Larkin Weyand: We Will Be a Thing
READ LOCAL First represents Utah’s most comprehensive collection of celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and memoir. This week we bring you Larkin Weyand, who teaches courses in English education, creative writing, and composition at BYU. He taught high school English and art for nine years at American Fork High School. His short story credits include Inscape, Verdad, Touchstones, The Tonopah Review, The Rio Grande Review, The Blinking Cursor, and Blood Lotus. He has twice won first place in the Utah Art Council’s Original Writing Competition, once for his story collection, All the Pennsylvania Left to See (2011) and last year for his short story, The Birth Canal (2017). He lives with his wife and four children in Pleasant Grove. We Will Be a Thing is an excerpt from a half-written novel.
We Will Be a Thing
Big day today: I stuck it to the man (both The Colonel and Wayne); Mom was going to be proposed to for the fourth time in her life—by Wayne (big surprise) and he asked me for her hand in marriage. I told him no, like that matters. Mom never takes my advice concerning her men. But then I said, “Let me see the ring.” He didn’t have one, but he had some lame reason—I told Wayne to wrap the reason around Mom’s finger; see how she likes it.
She probably would. Whenever she doesn’t listen to my relationship advice for her, she says I don’t understand the layers of love. “Love isn’t only lovely,” she says.
I fell in love with Kara Sanders back in the seventh grade. She was perfect in every way, perfect in the minds of all the seventh graders I knew well at the time which if I had a list then, or even now, would start and end with me. I was and am an outcast. Those on the list, me and myself, enjoyed asking and answering a single question, “What girl do you like?” The answer is always unanimous: “Kara Sanders.” Nevertheless, we always take a vote by the raise of hands because raising my hands, yes both of them (one for me; one for I), is enjoyable, enjoyable in the same way it is enjoyable to take out old yearbooks and study Kara Through the Ages, from her dimpled freckles above her red-ribbed turtleneck in kindergarten to her fetching facial piercing-party (one ring in the lip, a stud in the nose, and an innumerable amount of pokes and prods in her ears; the black rings under her eyes were just eye shadow) of her junior picture. I have a history of filling in the narrow white border around her face with a highlighter because this is my way of saying, “I love you.”
In the margin, every year, I write, “We will be a thing.”
Each year I finish my highlighting and my comment in the margin, I look at myself in the mirror. “You love her too? No way.”
I dreamed of her being mine forever. Tonight, for some reason, despite all of the buttheads, I went for it.
Kara’s father is The Colonel. He’s The Colonel because he looks like the guy on the Kentucky Fried Chicken signs. The fact that his last name is Sanders led to the obvious nickname. He hates the nickname and I hate (yes, a strong word) him, so that’s where we are.
Here’s why I hate him.
First, the old fart’s name is Bernard, as in “Why would anyone name their baby Bernard?”
Second, every year The Colonel volunteers as a stand-in (proxy, vicarious, not the real deal) father for my half-brothers and me at the Father and Sons campout sponsored by our church. It makes me feel like this car my Uncle Joe finally sold last month—a real lemon. People came to see it for a year, taking it to mechanics for inspections which the car inevitably failed until, hallelujah; a potential buyer didn’t feel compelled to let a mechanic take a look under the hood and just bought it. Metaphorically speaking, the Colonel buys us every spring and as is his habit with all the other unnecessary things he buys, he shows us off to people who couldn’t care less.
Tonight was supposed to be the campout. Dexter, my portly half-brother, who knows he’s part German because he’s never sneezed and, according to him, real Germans don’t sneeze. He looks forward to the campout all year, every year. He hopes The Colonel will die or something so that Wayne will take us. He loves Wayne. He’s loved him ever since Wayne was our swim teacher at the Rec. Center, teaching us Monkey, Airplane, Soldier. I still can’t float on my back and I blame the teacher. Tonight, before he asked for my permission to marry Mom, he got down on my floor and demonstrated Monkey, Airplane, Soldier.
I said, “Thanks. That will come in handy next time I’m at the pool.” He nodded his head like he’d done me a favor so I ended things by saying, “I don’t own a swimsuit.”
