The train isn’t deep in the river, but you have to jump in upstream to grab onto the chimney, the currents too fast otherwise and it’ll drag you right on by. My brother, Cassidy, he doesn’t care about the train like I do, though. He just likes to jump from the bridge. He was throwing gainers off it this morning, and by the afternoon he could run alongside the guardrail and throw a back flip over the side, his head just missing the cement as his legs wrapped over his chest. I told him he was going to crack his skull, but I was just jealous about the trick. I am the older brother. I should be coming up with the tricks. He didn’t say much about my warning, smiled, kept on jumping.
I hang from the crossbeams under the bridge. There are about a thousand swallow nests under there, and the birds act all sorts of crazy when I monkey out to the middle, buzzing me, whistling, their babies shrilling like I’m a cat, but I don’t let go. I like to hang on for as long as I can and look at the Catari go beneath me, see the sun glint off the train in the water, until I can see the water moving, I mean really see it flow over the top of the train and I can understand how heavy the water is and how old the train. I let go and swim over to shore to lie on a hot rock.
Davis Fergusson hanged himself from the bridge last week. Just where Cassidy is in the air right now, Davis swung over the river. Those damned swallows probably pecked the shit out of him before whoever reeled the old man in reeled him in. Damned swallows. I imagine the thousands of them pecking at his eyes and throat when they realized he was dead. They probably built a nest on the top of his head, bit his tongue out and fed it to their gummy little chicks. Probably didn’t bother Davis much, but nobody deserves that, even a crazy fogey like Davis. It’s too bad, and made the water feel gross. We stayed away for a week, but there aren’t any other places as good to swim.
Cassidy pisses of the side of the bridge, foaming up the water below it. That kid gets in and out of the water fast. I would tell him not to piss in the water if we were at a lake but it don’t matter here because the water moves right on through. I tell him to hurry up. I hear a car coming.
“It’s a long one,” Cassidy says, and grits his teeth and pisses harder.
“Put it away,” I say, but it’s too late, the windows roll down and Delmo sticks his ugly red head out the window.
“What you playing with, boy?” Delmo asks, grinning that stupid grin that makes me want to knock his teeth out of his face. I would do it, too, but he is twenty-six to my seventeen. Sometimes, though, I wonder. I have ten pounds on him.
“Why don’t you put that little dick back in your shorts there, Cass, and go for a ride with me and Buck here. We got some beers, and we got some magazines you can stretch that little cock of yours out on. What do you think?” Delmo says. “How about you, Woady? You can come, too.”
“Maybe some other time,” I say. Cassidy looks down at me with his teeth set. His eyes water, and I wonder what he’ll do the day he lets loose on someone.
“Suit yourselves,” Delmo says.
“See you pussies around,” the driver, Buck, says, and the tires spray gravel all over the bridge, and it burns red pocks in us when it hits our skins. We try not to flinch.
“Woady,” Cassidy says, “I hate Delmo, and I hate Buck worse. I feel pretty bad about it, but I hate them pieces of shit.”
“Show me that trick, again,” I say.
Mom is writing at her desk when we walk in, and she slides the letter into a drawer as we sit down in the kitchen. Bread’s baking in the oven and the house smells fresh. She has waxed the wood floors and scrubbed the counters, again. She’s been a cleaning freak since our dad died on the job in Pharoah two years back. Wrecking ball fell out of the sky and flattened him into the dashboard of his truck, God rest him. We miss him. I think she misses him more. She puts on an apron and thick rubber gloves. She starts with the dishes, then dusts the front room, mops the floors. She adds a special kind of liquid to the mop water. I think Mr. Pumpkinhead gives it to her at work. Then she writes a letter and puts it in her desk and mails it on Monday. We don’t know what it says. She is probably writing to dad, telling him to come home. Waiting for something to be returned.
Cassidy makes us bologna sandwiches and we eat them on the back porch. A thunderhead’s brewing off in the distance. We can see the black sky below darker clouds where the rain has already started to fall. Mom tells us that she wants to take a nap and walks into the back room to sleep. Cassidy finishes his lunch and watches superhero cartoons on the couch. Something about a planet doomed to explode. And it does.
Danilo Thomas is a MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Alabama where he serves as the current fiction editor for Black Warrior Review. He was raised in southwestern Montana and currently lives in Northport, Alabama, with his wife and pets. His work can be found at The Offending Adam, Precipitate, The Flying House Project, Milk Money and other publications.