We Can Say This Out Loud by Ben Slotky

Fiction

I’ve got this great idea for a story about Bigfoot I want to tell you but don’t. We are in the kitchen. It is early and none of the kids are up. You are sitting at the table drinking the coffee that I made for us. I have been up for a while. I get up when it’s dark and it’s quiet and I don’t make any sound. I have it all planned out.

It will be like this, the story will.

An old man is sitting on a porch. This is in the country, this is in the woods. A man, a porch, a quiet wind, nature sounds. This is rural. Hush and buzz. He is sitting back in a chair, recollecting. Weathered face and calloused hands. Eyes squinting in the sun. You have come to see him. You have come to hear him talk. You want to take this down, you want to be paying attention. To get this all in, you think. Soak it up. The scene, all of it, for posterity. And I will miss something, I know I will. I always do. As close as you get, I will tell you, there will be something, some forgotten thing. Something lost in the drone, in the hush and the buzz. Maybe it is the faded red and white checks on his shirt. Maybe it is the smell of hot and wet. The overalls, the button missing or maybe not. I will worry about this later, I will tell you. I am excited. These are all things I am going to tell you and you are looking at your phone, scrolling, typing, tapping. I go to get some coffee, but there is none left. I am thinking about the slats on the porch, weathered and bleached. From the sun, I think, or maybe not. From inattention, from neglect. I wonder if the man built this porch, built this house. If this is his. I wonder if this was better once. If it was proud and clean. I am going to tell you this, but don’t, because before I can, you say something about Iceland.

*

Jen and I are going to Iceland, you say. We’ve got it all planned out. It is the first thing you say. You blow on the coffee like it’s hot even though it doesn’t look like it is.

You are not looking at me. I am standing by the refrigerator watching you watch your phone.

We’ll probably leave in April. You say this matter-of-factly. We’ll be gone ten days.

This is nothing, your voice is saying.

This is an aside, an oh-by-the-way.

This is an Iceland, a Jen, and I am wondering about this.

This is the first thing you say, and I’m wondering if you said this out loud.

Jen is a friend of yours or used to be. You were friends maybe fifteen years ago.

You knew each before we got married. This was a long time ago. You never see each other any more, don’t talk much anymore, even though we live in the same town. This is saying something, that you are going to Iceland with Jen, I think, even though I’m not saying anything.

*

It is dark outside. It looks cold, I think, but I don’t say anything because I don’t know for sure. Iceland is cold and I know this even though I know nothing about Iceland. I don’t know if I could point it out on a map. Where is Iceland, I am thinking now. Where is it? I look at the window in the dark. I see me looking at me, I see you looking at your phone. Everything is dark. Iceland would be somewhere north, I know. That’s where I would start if I had to start. Start north. Fingers tracing, fingers tracking. Across the Atlantic, above Europe. This would be the general vicinity, the area. Somewhere around Sweden, maybe, I have no idea. It seems impossible, Iceland does, but it can’t be impossible, because you just said you were going there, you and Jen.

*

In the story I was going to tell you about, the old man is going to talk about Bigfoot, you think. This is why you’re here, why you’ve come, why you’ve traveled. To hear a story about Bigfoot. You are a reporter, maybe. It doesn’t matter. You are incidental to this, not really a part of it at all. You may not even be here. This may be a part of something else, a fragment, an aside. A noise in the swamp, a hush and a buzz, a thing to be discerned. A droning and you want to hear his story. He has seen something with those weathered eyes, with that calloused face. A noise, a sound. A shriek and a holler. Guttural, you think, and you think you know what that means. He was alone and on this porch. He recorded the whole thing. He could play it for you. This is why you are here, this is what he is going to tell you. A thing he has heard. A thing you will tell in a place far away. Strange and unexplained. An outburst in the dark, a throaty yell. A yell in the night and you know how this feels. You look at him from across the whatever. Lines drawn, connecting. You know what it is like to be alone in the night and to be scared. The ache and the pang, the longing and the fear.

I think I ask when you’re leaving. I think I ask why you are leaving. I think I ask where Iceland is and if you even know. I don’t hear you, either because you aren’t saying anything or because I’m not there. You are in the north already, high on the globe, and I am in a swamp, in the woods. I am with an old man, clapboard and weathered. A hush and a buzz, in a place that doesn’t exist, that never was, that is as impossible as Iceland.

You aren’t saying anything anymore. I am looking at you now. There is something I wanted to say, I think. Something about Bigfoot, I think. A hush and a buzz and a weathered something. Something about the cold and the dark and I realize that whatever it is, I can say this out loud because nobody’s listening, not anymore.

Biography
Ben Slotky is a writer living in Bloomington, IL. His work has been featured in Numero Cinq, the Santa Monica Review, Hobart, Barrelhouse and a bunch of other places. His novel, An Evening of Romantic Lovemaking, will be published by Dalkey Archive in 2021.

Image: unsplash.com

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