The Man Had Once Been in Love with the Woman

By Jamie Iredell

 

The man flipped burgers at a pub in the town by the lake. He chopped up strips of roast beef and smothered them with onions and worcestershire sauce and American cheese and slipped the goop between the halves of a toasted bun and called it a cheesesteak.

 

The woman was the bartender. The neon of the beer signs glowed over her and her dark hair in the dim of the pub days, and in the more dim of the pub nights. The light also caught the soft hair that grew along her forearms, and it glinted as those arms swiped a damp rag across the bar top, wiping away the rings left from finished pints and cocktail glasses chinking with leftover ice.

 

She was going to college. The man worked at the pub in the afternoons and evenings and during day he rookied himself as a sawyer in the mountains above the lake, helping to bring down pines and cedars for their wood.

 

The man’s apartment had a single window through which he could just glimpse the skiers sloping down, and in summer the last rays of the sunset, through of the single room that contained his mattress and his duffel bag full of clothes. Before the man fell in love with the woman he liked to fling open his little window and turn into a crow and flap into the mountains where he soared over the green tops of the pines and drank the cool mountain air.

 

These were times when it might snow in the middle of summer, and sometimes, the coldest mornings gave way to afternoon thaws.

 

The woman’s mama and daddy had told her that college was taken care of; they’d filled an account with dollars over the years, and her undergrad was paid for. But if she wanted extra pocket cash she’d have to make her own way, so the woman got the job at the pub. Afternoons with no customer darkening either end of the bar, the television in the corner muted, she spread the covers of her physics text across the end of the bar, her notebook tapping against her pencil and she scribbled out her problems. When the workmen slumped in—many of the same woodcutters the man worked alongside—after the day’s end, she flipped closed her book and had the pitchers brimming with foam before the men could flop their asses upon the hardwood stools.

 

The woman’s teeth showed bright white in the pub’s dark when she met the man, and whenever they tossed pleasantries each other’s way. But they rarely said more than hello. The man kept himself chained to the grill, in a kitchen lit by florescent lights, bright compared to the bar. The man had no aims for college. His muscles called out most days, aching from the stretch he put into them hefting an axe and chainsaw, trimming off the thick lower branches to felled hundred-foot lodgepole pines. At shift’s end he pulled his body to the bar, elbows aching from the turning spatula and lifting fries from the fryer grease. And his days off the man flew as a crow. He was the kind of crow-man who could never be content to sit still.

 

The woman slid a shifter pint his way, poured herself one, and unmuted the TV while she counted out the drawer.

 

The woman finished counting nickels, then the pennies. She scribbled a signature onto a receipt, and slammed the drawer back into the register, a clichéd ka-ching ringing. It was clocking out-time. The man still had most of a beer swimming in his pint. The woman said, Hey, man, you want to smoke this with me?

 

It was a hand-rolled cigarette that the man knew was no cigarette. He’d never smoked that kind of cigarette before. Okay, he said.

 

The woman turned the deadbolt in the pub’s front door and turned off what little light filled the front of the place. She sat next to the man and lit the joint.

 

The smoke was harsh. The man sucked it in, but coughed it out. The sweet plant-ness was different. He could not describe its taste and smell. They passed the joint in silence.

 

The man finally said, I’ve never smoked that stuff before.

 

Really? said the woman. Wow, I’m your first time. I’m flattered.

 

The man laughed, and the woman laughed and it seemed to the man that they were laughing for a very long time, that the clock’s arms must have spun around and the day had come and gone and they wouldn’t have known it at all because the pub was so dark inside, and now, that he actually looked at the clock, now that he was coming down to chuckles, it was the same exact time as when he had looked last but an entire day had gone by with their laughing.

 

The man turned from the clock back to the woman, and she was looking at him. They looked at each other for a while, then the woman smiled, her teeth bright white again, her eyes dark brown and glinting. She passed the joint back to the man, and he hit it, blew out the smoke, and passed it back. The woman held the joint and the smoke curled around her face. They stared some more.

