Author: Eli Hastings
The man turns a circle in the intersection, the four way crimson stop light flashing overhead, so he is encircled in crimson glow now, and now, not. The yellow Walkman gripped like a handgun in his right fist. The headphones nearly the age of the Walkman and the cassette clipped into it. When he was young, and lived with his rich mother and pacifist stepfather in a leafy neighborhood, there was a wolf-dog. The naturopath couple that owned the dog were proud of it—3/4ths wolf, ¼ Husky, 130 pounds of which at least 30 was matted once-white fur. That dog upon a warm day would take to the manhole cover in the intersection. Lay across it dead center of four streets that were getting busier the more people flooded into the neighborhood. But 12 cars a day or 120 that dog didn’t move for a horn’s idiocy, much less the shriek of a yuppy commuter. Threatening tire squelches caused him to look up, and give a side eye to the receding coups of the era—Subaru XLTs, Miatas. The boy loved that dog. He never got near him, never met his eyes, just scooted along to the bus stop and back again, admiring the wolf, eyes peeled for the popular predators of his block.
The artist is Soundgarden, the album is Louder Than Ever, the song is “Hands All Over.” Once he listened to it religiously, such as the day that the boy got head-locked on his way home from the bus by Travis Scalley. It wasn’t the first time, just the first time on this block. The hard drums tried to help the boy wrench free, but Travis had grappling with smaller beings down cold. When the boy found himself facing the cerulean blue of the sky and blackness closing down his vision, Soundgarden split by one ear phone’s slippage, he quit protesting. Spine against humid, May-damp grasses, he just stared up at Travis, hoping to scare the fucker away with the nihilistic apathy in his glare. But Travis’s sneer filled the sky of the boy’s world like a sickle moon, nothing else to look at but that blade. And then suddenly the cloud-cut cerulean again, Travis backstepping up the block. The boy rolled his head the other direction and the wolf had stood up, taken one step—most of its torso still covering the manhole. One quiver of its wet snout and it circled the manhole and laid its burden down again upon the steel, huffed.
The man stands now on a manhole cover in the center of the intersection, Soundgarden has plowed into “Gun,” and the light rain has made the steel beneath his sneakers as slick as oil. He wouldn’t have believed it, but headlights seem to approach from all four directions at an even speed and even distances. He knows this because he spins on his slick soles. Eight headlights pin him into blindness and the silly bitchery of horn bleat. He sticks the banana yellow 80s Walkman into his belt. He brings his hands up like claws. He pulls his lips back from his teeth and spins, waiting to understand in which direction he must move.