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The Broken Wind Chime
Click for Content Warning (but also spoiler):
I woke up against my steering wheel. When I sat up, the airbag peeled off my face. My mouth was dry and tasted like nails. A tooth was loose. My neck twitched when I turned it to my left. Rain washed the remains of my windshield off the dash. A telephone pole was growing out of the hood. It was dim, damp, and early morning. A single streetlight noticed the morning light and turned itself off. I ached inside and out, but nothing seemed broken or serious. Hell, I may have passed out before I even hit the pole.
The backseat was empty. There were bloodstains on the leather, but Aman wasn’t there. My car was wrecked. My phone was out of reception. My muscles spasmed. I threw up, then sat in the gravel and let the rain wash it into a grassy ditch. I think it was about then I realized I had lost my fucking job and derailed myself into a madhouse town I didn’t understand. I remember having this thought that if I went walking for help, I’d just end up paying bills to get back to my suite, where there would be no one but myself. So, I got up and went back to Aman’s instead. He wasn’t there, but I had to check. I threw water bottles from his trailer into one of his backpacks and started to hike out past where we were the night before.
There was no finished trail through the woods from Aman’s place, but there was a rain-slicked game trail pressed with boot prints. I figured they were his, so I slipped my way up through the underbrush for the next few hours. Every crest of that trail looked like the peak—an ending to the trudge—but then a higher ledge would grow up behind it. Every muscle around my spine was seizing by the second switchback. The last of my drunk drained out into the rain, leaving me half-blind with a migraine. I pressed on into the grey morning rain.
It took a long time, but I finally found where the willow’s canopy draped over the last high ridge. I was coming up from behind it this time, rather than from the valley below it like I had twice before. Coming from behind meant the last half hour was a scramble over some slick rubble. That willow was enormous, and it sat in a throne of stone like it ruled over the whole dead volcano valley. The valley, which had been turned soil and petals not three days ago, was now filled with a low forest of twisted trees. They looked like they had when I first saw them, except now they had some greenery and buds. I climbed down and searched through the strange forest for Aman. The soil near the trees’ roots was recently turned, but even more recently smoothed by the downpour. The whole valley was quiet, even with the rain. The moss slowed every echo and buried most sounds.
Then I saw Aman. Honestly, I knew what it was going to be before I saw him, but it still caught me. He was under a tall tree with green buds on arms that reached toward the great willow, not the sky, hanging by a rope strung to one of its arms. I took a few steps closer, but only a few. The wind twisted his stiff, blue body around like a broken wind chime. I wondered if she knew. I hoped she didn’t, but I wondered. I looked back up to the willow for a moment, then left it all to return to the city.
My brother was the only person I could call who would likely pick me up that far away. He thought it was a bad joke when I asked him. He was hours away, so I ate a bit in a diner and nodded off. The locals’ mutterings about the ruined saloon worked their way into my dreams. Mercy let my brother cut them short with a nudge when he arrived.
Once we were in the car, he asked why I was out there.
“Work. But I screwed up my presentation and I’m fairly certain I lost my job. Got a bit too liquored up on the drive back so stopped in to find a motel,” I said.
“Why do you look like you’ve been in a shipwreck, man?” he asked.
“I took the wrong exit and was way off from the city, so once my car was totaled, I had no choice but to hike up to the city from a ways east … and I got lost,” I said. He laughed, then turned the radio on at a low volume.
I waited a bit with my thoughts, then asked my brother if he could answer something for me. He nodded, so I asked, “You ever really been destroyed by something?”
“Is this a jab about the gun again? Is Ridge City going to bring this shit back into my life? Ten years, you’d think you’d find a new joke,” he huffed, picking at his teeth in the rear-view.
“Naw, I’m being serious. I mean like—emotionally or something. You ever been really devastated emotionally or whatever?” I asked, turning up the Toyota’s heat to stave off the shiver I had since my hike.
He thought about the question until it soured up his face. Then he said, “I was pretty scared when Josie got pneumonia. She had that really high fever and it made her so out of it I thought she was dying the whole way to the hospital. I remember saying, ‘I refuse to get remarried so you better make it.’ I guess I thought maybe if she laughed that meant she was okay. She didn’t laugh but, y’know, she’s okay, anyway.” He shrugged. “Is that sort of what you mean?”
I wondered if that was what I meant. “Yeah, I guess. But when I think devastated, I mean like losing everything you are. I’ll give you an example: I saw a documentary on one of the last residential schools in the country—you know? Where they beat the Indian out of kids and all that sick shit?” I said. My brother shrugged but nodded, then merged over a lane. “Well anyway, they were technically adults now but they were still basically kids, y’know what I mean? Like, they were devastated on some deeper level. Like just anything they were or could be was specifically torn out of them. Anyway, they had this look like I had never seen before—this broken gaze.”
“Man, that’s dark. I guess the answer is, ‘no, I’ve never been “residential school” devastated.’ Why are you bringing up all this dark shit anyway?” he asked, shaking his head.
“I think the hike gave me a lot of hours to think about misery,” I lied, “but I had a thought when I saw that documentary and something reminded me of it. I thought that it’s exactly because they valued something specific—culture or family or home or whatever—that’s what made them so devastated.”
“Not because they were kids being abused? I don’t think it’s anything more, uh … what’s the word … existential than that.” He shoulder-checked and changed lanes again.
“Yeah, fair point,” I relented.
There was long stretch of road where we sat with the soft hum of the radio before my brother broke back in to ask, “are you saying that they got destroyed because they valued things? Like, you’re immune to devastation if you have nothing to wish for?”
“I mean … uh … I think I’m saying that you can’t be devastated if you don’t value anything. So, yeah, I guess,” I said toward the passenger window.
“But if you don’t value anything, why would you live? It’s a lot of struggle if there’s nothing in it for you. Maybe you’re immune because you barely exist the way the living do,” my brother offered.
“Like trying to punch a ghost,” I added. My brother found that funny, then noticed I wasn’t laughing.
“Aw Christ, I don’t know why we’re talking about this. How do you always rope me into this dark shit? I mean Jesus, are you all right? Do I need to worry about you?” He looked over.
“Yeah. I’m tired but I’m fine. I’ll be glad to be home.”
For a few weeks, I refreshed the Ridge City website when I wasn’t emailing resumes. I wanted to see some reference to any of it. Nothing came up, but I still checked a few times a month after that. I’ve never seen a solitary word written about any of it. The closest was a listing for Aman’s property near the end of the year, but the bank was selling it. I guess all I really know—all I can tell you—is there was a valley in the north mountains where people grew like trees, but maybe there wasn’t, because it’s a forest now full of still trees like you’d find anywhere else. But a decent guy died there—someone I kind of knew—and as far as I can tell, no one has ever cared about that but me.
Written by Rory
Edited by Lindsay Vermeulen
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