The following is an excerpt from the story Goodnight, America by Jack Boettcher, appearing in Annalemma Issue Six. Image by Daniel Lucas.
“Carol, word this evening that a bridge has collapsed over the Coosa River. There were several injuries, but only one person died.”
“Dan, bless those poor onlookers. Can you imagine?”
“I see the bridge crumbling into the river like a shelf of shale touched by our Lord’s pointer itself, Carol.”
“It’s just awful isn’t it.”
“Carol. Like, no, I can’t even begin to. Uh. Us boys used to jump off that bridge into the river at night, wearing nothing but the suits we wore to the interview with God before we were born, so obviously I have some very tender like feelings for that bridge, but we have to press on, we have to fight, we have wars going on right now. Which reminds me, folks, you can donate cigarettes and old battery-operated handheld video games for the troops to our offices, at any time you wish, call…”
You think about letting go and floating out on the invisible wires of a wind shifting direction, on summer nights with the river drawing up fast beneath you. But with the air so humid that it was like you were already falling through something like water, and until you hit the quick black surface and went swift and away you never knew what the water really was. And you get distracted before the bright lights and the camera, you have to read the cards twice, and then you read things that aren’t on the cards at all, textual gaps and illusions into which you stumble. From that warm and rust-rough footing your tiny toes gripped, you could smell the blasts off the steel furnaces and see the deer sleeping on the banks below, color of simply smoke, not yet skittish because the first boy hadn’t jumped and cracked the hushed rush of the current. You honestly believe the world had the exact number of people it was supposed to have back then, as your mother also professes. Whichever path you took from home, in any direction, the wilderness always clung as snug against you. Now there are paved roads and sodium lights for the teenagers to find their ways home. You were drunk on that bridge above the river and you were so young and drunk that the stars prickled through the brine into your pores and stung like the horseflies that were actually stinging you. You flailed above the water like some hapless new mammal with pawn shop wings and all those comets reached across the sky to bite you in the ass. You swatted away horseflies midair. A wonder you never cracked your skull: people scavenged metal and trash from that river for a living.
Click here to pre-order Annalemma Issue Six, which ships April 12th, 2010.
Jack Boettcher is the author of two chapbooks of poetry, most recently The Deviants (Greying Ghost Press 2009). His stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Indiana Review, Pleiades, and other magazines. He lives in Austin, TX.
Daniel Lucas is an artist & graphic designer working and living in luscious Los Angeles. A graduate from the CalArts program, he – like so many other graduates – still has little, to no, idea where he is going in life. This is the most exciting thing about it all to him.