He still didn’t get it. I bet the next time he shows up at the house, he’ll have a ring for Mom and a swimsuit for me. He’ll expect both of us to topple him in a teary group hug.
Dexter’s 13. I’m 17. He’s seventy pounds heavier than me. He shaves. I don’t. He likes to wrestle, and although I don’t, Wayne does. He knows the names of moves. After Wayne dragged me back to my bedroom tonight, asked for Mom’s hand in marriage, and I dismissed him with a definitive “I don’t think so,” Dexter cornered me in the hall. “Are they getting married?”
“I don’t know.”
Dexter pulls a raw hot dog out of the pocket in his shirt, bites it in half. The Grand Canyon forms on his forehead. He growls like the Mesozoic, which, in case you’re curious, is the longest era of dinosaurs ruling the earth. How do I know this? Dexter. He maintains an ever-changing list of his top five dinosaurs. The top spot on his dinosaur-list has varied between the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Spinosaurus, and the Giganotosaurus as scholars have argued over which dinosaur was the biggest flesh-eating animal of all time. “Are they getting married?”
“Wayne just asked you for Mom’s hand.”
“How would you know that?”
“He told me he was going to ask you when we were wrestling after church.”
They wrestle right there in the church foyer, dripping sweat and grunting like animals. “Do you have your sleeping bag?” I say. “The Colonel will be here any minute.”
Dexter shoves in the last half of the hot dog. He belches. “That means your girlfriend will be here any minute too. She’s babysitting.”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“You wish she was. I can make it so that it’s impossible forever. You tell Wayne you’d love for him to be our stepdad or I’m going to take Kara into the pigeon coop and tell her how to eat them.”
“If you take her to the pigeon coop, I swear I’ll beat the crap out of you.”
“Since when can you beat the crap out of me?” He has a point.
I bluff. “Fine. Take her to the pigeon coop.”
Dexter bug eyes. He can’t believe it. “I will.” He starts downstairs. Over his shoulder, he says “You shouldn’t call her dad The Colonel. It’s disrespectful.”
Outside, I hear the Colonel’s BMW pull up. This scares me, not The Colonel, but the fact that his presence means that Kara is also here; she’s babysitting our three-year-old half-brother Mick while Mom and Wayne go out for a romantic night. Barf.
I fall to the floor and crawl over to our monstrous picture window which hovers over a curve of State Street like a ship’s deck over the water. As a result, sitting in our living room is a death wish. The picture window is only 12 feet six inches away from the shoulder of the highway. I know because I’ve measured it. If you sit on our couch, watching, traffic will make you scream. From the couch, you can’t see that the road turns just before the house. When the cars come savagely at 45, 55, 70 miles per hour, it’s hard not to liken the cars to trains staying on their track, wherever it may lead, even right through our picture window, right through my sternum. I go nuts when I examine the drivers. Feeble old men swerving their cars between their cataracts. Young punks glug-glugging their Big Gulps. People on their cell phones. Drunks! Flirty Times, a bar, is just down the street. But all of that is just the word “Boo” compared to the true rampage of being in Kara’s beautiful presence. What will I say?
The Colonel, with his smooth skin and big-sleeved three-button shirt emerges like Peter Pan, hands on hips. The Les Miserables soundtrack, Kara’s favorite piece of music (I heard her say this in the hall at school once), blares from the stereo—
There’s a darkness which comes without a warning
But I will sing you lullabies and wake you in the morning.
That’s where the music stops. Maybe Kara knows something. The Colonel’s watch sparkles in the sun. He holds out his hand for Dexter, who holds out a chocolate Power Bar as thanks for taking us camping. The Colonel refuses, disgusted. Dexter bites another raw hot dog.
The BMW’s passenger door pops open. Out comes Kara, wearing a green tank top and short white shorts. Mom greets her by handing her Mick. Kara holds him in the cradle of her arm and pecks him on the cheek. Mick curves his back and does a double-leg kick to be set down.
“Fool,” I say.
“No need to be rude about this,” says Wayne from behind. “I’ll get a ring.”
