by Louis Gallo
As I walk along, I wonder what went wrong . . .
This morning on my way to 7-11 for twenty ounces of muddy French Roast I drove up Tyler Avenue and passed a fistful of rowdy adolescent boys cavorting, whooping, putting on a show. One of them sternly catapulted then spun down with a sharp knuckle clip to the clavicle of his punier buddy. The victim crumpled, shot back, howled, and laughing again, stormed his friend with a barrage of vengeful kicks in the ass. All this as I passed, you see, taking it in. I’d forgotten such robust camaraderie the wide-mouthed guffaws, as if to saunter down a dreary street and expect nothing less than romping good times was natural as grass.
How could they register the slow shadow of my drab gray Saturn, my silvered hair, or know my back had sabotaged itself again as I squirmed on a bucket seat in pain so persistent it assumed material form, belted itself into shotgun, and resumed the otiose dialectic of whether or not we must suffer to savor pleasure—in a word, does alpha need omega? But philosophic worms had long since fled any sizzling beach I long to tread; “No contest,” I cried, as harpoons impaled my least enlightened chakra, Abdomen. I too would not have noticed myself.
Clouded with vodka, codeine and Ativan I lean back on a buzzing heating pad and watch Regis Philbin, the same emcee my dying grandmother watched years ago—Regis, the everlasting last resort. For pure relief I summoned up those boys, their faces smeared with levity, their muscles rippling like oil as they strutted, pranced, groped . . . toward what? a ball game? pool hall? girls? Minor mischief in the works was clear.
Which brought to mind another raucous group crammed like junk in a crimson Plymouth Valiant. We sped up Elysian Fields screeching “Runaway,” boasted how far each of us had got with Mary Ann Diebeau, chanted the cheers of Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide until we reached the humped stone bridge of City Park, the only local mound sedans could span at such an angle that all four whitewalls spun in air. Vertigo in the guts, we wanted it. I can’t see our faces any more, only gaping mouths, the same whoops, squeals and shenanigans as the Tyler gang that instant we dangled in space.
What did we find so exhilarating, so fun? Just being together, young? Knowing we couldn’t die? Not exactly knowing, for death made no entry at the time, assumed no posture in the equation. We were pure occasion. Nothing to do, nowhere to go we battered each other and laughed at our wounds, the ridiculous bridge, the Valiant as it rumbled down; we seized pleasures bloated like roses in a garden bed. Jan’s dead a decade now, Phil thickened a bit, Jim, alas, a lawyer, Hereford, vanished in Alabama, with wife, kids, all the drowsy accouterments of grace. And I, losing spine and strands of hair, sit stiffly upon the sofa I inherited from my grandmother.
So to the boys on Tyler Avenue, I bid good cheer though well I know that one of you will someday stoop to pick up keys and feel your entrails rip, a strip of cartilage or powdery disc, and sense that while your life is not quite over, it surely hobbles up another street. And you, destined first to die, I pray you will have purged your final laugh by then, since laughs, like tears, are staunchly finite. But I’m not crying yet. Drugged, half-paralyzed for a while, I can still manage a bittersweet smile. Oh Regis, funny old clown, how soon we inch into the hungry, yawping, saw-toothed ground.
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review, and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He was awarded an NEA fellowship for fiction. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.