 

She was kissing him, the man knew, and he knew he was kissing her back. Behind them the TV droned on news. The woman looked away, and started to mumble something about being sorry. The man had her neck in his hand, her skin against his fingers a little slick, soft, kind of like butter, the dark soft strands of her hair cool against the backs of his fingers. He pulled her to him again, and again they kissed.

 

The woman said, We should probably clock out.

 

The snow crunched underfoot. The man closed the woman’s car door for her. Her window came down. Okay, she said. Her breath clouded into the air between them. You don’t need a ride? she said. The man pointed across the street to the weekly hotel. I’m right there.

 

The woman nodded. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. The man leaned into the car window, and the woman kissed him back before the window came back up and her taillights disappeared around the corner.

 

Their dates progressed from aftershift pints and kissing, to evening dinners at the seafood restaurant on the lakeshore, and one night they even went to a performance of a jazz quartet at one of the resort hotels, and they drank champagne and danced awkwardly in the glow of millions of tiny white holiday lights. The next morning the man took the woman to a place he loved: it was a rock shaped like an eagle that rose from the shores of the lake. When the man would turn into a crow, he often flew to this rock, where he perched, and stared over the lake’s blue expanse. But the man did not want to tell the woman that he turned into a crow, because he was afraid she would leave him. He was afraid that she would think he was some kind of freak. Instead, the man and the woman climbed the rock in the sun of sundown, and atop the rock the man wanted to turn into a crow and show the woman that that was part of him, but before he could tell her about it the woman said she wanted to introduce the man to her mama and daddy.

 

The man was nervous and excited, knowing that this was a major relationship kind of step. He knew that the woman would only introduce him to her parents because what was going on inside her must be the same thing that was going on inside him. He looked at the woman through the small window on the door to the kitchen, while she tended bar. He’d never done that before they had kissed. He watched her while she chatted and laughed with the sawmen and construction workers. Sometimes he got caught watching. When she saw him, her smile curled up a quarter inch more, and the red light of the beer sign directly behind her shone over half her face. The man put on his best clothes for the meeting with the woman’s parents, the same clothes he’d worn to their night of dancing: a pair of dark cotton slacks and a denim longsleeved shirt.

 

Her father shook the man’s hand, and her mother smiled and took his coat. Their house was large, and on the side of the town by the lake where all the houses were large. The man made sure to say sir and ma’am. The plates in their dining room had been topped with lobsters. Candles burned, the room alight with its white walls, portraits of the woman and her parents and her older brother—a man the man had never met, who lived in another town that was not upon the shores of the lake, but in a city in a valley.

 

The woman’s parents asked the typical questions. The man told them about his rookie status on the mountains, about the nine hours he put in dragging a chainsaw around the steep slopes, and the other six hours he cooked at the pub where he and the woman worked together. When asked if he wanted to be a lumberjack all his life, or did he not want something more, did he not want to learn the things the woman was learning at her college, the man said, Well, I haven’t really thought about that, sir. I suppose I don’t have any reason to go to college. Then the man hesitated. He thought about turning into a crow and flying away, and he thought that he could do that at any time. He could always turn into a crow and fly away. He continued. He said, But, I don’t have any reason not to go to college, either. The father smiled at this, and he looked at the mother who smiled also.

 

Where do your folks live? asked the mother.

 

I don’t have any parents, said the man. That is, they’re no longer with me, the man lied. He could not remember ever having parents.

 

I’m sorry to hear that, the father said.

 

The woman said, mama, daddy, leave him alone with all the questions already.

 

The father said, You’re right, honey. I’m sorry, I just want to get to know the man my daughter’s infatuated with.

 

There was a word: infatuation. It was a carefully chosen word.

 

Two days later, back at the pub, the door swung open and a large man darkened the already darkened doorway with his large and dark body. The man did not see this, as he stooped over the grill tossing a chicken breast around.

 

The large man found his way onto a barstool at the bar, and the woman stared hard at him, the kind of stare a woman makes to a man who has treated her bad in the past. She poured a beer and slid it across the bar to the man, but the man pushed the beer back and said, Scotch.

 

The woman said, Ah, I should have known.