Kara looks my way. I collapse to the floor. “I wasn’t talking to you. Where’d you come from?”
“Why did you just fall down?”
I groan in exasperation. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Wayne tries to engage me in some conversation about how he loves Mom, how he wants to love me and Dexter. “I know I could be a good father.”
“A good fourth husband? Maybe you should go have some kids . . . of your own.”
Outside, Mom and the Colonel walk and chat together while Dexter approaches Kara. “He’s taking her to the backyard. To the pigeons. Crap.” I run out the door, not taking time to close it. Sure enough, they’re on their way through the side-gate to the backyard. Wayne follows me like an annoyingly talkative child. He gets halfway through some word and stops. He won’t get a “what’s that?” from me. I double back up to the front door to cut through the house, slamming the door behind me. I juke through the sleeping bags and backpacks and cooler into our dining room and flatten my face against the glass.
Dexter already has Kara inside the pigeon coop and the door closed. It’s entirely encased in wire mesh, tall but narrow. Kara must be getting lungfuls of his hot dog breath. On the deck, the Colonel checks his watch and then his nails, looking pissed off and then pleased. Wayne has made it around the house. He is climbing the deck stairs. He has his arms out explaining something to Mom, but she turns her back. Not listening. I feel a surge of love (hope?).
“She can already float on her back,” I say to no one.
I grab my video camera from my bedroom. My fondness for Kara has never actually led to me finding the nerve to open my mouth and talk to her. What if I just embraced the failure that was my family? That was something I could talk about.
When I get down to the pigeon coop, camera in hand and rolling, Kara is fidgeting her feet in the crunchy pellets of hard gray poo on the ground. There is the smell of Pigeon Chow (a real product) and the friendly narration provided by Dexter, who doesn’t mind my camera at all. He thinks he’s in charge of something.
“I’ve got twelve birds right now. I got some new squabs about a month ago. Here’s Mom and Dad. That’s a Cropper. That one in the corner is a Silver King. I sell a few birds online every year.” He winks. He smiles with lots of teeth. There is a sliver of hot dog wagging from between the two top ones. “I breed on the side.”
Kara smiles into the camera. She doesn’t look phased.
“Get it?” asks Dexter. “Breed on the side?”
“Dexter,” rebukes both the Colonel and Wayne who have joined the party. Mom is there too, but she is all smiles.
“Are we ready to go boys?” says the Colonel. He bites off a nail but doesn’t spit it out. His habit of eating his fingernails grosses me out. Now it’s on film, sort of. This is golden.
“Quiet,” says Dexter. “Let Kara hear the cooing and strutting.”
“Nice birds,” says Kara.
“You’re filming all of this?” says the Colonel suddenly. “Why?” I turn to capture him in all his predictable annoyance. He looks like the headmaster in Dead Poet’s Society when the boys stand on their desks at the end and he can’t do a damn thing about it. I think he might be trying to swallow his tongue. He coughs. His ragged nail pops out from his lips. I zoom in. The nail disappears back into his mouth. Scrumptious.
“Bradly,” says Mom.
“Nice birds,” says Kara again.
“Shhhh,” says Dexter. The cooing has gone away. We’re all quiet boys and girls, but after a moment, it’s obvious that the cooing isn’t coming back. “Actually, birds aren’t nice or not nice. They don’t have that ability.”
“I think they’re nice,” says Kara. “And lots of people were making noise. Not just me.”
Kara squats down before the little baby squabs—the rats with wings.
“Have you ever eaten a pigeon Kara?”
“Okay,” says the Colonel as testily/cheerfully as possible while scrolling on his phone. “It’s time to go troops.”
“We’re late,” says Wayne, but they’re not. The Golden Corral doesn’t take reservations. Mom is lost in her thoughts. Then she snaps free.
“Get your things Dex,” she says. She turns to me. “Bradly?”
“I’m not going,” I say.
“Well, what are you going to do?” asks the Colonel, still scrolling. “Your Mom and Wayne are going out on a date tonight. Kara is watching the baby.” He pockets his phone and turns toward Mom and away from the camera. “Will you please ask him to turn that off Annie?”
