Lake Effect, Volume 25: "Like Lungs"

Like Lungs

By Jess Williard


You rake and you watch the boy, the fat one from across the street, get scolded by his mother for dropping a bag of groceries on the way to the front door. A carton of eggs explodes and she muffs him in the back of the head, an open-palmed punch. She yells in crowded syllables. You’ve seen this before, except the punching was on the front of his head by a boy named Chase and it was in the place behind the school where they keep the dumpsters.

You bunch the leaves into wet mounds. The boy cleans the eggs from the sidewalk, pinching the mess between two strips of cardboard and dropping it into a plastic bag. He doesn’t cry but something radiates from his face, something you can sense from across the street. It’s heat. It’s want. He never looks up.

You enjoy watching your mother cook and you stand in the middle of the kitchen. She hurries around you, back and forth, humming Chet Baker. It’s like prayer, she tells you, and you nod as if you understand. She’s cutting a tomato and she tells you to come here. She gestures excitedly. You see the tomato is halved and that its insides, pulpy trails of veins and seeds, curve into slumping ovals, matching. The halves are mirror images. Like lungs, she says. She smiles.

It’s dusk when you stand in your driveway with your sister and yell at hot air balloons. They are low and you can make out the figures of people in the baskets, the gas flames seething at their centers. You look across the street at the boy’s house and although you can’t see him you can still feel that heat. You imagine following it to his front door and knocking. You imagine asking him to come out and play. He will. In your driveway he’ll toss gravel in the air and whoop and smile. He’ll dance. He will be seen from above, the balloon passengers bidding hello in broad arcs with their arms. And he’ll be astonished. For me, he’ll say. He will say they’re coming down.