 

The man did not know anything about this other man until the woman came into the kitchen, and she hardly ever entered under the white fluorescent light of the kitchen where she looked the same way that she looked in the day, which was a look that the man hardly ever saw, since he always saw her in the dim of the pub’s light, and at night, and so he fell in love with her all over again when she was in the kitchen.

 

She said, Stop, stop kissing me.

 

The man said, What’s the matter? Because he could see that there was something the matter that did not have anything to do with him, but it had something to do with him.

 

What did I do? said the man.

 

You didn’t do anything. Through the window in the kitchen door the woman pointed out the man who was once the woman’s boyfriend. The man saw that this other man was rather large. So, what’s wrong with that, said the man. Aren’t I your boyfriend now?

 

The woman said that the only reason her ex-boyfriend would come into this pub was because somehow her parents had told him that she worked here, that this man was a man who had left the town by the lake and had moved to the city in the valley, like the woman’s brother. In the city in the valley was a university, and skyscrapers. And the man who was once the woman’s boyfriend had left the town by the lake to attend law school in the city in the valley, and now he worked as a lawyer in one of the skyscrapers. This man—the man that had once been the woman’s boyfriend—was not the kind of man who would come to a pub like this, in the town by the lake.

 

The man said maybe not. Maybe the ex-boyfriend had heard that the woman poured beers in the pub. Maybe he’d just come to see how she was doing. She shouldn’t worry about it. Besides, didn’t she have him, the man, now? She didn’t have to worry about any ex-boyfriends.

 

The woman’s teeth showed again. By this time, customers were looking for the woman, waiting for her to fill their empty glasses. Why are you so good to me? the woman said. The man wanted to tell her that he loved her, that that was why he could make her feel so good, and maybe she would say that she loved the man back. But the man was scared that she would not say what he wanted her to say. Instead he said, I care about you.

 

The woman returned behind the bar. Beer filled the pitchers. She splashed more scotch over the ex-boyfriend’s ice.

 

That’s him, back there, said the ex-boyfriend. He gestured with his head while he sipped the scotch.

 

What do you mean? said the woman.

 

I had a little talk with your daddy the other day, said the man who had once been the woman’s boyfriend. He told me about this man who works in the kitchen, the man you’re dating now.

 

I figured that’s why you came, said the woman.

 

They don’t sound too impressed with this man, said the ex-boyfriend. They said maybe I should see you, that maybe you’d see what you were missing.

 

I dumped you because you’re an asshole, said the woman. I don’t treat people the way you do. I care about people. It doesn’t matter to me what kind of job they have or what kind of paycheck they bring home.

 

That doesn’t matter at all? said the ex-boyfriend. Don’t you want to have kids some day? You always said so, that you wanted to have kids. I want to have kids. Don’t you want to be able to provide for your kids? Don’t you want to be able to send them to a good school, so they can get good jobs, so they can raise happy kids? Don’t you want your kids to leave this little town by the lake? There’s nothing here.

 

The man gestured to his empty tumbler, and the woman refilled it with new ice and scotch.

 

I shouldn’t keep going about these things. It’s none of my business, said the ex-boyfriend.

 

You’re right. It’s one of your business, said the woman.

 

I’m sorry, said the man. It’s good to see you. How many years has it been?

 

It hasn’t been long enough, said the woman.

 

One of the working men who frequented the pub put quarters into the machine that played music, and a rumbling country tune rollicked out.

 

The woman wiped the bar, and refilled beers. She glanced at the door to the kitchen, and saw the man inside swiping a grill brick across the grill to clean it. She wanted the man to look through the window in the door to see her behind the bar, but for now he was busy.

 

The ex-boyfriend said, Let me show you something.

 

What? said the woman.

 

It’s outside, said the ex-boyfriend, standing from his barstool, his fingers wrapped around his tumbler full of scotch.

 

The woman looked at the ex-boyfriend, her head tilted, brown eyes slitted.

 

Oh, come on, said the ex-boyfriend. It’s nothing bad. I’m excited about this. I want to share it with someone. It’ll only take a second.