“Okay,” I say before Mom has to. I don’t turn it off, but I pretend to. I slip my finger over the green light. Ha. Ha. 10thgrade English with Mr. Penrod. “–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And then one fine morning–”
The Colonel turns to Kara. “You’re not staying with him . . .unsupervised.”
“Daddy,” says Kara. “Please.”
My sensitive ego begs me to consider the possibility that in Kara’s mind, at a school dance say, I’m not the unattainable hunk in the center of the floor, but the sort-of-handsome boy by the punch bowl: a safe dance. Her “please” is just a result of our innocence and not that she finds me disgusting. Maybe.
“Bradly’s going camping,” says Mom. “Right Brad?”
“I don’t know.”
“Pigeons are gourmet fare actually,” says Dex. “Like in Egypt, they’re considered to be aphrodisiacs. Besides, they’re cheap to breed. They’re more than happy living on mashed potatoes and old bread. You know what Kara?” This is his moment of grandeur. I swear I see a tear. He reaches his Frankenstein arms out and lands them on Kara’s shoulders and stares deep into her eyes. Coming on this scene out of context, one might think that he’s either about to tell her about a death in the family or kiss her. “If we tapped into pigeons as a food resource, hunger would be an unknown condition in all third world countries. And that’s a fact.”
From his camouflage pants, by some sleight of hand, he produces an open butterfly knife. The blade already has a reddish tint. “Why don’t you help me butcher them? These little squabs are just about ready. 28 days old tomorrow. I’ll show you how. You can use my knife.”
“Dexter!” warns Mom. “Not now.”
“You want me to cut up a pigeon?” Kara is so pretty when confused.
“I put ‘em in here this morning so that their mommies and daddies couldn’t feed them.
They’re tummies are empty, ready for the slaughter.”
“Dexter,” demand Mom and The Colonel. “Come out of there. Let Kara out.”
“I think that camera is still on,” whines the Colonel.
Dexter undoes the latch on the coop with the squabs.
“Dexter, what are you doing?” cries Mom. “Wayne, stop him.”
Wayne looks fascinated by Dexter’s knife, but Mom’s words spring him into action. He wipes his eyes. He nods his head. He’s coming in. Dexter pinions himself behind the door so that he’s hard to reach. He continues to talk to Kara as if none of us are there. “Some people won’t eat pigeons because they’re afraid they’ll get Cryptococcosis or Psittacosis, but if you do this the way I show you . . .” He adjusts the bird so that its “vent” hovers just above the point of the knife.
Kara covers her mouth with her hands. Wayne reaches for the sadly calm baby bird. “Dexter,” he says, but even Wayne can’t move Dexter from his will. I zoom in.
“Some people say you should cut off their heads and bleed them for a day, but I just like to eat ‘em. So, just like so, you hold them. Stick your knife in the . . . like so.”
Kara gasps and so does Mom. Wayne, amused, stops his struggle. The Colonel rubs his eyes. He glares my way. “Good Lord. Talk about a horror movie.”
“Dexter. It’s totally quivering,” says Kara.
“It’ll all be over for him shortly. Cut up to the breastbone. Like so.”
Dexter pulls his now bloody knife out. He saws off the head which falls to the ground with a thump and then the feet, thump-thump.
“Grab a bird Kara. Here’s the knife.”
Kara stumbles out of the pigeon coop and barfs in the grass. Strange as it may seem, her ralphing over by our fence keeps Kara safe from any type of incarnation, at least in my eyes. It only lifts her to even greater heights of deity. It’s here that my battery dies of course.
Mom, making pissed faces at Dexter, steadies Kara with an arm on her back. They head to the house, to the bathroom. Wayne follows, offering to help “in any way,” and Mom ignores him in every way. I arrive only a minute later. Wayne exits by slamming the door. I wait side by side with Mom. She looks at me several times and starts to say something, but no actual words ever come out.
“Mom?” I say. “About Wayne, he wanted . . .” I can’t continue in the face of Mom’s panicked, although silent, expression, so I change course. “He’s a butthead?”
