Acquitted, Evicted, Conflicted.

 

“Go,” Chris insisted to an audience that couldn’t hear him. His right hand fumbled blindly around the deep center console of his 1989 Bronco. It hit upon its target and he slipped a Marlboro Mild between his lips, pressed the old knob of the cigarette lighter in, and met the eyes of the woman in the car next to him briefly before she looked away. Chris shook his head. The woman’s eyes had glazed over like she didn’t know what she was doing in this world. In Alaska she would have smiled.

The knob popped out and with a familiar fluidity he touched the fiery orange coil to the tip of his cigarette, inhaled, removed the poisonous stick with his left hand and exhaled. He put the car lighter back in its place. The smoke was stagnant in the afternoon heat. It hung around him like the cars amassed in the Miami rush hour traffic.

His fair skin was freckled along his nose and across his cheeks in the places the sun had always kissed. Sweat beaded on his upper lip. His blue eyes glared behind sunglasses. The people around him exhibited a level of detachment that reached under Chris’s skin and begged him to do something about it. “Free Bird” played on the radio.

In an article that morning in the Miami Herald, Chris had read that there were more homicides in June than any other month. Tomorrow was July first. Now, sitting idly with his thoughts, he understood. The warmer climate fries people’s brains, boils their blood, and takes away all rational thought. Summer is basically a reason to kill.

The epiphany turned fantasy as Chris visualized pulling out a machine gun and removing the head of the balding man in the sports car in front of him. He would then drive over the tiny car and assail the overweight lady next in line. She had it coming for cutting him off a couple miles back with no sign of remorse.

The brutal and pleasant rampage raged until the brake lights in front of him disappeared and along with them the fantastic bloodbath. He looked at the woman next to him and waited for her to meet his eyes. She refused. Fucking Miami, Chris thought. He rolled forward and remembered his grandfather. “Why do they call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?” Chris almost smiled.

The sun was setting over the low buildings along the bay. The sky was still blue, and everything was dusted by a soft golden glow. Clouds wisped around the orange ball of fire creating a golden chariot that Apollo could have mounted. Chris counted seven cranes standing dormant. They waited for morning when their operators would return and continue the construction that was forming Miami’s new Midtown. Where are they going to get the people to fill all of those apartments? Chris shook his fist at the skyline in a silent protest of urban development. He doubted that Apollo would have approved either.

The ocean was to his left hidden behind a cement screen fifty stories high. The dismal building was not yet plastered, just a few stages from the colorful paint meant to attract the tourists like bees to honey. Chris’s eyes blurred over the grey wall as he remembered Alaska.

Glacial silt sat like a modest, gray protector over the brilliant blue glaciers. The solid rivers of ice would grind the silt from the mountain rocks high above and while the heavier gravel and boulders sank to the bottom and were pushed out to sea, the silt would rise and ride the river around the ancient mountains. Like a blanket, the silt kept the glaciers hidden and cold.

There was nothing beautiful underneath all the concrete to the east, but Chris was still reminded of one grey day the year before when he had taken his girl to the Kenai Peninsula. Kelly had grown up in Alaska and wanted to stand on a glacier since she was a child, but her father had told her it was too dangerous and so she obediently slipped the subtle wish into the hiding place of things that she talked about doing but never would, like hang gliding, or traveling around South America on a motorcycle.

It was a long drive from Juneau to the national park. They were fairly close when a sheriff parked in the middle of the road waved them down. Chris’s paranoia took over.

“Good morning, Officer,” Chris said wondering what kind of residue was left over in his truck from any number of nights.

“Morning, Kids,” the officer said under a thick brown mustache.

“Is there a problem, Sir?” Chris asked, his face dimpling where his jaw was tightening.

“There is if you’re in a hurry. An accident about 500 yards down has the whole road in a mess. They’re cleaning it up, but it’ll be a little while.”

“Is everyone alright?” Kelly leaned over Chris to see the sheriff.

“They took the driver to the hospital,” he said dipping to meet her eyes.   “But all the folks were conscious, so they think they’ll be fine. Why don’t you hold off, go get a couple cups of coffee, and come back in a bit.”

“Thanks,” Chris said, “will do.”

Once the officer was in his rear view Chris laughed out loud. The general sincerity of the people in the Pacific Northwest still surprised him.