 

The woman looked through the kitchen door’s window. The man had sprayed the grill with cleaning fluid, and now he wiped it up. I’ll be back in one second, the woman said to the other men sitting at the bar.

 

With her ex-boyfriend, the woman stepped from the dim bar into the bright day. In the parking lot, under the pines and the blue sky, in the mild air and melting snow—for now was coming the time that the snow melted—surrounded by the trucks the other men had driven from work to the pub, sat a bright red sports car.

 

I just got it last week, said the ex-boyfriend.

 

That’s really great, said the woman. The wind made her hair fly over her eyes like cobwebs.

 

The man had finished cleaning the grill and when he looked through the kitchen door’s window he didn’t see the woman behind the bar pouring beers or wiping the bar with her damp rag. There were only the other men, in their checked shirts, their bellies hanging over the waists of their blue jeans.

 

The man left the kitchen. Out front, said one of the men who sat drinking beer, when the man looked about the pub for the woman.

 

The country song rumbled into the parking lot when the man stepped outside and saw the woman and her ex-boyfriend standing in front of the sports car.

 

He’s showing this thing to me, for whatever reason, said the woman, when she saw the man.

 

Nice car, said the man.

 

Thanks, said the ex-boyfriend. You like cars?

 

The sound of cars—other cars—cruising past the pub on the road that circumnavigated the lake hummed through the pines.

 

I wanted to show it to someone. The ex-boyfriend’s ice chinked as he drained the remains of his scotch. He stretched his arm to the woman and she cupped the glass in her fingers. From his wallet, the ex-boyfriend fingered out a bill the denomination of which was what was needed to cover his drinks. Don’t worry about the change, the ex-boyfriend said.

 

His sports car’s engine was a roar then a rumble as he turned out of the parking lot into the road.

 

Charming, said the man to the woman.

 

A period of relative normality occupied the woman’s and the man’s lives. The woman questioned her parents about the ex-boyfriend. The woman’s father said that he had run into the ex-boyfriend at a gas station in the city in the valley. He’d only been talking, said her father.

 

The woman, though, squinted her eyes much more during these days. Her face became wrinkled with frowns. The man asked her what was wrong, and the woman said nothing. The man touched her arm, which was sleeved by her longjohn sleeves, and he said, Come on, you can talk to me.

 

My father, said the woman, I know what he thinks.

 

The man knew what she meant. The man couldn’t help himself. He was not a man who could put his eyes into a book and read the book’s words. He was a man who turned into a crow. He read the mountains. The days he roamed with other men, their fingers dirtied with the dirt of the dust of the mountains, the bark from the pines, the sap making his fingers stick together. The smell of fresh cut wood. The air ruffling under his arms that had turned to wings, the tears he squeezed out in the cold wind. These were things the man could spend his life reading.

 

It’s not that, the woman said. I love you—the woman paused because she had never used that word like that with the man before—for who you are. I don’t want you to be what my parents want you to be.

 

I love you too, said the man. He wanted to take the woman into the mountains right then, but the mountains were soggy with melting snow. He wanted to take the woman to the east of the lake, down the east slope of the mountains, where the snow disappeared and they could hike the trails that wound through the pines. He wanted to make love to the woman in the meadow he knew, the meadow in the pines on the east slope of the mountains. He thought that maybe if he told the woman she could also turn into a crow, then she would, and they could fly away together. But they had to work at the pub that night.

 

The woman and her father exchanged shouts. The woman’s mother held a casserole pan with potholders. Her father was in the dining room and the woman stood in the doorway connecting the two rooms. The doorway seemed to hem her in to this tiny spot. Her father said, I don’t know what you see in this guy, when you dumped a perfect gentleman.

 

A perfect gentleman doesn’t tell a homeless man that what he really needs to do is get off his ass and get a job, said the woman.

 

Well I don’t see what’s so wrong about the idea of having a good job, said her father.

 

The woman’s mother was astonished, she said, simply astonished that the woman would talk to her father that way.

 

The woman’s mother spatulaed lasagna from her casserole dish onto plates now.

