Flash fiction by John Yohe
Six Mile Creek
Annoyed, having driven his old pickup with no A/C in hundred degree heat all day, wanting to get south on 89 out in the woods, in the shade and with some elevation and solitude, until southbound traffic out of Livingston slows to stop. He thinks about going back into town for a wildberry smoothie but finds some jazz radio out of Bozeman and a huge black anvil cloud appears blowing rain and hail almost horizontal—he holds his left hand out the window to catch the cold drops.
Two boys from the local volunteer fire department put up a sign right in front of him announcing some kind of vehicle accident, which he figures to be a fender bender or a t-bone, something involving all the traffic chaos and tourists coming out of Yellowstone, something which will soon clear.
After twenty minutes the rain stops, the sun comes out heating things up again and southbound traffic moves. Cop cars and fire trucks on the left, men standing around talking into radios. A tow truck on the road but no cars—just a roll of black tarp on the pavement twisted at an angle with orange cones around it except, no—those two black things sticking out one end: boots.
How long has the man been lying there and why couldn’t they take him away? On the other side of the tow truck a dark blue motorcycle on its side, loaded with saddle bags and a seat for someone on back, and only then he remembers the ambulance he pulled over for an hour ago back in town. Who’s going to tell her when she wakes up. If she wakes up.
He doesn’t know if the fact that they rode all day through through Yellowstone, some of the most beautiful land in the world, matters, or make anything better for anybody, especially being so close to a hotel room in Livingston and a cold beer or two, but traffic clears and he does finally make it out to a place called Six Mile Creek. The next day he’ll go for a long hike up to the headwaters, but he sets his tent up near some rapids, wind still strong, sun about to go behind a mountain. Tent covered in flies, reading Don Quixote. He isn’t sure, but he thinks the biker might like the Don, though he also isn’t sure he himself is up for laughing that night. The creek water cold and clear, a bottle of it right next to him. He raises it and says, —It’s not a beer, but here’s one to you.
Thursday evening downtown and he has no job with unemployment checks running out soon. All the rich extroverts coming out talking and wearing attractive clothing gathering exotically in groups—even someone walking an iguana. He stops in the Courier Café on Oak for a Moroccan mint tea with Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing (on vinyl of course) which everyone listens to without irony, which puts him in a good mood plus it’s autumn so all the women are wearing hosiery.
He’s hungry and walks down to Voodoo Doughnuts on Third and there’s no line! Amazing! He orders an apple fritter still warm and way too much sugar but with apples so must in some way be healthy and yet he’s still hungry so gets a greasy slice at Dante’s where songs of his youth are playing: The Flight of Icarus; South of Heaven ; Disorder—Alice Cooper’s Eighteen even comes on, originally released back when he was maybe three and now, right now, walking out the door and turning west past the Pussycats strip bar heading up to Powell’s bookstore he is eighteen, not forty-three—how could he ever be forty-three with lines forming on his face and hands? There must be some mistake: all the cute hipster women in black passing him on the sidewalk, they seem to have stayed the same age—at one point they might have considered dating him.
What happened to the women? What happened to his friends? All over the country now, married, with children, some even cycling through divorce (some on their second or third) creative endeavors left to the wayside. He looks at his reflection in bar windows: still long hair, though now with streaks of grey. The old bike messenger bag slung over shoulder. What happened?
He grew up in the Depression and so therefore (she guessed) always placed a high value on money and work—especially work. He worked his whole life for Ford and retired with a good pension (back when there were pensions) though never talked about it (though she was too young to ask) (and he never talked about anything) and when he retired he kept working: Even on vacations at her father’s cottage he’d putter around putting up drywall, laying floor tiles, and once cleared the whole back acre of all the sumac without asking, to turn it into a back lawn that needed to be mowed all the time, which angered her mother (she divorced out of the family soon after). And if he took a road trip with her grandmother and her cousins, he drove all day without stopping, while back home the only time he stopped was to go down to this office-cave in the basement and check on his stocks and bonds. Or to sit in the living room reading the Detroit Free Press (mostly the business section) while her grandmother cooked dinner. After dinner he’d watch the news on tv, louder and louder as he grew older and more deaf.
She didn’t know if he ever had fun—didn’t know what that word meant to him, though his children were always well taken care of and all his grandchildren got ten thousand dollars once, which she used to help pay off her truck—a Toyota—but he died alone and senile, though technically a millionaire.
Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe grew up in Michigan, and now lives in Colorado. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, bike messenger, wilderness ranger and fire lookout. He is Fiction Editor for Deep Wild Journal. www.johnyohe.comFlash
Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.