirt for fear the he might crumble.

He reaches up and points an index finger at my forehead, and he says “Listen…”

Then he points again at my chest and says “Listen one more time…”

Then Tommy’s gone and everything is quiet, and I can hear the call of the waking world, summoning me from this place.

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