 

I’m outraged, astonished, whatever you want to call it—fucking appalled—that you are going to try to sabotage my relationship with a man I love. I love him. I told him that I love him, and he loves me. And all you care about is what kind of job he has.

 

The mother’s mouth was an empty cave. The father slammed his fist upon the dining room table. You’ll not talk like that in this house, the woman’s father said. He was shaking. His face had turned tomato-like with his anger.

 

Yes, you know, I’m getting out of this fucking house, the woman said. And she felt the house tugging on her, as the tears dripped from her stinging eyes, and she forced herself free from the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, out the front door, and into her car, her mother yelling that the lasagna was getting cold.

 

Collapsing into the man’s arms, flopping onto his mattress in his apartment, the woman vented her tears and they made the pillow damp. The man said, You shouldn’t have said that.

 

Now the woman was off the mattress, and she paced in front of the man’s little window, alternately blocking out the light and letting it shine in. The mountainside outside the window was alight with the last light of day blazing over the tops of the crags that made the horizon of the mountains.

 

The woman said that goddamn it she should have said what she said, that if she hadn’t said something that she would be under her parents’ stupid vision of her life for her entire life, and she’d never live her own life, and that was no life. She said, I want a life with you.

 

The man stood from the mattress and the woman fit into his arms like their bodies had been built to fit each other that way, and the man knew—he just knew that if she tried hard enough she would turn into a crow. The man inhaled the sweet scent of the woman’s hair. That was a smell he had come to know so well that he could not imagine not smelling it.

 

We should leave, said the woman. She was set for stopping by the pub—where the owner tended bar this night—and quitting and getting their last checks cut for them, and together they would take all their money and drive off in the woman’s car, and together they’d leave the town by the lake in the mountains.

 

The man sat again on his mattress. Where would they go? he wanted to know. He’d never been anywhere except here, on the shores of the lake. What would they do for money? He supported his chin with his knuckles as he worried over these things.

 

He felt the woman standing over him, her palms pressed to his shoulders. He looked up at her brown eyes. Her eyes said, We’ll have each other. That’s all that matters. We’ll figure the rest out.

 

The heater spit out warm air over the man’s cold and wind-chapped hands. They’d loaded the man’s things into the back of the woman’s car. The woman said, I’m not going back for my things. She said she didn’t care; she’d buy new things when they came to whatever town in whatever country they decided to stay in.

 

The pub owner was an old, fat, and balding man, who still loved to work behind his pub’s old bar a couple nights a week. But he was sad to hear the man and the woman say they were quitting. Why don’t I pour you a beer so you can think about this, said the pub owner.

 

The man looked over the pub, this pub where he’d met the woman. The neon glowed over the woman in the dim light, just as he remembered when he first met her, and the night they first kissed, and his resolve to leave with the woman was strong. They pleaded with the pub owner, and begged for their checks, and cussing about having to work the night shifts till he found replacements, the owner withdrew from his back pocket a thick wallet attached to a chain, and he wrote out the checks.

 

Before they could leave the pub the door swung open and the woman’s father was followed by the ex-boyfriend. The man knew that he’d see the ex-boyfriend again because in the brief moment when they had met in the parking lot, the man saw something familiar in the ex-boyfriend’s eyes. The thing he thought familiar the man now knew was hate. Also, the man knew that as far as stories go, they are less interesting without returning ex-boyfriends.

 

The kind of argument that ensued in this situation was filled with hollering and tossing hair, as the woman turned to her father and to the ex-boyfriend, and yelled at them both. There was a scuffle between the father and the man, when the father reached for the woman’s arm and grasped it like she was some an item he wanted to purchase before the man could own it. Then the ex-boyfriend stepped between the man and the woman’s father. Before blows exchanged, a bang sent the crowd voiceless. The pub owner wielded a baseball bat and he had banged his bat upon his bar. He said, My bar isn’t the place for this kind of nonsense, and if you got to, take it outside. And with his baseball bat as a kind of barrier the pub owner pushed the four towards the door and into the cold.

 

When the door closed behind them and the four stared at each other, this break in their fight led them to renegotiate. The father and his daughter talked and the man stood and watched them while the ex-boyfriend watched the man.

