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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Feats of Strength
A strongman is lifting my car, his hands bolted tight to the front bumper. His trunky thighs and buttocks are facing streetward, and several women in the neighborhood have set up lawn chairs and are watching the spectacle from their front yards. His grunts are loud, like falling timber, and the birds perched on the roof have fled in search of friendlier shingles.
We have remodeled our lives with family in mind. Out goes the air hockey table and bean bag chair, the ninja throwing stars and KISS commemorative guitar. The car, a cramped but capable two-door, is the last loose end, the sole remaining relic from our previous lives.
Yes, I want take it, the strongman says, extending and contracting the fingers on his left hand. (If I could, I would call him by his first name, but it’s unpronounceable to those unaccustomed to the sounds of his language, a series of consonants arbitrarily arranged.) He rummages through his gym bag for his checkbook and upon finding it writes out a check for the requested amount. No haggling. We agree to sort out the title transfer and other details during the week.
Natalie stands in the window with our son. She smiles at me, since we now have the money to buy the minivan we’ve been eyeing. My son, in her arms, is trying to fit the head of a stuffed giraffe in his mouth. He couldn’t be more pleased with himself.
Every couple of months Natalie has dinner with the supervisor from her work, a woman who lost her family in an accident. It happened the winter before last. Her husband was driving their daughter to a piano lesson when his car skidded over a patch of black ice and plummeted into freezing cold water. He was able to force open his door but drowned trying to unbuckle his daughter’s seatbelt, which was stuck. This is the story the police pieced together from the remains. My wife brings our son along and each dinner the woman buys him a new toy, something bright and extravagant.
Natalie and my son have vanished from the window, departed for another room in the house, and I can’t help but wonder what tragedies will confront us, what feats of strength I’ll be asked to perform for my family. It’s not a matter of if, but of when, and I only wish I knew how it will all pan out.
The first crib we bought for my son – his name is Dev, by the way – the first crib we bought for Dev was recalled by the manufacturer. A faulty latch. The drop-side, installed wrong or burdened with too much weight, was prone to loosening from the adjoining railing, or detaching completely. When Natalie found out about this, she cried. How could we let this happen? I didn’t know what to say.
The strongman asks if he can walk the car home. I nod, absently, my head elsewhere. He untangles a complicated web of straps and ropes from his gym bag. With a tow hook, he attaches a thick rope to the underside of the front bumper. The other end of the rope is threaded through a climbing harness, which he belts around his waist and shoulders. He leans forward and takes several long, agonizing steps. The rope tightens. The wheels start moving. Slowly at first, and then a little more easily. His face is red and the veins around his temples push through the skin. His legs are pumping like pistons, churning forward, determined.
Natalie comes outside and stands beside me. I pick up Dev and hold him against my chest. The strongman reaches a bend in the road, disappears behind a cluster of trees. The women fold up their chairs, but we stay outside and wave goodbye to the car, trailing behind with no one at the wheel, as if moving under its own power. We keep waving, the three of us, to all the things we’ve loved that have let us go.
Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, American Short Fiction, Melville House, Gigantic, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He keeps a blog at ravimangla.com.
*Tin House is now accepting flash fiction (under 1,000 words) for FLASH FRIDAYS. Please send to email@example.com with FLASH FRIDAY as your subject line.