Affinity Excerpts – We End Up Here and Road Rash

Aug 3, 2015 by

 

Today’s excerpts are from two Kansas authors, Chloe Johnson and Brian Culp. I’ve often used the phrase, ” a pretty little story” to describe particular pieces I’ve liked.  These two stories aren’t those kinds of pieces, and I love them for it.

We End Up Here

Chloe Johnson

 

Buckled in and safe from harm, Kathy and her daughter Olivia bounced—as much as their grayish seat belts allowed. Memorial Boulevard was bumpy. Kathy’s eyes traced the tarred over cracks in the Rhode Island pavement.

“I want to be a taxi driver,” Olivia said from the backseat. “With red hair.” Kathy—who had blonde hair—watched her small, mousy brown-locked daughter fiddle with her chubby thumbs in the rearview mirror. Kathy didn’t say anything, but sped up a little and sharply clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. It sounded like wooden clogs on concrete. Kathy was conditioned to be a svelte and polished housewife. Her mother taught her to place perfume at the back of her knees. Her father had equipped her with mace and spoon-fed her sunshine.

For the majority of her childhood, Kathy and her father had traipsed down to the coast along Memorial Boulevard and searched for seashells. Her father had created a contest to find the largest sand dollar. He rewarded her with a new pearl for her tennis bracelet. Kathy ran home with a small velvet box in her pocket every weekend. On their way home, they had counted the individual bricks on the Memorial Boulevard hand-laid barrier. Kathy made sure they counted in threes because the number comforted her. They strolled arm-in-arm and breathed in the salty wind. Near the end of their ritual walk, they ended up at a massive oak tree. They had counted the branches that extended toward the sky, lying on their backs, their legs outstretched.

Years later, Kathy often visited the oak to run her palm along the bark grooves, counting each ridge in a triplet rhythm. Most days she took the Memorial Boulevard loop. The loop consisted of driving along the beach for six miles, a left at Pennsylvania Avenue, and two more lefts after that to meet up with Memorial once more. She took this route exactly three times so she could glimpse the tree each time from her Range Rover.

In the summer before ninth grade, her father had lost a major client. At the same moment Kathy had pulled on crisp, dark jeans for her first day of school, her father catapulted a paperweight across his office. The heavy prism barely missed his boss’ right earlobe. The family relocated to a neighborhood that smelled of tortillas and sewage. Kathy shared a room with her younger sister who always had frosting on her face. Kathy’s mother purchased a sewing kit to mend old sweaters. Kathy was no longer able to put a Shirley Temple on the country club tab. She and her father visited the coast less frequently. The times they did, however, the sand dollars were her only reward. Her father had started selling cars. He spent his nights watching the stock market rise and fall, ushering in Kathy’s dingy, pearl-less days.

She had counted the minutes and seconds until it was time to gather her neatly packaged crates and head off to college. She had dreaded another day spent watching her father’s wrinkles deepen. She hated the way their conversations consisted of tuition costs and remember whens. Her diary was filled with angsty scribblings like, He made a slow disaster out of me, out of all of us. Kathy took tally of her pearl collection. It was all she had left of the father she used to gallivant with along the coast.

 

Road Rash 

 Brian Culp

 

If he had told her once, he had told her a thousand times. Do not take the pump. Do not remove the goddamn bike pump from the garage. Please, honey. Pump your tires in the morning before you go. If the bike pump is in your car, then only one of us gets to use it. But if you pump the tires in the fucking garage, like I’ve asked on at least fourteen different occasions, we can both have properly inflated tires. Is that so hard? Is it too much trouble for you to think of someone other than yourself for a change? OK, honey? I mean let’s not even discuss the fact that it’s not safe to ride around on deflated tires. I mean, say I get a pinch flat out there and I’m stuck without an extra tube. I’m just gonna have to call you to come get me and then we both don’t get to ride. See how that works? It affects both of us when you do something selfish like just throwing the pump in your trunk.

The man listened to his wife on the other end of the conversation for a moment before interrupting.

Look, whatever. I just don’t want to have to tell you this again in two days, OK? Leave the pump in the god damned garage. All right? That’s it, I’ll see you tonight.

The man stabbed at the little red phone button on his phone, ending the call while she was still trying to get a word in. He then chucked the thing through the open window of his car. It bounced off the driver’s seat before nestling into the well-conditioned leather upholstery of the passenger’s side. If he wasn’t in such a rush, he’d reach back through the window, grab the phone, and set himself a reminder: buy a spare pump. Just buy two pumps and keep one in the trunk, just so this kind of thing would never happen again.

In fact, he thought briefly about going inside and saying never-you-mind to the whole idea of going out for a ride that evening. But he was already dressed in his matching spandex kit, his water bottles were already full, and his helmet and clip-on shoes with the graphite footbeds were loaded in the car. He’d been really, really looking forward to the ride. The weather was perfect. Two of his best friends would be there. And he always got a much better workout in the big group rides – 40 or more riders pushing each other ever faster, resembling a multicolored bait ball of ocean fish escaping a predator – rather than just going out by himself. So under his breath he muttered, fuck it, and threw the carbon-fiber bike with the under-inflated tires atop the four-hundred-dollar rack strapped to the back of his newly-waxed sedan, and headed out for an evening spin, if for no other reason than to give the circumstances of the evening the old middle finger. He was a hard-charging man who got what he wanted out of life as evidenced by his stainless steel appliances, his basement entertainment system and his wife’s perfect breasts, all bought and paid for thank you very much. He wasn’t about to be stopped by a few pounds of missing tire pressure.

The delay searching for the bike pump and then calling his wife almost made the man late, but he managed to catch a few green lights on the way, and pulled up just in time. One of his friends smiled and looked at his watch as the man unloaded the bike up and over the tines of the rack. The man was still adjusting his helmet when he said to his friend, “Wife took the pump. Don’t ask.”

“Wanna borrow mine?”

“No time,” replied the man.

The friend shook his head and said: “Dogs and wives, my man. They’re great to have around. Most of the time.”

The man exhaled through pinched lips to acknowledge the jest. The sound was similar to the sound of air escaping a tire. He tucked his phone into the back-pocket pouch of his jersey and clipped shoe to pedal.

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