Loudspeaker: 'River Creatures, Minor Characters' by Alexis Kale


WUSSY is proud to present short prose by Austin , TX writer, Alexis Kale.
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Nicholas Goodly.

I first find the place when I am sixteen. 

I have a boyfriend named Bryan who drives a Subaru WRX and claims he can drive these roads backwards with his eyes closed and can he show me? 

He has painted the car flat black and while he drives I stare out the window in silence in a way that I know makes him uncomfortable and watch the night go by. Light reflects off water in the distance and I am surprised to see that this darkness has dimension – that there, just beyond the asphalt and the tree line, laid something I had not seen before. I am tired of speaking. It is past my curfew and my mom keeps calling but I have turned my phone off. I look at Bryan occasionally but not often because I don’t love him. Not that much. He has put enough gel in his hair that it looks like plastic and he has a New York Yankees tattoo on his right bicep that that he got in some apartment off the highway the week before while I sat in a corner with the cigarettes he bought for me and read a novel. 

When we get back to his place later that night he will find his pet ball python still in its terrarium in a way that lets him know, immediately, that it is dead. He will curl his body around it’s cloudy glass box like he has something left to protect and I will ask him to take me home, please. 

The second time I find the place I am eighteen and I have just graduated high school. 

I have a friend named Kaitlyn and she has brought me here. It is the first time I have seen it in the daylight. Such daylight that it has actually just been born, the sun has just begun to bathe the valley in light and I think paradise and feel stupid immediately for being so cliché. We are alone and we remove all of our clothes and slip beneath the water’s surface like it is our second skin and it has always been ours. A water snake swims past us and I watch, silently. She squeals and I tell her that it doesn’t want us, that it’s okay. It is strange for me to be this confident about something I know nothing about. I am not scared of any river creatures. 

We are talking about the lives we will lead after this moment. We think we will be together, always, but we are wrong. We will go to college and be roommates for seven days before I realize that I cannot stop staring at the window in our fifth-floor dorm and thinking that I would like to jump out of it. I will leave on the eighth day (out the door, not the window) and we will never speak again. But, for now, we are going to be friends forever. More importantly, though, we notice that we have drifted downstream and when we try to swim back we find that we can’t, because this part of the river has an undercurrent and it is stronger than we are. She tells me that we are going to drown and that we are naked (as if I might have forgotten) so it is even worse than if we were to die regularly. And, for a little while, we go on this way. I thought about life and death and the particular shade of blue the sky was that day. I thought about the night before when we were swimming in Kaitlyn’s pool and she had slid my swim suit straps off my shoulders, put her mouth against my neck, and then I am back, and she is pulling me away, into the current, her hand on my arm – tight – and we climb onto a mossy bank like we are just being born and have no clue what to do with these arms and legs we have just sprouted. It is someone’s backyard and this house looks like it could belong to my grandmother, with its pinwheels and overgrown plants. 

I am laughing because I think everything is funny, and she is crying because maybe that house didn’t look like it belonged to anyone she loved. I say that we will be alright and climb onto their boat dock where I am sure there are at least towels, because this is not the first boat dock I have trespassed and I know where rich people keep such things. When I come back, I find her there, still on the bank, wiping her face with the back of her hand saying that she really, really thought we were going to die. She repeats this several times and I let her talk while I watch the water. The world is asleep, and quiet. I am looking for the current because I want to understand it, want to break it open like an egg and analyze its contents, but it is invisible and unknowable to me. 

The third time I find the place I am twenty and driving around, looking for somewhere to meditate. I am in college but it’s religious and the people are fine but I can’t talk to them. I used to like talking to my creative writing professor, but last week he suggested that my ass might be made of concrete so I am trying to find a better way to spend my time. The rest of the students want to talk to me about Jesus and I can’t stop doing projects over evolution. Apparently, these are opposing ideas. I turn down a road because it looks familiar and when I reach the water I know I have been there twice before. It is empty, the water is clearer than I remember it, and there is a tree growing directly out of the bank that reaches halfway across the river and I will spend days in it, perched high over the riverbed, reading between classes. When I get tired of reading I flip onto my stomach and lay very still, studying the catfish as they swim below. 