 

When the woman’s father got upset again, and the woman cried, the man stepped in, saying, That’s enough. I’m not going to let you do this to her. You’re making her upset.

 

And her father said, I’m her father and I’ll do what I want with my daughter. What gives you the right—

 

But the man cut him off, saying, She’s an adult now, not a child. She can make her mind. The man thought of movies he had seen where scenes and dialogue exactly like this occurred and had the man not been angry and a little frightened he would have cringed.

 

When the ex-boyfriend pushed the man away—a kind of enforcer for the woman’s father—the man punched him in his mouth.

 

The woman screamed.

 

The man pulled on the woman’s coat. Come on, he said. Let’s go now.

 

While the ex-boyfriend recovered, and the father yelled at him to not just stand there bleeding, but for him to do something, the man and the woman got into the woman’s car. The man turned the key in the ignition. In the bank parking lot across the street a woman withdrew cash from the ATM and smoked, her cigarette dangling next to her purse.

 

The ex-boyfriend reached inside of the woman’s father’s truck, then reemerged. The rifle glistened in the orange glow from the roadside lamps. He became a man with a gun.

 

The man threw the woman’s car into reverse, and now, with the gear in drive he put his foot to the floor and the car lurched, shrieking out of the pub’s parking lot. A shot exploded. In the rearview, the man with the gun fired, but he had only fired his gun into the air.

 

The man headed west through the town by the lake. He said he would drive and keep driving. The woman sat in the passenger seat and blubbered that that’s what the man should do. Don’t stop, she said. She said she cannot believe that her father would act like that.

 

When they calmed, and the man started to laugh, he said, Can you believe that asshole pulled a gun on us? I mean what the hell was he thinking? And the woman calmed a little too, and her tears subsided, and she even laughed a little. She said, What an idiot. Was he going to shoot you, or both of us, or what? The headlights were gaining on them in the rearview, and the man knew that he was not finished with the man with the gun.

 

The man sped up. The pines along the roadside veered past, lighting in the car’s headlights, then disappearing in the dark. The road through this region curved along the river that led from the lake and the road got very curvy, and the man applied the breaks. Then the car was spinning. The trees went lit in the headlights, then the road was lit, then the river, then the road again, then the trees, and then the car banged to a stop against a rock that sat above the edge of the river.

 

The man told the woman to get out of the car. He said that she had to hurry. They splashed into the river, which raged now with snowmelt. The water was so cold, said the woman. The man held her by her elbow and pulled her. He felt the river bottom for the rocks that were easy to scramble on top of, but it was dark, and once or twice he lost his balance and the two of them tumbled into the water. They came up gasping.

 

Behind them, the woman’s father’s truck screeched stopped beside the woman’s car. Both cars’ headlights shone into each other, and through their crossed beams stepped the woman’s father, and the man with the gun. The man with the gun carried his gun, the gun’s barrel also lit in the cars’ crossed headlights.

 

The man told the woman to be quiet and perhaps her father and the man with the gun would not find them. They continued moving through the river, but it was impossible for the man and woman not to splash when crossing this river.

 

The woman’s father called for his daughter. He hollered, Just come back; we can talk through this.

 

The man and the woman said nothing but kept moving and finally, shivering and numb from the cold, they climbed the river’s far bank, into the grass and horsetail rush that grew along the banks beside the river. They could hear the woman’s father and the man with the gun calling for them from across the river, and then they heard the splash of the men’s boots as they too entered the river, chasing the man and the woman.

 

The woman’s teeth chattered and her hands were so cold in the man’s hands, but he helped her to her feet, and his palms cupped the woman’s face. He blew into her hands to warm them. He said, we got to keep going, okay, and the woman nodded. The man couldn’t see her nodding in the dark, but he felt her head moving, and the hair on her head brushed cold and damp against the man’s forehead.

