Joyland

a hub for short fiction

God Time

Harrison’s sister pulls back her hair to show him the gill. A little opening like a mouth on her pale neck. He asks if she can breathe through it. She tells him to plug her nose and cover her mouth and put his ear next to the gill to listen for breath. But maybe she has to be underwater, so they jump in the pool and float in the blue world and watch each other. Harrison gives up first, swimming up toward the sun.

 

Harrison unfolds his palm. BUY MILK is written on his hand.

 

The doctor presses Record on the video camera. Harrison watches the red light blink on. He watches himself in the monitor.

 

I’m jumping on the bed with my sister, Harrison watches himself say. Her hair is sticking up.

 

Harrison’s son is jumping on the bed. His oldest son, the one who’s older than the younger one. Both of them jumping on the bed, their sweet screaming laughs, Get up, Dad, get up, Dad!

 

Harrison’s days slide one over the other. Yesterday might be when he teaches the neighbor’s dog how to dance, or when he shuts himself in his room and plays his record so loud his dad pounds on the door. Maybe it’s his wife pounding on the door and not his dad.

 

Harrison tells his sister and her friend that he’s going to grow up to be a mosquito. Already he can feel it happening, he says. Their faces laugh. His sister’s friend laughs with her whole face.

 

I know everything about everything, Harrison says, but his sister’s friend’s name slips away from him. It shifts under his feet, like the days and days that other people see one after another in consistent, marching order. Is Harrison sixteen or twenty-six or forty-eight? His sister’s friend is a little girl playing in the basement, the two girls turning faces to him, ready to laugh.

 

She’s a teenager in his entryway when his sister is out. She kisses him standing under the light at the bottom of the stairs and lets him feel her breasts, sliding his hands up and under her shirt, her skin cold and sheened with damp.

 

I dreamed I was falling, she says, her voice squeezed through the telephone line. Falling forever, like Alice down the well. He thinks of her as Alice although that isn’t her name.

 

Harrison tells her about a planet where gravity is met with another force that pushes out and everyone falls all the time.

 

Alice asks him how it feels to be married. It feels like lying in the bed in the basement of his parents’ house and watching his wife get ready for work. It feels like being out in the world, as she pulls on a slip and hooks her bra and brushes her hair and when she turns she’s his wife and she’s also a social worker, she’s a person out there, but he stays in here for when the boys jump on the bed and then he’s a person for them.

 

What year is it, the nurse asks.

 

The nurse says the fall made him this way. He was different before, she says, and the word “before” rolls loose in Harrison’s head.

 

Harrison is mooning his new brother-in-law on the front lawn, the father- and mother-in-law watching through the living room window. His new wife tells him to take his medicine, that he shouldn’t moon people in public places.

 

At church, the bishop shakes Harrison’s hand. It’s fucking great to see you, says Harrison. His wife opens the bottle that hangs around his neck, and shakes a little white pill into the palm of his hand.

 

Harrison must be grown-up, because his boys are jumping on the bed, his older son, Oscar, playing with Harrison’s hair while sucking his thumb. He doesn’t know them as teenagers, so they must still be just boys.

 

Harrison is drawing block letters on Alice’s hand. L-O-V-E. Alice squints at him. You don’t love someone you made out with once, she says. She licks her palm and puts her hand on his face. He can smell her spit.

 

In the mirror, his face says L-O-V-E.

 

Harrison is telling Alice he got married. She laughs through the phone, and he tells her how they drove to Las Vegas and had to get a preacher out of bed, and his hair was sticking up. Alice asks him how it feels to be married.

 

I fucked her brains out, Harrison says. He can’t say this in church, but Alice laughs.

 

Harrison is holding his fiancée’s hand in church. She draws a pattern on his palm with her finger.

 

What day of the week is it, his fiancée asks.

 

You’re wearing your pink dress, says Harrison. She closes her eyes. I still want to marry you, she says. Her face is puffy in the hospital light.