When I am twenty-two I bring Lowell here, to this place, because he is going to leave soon and I do not think I will see him again. We met when he sat across from me in a drawing class and immediately began talking about Ovid’s Metamorphoses for no apparent reason. He is twelve years older than me but I don’t know this because I don’t see it. 

He sits with me on the bank of the river, and we watch the birds fly overhead. It is a huge flock and they all pass by at once and they are high, so high, and we both look up and watch the whole thing as they cover the sun and make dark spots on our skin. 

There is a blank space in the sky for a while and I don’t know what we will fill it with, but I don’t care. Two birds fly by, stragglers. One and then the other. 

“That’s us,” he says, “That’s you and that’s me behind you, following you everywhere you go.” And I don’t say anything for a while. It is hard to hear because I know that we won’t be us next week. I press my forehead against his shoulder and I interlace my fingers with his own. We don’t normally hold hands. 

“You are the most annoying bird,” I say to his shoulder. 

I think about quantum physics and parallel universes and how I had read something in a book once about how every choice you make is only the choice you make in this world. In every other word, you are making a different choice. In every other world, your reality looks slightly different than it does in this one. I knew then that a part of us, a different set of us, would always live in this moment. But I also knew that he would leave tomorrow and we would never be the same. 

When I receive his letters from prison, he will write in the smallest handwriting to fit the most words on the page. I can tell he wrote hard because the words are so pressed into the paper that they show through to the other side. Every word is about my hands. Every fingernail a narrative. When I ask him to stop sending these, he begins writing them in Russian, and I stare at this alphabet I cannot interpret but still, somehow, know what it means. 

By the time I am twenty-four I am living in a small house behind a much bigger house belonging to someone much richer than I am. The small house sits close to the river and this makes me happy but I have a girlfriend and she is mad. She is mad because she is tired of living in this shack in the middle of nowhere, she is not cut out for this, this is not her idea of a Good Time. This house has never felt like her home, it’s too much my own. I have never been able to make her feel like this is a place we can share. I am bad at sharing, she points out, repeatedly, and this is because I am the oldest child. She is in the habit of spouting things about my psychology that I pretend to understand because I have found that this makes my life easier. 

Last week her dog was bitten by a snake but she is pretty sure my dog stepped on it first. 

“He could have died, Alex,” she says to me one morning in the kitchen, “He could have died and you would still insist that we live here, in this shack, with these wild animals.” She is in her power stance, gesturing emphatically with both arms and I am sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, listening. “I saw a coyote last week, just walking around like he owns the place. He could have attacked! He could have murdered us all where we were standing. And then what would you have done?” 

I take a sip of coffee. I decide not to answer this question. I say, “He kind of does.” 

She drops her arms. “He kind of does what?” 

“Own the place,” I say. 

She wins this battle. When I give the landlord my notice I walk past the pinwheels and the overgrown plants, I look at the place on the bank where I washed up that Saturday morning when I was eighteen, I knock on the same door I knocked on that day, wrapped in his towel that I had stolen, needing a ride back to my car. And it is the same person that opens it. He is the kindest person I know. 

I shrug and say, “She can’t do it anymore.” And he nods like he has been expecting this. “Sixty days?” I ask and he shrugs back. 

“Whatever you need,” he says. As I start to walk away he calls out to me one last time. I turn around and he says, “You can always come back. This is your home, too.” 

We move to a civil, reasonable neighborhood that she has deemed safe, but within the first six months I find six snakes in the backyard and in the seventh month our neighbor will murder his wife. I will spend a lot of mornings sitting at the kitchen table, alone, and her power stance will dissolve. We will develop feelings for other people and eventually separate. And this is fine. 

The last time I saw the place was the day I left it. We piled into my car and she put her hand in mine. “I bet you could drive these roads backwards with your eyes closed,” she jokes. 

I bring the back of her hand to my mouth. 

“Can I show you?” I ask.

Alexis Kale is a queer writer living in Austin, Texas.