I came back with nothing and Lee was out on the back porch. He’d parked the car down the street so I didn’t see it and he surprised me when I came around back with the bow in the case unbuttoning my flannel with my bad hand. “Ez,” he said and I jumped two feet. The scar on his face looked a little better but it was still bad. I was trying to remember how he used to be handsome. He followed me inside and I put things away and got a glass of water from the sink, thinking if I ignored him he would go away. “No luck today?” he said. He knew I was a bad shot having to pull back all that weight. I used to just shoot at contests or whatever and then I was good. “Your hand’s better?” It wasn’t and maybe this was the problem. I was holding the glass of water with my bad hand and he was looking at it so I put it in my pocket and drank with the other. It was all cramped and tight in that space and it hurt like hell but I didn’t want him to see it because I still couldn’t bend most of the fingers. I shouldn’t’ve taken the cast off probably but I’d thought it was better and I’d had to quit going to the orthopedist. Lee sat down on the couch and said “I’m going to sit here until you talk.”
“What do you want me to say.” He didn’t say anything for a bit and he looked at the wallpaper and I remembered my mother picking it out in a book ten years ago. Thinking about her it started to seethe in me and I said “Fuck you, Lee, what do you want me to say?”
“I want to hear you get angry.”
“I am angry.”
“Angry like you used to get. When you were such a good shot, you know. You had something to aim at.”
“I’m better now.”
“I thought they’d be giving you medication.”
“I don’t need it.” The bottles were all in my medicine cabinet, behind the cracked mirror, stacked up on top of the painkillers for my hand, full. I’d broken the mirror myself with a fist the night Lee’s face got fucked up and then I’d looked at myself in it, face distorted in the cracks, for a long time. They told me later I’d broken four bones, two shattered, but I didn’t feel anything. My knuckles were all cut up and bled sluggishly and with each of them, my hand trembling, I drew a thin line in blood on each of my cheeks just beneath my eyes. That night I dreamed all my teeth had fallen out. I’d had terrible dreams after it all so losing the teeth was like nothing. I lay awake and looked at the wallpaper. When I got up my hand looked and felt separate from me.
“You’re not the kind it just goes away.” Lee had seen me do awful things. I used to have this fire in me, the white-hot kind you can’t explain. Outside it was beginning to rain. “Sit down, Ez.” I can’t even tell you how much my hand hurt then and I was too ashamed to take it out of my pocket. I didn’t want to look at it and I didn’t want to watch Lee look at it. I didn’t think it even hurt that much when I broke it. I felt all the bones, each of them, separately. “Stop hiding your hand from me. I can see it hurts. You’re white as a sheet.”
I shook my head. “What are you doing here, Lee.”
“I miss your face.”
“You miss your face.” I took my hand from my pocket and crossed my arms tightly and it hurt less. I felt all the blood rush back. “You miss your put-together face.”
Lee looked up at me in this pleading way and through the scar it was terrible. I wanted to tell him not to look at me. I couldn’t look at that face because maybe it was my fault. “You ever think of things that could’ve been.”
“There were a lot of things that could’ve been.”
I uncrossed my arms and sat on the couch and rested each hand on a knee. Lee and I looked at the scars on my knuckles and I remembered coming home late, drunk, wrapping my hands up in gauze. I remembered holding Lee’s balled-up shirt to my bloody nose. I remembered looking down the sight of the bow down the range at the target and feeling my heart thrum in my ears, that fast urgent thrum, and I remembered putting all the faces there and hearing all their voices in my head, and I remembered with this cold chill in me my stepfather’s beneath everything, that constant churning rhythm like waves on a beach, “I’m sorry Ezra I’m sorry Ezra I’m sorry Ezra,” but no one was ever sorry, you know? I was always sure he only said that for the court sympathy but no one on the jury cried and I sat back behind the DA cracking my knuckles, cracking and cracking and cracking them all, I guess I was sixteen then and that was before it all. I remembered everything breaking in me when he was sentenced. At the range I would just stand and breathe and hear the rumble of his voice and the bow would feel like nothing in my hands and I would see everything I had to see. Maybe I got soft when he finally died; it was as violent as he deserved. It was just after I’d fucked up my hand and I sat there on the couch on the phone with the warden chewing on the aluminum brace on my index finger while he told me everything. When I thought about it then it seemed to me he was all I ever saw. I was all done with it then and when I hung up the phone I sat for a long time watching my hands shake.
i wrote this last summer in a very fast burst of crazy energy and no longer have any recollection of the inspiration for it. this is one of my favorite things i have ever written.