Hammock

by Sean Lovelace

My friend said I had an annoying habit of comparing my life to the lives of animals. I could have used the scientific term, kingdom, but I deferred.

His eyes an ordinary color, seen by candlelight.

His hair a falling . . .

His bones unique as golden hardhats.

I wanted things to work out.

As a man dedicated to sketching crows and home brewing beer, I’d lived a sort of against-the-stream lifestyle, and, like a salmon leaping fall after waterfall, had lost a few scales along the way. I was tired, and thought maybe water ran downstream for a reason, and that even deer prefer a trail to a thicket.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” my friend said.

Don’t we all want things to work out?

Never tie a hammock to a refrigerator, or a fence pole—it taints the idea completely. My hammock was 100% cotton faded the colors of a falling leaf. Something was tangled in my hammock. My hammock smelled good, like dirt. My hammock swung low between the mulberry hut and an arthritic fig tree.

On the way to my hammock, I:
—waded through butterfly weed rustling tall tales to partridgeberry.
—floundered past gerardia complimenting goldenseal on its impressive girth and height.
—lurched across mayapple seedlings standing tall like compact umbrellas; impulsively picked mayapple, sniffed sugary stem.
—stumbled into something cold and hard and stubbed my big toe and yelled, “Confound it, man!”

All of the above, and stubbing a toe is a tiny thing as long as it’s someone else. My mind went electric blue, cleared to black, and I opened my eyes.

The lawnmower. Cowering in the grass like a land mine.

Bad thoughts sprouted in the dark soil, of cursing and kicking. Then whoosh, a dust devil whipped across the yard, scattering leaves and thoughts and pollen. Dust swirled from beneath my crow-sketching shed, and a vermilion flycatcher flew from its home above the door.

Pausing, I looked to the hammock. Then the shed.

A gentle purr. Fading. Silence.

Stepping over the lawnmower’s angled arms, I limped to the hammock. No, I floated, my endorphins locked into the brain’s opiate receptors. I floated like a dragonfly, like days over a brown recliner.

No, I certainly limped.

A mourning dove was trapped in the hammock’s netting, its body twisted, one wing broken and askew, a dangling right angle. Its feathers were stiff and stained with blood, its beak chipped. I felt like the world. The lines in my head: HAMMOCK SLAYS BIRD OF PEACE. MAN TRAPS DOVE IN NET OF LEISURE. DEAD, SEE PAGE 4.

I felt like the world, low and large.

After freeing its body, I carried the dove inside the house. Gruesome, yes, but important in its way, and I had an idea to show it to my friend. A misguided gesture, some would say. He sat upright at the kitchen table, gnawing Buffalo wings while balancing a checkbook. He looked up and said, “What the hell?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Is that an oily rag? Go bury it! The last thing this house needs is an oily rag.”

I took the dove outside, but I would never bury it. A dove wasn’t meant for below the earth—a human idea, a misguided gesture. I climbed one of the taller bamboo trees, midway up its slender trunk, and placed the dove in a leafy fork of branches. Clutching the bamboo, I swayed in the wind, peering out over the yard, things smaller: My crow-sketching shed a wooden block, the letter Z. The mulberry hut a cube of splintered toothpicks. Jangly Creek an unraveled paperclip. The lawnmower a flattened ball of aluminum foil. My house a pink lump of icing.

With my mind aglow, inhaling the pungent green wood, rubbing my hands over its ribbed surface, I felt like staying in the tree all night. It didn’t mean anything, I was sure, but I had to do the things I did.

How Some People Like Their Eggs is Sean Lovelace’s award-winning flash fiction collection by Rose Metal Press. New book appearing soon from Publishing Genius Press. He blogs at seanlovelace.com. He likes to run, far.

Hammock” is:

—One man’s journey to his hammock?
That is impossible to answer. Let me think. . . . Sometimes I feel like a hammock, or a swaying river, like flowing along and fingering out and gurgling under the house-pipes, down the hill, into the bigger river, the pipes and their effluent, muddying up the riverbed. Poison! (Sean takes a drink from a green bottle. Dry coughing. He holds the bottle up and appears to be squinting through the glass.) You know why I feel like a hammock/river? I was born on a houseboat, on the mighty Mississippi. I hate allegory. Leisure I like. My childhood was spent stepping off my front porch and going swimming, fishing, leisure. OK, sometimes my dad would throw the vacuum cleaner around—not so fun. But I take leisure very seriously. You have take something seriously, to write.

An identity crisis resolved?
During a blackout, in an urban setting, what do people do? Darkness reigns, law is scattered, occupied. You know most of my past work is just dross. I hope I’m doing better. I’ve set out this time with the intention of doing better. I think many more people today are insecure and are in search of themselves. I think I am doing better. You know yesterday I asked the phone company to change my ring-tone to silence, utter and complete silence. You see why I write now? Why anyone does? Silence.  I regret all the fish I have broken off, I have wounded—my hook curling afire in their jaws. One time I wore a girl’s underwear for seven days—some type of prayer for her, never answered. So, yes, an identity crisis. Now you tell me: How many flowers are planted during a blackout?