 

Her pink dress rustles as she wraps her arms around her chest, moonlight shining off the sidewalk. I’ll build you a house so big, it will curve around the earth, he says. No matter where you are, you’ll always be home. Marry me, and I’ll build the whole world in your house.

 

Julie Andrews is singing on the television. Nothing comes from nothing, Julie sings. Harrison fake-wrestles with his brother, skin against skin and laughing breath and slap, trying to get a grip on each other, but Harrison is wet with just a towel around his waist, his skin wet, so his brother can’t get a good grip, his hands keep slipping.

 

Does she know she’s marrying an overgrown boy? his mother asks, leaning in the doorway of the kitchen.

 

Outside, outside, not near my table.

 

They’re out on the deck and Julie Andrews is singing, Somewhere in my youth, or childhood, and Harrison’s feet slip on the wet deck and his brother thinks he’s faking him out, pretending to slip, so he pretends to push him over the railing. Don’t fall, he says, he’s joking, he reaches to catch him, but Harrison is falling anyway.

 

Harrison’s towel is falling away, his penis hanging bare and defenseless in the air, Harrison holding on to the floor of the deck with his fingers, then slipping on the wet, and Harrison falling and falling like a bad dream, like a falling dream, but Harrison doesn’t have those dreams.

 

Harrison lives in god time, where each moment is itself, each moment exists, all moments in all the time of the world exist together and Harrison can turn and turn and live in each one. It isn’t omniscience that makes a god, it’s only this, only the ability to see each moment side by side instead of squeezed through a long tunnel.

 

Harrison isn’t a god, though. He can’t see the moments in tomorrow or the day after that. He can’t live in the moment he dies or the moment his youngest son gets married. He can’t see, ahead of time, the moment his wife stands in front of him in her blouse and work skirt, holding his sons by the hands. Harrison doesn’t know until it happens that his wife has on a face that’s tired when she says she can’t do it anymore. He sees that face when she pulls on her nylons and says there isn’t any milk. Her tired face saying he’s forgotten the milk again. He tries to tell her, the milk is always there and always not there, but her face gets longer and more tired. She is writing BUY MILK on his hand. She is washing his hand at night, the letters melting off and running in the water. Her mouth is held very still while she rolls the bar of soap over and over his hand.

 

He can’t be a god if he doesn’t know this until now. But maybe even god is surprised. If every moment exists, maybe god can be surprised in each one.

 

Harrison is surprised to see his wife pull at Oscar’s hand. She pulls at his hand like she’s going to lift him from the floor, but she doesn’t. She has Niles by the other hand and Niles is the one who is crying. She says she can’t do it anymore and she wants to live in a real house and not his parents’ basement. Harrison sees her tired face but this one is different. It is tired and pulled very thin onto her bones.

 

Harrison is driving to the store and being sure to buy milk. There’s nothing written on his hand, but he buys milk and peanut butter and rice cakes because Oscar can’t eat wheat, and ice cream because both of the boys like ice cream.

 

He tells them the story of the noseless witch who lives in the mountain. She’s very, very old and very, very ugly, and she has no nose because a man cut it off. He leans in and smells their hair and it smells like little boys.

 

It’s a goddamn beautiful day, says Harrison, and his boys giggle and squirm, one under each arm.

 

Harrison is falling.

 

Who is the president, the doctor asks.

 

Harrison is with his wife on their wedding night, in their room in Circus Circus. She draws one finger down the center of her bare chest, and Harrison imagines a line appearing behind her finger. She opens her chest at the line and birds rustle out of her body, wings beating soft and dry against his face.

 

Harrison touches his sister’s scar from the removal of her gill. He feels the bump where an absence creates a new thing in its place, larger than what was there before.

 

Harrison is falling. He is always falling, always his white towel spiraling down below, always his penis shrinking in. Always his fiancée is pulling her hair back so he can kiss her pale neck.

 

Harrison is in his sons’ empty room, the emptiness blasting his ears like a cannon.

 

Harrison is falling and his sons are jumping on the bed, their hair sticking up. He’s swimming up toward the sun and he’s falling. He’s falling, and her pink dress rustles like the beating of wings.