“You were scared,” Kelly smiled, Chris stared ahead. “We weren’t doing anything wrong.”

He reached over, grabbed her hand and held it in his lap. “Where I come from it doesn’t matter if you are doing something wrong if the cops want to mess with you, and they generally do.”

Chris ordered Kelly’s skim latte and his own black coffee to go. They drank them sitting on a log on the side of the road facing a low mountain. The silt run off made the sand look almost black on the banks of the silver river below. The water was flowing down from mountains so high they were hidden by clouds.

The road cleared before long, like the sheriff had promised, and the hike was fairly easy. They walked through the various shades of green in silent anticipation. It hadn’t rained yet and their jackets were tied around their waists. The rain-resistant plastic swished back and forth as they walked. Chris was mindful of the rocks on the brown floor below their feet, his ears perked to the woods for the sounds of bears. The pair enjoyed each other naturally, without filler.

It was dangerous to be so near to a glacier because of the constant change. A crevasse could open up and whatever animal or person happened to be there at that fateful moment would be lost to the Earth, forever. The rangers were serious about keeping hikers at a distance, but Chris was too young and audacious to heed the rules, and Kelly looked at him with fearful respect as he grabbed her hand and pulled her under the thin rope.

When the pass opened up in front of them, Kelly stopped. Tears came to her eyes for no other reason than the sheer beauty before her. The glacier towered before them, filling up the sky. Hundred-year-old trees looked like saplings beside the massive blue face. Small icebergs floated in the water beneath like boats in a harbor waiting to raise their masts and sail away. The sun, so rare to show its yellow face, sparkled on the beach that they had seen the glacier from so many times.

Chris took a picture of her standing on the glacier, which was somehow both pale and fluorescent. Kelly took the camera from him and pointed it at her shoes. She loved pictures of her feet, and he loved her for it.

“GO!” Chris pounded his right hand on the steering wheel shaking the image before it turned bitter. He reached down for another cigarette. Traffic is giving me cancer, he thought shifting his guilt. If I were home already, I wouldn’t be smoking. He was exhausted, and at the thought of his bed he remembered the night before.

I hope she’s gone, and she better not have fed my dog, or walked him. Chris made silent threats toward hypothetical scenarios. He hated good intentions from girls who weren’t good, and he hated the thought of the neighborhood wondering who the random girl was with his dog. She was no one, he thought, and meant it.

Chris had been careful not to wake the stranger that morning. He didn’t want to talk to her. No good morning, no note, no chance of it ever happening again. She probably didn’t get the hint. Women never get the hint, he thought, flicking his cigarette at the woman’s car that had been ignoring him, yet watching him. He missed, intentionally.

Traffic let up after the overpass heading towards North Miami and Chris hit the gas wondering if the girl from last night would tell her friend that he blew her off. The friend was cute. Why didn’t I just go after the hot one from the beginning? The regret was momentary. A collection of images flashed through his mind, starting with the shots of tequila and ending with her silhouette as she walked into the bathroom naked. He let that slide linger.

Chris’s eye lids were fighting to stay open as he turned onto his street and made the quick u-turn into his parking spot. Working all day after a night of too much tequila was almost worth not doing again. Chris saw the blurry image of the way she had arched her body over his. Almost, he decided.

He stepped out of his truck. The sun was settling over the buildings to the west. The skyline was muted by the pinks, purples, and oranges above, a profile that provoked the memory of a sunset that he hadn’t let himself think of in years. Chris swallowed what felt like an egg yolk.

He thought about the day he left home, remembering his VW hatchback packed with his guitar, amp, and what little else he owned. The freshness of his youth had soured so quickly. “Wow,” Chris said aloud when the truth donned on him that it had been ten years since the day his world was tainted forever, “a decade.”

The vivid colors resonated in the sky above the buildings the same way they had taunted him that day, mocking him, the way the people in his life had, wanting him to be bright, to be clear, to be happy, as if he could. All Chris wanted was to fade into gray. And he did, just like the colors after sunset, twisting finally into darkness.

He carried a feeling of despondency with him that decade-old day driving alone into the clear Florida night. Chris had just been acquitted, but all he felt was evicted. He took a deep breath and looked to the sky. Compared to the sight of himself at seventeen watching the sun set on that long gone June afternoon, he actually felt better. There must be something in the air today, he thought, surprising himself.

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