A lawnmower overcome?
I’ll have a plate of nachos now. Do you mind if we just stay here for a while? I hate to move when I just returned from the cafeteria. People are always telling me to hurry up or come on and do this or do that. but a writer needs to sit with a thing.  Once when I was bicycling the outskirts of Denver with some friends and we stopped at some rancher’s house and there was a birdhouse out back, big-ass apartment-style with 16 little holes in it, and this sly corn snake had got up the pole, slithering hole to hole, chick to egg, and all these black birds swarming like hysterical fighter planes, chattering dive bombs, and people kept walking onto the back porch and saying, “Why do you stay out in the yard? Come on in.” They said, “It’s time for a lunch of beans,” and I said, “Damn your lunch of beans!” I said, “I can eat a lunch of beans any day, but I shan’t see a snake raiding a birdhouse again.” Such honest tragedy! So, I’m against lawnmowers, any type of ordered calm. Push yourself, not me.

Intervention from above in dust devil form?
Dear sir, it is a matter of language. I don’t like the word intervention. It smacks of anxiety, self-analysis, the very daily life I detest. I feel like I’m failing this interview. I really know nothing. I wish I had been born two hundred years ago, in some wooded valley. I am a small man. My dad once lifted vacuum cleaners above his head and brought them down with a ferocious vengeance. How they would explode! (Dry coughing) We children would cower in the Styrofoam crawlspace below our boathouse. This is where I found my father’s stash of 1970s porn. Did you know women in that industry once had hairy vaginas? At twenty-six I’d knocked about the world a good bit and I thought I knew the answers, but I didn’t know. I couldn’t finish the stories. The best flash fiction I ever wrote—at least it contained some of my best stuff—there’s about a million drafts of it in this drawer here, I couldn’t finish it. I found that I was faking things all the time, dodging issues and letting my characters dodge them. Maybe. What is the intended audience for this here? These words? Kids who want to write? Kids, read The Paris Review, cover to cover. Or die trying.

A burial upended?
I always thought everyone would eventually come to their senses and we would do three things: 1.) Outlaw matrimony. 2.) Outlaw self-help books. 3.) I forget number three, but I am aging. I have this urgent game where I pick the silver hairs from my head with tweezers. It’s like picking fleas off a dog. It has an obsessive quality.   Maybe because the very night I wrote “Hammock” I drove my Subaru into a roundabout I had no idea was even installed in my little town and found myself later over at this friend’s house who only allowed kissing. Kissing! All night-into-the-morning long, with my ache getting tighter and tighter and tighter. Have you ever been slowly, slowly strangled? You will have moments where you feel the blue pain of a prophet. There is a large sign outside the funeral home in my town (Muncie, IN) and it says the temp, the time, and then in yellow, flashing letters: DRIVE CAREFULLY.

A sacred ascension?
Look, nothing about my writing is sacred. It is a boring act. It is meaningless. It is an empty waste of our very short time. (Sean opens another green bottle.) A flash fiction writer, by definition, can live an entire life without butter. I leave the butter for all the others. Choke on it. Or, I don’t know, roll yourself into its creamy folds, but not me. I’m trying to live a truer life. And, honestly, I would rather smell the inner armpit of any random young lady or man than inhale all the pages of all the books in all the libraries of all the cities of the entire world.

All of the above?  Some?  None?
All I can say is that my father gave me Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. I was 10 years old and obsessed with fishing. My father thought the book was an actual guide. But, as anyone knows, that book has a blurb on the back that reads: “Mr. Brautigan submitted a book to us in 1962 called Trout Fishing in America. I gather from the reports that it was not about trout fishing.” “Hammock” is homage to Richard Brautigan if anything. Brautigan knew, for the writer, place is more important than time. The hammock is architecturally necessary. A net, with all its connotations, safety or peril.

What else is “Hammock?”  How much story can one hammock hold?
I have really already answered this question in a reading I gave three years ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In writing, do you ever roll over?  Fall out?
A rolling stone? Oh, I fall. I jump off things, too, and I suffer the consequences, plenty. Ask my friends about my jumping. I try, with words, and I fall, I mean to say fail. Sometimes I feel I should be closer to those I write of, my very characters. You have to care. When the flash fiction is finished I immediately lose interest in the characters. And I never make moral judgments. That’s probably not true, but it sounded good when Georges Simenon said it. I’m probably being confusing. I wish I could speak more clearly, but how do you think a squirrel feels when it leaps for a pear branch and falls flailing on its ass to the earth? One is not very far away, probably. An ordinary man fifty years ago—there are many problems today which he did not know. Fifty years ago he had the answers. He doesn’t have them anymore. I don’t have them.

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