International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: DREAMSCAPES FICTION
J. Malcolm Garcia
begins raining while the boy runs. His arms pump back and forth
and his legs stretch in long strides as he bounces lightly off his
feet. He wears a yellow headband, a white tank top and a red pair
of Emerson Junior High School sweat pants. He has on a new pair
of Adidas his mother bought for him this morning.
The boy prances
in a circle on the wet pavement of the street looking for a tree to
duck under. He keeps running, past squat, one-story brick houses on
either side of the street separated by narrow cement driveways. Plastic
trash bags and blue recycling bins line the street. A mailman waves
Thunder rolls over the tops of trees and lightning flashes. The boy
jogs in place and thinks of his bedroom where he would be warm and dry
had he not decided to run. But he has to run to stay in shape. His lightly
tanned skin turns a darker brown from the rain. He imagines Jane and
Anne looking at him as the rain falls harder.
A man waves to him from the edge of his open garage. Water pours from
an aluminum gutter above him. He wears a sailors cap and an old
gray sweat shirt too small to cover his protruding stomach. He has on
a pair of torn sneakers and corduroy pants rolled up around his ankles.
"Get in here son!"
The boy hesitates, then runs toward him.
"Figured you were looking to get out of this rain," the man
"Thanks," the boys says. He takes off his headband and shakes
his head, combing his hair back from his forehead. "It wasnt
raining when I started."
The man picks a towel off the floor and hands it to him.
"Its a little dirty but you can use it."
The boy pats his face and arms with the towel. The garage is dark and
damp. A weak light casts flickering shadows against the wall. The boy
clutches the towel under his chin and shivers.
"Lousy way to spend a weekend," the man says. "Work all
week, watch it rain on your days off. Didnt look like rain this
morning, did it? Was going to cut my grass and watch the game. But no
watching the game for you, huh? You run."
The man reaches for a broom and sweeps water out of the garage.
"My wife tells me you peoplell run in anything," the
man says. "Snow. Rain. Anything."
"No," the boys says handing back the towel.
"Thats not what she says. Shed know. My wife tells
me everything about you joggers."
"I dont jog," the boy says. "Im on the football
"Every night for the past couple of months I come home from work
and shes on the phone with her girl friends talking about these
joggers she sees. She goes, Therere all these boys jogging.
All these young people getting in shape. She goes, Maybe
we should join a gym. You know who paid for that gym dont
He pauses letting the question hang between them.
"You got girls watching you?" the man asks.
"I don't know," the boy says.
"You don't know? You'd know. You don't get watched?"
The boy doesnt want to talk about girls. He feels his face turn
red and turns away from the man. Grownups always did this to him. When
his parents had dinner parties, his father after a few drinks would
ask him in front of everybody if he was seeing any girls. Everyone would
look at him and smile. Theyd start laughing and wink. He would
force a smile and put up with their teasing laughter. When they were
done, he would excuse himself and go to his room and close the door.
The boy was on the third string of the football team. He rarely played
and when he did the quarterback ignored him. Sometimes he wished he
had never tried out for football, but he liked to wear his uniform around
school on the day of a game with other members of the team. Jane and
Ann would look at him then. They would wear their tight cheer leading
uniforms and hang out with him and the other players in the cafeteria.
They never said anything to him unless there was a game and he was in
"You dont have to tell me," the man says, "I understand.
Youre no hot shot but youre trying. I can see that by you
running in the rain. Its not fun working up to something. Look
at me. Got this house. Took a lot of work and money saved to get it,
but I did it. Thats something even if she doesnt think so."
The man looks out the garage door, squinting as though he sees someone.
Abruptly, he turns and points to the photographs on the wall.
"Heres something not everybody can say theyve done.
These are pictures of me when I was running rivers."
The boy could only think of river boats and Mark Twain stories.
"You were on the Mississippi?"
"No, no, Further west. Much further. Me and a bunch of other men
were hired on by this outfit called Idaho Adventures to run rivers in
northern Idaho. Took tourists down white water rapids in rubber rafts.
My wife was a tourist. Thats how we met. She thought I was something."
The photographs show the man rafting, preparing camp fires, rock climbing
and swimming. His hair is dark and thick, his face hints of a beard.
Mountains rise up behind him into cloudy skies. The boy reaches up and
touches the yellowed edges of the photographs.
"Look at them," the man said behind him. "Now you tell
me if youre not impressed. Im looking all over trying to
dig these pictures up and I go to my wife, I go, Remember Idaho?
But shes out the door jogging."
The man unzips one of the backpacks and removes a package of envelopes
bound together by fat rubber bands. He walks to the edge of the garage,
snaps open a folded lawn chair and sits down. The rain has slowed to
a drizzle. Puddles form on the driveway and filmy slices of blue sky
appear between scudding clouds. Steam rises from the street. The man
unwraps the envelopes and shakes dozens of photographs onto his lap.
A few fall on the floor and the boy picks them up.
"Where were all these taken?" the boy asks picking them up.
The man looks over the first few pictures in his hands.
"Lets see. The ones of me skiing were in Utah. That one of
me there by the train tracks was after I hopped a freight train."
