Mikey had a steel pellet in his brain. The neighbor boy had fired into his temple and scrambled his language center. That’s why he struggled with complete sentences. What he managed was to yell out affirmations, a yup or truth or no doubt. In the rare instance he got upset, he went for fuck. He liked fuck—fuck, uck, ck. Good for the speech impaired. It’s why toddlers like it.
Jim and I did our best to protect him, but he sometimes got harassed. At the pool hall he would play up his impediment. One time he won three rounds, the sum got pretty fat, and when it was time to pay the guy refused, said as a taxpayer he paid for Mikey’s disability. Well, we smashed his drunken nose with a cue stick. That’s called a consequence.
The point is we always liked Mikey. He was part of the group.
We were at the river when he finally bit the dust. It was his birthday; he’d beaten the predictions and made it to forty. The day was prettier than I’d ever seen. The sharp waters and sheer canyon walls. The way your shout slapped back with an echo. The wild flowers that peeked out between boulders. The mountain goats that danced and slipped and started small avalanches—how they’d look down with their puzzled faces to see if we’d noticed.
The snow that winter had the river running fast and heavy. As usual Mikey set up alone on the island, bundling his rod and tackle box in his Marlboro folding chair, stepping like an egret over the slick stones. Beer was too heavy. So it was my duty to lob tallboys in upstream for Mikey to catch in his fishnet.
By midday we were all hungry and I sent him down a watertight sandwich. Mikey missed it and let out a couple fucks. I shouted over not to worry. I’d make him another with what was left of the ham. But he waved me off like don’t bother, “Coors,” he yelled.
The day had us happy to be alive. Nothing could kill the good feeling. To have made it this far was a blessing. Camp was in the trees away from mosquitos. We gathered up our supplies when the sky went dark. Mikey didn’t move an inch from his throne and none of us bothered to wait on him. He liked to be seen as self-sufficient.
At camp Jim lit a log and we passed around a bottle. After a while someone said “where’s Mikey” and I said “heck we better go check on him.” Jim trudged off and right away he was hollering.
There was Mikey, wrapped stiff around his Marlboro chair, dark waters smooth around his middle, head bobbing up and down.
It took a minute to get him loose. The whole time Jim sobbed like a baby. I was saying “It’ll be alright, it’ll be alright,” which brings me to the present moment, the falseness of Mikey’s service, Jim at the podium, theatrical, eulogizing like a Shakespeare.
I keep waiting for tears but I don’t feel sad. We’ll all go home and figure out for ourselves how to be about it. What I think is Mikey would’ve wanted to go out like that. The bright moon and quiet fish and burnt sun making its pass back around the earth, all of it happening with perfect inconsequence.
Daniel Hand lives in burning California. His writing has appeared in Alien Mouth, Maudlin House, and Alternet. He tweets @probiotics8.