'Visualizing the Reach it Would Give Her'


Nathan Smith


      After everything, after the white smear of headlights from the darting car, Madison's dad threw out the T-shirt with the blood on it; he did so without hesitating as if he had somehow confused the trashcan for the hamper. Lately he had been ducking out in the middle of the night to go on short walks, mostly just down to the water. There was something about silently easing back into the apartment and checking in on Madison. Afterwards, he could usually sleep.

      He had been on such a walk last night when someone hurled a bottle from a passing car, striking him in the face. There was the slight whistle of the bottle as it rotated in the air and the distinct ping of the glass as it bounced on the pavement. The pain was driving and concentrated at first, then grew into an unbearable, horrible pressure descending upon every square inch of his skull. He drew his hands up to his head but was unwilling to touch it. The right angle where the apartment building met the sidewalk seemed inviting and he fell to the ground and tried to wedge his shoulders in between the two surfaces, wishing he could pull the brickwork of the building over his body to form a barricade between himself and the pain.

      An hour later, he was situated on the kitchen floor when Madison's door opened. He felt guilty he was unable to check on her this time around. The young girl stuck her head out, blond bangs partially masking the look of sleep and concern on her face. The subdued light in the kitchen made it seem perfectly natural for her dad to be sitting on the floor without his shirt, a wet washcloth over his eye. With her stuffed elephant in tow she walked across the kitchen tile (wearing one of her dad's white T-shirts that cascaded just past her knees) and sat on his lap. The headache made it seem like he was inside a bulky space suit—made Madison feel like a mundane sack of flour and not his daughter, all knees and elbows and full of questions.

      When the phone rang Madison stood up and answered it, simply saying, “Wait please.” She brought it to her father. With little hesitation, he took up the phone and carefully removed the batteries. He set the allotment of parts on the floor and continued to try to regain his faculties with his back resting against the cupboards. For some god-awful reason someone had been trying to phone him at three in the morning. That was the second time in three weeks. Madison stood next to her incapacitated father for a few moments and then quietly marched off to the bathroom. Afterwards she paused in the hallway, unsure of what to do at such an odd hour of the night. Dressing herself seemed natural, so she returned to her room.

“Madness?” her father said softly from the kitchen. “Madness, where are you?”

“Right here, Daddy,” she said into the large freestanding mirror in her bedroom. She turned to look out the open door leading to the kitchen and heard the light sound of dishes clanging against one another. She wandered back and found him leaning over the sink.

      As he heard her approaching he held out his hand, even though he was still mostly sink-oriented. She walked over and grabbed it, and proceeded to drape the rest of his arm about her shoulders.

“Darling,” he said, “I'm afraid I'm not particularly worth much at the moment.”

“Do we get to call Dr. Carmichael?” With this she released herself and went over to the refrigerator. She retrieved the small red and white magnet with the doctor's contact information on it and waved it around for his viewing, although he did not look.

“Close sweetie, but no.” He withdrew from the sink and took a moment to straighten the drawstrings on her hood.

“Why are you holding your head like that? Do you have my grain?” Now that the strings had some symmetry, she was free to return the magnet to the refrigerator.

“No, sweetheart.” He contemplated it for a moment and then removed the washcloth only to refold it and place a cooler portion back over his eye. Madison saw the wound and gasped, taking cover in the crook of her elbow. Her eyes welled up, and suddenly her father found himself with the task of wiping tears away with his thumb. “It's a little too early for tears, young lady. Besides,” he said as he looked at the green digital clock on the microwave, “that bed of yours is calling.”

“But I'm already dressed.” She pulled away from him and continued to dab at the tears with her shirtsleeve.

“Well, this time around, you'll have to sleep in your sweatshirt.” She contemplated this in her head, the tears taking a back seat to the idea of sleeping in her clothes. The corduroy skirt she chose along with the hooded sweatshirt was too—she wasn't sure. Thick? Heavy? Her father opened a nearby drawer and, after some poking and prodding, found the items he was looking for. Madison stood behind him and pulled the hood down over her eyes. She slowly bent her arms in and flapped them around like a chicken in slow motion. She watched as her dad tilted his head in such a manner as to balance the washcloth over his eye, giving him the use of both hands. He then cut a snippet of twine from the tangled mass he'd found in the drawer with a pair of children's safety scissors. He looped it around his head and tied it, securing the washcloth and creating a makeshift eye patch. He then took a black Sharpie marker and gave himself an overstated handlebar mustache. He turned around very casually and said, “well kiddo, what do you say you and me hit the couch and get some shut—”

“Dad,” she said, drawing out the word and bringing her chicken flapping to a halt, “you have marker all over yourself.”

“Marker? My dear, certainly you must be referring to my mustache,” only he pronounced it like moo-staash. “Shut eye?” he said, “and then we'll watch some Saturday morning car—”

“Dad,” she said again, drawing it out much longer, easing out of embarrassment into uncontrollable giggling, “you look weird.” Before she could stop laughing he seized the opportunity to pick her up and sling her over his shoulder. He carried the bright-eyed girl over to the couch.

