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Issue number nine




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Suburbika by Benjamin Chadwick

He dreamed he was shearing steel wool from electric sheep. They roved in gray packs on iron streets, grazing on discarded soda cans and the wrappers of forgotten products. Streetlights formed yellow halos on asphalt gardens, and grey houses and pine trees threatened jagged beyond the weed-infested sidewalks. Gale winds swept the metal fuzz of the sheep into tumbleweeds that scraped the houses and chilled his spine. Shorn, the sheep became fluid metal machines, shimmering under, and melting into, a chrome sky that soon turned into the blue world outside his window. He realized he was awake. The dream was meaningless and it dissolved into other thoughts. Waking, he felt at his lips.

A glowing trapezoid of warm sunlight filtered through the half-opened venetian blinds, exposing thousands of dust particles. He waved a hand through the ray of light and the particles parted, then merged like dancing children at a microbial ball. They escaped, some of them, into his nose. He felt like he should sneeze, that he would like to sneeze, but he suppressed the urge. He would sneeze in the future when his lips were free. One of his feet protruded from the blankets and the other felt sweaty. Outside, barbed black trees threatened winter; still, the grass grew high and needed to be mowed. He shifted and rolled out of bed.

His parents were eating bacon downstairs and he joined them at the table. The weak conversation stopped when he arrived. Breakfast sat in a cup at his honorary spot. He tossed it back, up his nose, felt it drip, hot and itchy, down his sinuses, sliding along the back of his throat. When the dripping stopped he tilted his head forward again and watched his family chewing. Sometimes his father seemed to lose his hunger, idly stirring hash browns and bacon with his fork and eating only out of duty. His mother ate perpetually, however, as if powered by the action of her jaws. His own breakfasts were much more efficient, yet he always found himself fascinated by their technique.

He drew a smiling icon on his pad, a compliment. His mother thanked him with a single flat syllable. Neither parent moved an unnecessary lip in his presence. They never smiled. They seemed wooden. It didn’t matter. Days and weeks and months and years.

The dining room featured giant windows and he gazed outside as he listened to their crunches. A solitary oak tree cleaved the backyard landscape in two, halfway between the house and the forest. It rose seventy feet into the air, and now its blighted upper half threatened the idyll of the house. His father had spoken of renting a chainsaw to cut it down. The base was five feet around, though, and difficult. Brown and grey rivulets ran up to the maniacal branches above. He wanted to climb up there.

Then there is a flash of white dashing beyond the tree, a startled animal--it must be a deer! His heart pounds as his dream returns, the fluid mechanical sheep, and he sits for a second before leaping from the table, out to the patio, down the staircase in a blur, out into the backyard he mows each Thursday.

It is in sight, and it bounds into the woods, crunching the brown leaves cha-cha-cha. He follows, seeing the white and purple and blue, darting behind trees and under hanging branches and over muddy little hills. He tracks it mercilessly, out through brambles that scratch and cut his skin and leave thorns in his shirt. The animal leaps over a creek and he teeters on the edge before jumping after it, with a cymbal’s crash into the shallow water and climbing the roots up the embankment, still in pursuit despite wet socks. Running again, a pit catches his foot and he feels pain in his ankle. Now his elusive prey has run too far away; he cannot catch up. He is deep in the forest; he can barely see the construction at its edge. He reaches down and retrieves a smooth round palm-sized bit of river rock, hurls it through the air with a grunt of frustration.

Moments later there is a cry of distress, gnn! He limps after the sound. His feet are cold and his shoes are heavy. He finds the deer, seated, leaning against a tree, looking very odd, wearing a white shirt and a purple jacket and blue jeans; he realizes it is a girl. She is breathing heavily, holding her sleeve against the blood running down from near her right eye, fanning out over her cheekbone. Her eyes are wide, brownish-blue, and her hair is jagged. Suddenly, he loves her.

“Here, take it.” She pulls a car stereo--his father’s--from her jacket, hands it to him without looking. He examines it, and then her. She seems helpless. “Don’t try anything, boy, I know tai-chi. Jeez, don’t you talk?” He shakes his head. “Holy shit.” She sees the gigantic screw, the nut and bolt that permanently clamps his lips together. “I can fix that. Who did this to you? Sit down.” She stands up and pushes him down against the tree, pulls out a screwdriver and begins working. With a hand under his chin, she aims the flat head into the circular slot and tries to twist. He looks at the stereo and at her fierce face. “Is this okay? You’re nodding, right? God, it’s really tight. Gnnnn--oh, there it goes!” There’s a squeaking noise, from the rust; she seems to be spinning the tool for hours. At last the screw is removed. “There, you can talk now. Say something.”

He puts his fingers to his lips, tentatively. There is a little blood--it tastes like aluminum--but not much. His jaw is weak. He pries open his mouth with his hands, feeling his teeth and his tongue, touching them for the first time. Now he is finally free to say whatever he wants. He looks at her, thinking of her insistent beauty, the delicate paleness of her unaltered jawline, the golden sun silhouetting her henna-fused hair, her brown eyes glinting moist, astonished. He opens his mouth to speak. But he can find no words for his hatred.

Benjamin Chadwick is a second-year student in the fiction MFA program at George Mason University. His fiction has appeared in Rattapallax.

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