"You hopped freights?"
"Had to. Running rivers is seasonal work. Come fall, why therere
too low to raft. What wed do after our last run of the season
was go down to the division point in Idaho Falls. A division point is
a major freight yard. Like a big bus terminal where you can catch a
freighter to practically any part of the country.
"Id walk into the yard and ask a brakeman which train was
bound for say Jackson Hole or maybe Denver. Then Id sit in one
of the box cars and wait for it to get going. Like riding a bus. Easy.
Id shoot over to wherever Id decided to go. Usually taught
skiing in the winter. Whatever. It didnt matter. Anything would
do until spring when the riversd be high and I could start running
The boy cant believe jumping a train is as simple as the man says.
He imagines himself running, hands stretched out to grab hold of an
open boxcar on a speeding train. His clutches at the metal door. Hes
almost sucked under the wheels. He heaves himself off the ground and
rolls inside the boxcar covered in grass and dirt, his hands torn and
He wants to do that for real. Every summer he goes on Boy Scout camping
trips in the forest preserve near school. He and the other boys sit
around a camp fire eating hamburgers and hot dogs. He always stares
into the fire until he cant see anything around him forgetting
the other boys. He pretends he is a cowboy and lifts his head at the
slightest sound as if he understands its meaning. Then he hears the
sound of traffic and realizes how close the preserve is to the expressway
and his home and he stops pretending.
"A lot different running a river than running around in the rain,
isn't it?" the man says.
The boy nods flipping through the photographs.
"You ever fall out?"
"No," the man says. "Every raft has a motor. If things
really get hinky, if the waters too rough, all you have to is
raise your oars, start your motor and get out of there."
"I wouldnt use the motor," the boy says.
"You would if you needed to," the man says. "Got myself
an outfitters store. Fifteen years next month. Camping gear, sleeping
bags, tents, backpacks. Got a sale on Bass hiking boots. I never would
have imagined Id be stuck behind a counter, but comes a time,
comes a time. It's what's right for me."
He takes the photographs from the boys stacks them on his knees and
stuffs them back into the envelopes. He wraps the rubber bands around
the envelopes and tosses them in a corner. He settles back in his chair
and looks past the driveway. It has stopped raining. Water drips from
trees. Cicadas hum. The air was cool but heavy and the man could see
the sun and knows it will get hot and humid soon. He turns to the boy.
"So what do you say?" the man says suddenly looking at the
boy. "You want to try it?"
"Run a river. Ill show you. Right now."
The man presses his hands against his knees and stands with a slight
groan. He stretches and presses a hand against the small of his back.
He pushes the lawnmower out of the garage and across the driveway onto
his front yard. He paces off a large circle, stamping the wet grass
down with his feet. The boy watches him.
"Cmon out here," the man shouts to him.
The boy walks over to him.
"Lets say this is the perimeter of a rapid," the man says
walking around the flattened grass. "All the rocks and rough water
are in the center. The job of a boatman is to protect his passengers,
so you want to steer where Im standing now, the rim of the rapid,
away from all that bad stuff in the middle. Okay? Let's try it."
The man takes the boy by an arm and pulls him behind the lawnmower.
He reaches around him and gives a sharp yank on the cord and the lawnmower
jumps, gas fumes rising amid the loud roar of the motor. The man stands
behind the boy and pushes the lawnmower along the edge of the circle.
The boy stumbles but hangs onto the handle-bars. The front of the lawnmower
cuts into the diagram of the rapid. Grass flies back damp and clinging.
the man keeps the lawnmower on the rim of the circle. The boy wants
to see how rough the center of the rapid is and leans toward the middle
of the circle. The man follows his lead.
The boy imagines he has just returned from Jackson Hole to the fresh
winter run off of the new rafting season. He struggles with the oars.
His arms and back ache. Water covers his legs. The raft bucks against
the pull of the rapid. The boy feels himself dragged toward boulders
jutting out of the foaming river. He knows he will be crushed. Jane
and Ann scream.
The man flicks a switch and the lawnmower stops suddenly. He nudges
the boy aside and pushes the lawnmower to the driveway. The boy closes
his eyes, breathes deeply and relaxes. His ears ring. He becomes aware
again that he is standing in the middle of a stranger's yard.
"Last week my wife bought herself a jogging outfit," the man
says. "A bright red tight job. Started out she'd be gone an hour
or so with her trainer. Then two, three, four hours. Its practically
been a whole frickin day today. And its raining."
"Do you think she stayed dry in someones garage like you?"
the man shouts into the boys face. "Do you think she gives
a good God damn about Idaho? Who will you be waiting for some day? Ask
yourself that. When youre too old to run. Who?"
The boy shoves the man away and runs out of the yard and onto the street.
He breathes steadily, the wet air filling his lungs and expanding his
chest in rhythm with his feet striking the pavement. The boy imagines
the man behind him. His bedroom is a fort, and once he gets home, he
will fight the man if he must. He stomps in puddles and leaps over fallen
tree branches downed by the storm. He runs faster and faster, away from
the man as Jane and Ann cheer.
© Malcolm Garcia APRIL 2009
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