by Christopher Locke | Upper Jay, New York, USA
Thursday, May 21st, 2020
It was a bright October morning when Lewis Sidwell discovered a hatch door protruding from the grass in the middle of his backyard. It had not been there the night before. The hatch looked metallic and appeared to be about three feet in diameter. On top was a small metal wheel that Lewis assumed was for locking and unlocking. The whole thing reminded him of an old movie he saw as a kid about a U.S. submarine sneaking into Tokyo Bay.
Lewis was in his thick brown bathrobe and holding a mug of coffee. The mug was a birthday present from his daughter Stacy and featured a cartoon unicorn saying, “Shit’s About To Get Real.” He hadn’t seen Stacy since she left to backpack Australia with a man she met through one of those online dating services. It’d been a year since they’d talked.
He squatted down and placed an open palm on the little steering wheel; it was freezing. He quickly pulled his hand away and dropped the mug into the grass. Lewis stood up and felt he was going to panic. His breath was coming out in a kind of heightened rasp. He cinched his bathrobe tighter and stood back as a monarch butterfly silently zig-zagged around his heaving chest.
“What the hell is going on,” he said, and his own voice scared him. The sun was radiant and all the maple trees seemed shot with fire, the leaves brilliant ruby and cadmium.
A garage door rattled up behind him and he let out a small cry. It was his neighbor, Kris. Lewis took two steps toward him but stopped. What if Kris saw the hatch and thought it was Lewis’s fault? He stepped to the side to block the view.
Kris rolled a wheelbarrow out of his garage. He was shirtless and had a blue bandana tied around his thick mop of blonde hair. Almost 50, he seemed to be one of those people who magically never aged.
Lewis waved, but then put his hand down.
“Hey, Kris,” he chirped.
Kris stopped and looked over. “Hey Lew,” he said. “I should be able to finish the fence today.”
“Sure, sounds good.”
Kris’s French bulldog Daisy had taken to shitting in Lewis’ yard lately and it finally came to a head after Lewis’ wife Maggie traipsed through a pile unseen and dragged it all through the house. After the three of them met over a bottle of malbec at Kris’s house, Kris agreed to build a fence, even quoting some poem by Robert Frost that mentioned fences. He fancied himself a “literary type” and Lewis found it insufferable. Maggie said he was charming.
“You look like a Bigfoot or something in your bathrobe,” Kris said.
Lewis looked down and then back up. “Yeah, Maggie always says I’m going to get shot in my own yard by hunters. Oh well.”
Kris smiled, and then shrugged his shoulders in a way that said our little interaction is now over and continued pushing his wheelbarrow into his front yard. The wheels were rusty and a steady squeaking filled the air.
Lewis waited for him to be out of sight. He turned back to the hatch. Maybe I should open it, he thought.
A window slid up behind him and he turned around. Maggie was in the second story bathroom and poked her head out.
“Lewis, I’m sorry what I said,” Maggie offered.
He stepped back and felt the cold lip of the hatch beneath his heels, sure his bathrobe was hiding the rest.
“No, no it’s not. I’m sorry,” Maggie said. “Please come inside and let’s talk about it.”
Lewis looked up and remembered what she said, her accusations, and wanted to hurl a million obscenities at her like knives.
“It’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it,” he said. He then wondered for one terrifying moment if Maggie had the hatch installed as a kind of punishment.
She swooped her long raven hair to the side and smiled. “Come inside before some hunter thinks you’re a bear,” she said.
Lewis smiled back.
“I will,” he said.
Maggie pulled her head in and then slid the window down with a thunk.
Lewis turned around and sighed, bent down and picked up the coffee mug shining dumbly in the grass. He looked at the unicorn and his heart sank. The last thing Stacy had said to him before she got in that car was, “You think you love me but you only love yourself.” He rubbed his thumb over the unicorn’s face and then closed his eyes.
This is bullshit, Lewis thought. This isn’t real. I refuse to give this any more energy. I’m not even going to look at it. I am going to go back inside my house and let my wife seduce me, then I’m going to enjoy some Belgian waffles in the kitchen with her, and then I’m going to come back outside and mow the yard for the last fucking time this season. That’s what I’m going to do.
And with that, he turned toward his house. Kris’ dog Daisy was leaping and yelping behind the half-finished fence.
“Daisy,” Kris barked from somewhere.
Lewis smiled. He pulled his bathrobe close. When he got to the porch door he was too far away to hear the whispering from beneath the hatch.
And then the sunlight played atop the hatch wheel in such a way as to make it seem it was carved from diamonds, or a secret stream, or anything else you could imagine that is both beautiful and rare. ■
Christopher Locke won the 2018 Black River Chapbook Award for 25 Trumbulls Road, a collection of speculative stories. Other stories appear or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Barrelhouse, Flash Fiction Magazine, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, Maudlin House, etc.