 

He pulled her by her hand up the mountains that formed the canyon through which traversed the river. The man pulled the two of them when he came to the pines and firs that jutted out of the mountain’s side. He pulled them by reaching round the trees’ thick trunks. He felt the roughness of the trees’ bark against the skin of his palms, and when he squeezed his palms shut they stuck together from the trees’ sap. It was like a day at work, thought the man. He thought about how this was exactly what he wanted to do with the woman when she told him that she loved him: he wanted to take her into the mountains. He wanted to show her the grains of the soil, and have her feel the pinesap, and taste it, gummy, between her teeth. He remembered that he wanted to tell her that he can turn into a crow.

 

The man with the gun and the woman’s father were not far behind them. The man with the gun yelled, Just leave her alone, and you won’t have to suffer for this. The man knew that the man with the gun was talking to him. The father called to his daughter, saying, You don’t want it like this, sweetheart, not like this.

 

The man and the woman panted, their breaths blowing in clouds before them. In the east, the sky burned pink, with the sun nearing the horizon. They had come almost to the mountain’s summit. All that lay ahead of them was a sheer granite outcrop.

 

Where do we go from here? asked the woman. Are we going to run forever?

 

We can run as long as you can, said the man. Up. He pointed up the cliff. We climb. You don’t think your father and ex are going to climb these rocks?

 

The woman remembered their day climbing the rock shaped like an eagle. She knew that she and the man could make it.

 

The man let the woman climb in front of him. In the dim light of dawn the man could now see—below them on the slope, coming up—the man with the gun and the woman’s father. Keep climbing, said the man. He pushed on the woman’s bottom to help her climb up the cliff.

 

Before they reached the cliff’s top, the man with the gun was helping the woman’s father up the rocks. The man with the gun had brought ropes. He used them to help the woman’s father climb the cliff.

 

They’re still coming, said the man. Keep going.

 

The man and the woman climbed to the mountain’s top, and now that they had reached it, they saw that the mountain was a large mesa, flat at the top. Far below them the river twisted through the canyon, and they could follow the river in the morning sun until it got back to the lake in the mountains, from which it originated.

 

The man and the woman ran to the other edge of the mesa, the other side of the mountain’s top.

 

We can’t keep going like this forever, said the woman. Maybe I can talk to him, both of them.

 

The man shook his head. I know all about the man with the gun, said the man. He has looked at me with hate, and nothing will stop him from killing me. We can make it.

 

The man put his arms around the woman. He whispered soft at her ear, Imagine that you’re a crow. Feel the air of my breath, like the air beneath your wings. And now you can feel your wings, feel the air flowing over them, and we can see the tops of the pines, and in the distance the lake shimmering with the morning’s sun. And the air is so cool—

 

Then neither the man nor the woman heard anything else at all.

 

The woman’s father and the man with the gun reached the mesa top, and they walked to where the man and the woman had last stood.

 

The woman’s father saw the bodies crumpled on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.

 

The woman’s father fell to his knees and wept. The man with the gun let the barrel of his gun rest upon his shoulder. The father continued to cry, and the man with the gun put a palm against the father’s shoulder, but still the father cried, so the man with the gun left the father there. The father sat there, crying. He cried for what he’d done to his daughter. He cried at the sky, and the tops of the pines below him, at the river in the canyon, at the lake. He cried until the sun was high overhead, and he cried when it slipped below the western horizon. He cried for many days and months, and the snow storms returned and the mountain became covered with snow again. The father, crying there at the mountain’s top became covered with snow. And finally, when the sun again began to melt the snow and the river raged below in the canyon with the melt, the father was still there, but he had become a part of the mountain. So now the mountain was no longer a mesa. It is still covered with cliffs. The cliffs are in the shape of a man, gazing to the sky and weeping.

 

 

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Jamie Iredell lives in Atlanta. He wrote these books: one called Prose. Poems. a Novel., that was published in 2009 by Orange Alert Press; another called The Book of Freaks, published in 2011 by Future Tense Books. Stuff he’s written has appeared in magazines like Opium, PANK, Copper Nickel, Action Yes, Gigantic, and elsewhere. He blogs about things at jamieiredell.blogspot.com. The story here, in Forge, is excerpted from a novel called “The Lake.”


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