In the dim garage I drunkenly pry again about the motivation behind his swastika tattoos
I passed a bottle of Jack Daniels with neighborhood kids
fifteen years after I’d left—on the coattails of turning 18—
kids I used to play freeze tag with at the bus stop
or who my mom used to watch for Day Care.
I’d missed their formative years, the slow slide of
the neighborhood into an entropic suburban Sons of Anarchy
parody where the heroin & brass knuckles left bruises
& tracks & drew blood that looked pretty damn real.
I just remember playing hide & seek with these kids—
watching their LA Lights trail off through the side yard.
Ryan, that little hockey-obsessed runt was over 250 now
& eager to tell me about how during his last time inside
all he had to do was take off his shirt in the yard
& his tats did the talking. Multiple large swastikas.
I’d missed a significant span of his life. Sure, he was shoplifting
cards by the time I’d left—a typical middleschool kid—
but I wasn’t holier than thou. He would always be
part bowl-haircut goalie stopping my slapshot tennis balls.
But somewhere he found a strange path, & though
there may have been more racism than I recognized at the time,
we were always more of a Workers of the World unite,
pull-your-own-weight, we’re-all-equal sort of zone
as far as I’d known. Even our Lutheran Church seemed,
to me— a blue-haired skate punk—more of a passive voice
that judged you to a point but then shrugged & moved on—
I think you may go to hell, but you do you I guess—
was the threat of hellfire filtered through Minnesota-Nice.
So I wanted to know why white supremacy. So I asked.
I was genuinely interested, but my much-nearer sober wife—
San Diego native, alien in the sub-zero weather but not to prejudice—
refereed from the sidelines, eyes wide because she imagined
a quick-to-violence party in Klantee, Santee’s fun nickname
all-too-familiar to her teenage years. But these were my people,
my lost sheep, I could lead them back into the fold of non-assholes.
I was about that level of drunk. Apparently I was an idol there.
I’d escaped—made it to the coast like a wagoneer, lived the skate-dream
which was interesting—I’d forgotten the dream hadn’t always
included being rich enough to not work. We’d all worked.
It’s who we were. We were hardworking Scandinavian stock
solid in the cold, mittenless mostly but more pragmatic than proud.
We understood toil & we loved stories—each eager to add
our own tall tale to the bonfire. Ryan never really got my questions,
but also didn’t think I was fucking with him & break the bottle
over my head & gnash the smashed glass stem in my eye.
Really, I wasn’t fucking with him—I wanted him to have a drunken
epiphanic moment & change his ways, because, I don’t know
it would be like my own little indie movie. Jessica & I held hands
as we walked in the twilight to the third garage or basement party
in the night of liquor-hopping my still-underage sister had networked,
ending with basement video games & more beer in the quiet backyard
of my older brother’s best friend’s house, not for that tie but
because my younger brother & sister were tight with his brother—
the suburban web so thickly interwoven you could string it
between two evergreen branches, lay supine & inhale the piney air.
We used to roam the streets on green maple leaf evenings
all night at miles range. We cut through yards, hopped fences,
we caught the tiniest toads you’ve ever seen at the library pond
behind Richard’s house, brother of my brother’s once-best man.
Outside, the uneven patio held puddles just at that perfect icing-over
where you could tap it & leave it intact or tap & snap it.
We breathed mist & listened to the sound of cold-resistant birds
already preempting the sun with their incessantly upbeat peeps.
Zebulon Huset is a writer and photographer living in San Diego. His writing has recently appeared in The Southern Review, Louisville Review, Meridian, North American Review, Fjords Review, Portland Review, Texas Review and Fence, among others. He publishes a writing prompt blog (Notebooking Daily) and his flash fiction submission guide was featured at The Review Review.