A Thawing of Reason
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Massage"
Originally featured on 02-09-2010
As part of our series "Senses of Togetherness"

I’m walking because I’m following the power lines over valleys and through the snow and my boots are frayed and damp and every forty-five minutes it seems I cross a country road and watch for oncoming headlights in the slanted falling snow and I wait for the light to turn dull gray in the sky and hope I can forget what town I’m in and as I walk I think I hear a resounding buzzing noise that blends in with the other noises, there are no other noises, just the electrical buzzing that might be an electrical buzzing in my head and if it’s an electrical buzzing in my head then maybe I can start to forget things faster, my feet feel numb, I’m walking in the iced over muddy tracks where some all-terrain vehicle came out here probably to inspect or maintain the power lines, walking is good for me.

Maria, my wife, knows more about what happened than I do. She told me to go, doesn’t matter just go, she will explain when there is an opportunity to explain.

The fire was this morning. I think it was this morning. I know it was this morning, I saw the roof engulfed in flame, saw it in my rear-view mirror. My skin should feel hot, should, if I was remembering properly. I just feel cold and my feet are numb.

Something is scratching against my ankles with increasing irritation the more distance I gain. It’s the cold air. Not even the cold air; it’s the absence of heat. It was previously a damp sloshing that became a scrape as of a metal object being dragged across my skin. My hands are retracted in the sleeves of my fleece jacket. My ears sting, droop heavy.

The figure up ahead does not look like me. I’ve seen it for probably an hour now but did not notice it because I thought I was looking at myself, as with the snow and my numbness and distracted thoughts it made sense that I would see myself when I looked forward. I realize there’s a figure up ahead that is not me. That’s how I know that the fire was this morning, not know it in the definite way I already knew it, but know it feel it with the tickle in my wrist and a tremor below the muscle somewhere in my hand’s anatomy where there is warmth.

My house burned. Maria was there, arms crossed as the black charred splints of window frame piled on the grass. My thumbs were pressed in my ears. I could not hear Maria for the engines and the artillery of water. I saw it in my rear-view and parked at a slant in the street and stood still. Maria stood in the grass and looked at me, one word.

I saw the heat in colors before I felt it in my knees, then up in my stomach, then my neck. My legs stamped the ground in a thunderous roll of gunshots. I was at the end of the block, halfway down the next block and I heard cars honking.

run

The colors faded, now I’m walking. There’s a brown hooded person slightly smaller than me in the distance. I can’t see if he or she is walking toward me or away from me. Between us is a distance of I think twelve of these gigantic wooden poles and I hear the buzzing of the power lines, louder.

My pants come to life, slithering, buzzing with frantic intent- I did not know that my pants were secretly a stomach, and my damp clothes are now digesting me like an insect. I can’t run from this alien emergency, this diabolical industry of vibrations triggered by an invisible breeze. It stops. One. Two. It starts again. It’s my pocket. My cell phone.

I dig my fist in my pocket, answer my phone. Say nothing.

I hear her breathing, Maria, and I decide I need no information.

“Ken, where are you?” I can hear the unspoken curses between words.

I say nothing. Breathe into the phone. Keep walking. Ankles numb. Figure straight ahead. Snow falling from left to right like perfect cursive handwriting.

“Can you hear me?” I press it closer to my ear. My earlobe makes me cinch my tongue between my teeth with pain. Maria’s voice becomes twice as loud and urgent without changing in tone or anxiousness. I’ve heard her voice do that before, but never when speaking to me—it’s a talent available only to mothers. “We had no choice.”

Her voice pummels the side of my face. I look behind me.

The buzzing of electric lines is so loud I can’t hear the phone. I drop it. I collapse, drop my face in the mud, keep my eyes open, grind my teeth in the mud and think.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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