She sighs. “He’s a . . . cute butthead. Going way too fast.” She laughs and Kara opens the door. Mom gives a compassionate groan and hugs Kara and says, “Oh sweetie, are you okay?” Kara’s just fine, so Mom says, “I guess I don’t need a babysitter, but here’s your money for coming over on such short notice.” She hands Kara a twenty-dollar bill. Wayne comes in from the backyard, like a bug that won’t get out of your face, no matter how much you wave your hand. “I have something I have to say,” he stammers, so Mom leaves us under the terror of the picture window. Kara holds Mick, who had by this time discovered that he rather enjoys being held in Kara’s arms. I swear I’m not lying, the kid winked at me.
“Would you throw up again for another twenty dollars?”
She punches me in the shoulder. “I want you to destroy that video.”
“Come on over sometime and we’ll watch it. Your dad eats his fingernails.”
Kara furrows her brow. “I know. I’m not allowed to go on dates with boys, so how about tonight?” She waves the twenty-dollar bill.
I start to affirm, “You’re pretty all right” when I lose my courage and the words choke me. I cough and Kara pats me on the back. The Colonel, who has been listening in the hallway, enters the room. He looks like death. He snatches the twenty-dollar bill. “Kara is working through some trust issues with me, Bradly.” He gives Kara a disappointed glare that triggers a tsunami of emotion in Kara’s eyes. “Particularly when it comes to boys.”
I say, “But you know me, Mr. Sanders.”
He stops to think of how he knows me. He scrunches up his face sourly. He hands me the twenty. “And I know Kara.” He opens the front door and pauses. He stares at the floor, but points his head to Kara. “I’ll be in the car.”
“What about the campout,” says Dex. How long has he been here?
“Just let me make sure Kara gets home. Then I’ll come back.” With that, he leaves. The screen door whirs close to closed and then crashes all the way closed.
Kara starts to follow her father.
“Wait,” I say. “Just a sec.” I hustle back to my room and get my spare battery for the camera. I slip it in. Back in the front room, I ask Kara to move in front of the large window. She is strangely willing. I don’t ask any questions; I just start filming. I can see the Colonel behind her, meandering past the BMW into 89 without looking both ways, without even looking one way. He bumps off the double yellow line as if it’s a wall. He stands up straight with his hands on his head. I think the world’s gone fuzzy for him; maybe he’s going to pass out. He finds his way to the BMW and rests his head on its roof. Kara sees none of this.
In the distance, a speeding police car barrels up 89. The sirens blaze. I use my chin to tell Kara to look. She turns. I step to the side to join her expression, the racing policeman and her father into a single frame. Her eyes grow wider and wider. The sound of the siren is nearly on top of us. In exactly two seconds, it looks like we will be pulverized, but the Colonel will get nailed first. He must not hear. His head stays buried in the hole of his hands.
I feel my body and mind fighting each other. My mind knows that police car is going to turn with the road. It has to. My body isn’t so sure, even though I’ve seen this hundreds of times. I hope for Kara to leap out of the way like some people do, like I used to, like I want to now. I hope she’ll leap out of the way and drag me on top of her as she falls to the floor.
Maybe we could kiss.
She stands her ground. She doesn’t swallow. She doesn’t blink. She bangs on the glass. He voice is thick, but just a whisper when she says, “Move.” Fresh waves of tears fill her eyes as that cop car whizzes through the bend under our porch and the sound of the siren begins to diminish. It’s on its way to an emergency and didn’t stop for Kara. I have no idea what her tears mean. Gratitude to still be alive? A lost opportunity at death?
But then her father looks up from the roof of the BMW and holds out his hand. She puts a couple fingers on the glass. She faces me. A few steps later and she’s right next to me. She takes the camera from me and holds it out like for a self-portrait. She pecks me on the cheek.
“Make me a copy.”
She leaves in the BMW. I go on the campout. I’m here in some tent up in the mountains, Dexter snoring in the next sleeping bag. My flashlight is dying.
I don’t know what my next move should be.