The clock on the microwave reads eight thirty-seven. Madison wakes up to her father tickling her ear with the trunk of her stuffed elephant. He's on the phone and the couch looks as if it were at the bottom of a crater left by an explosion of blankets and pillows. She notices her shoes perched on the coffee table next to a green beer bottle. “Cartoons,” her father says softly as he covers the end of the phone and hands her the remote control. He motions to the TV with a flick of his chin. After raking some hair out of her eyes, she presses the buttons on the remote very deliberately, sticking out her tongue in concentration. One, and then, two—channel twelve.

      “I don't know why,” her father says into the phone. “It was just some kid,” he pauses. “Well, I don't know that either.” He picks up the bottle and holds it up to the light as he listens. He tries to decipher what part of it struck him. “Recourse?” he says, setting the bottle back down and standing up to pace behind the couch.   “There's no recourse. Some kid threw a bottle at me and that was it. I didn't exactly have time to get—” Madison's father mentions something she doesn't quite catch. She lifts up various blankets and pillows in search of her elephant. It catches her eye on the other side of her father and, upon reaching over his lap to retrieve it she promptly squishes it, between herself and the armrest for safekeeping.

Before long, Hailey is at the door. The two of them exit Madison's apartment in a manner deeming much purpose, as if they are carpooling to a pair of certified public accountant jobs on some upper avenue of the city.

“Does your dad feel sad about what happened?” Hailey asks Madison as they make their way to the pool.

“What do you mean?” Madison replies, stooping to pick up a small handful of stones from the inside of a wooden flowerpot.

“What do you mean, ‘What do you mean?'” Hailey stops just before the gate leading into the pool. “Didn't your dad tell you anything? The kids?” She pauses for a moment. “The kids that threw the bottle at him?”

“Oh. I don't know. I mean, he's hurt and everything.” Madison seems to be speaking directly to the stones in her hand. “I saw his eye, it looks like a rotten tomato.” Hailey unlatches the gate and files in behind Madison. The pool is empty and the aging red tarpaulin covering everything up is drooping in the center from gallons and gallons of trapped rainwater.

“I can't believe you don't know what happened,” Hailey says in the brisk tone she often utilizes to let everyone within ear shot know that she is three years older than Madison.

“He never really—”

“It's crazy, actually.” Hailey doesn't make eye contact as she says this. There, lying on the ground alongside the large square net used for cleaning the pool, is an elongated pole with a lazy hook at the end, the type that's almost always on hand at private pools that don't employ lifeguards. Her eyes are drawn to it.

      No one notices the girls and their fine blond hair being victimized by the wind sweeping in from the parking lot. Hailey picks up the hook, visualizing the reach it would give her. Madison picks up the remaining length of the pole in a manner that makes her stuffed elephant seem like it's skewered by the rod of aluminum. Both girls squint from the glare of the sun coming off the metal.

By now Madison's white hooded sweatshirt is grimy from spending the last two hours loitering in the various alcoves and entrances of the apartment building—each little corridor a working interpretation of what the inside of a vacuum cleaner must be like.

      She feels comfortable tucked away in the corner of the courtyard, crouching behind a row of hedges. It's deceptively warm for February, but the naked bushes are still romancing December, are still fragile and stark and brittle. Even though she is quite visible and, in all reality, rather vulnerable, they still provide some sense of cover and that's what attracts her to the spot. Her grey corduroy skirt feels oily from all the dirt but still looks presentable. She's busy trying to crush the small pile of stones she collected earlier, trying to make them disintegrate in her hands.

“Nobody has their stupid window down,” Hailey yells from the sidewalk. The wind has picked up and her dress is clinging to one side of her body.

“Look for the smokers,” Madison replies over her shoulder. The stones need to submit and become diamonds. “Even when it's really cold outside my dad still rolls down his window when he's smoking.” This late in the day, there is a never-ending supply of cars clogging up Archer Boulevard. Madison crawls out from hiding just enough to observe Hailey as she watches the traffic passing by, as if she were a spectator at a tennis match and only one player was hitting balls quickly and repeatedly from the left.

       Although she doesn't want to, Madison figures it's time to go join Hailey. On the way the wind attempts something inappropriate with her skirt and she pauses for a moment to corral the grey corduroy. Hailey is standing between a pair of parked cars with the hook in her hands. After sliding in behind her, Madison sets the stuffed elephant on the hood of a black hatchback. The elephant's trunk has a small pouch that opens and closes with Velcro, and that's where, for now, she stashes the stones.

“So—okay, are you really?” Madison asks Hailey.

“Really,” Hailey says, all business.

“Okay,” Madison says. “Okay—good.” Both girls are practically yelling at each other to overcome the relentless flow of traffic. Hailey stands up, clasping the pole firmly in her hands as a white sedan approaches in the near lane with its window down. Madison steps back to give her room, and tries to picture the anonymous person who threw the bottle at her father—tries to picture breaking the bottle on the curb and marring his face with it—but she can't.