Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

"What a Man Would Do" (v)

Darren Nikkles has been haunted by what happened the weekend before--and by his mother's accusations. He's been awaiting his turn in the ring at the discus circle. 

He snaps back. He's at the meet. It's a dual, and he's got one lousy throw out there, and the judge yells his name. "Nikkles, Mallard--on deck," he said. It's Tuesday, right? But the whole business isn't over by a long shot. He's got two more throws and he's got to go face his mother again.

And the fact is he knows who did what she said. If somebody raped a girl that night, he knows very well who it was.

He steps back into the ring, winds up his arm, and pulls himself into the crouch. He stops for a minute and looks over towards the fence. Coach is already back across the track now that the far stake belongs to a Mallard kid.

He glances over to the shot circle, where he sees Ben Warren holding the shot-put high above his head while he stretching his hamstrings. "When I went in that bitch, I could have been driving a truck," he'd said that night. "She was eating out of my hand." And then he turned to him, looked over the front seat, and he says, "What'd you get, Nikkles?"--as if it was the day after Christmas and they were comparing gifts. Ben Warren leans up from the back seat, flicking the pop-top of a Miller Draft. "What'd you get, big-city boy?" he says again, as if it was a contest.

Two more throws. His arm was loose. He waited for the wind to rise--then, once it did, he went into his spin, stayed low and exploded. The disc took off into a gust, perfect plane, going up and up and then flipping over and carrying out way past the chalk line.

"Foul," the judge said.

His toe was over the line. The kid never put in a stake because she heard the judge yell.

"Too bad, Nikkles," the judge said, the band director. "That was a whopper."

He walked out the circle and spotted Kristine coming over to the circle, wearing his old Shorewood jacket, and trying to keep her hair out of her eyes in the wind.

"What you tell Kristine is your problem," his mother had said last night. "Don't ask for any sympathy from me, but you better tell her."

It was stupid and bad and wrong and he felt like shit after he'd left this party. Party. You want to call it a party? Country boys idea of fun--get polluted and get women.

He turned around and pulled his sweatshirt over his shoulders and his arm, pretended he didn't see Kristine, his eyes on the guy from Dickinson in the ring.

"That must be yours way out there," she said when he felt the points of her fingers in the back of his ribs, a little hug from her arms. "Way out there?" she said. "So what's up?--how many left?"

"One," he told her, not looking back.

"Coach said I shouldn't come over because everything was right today and you were going into outer space--that's exactly what he said." She dropped the little hug and came around beside him. "'Don't distract him,'--those are his very words."

She didn't know, and maybe she wouldn't have to.

"Got a B in chemistry, Darren," she told him. "I could have lit a match and blown the place up."

"Got a B?" he mimicked.

"Really stupid test," she said. "So you want me to stay or not?--last throw, right? You need to concentrate?"

"Last throw," he said.

Lois whatever, the giggle-box. Not in bed with her, just on it. Little, small-town girl all goosey over the big-city boy. "I always dreamed of going to high school in Milwaukee," she said. Lois or Leah or whatever. He's lying there in a bedroom like Steph's and he thinks of the cottage and his old man.

"Want me to leave?" Steph said.

"Stay," he told her.

The night it all broke loose between his parents, his mother bawled and screamed and swore and he was the one with his arms around her, the man of the house all of a sudden. Both of them hated the old man that night--the man he still couldn't call his father, wouldn't ever call his father, not any more.

When he climbed into the ring, he saw his old man's face over the field like a huge sand bag target, a face with an gaping mouth cut out of wood. What you remember is Brewers games, chipping golf balls, and the time he came home with a new set of weights; what you remember is the cottage, the smell of the lake, the sand--hot on your feet and gritty in your food. What you remember is the times when everything is the way it ought to be and good like that. You don't even imagine what crap can happen, not really--when you're a kid. Who could imagine? Who'd want to? Who'd care to know what kind of shit happens?

He spun, harder and faster, staying low, and when he exploded out of the crouch, he stuck that throw. He pushed every last ounce of strength and weight into the end of his finger, winged the disc up into that great wind, and he got it. He got the big one. The monster. He got the throw off he wanted to all year long. It kept on going and kept on going. He got it up there almost forever. Nobody spoke. Nobody said a thing. It was that kind of heave. He got the gold and all of that shit. He got the school record. It sailed over the kid's head, out there beyond the chalk, lifted a puff a dust when it came down in the next county.

"Huge," the judge said. "You got that one up there, Nikkles."

And he did.

Big deal.

Kristine hugged him when he stepped out of the circle--when he stepped out of the circle, she actually came up and hugged him. Her arms felt like pain.

"I got to run," he told her, pulling away fast. "I got a relay." He didn't even wait for a distance. It was out there past 160'.

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