The following is an excerpt from The Slide (The Dial Press, 2008) by Kyle Beachy.
What was good about the road was that the road’s decisions were already made. For two full days I’d watched it emerge on the horizon and disappear beneath me. I saw it change colors, from black to gray to brown, and sometimes felt the seams between them, a clunk against the steady tremble. Los Angeles giving way to glittery Vegas, Martian Utah, and a blind nighttime passage through the Rockies. Then a fresh morning of eastern Colorado fading into prodigious fields of Kansan wheat, forever-sized and flat like nothing you’ve ever seen, until finally Missouri, blunt and dark, a series of brake lights to guide along the final leg. I surrendered to the road. Only once did I pick up my phone and call Audrey. After eight rings I heard her voice mail, and here I likely should have made some gesture, but everything had already been said, repeated, thrown around like rolled-up socks.
Then I was back in the driveway, engine idling, wondering just what in the shit to do now. There was a new addition to the house jutting into what used to be side yard. I could imagine my parents in the living room, quiet and mostly still, cozy within that special silence of the long-married. If I unfastened my seat belt, the car would beep at me.
Soon enough the front door opened to reveal parents silhouetted against the yellow glow of home. I cut the engine, stepped into the night, raised a hand, and smiled. Hello. The air felt and tasted heavy and wet. A hug, a hand pressed flush against cheek, and even though it wasn’t a week since we’d all been together at commencement, I sensed relief in them both. During her second hug my mother swayed and spoke quietly to the air, our boy, our boy, our boy.
“Makes more sense to unload now,” my father said. “Twice the hands.”
She said to make a pile of laundry and she’d take care of it in the morning. “Are you hungry? I’ve got salami.”
Car unloaded, shoes off, I sat on the counter above the dishwasher and chewed a sandwich. My parents watched. I always needed this, when they would stand as a pair, sharing the same frame. These are my parents, these two adults. I am their only remaining child. My brother, Fredrick Alan Mays, drowned at the age of five when he chased his rubber four square ball into the leaf- and tarpaulin-covered swimming pool at the Sheldon Woods apartment complex. At the time my mother was spoon-feeding a ten-month-old me special prescription formula. My father was at work, making his way through a small mountain of legal briefs. There were no witnesses. Freddy falling onto an ancient, heavy tarp improperly anchored to the pool’s deck and becoming entangled, sinking beneath fetid off-season water while my mother ensured I was taking to the new formula. One splash, then many more as his arms flailed, little puddles on the deck, ball bobbing, Freddy sinking. This took a moment of active deliberation: I was their son who didn’t drown. To their credit, my parents understood. They remained side by side and gave me a second.
“Our boy,” Carla said, beaming as she wrapped up the rolls and the meat.
I could see my father preparing to talk. He was examining his hands, pulling his frame slightly inward, revving. Richard stood over six foot and was handsome the way people found reassuring. His hair, full and gray, embraced age without submitting to it. I watched him shrug slowly and look up from his hands.
“How’s the car running?”
“It’s a great car,” I said. “I love the car. Thank you guys, again, for the car.”
“Be sure to check the oil tomorrow. You know how to check the oil?”
“Of course, Pop.”
“Of course you do,” he said. “Well, give it a check tomorrow. And then what else? Is there a plan? You check the oil and I’ll poke around if you like, find something for you. Not to say hurry up and decide. Not to pressure. Your mother and I are just glad to have you around for a while. Aren’t we, Carla? But will it hurt to start thinking about things? No it won’t. History of the world, nobody’s ever died from giving a little thought. Not a single bruise caused by thinking things over. Really: we’re just glad to have you back. Wait—I’m in Cleveland this week. Back on Thursday. Poke around then.”
I smiled and he seemed to smile kind of, and this was good, then he nodded and looked back at his hands.
My mother moved to my father’s side. “The important thing is there’s food here whenever you want it. Chicken wings, toasted ravioli, twice-baked potatoes.”
I climbed the stairs to the second floor. I stepped into the newly redecorated bathroom and watched myself brush teeth, then spent minutes leaning onto the sink, examining my reflection. In the bedroom, I opened and closed the wardrobe and several dresser drawers. I was continually impressed by the sturdiness of my parents’ furniture, dark old wood that hinted at permanence. My poster of Ozzie Smith mid-dive hung over my bed and my sheets smelled of some theoretical sunny and breezy afternoon, the middle of a field. I lay down, closed my eyes, and breathed. Sleep, lately, was becoming an issue.
Some time later, I tossed back sheets and stood. Downstairs, I moved from one room to the next, turning corners with soft steps. Every few years my parents would hire crews of men to come and hang sheets of translucent plastic, rip up floorboards, and push walls outward. Two years ago they furnished the basement. Before that they lengthened the patio into the backyard, then they added the sunroom, where nobody ever went. The living room had once been the family room. I stood where the current living room used to end and looked into the most recent addition. The office, Richard called it. The computer room, Carla called it. I touched picture frames and ran fingers across new plaster. I leaned against the enormous desk and waited.
A timer made the rooms go even darker than before.
Back upstairs, the house grew colder and I crawled deeper into the bedding so that soon only my face was exposed. I may have been acting like a child, but in this room it was sanctioned. It was okay.
Audrey was on an airplane. Or she’d already landed.
Where was it. Paris.
There was noise directly above me, the scraping of some creature in the attic. Plural creatures. From inside the fabric-softened and spring-breezy cocoon I watched shadows of branches dance across the wall. Rain.
Excerpted from The Slide by Kyle Beachy Copyright © 2009 by Kyle Beachy. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.