scars and other stories by stefan lutter
Dim lights and crowded room shoes scuffing and embarrassed cell phones. Prominent man, stands, emphasizes his qualifications: family man, long-time resident, father, human being, not extreme in anyway. Maybe he gets a little nervous and looks down at his shoes, lots of eyes and attention.
If we aren’t moving forward, then we are staying the same, he proclaims. And staying the same is the same thing as going backward.
And he, rotund to the point of caricature, taking his bromide too far, for example into the kitchen.
I see myself in the Laundromat parking lot, gang of boys seven deep, unforgiving pavement bringer of treasured scars. All of which are hidden now, under beards or hanging stomachs or at worst suits.
Forgotten under all but the most outstanding circumstances, when they might be pointed out by a dermatologist under bright light or traced by a lover’s finger in the dark.
The bonds are thinning, always thinning, and the bearers of old bruises struggle to elaborate on their war stories. Who was there, where they are now.
The man grins sheepishly as the masses applaud his vision. And all I can think of are the things I wished were the same.
After snow melt, I tell her I am anxious for foliage.
I thought you liked winter?
I do, I say, but only aspects of it. And I suppose the new winter never lives up to the memories, of 3 foot deep snow days.
When the small bulbed plants appear she cuts them and brings them indoors and boxes away things with fake snow and cut spruce and the pine wreath and wrought iron candle sticks. Blankets disappear, regardless of temperature and the cold snaps sink into bones.
In the morning, I go to dress, and cannot find a coat. So I go to the mill wearing three buttoned shirts.
When I come home there is already a wreath of forsythia on the door, and old egg cartons spread all over the enclosed porch.
We still need to do the tomatoes, peas, peppers, she says.
He hops off short yellow bus humming continuation of Ace of Bass melody, turns, waves at bus driver who tilts a head in response, puts bus in gear and roars forward, signs tucking back in like wings. Now there is large plastic for sale sign in the front yard, new to him, complete with awful realtor photo: grinning woman intent on erasing places one native at a time, uprooting deepest of veins. Leaving pictures of herself all about the town, degradation symptoms to be traded in for commission.
In response, neighbor Jack proclaims him a traitor and punches him square in the face. I can’t be friends with you anymore, Jack says. His mother gives up looking for the glasses, gets the rake from the barn and combs through the long grass until they turn up mangled.
In looking out his bedroom window he discovers a STOP sign, freshly planted at his three-way intersection. The first thing he sees in the morning is a sign commanding him to halt. For a moment he is unsure whether to leave the bed.
The sign brings the most contemplation he has given religion. He wonders: what is the likelihood that this was placed here by a higher being, an omnipotent lord sending some cowardly subverted message? If so, what activities is he partaking in such an individual would want arrested? Coming up with no reasonable infractions he decides the sign must be a coincidence and spends three months blazing through it, sometimes out of habit and sometimes out of contempt.
He slips past the DO NOT ENTER, the NO SWIMMING, the VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED. The end of a stream of four boys and two girls. Before they reach the cliff they hear New York accents, college kids loud and drinking. Sam strips off first and canters past the intruders, like a coyote dodging flashlights on the way to a chicken coop. Executes decent backflip off the high cliff into the water. The drunkards refer to rednecks and talk themselves up before one of them launches himself off the high cliff and impales himself on an old piece of drinking water infrastructure.
He and Sam swim over and talk to the guy, still breathing, while panicked shrieking rains down on them. The water turns red and Sam looks wide eyed at the pierced torso and the still-mumbling mouth and asks if he thinks together they could free him from the rusted metal.
The officer’s face beats red and blue and he sits in the car struggling, reaching out to his mind, asking it to come back right now, just for a second, he needs it just for a moment. Asks him if he knew why he was pulled over, answers own question that it was because he was speeding, then asks him if he knows how fast he was going and whether he even saw the speed zone sign.
He mumbles that the sign was not seen, it was maybe obscured by tree branches, or maybe the lighting just wasn’t right coming over the hill. The officer says I will need you to step out of the car, sir.
The feeling of deja vu, though some things are different.
Previously, no blood. Previously, no twisted metal. No darkness, no dirt on the windshield, wipers still moving, like they are trying to break free and escape the wreckage.
The sirens are the same though. He listens to them, tries to remember when this happened before, under what circumstance. Tries to remember the name of the movie where everyday, the same thing keeps happening. Man stuck in endless cycle of unforgiving life.
When the real sirens start he realizes that what he heard initially was a person screaming, not actual sirens. The screams are awful now that he recognizes them for what they are. He shouts at whoever it is to stop. Focuses instead on the sirens, sobers up a bit, feels the blood drip down his leg, the back of his head.
The police officer is what triggers the memory- he’s the same guy as last time. This time he looks less friendly, this time he doesn’t ask a question. Just says, ho boy you done fucked up this time.
About the author:
Stefan Lutter is a New Yorker but not the kind you see on TV. He was born and raised in rural Upstate where he still resides. You can follow him @cloudspine_.