As the road fell into disrepair – crumbling at the edges, and then sinking and buckling and cracking up – the trees crowded in for a look. One of them must have taken a step forward, maybe just half an inch, and the rest followed. When trees got an idea like that in their heads, there was no stopping them.
So the road was changing for the worse, but we kept up repairs around the house. I was never one for clambering over the roof with six or seven nails clenched in my teeth, knocking down sheets of corrugated iron with a mallet, but Cara made it look quite natural. It was as if that was what God had had in mind when he turned her loose down here. She wasn’t a tinkerer, either. Cara only fixed things that were broken. A window pane. A hinge. The roof of the chicken shed. She rarely overdid it. If a rock fell out of a wall, she noticed and set it back in place. If a section of wall collapsed, she built it up again stronger than before.
I wasn’t totally useless. I knew how to darn socks. I could patch up a pair of old work trousers and resole a pair of boots. Not too many people knew how to sole a boot right. I could also tune a guitar even though I didn’t really know how to play – not quite so useful a skill, but one I was secretly proud of. Guitars needed to be in tune. Sometimes I thought about asking Cara what she did with my old guitar. Maybe she could even bring one back from town before winter set in – she swore there were still people out there repairing the silence with music – but the thought of an object like that taking up space in a corner of our house was a little too hard to imagine. Looking at it would put ideas in my head. I might want to learn how to play it again, and honestly I didn’t want to want anything.
I wasn’t much use at prying out a set of rotten steps and building new ones. Cara liked to get in there with a crowbar and rip things apart. Day by day, our house was falling apart and she was gradually rebuilding it. Keeping a house upright was a constant war. Mostly against winter and squirrels. Squirrels were hell on a house. As soon as people stopped living in them, the squirrels came in and started deconstructing the place with their teeth. Transforming it from a place fit for human habitation to one fit for squirrel habitation. It didn’t take long. Sometimes just a minute or two. And then a bird landed on the roof and it collapsed.
Now and again we went for a spin on the motorcycle, dodging potholes that looked like craters on the moon. You got to know where they were and just swerved around them. They became part of the geography. The trees stood at the side of the road, leaning in a little closer than I remembered. As we zipped along on the motorcycle, I often had the feeling of a thousand eyes trained on us. Well, we probably did have, even if they were just the mosquitos. Did mosquitos have eyes? I hoped not. In what kind of world would mosquitos be given eyes?
Maybe the whole world was falling into disrepair. Imagine the crowbar you would need to rip the rotten stretches out of a river. What kind of nails were holding rivers in place? And what would you replace them with? Cara might’ve had an answer to these questions therefore I didn’t ask. I knew better. I knew I didn’t really want to know the answers to most of my questions.
Last time we headed upriver the dam was almost gone, wiped out in last year’s floods. The river had grown tired of it and made its decision. Rivers, of course, didn’t really make their own decisions. Even the oldest, most mature rivers were at the mercy of nature. And everything in nature was snared and struggling, caught up in everything else, even our river. Still I went right on thinking that a river could decide its own fate, to some small degree. The river was aware of us perched along its banks in the same way that the trees were aware of the road cutting through their midst and the motorcycle speeding down it carrying two women with patches on the knees of their jeans. Patches that would have to be patched again soon.
We were no different from anything else in this world. Why would we be? Believing otherwise was the root of all our troubles.
Sometimes things broke and you couldn’t fix them. You just couldn’t, no matter what you did. There was no fixing my face, for example. It was the way it was forever now. And Cara was losing her teeth. I couldn’t mend her mouth any more than I could mend her soul. Both were in permanent degradation. Well, if I had a guitar and knew how to play it I might be able to mend a soul – but not Cara’s. I might be able to put a little patch on it, though. Shore it up a bit. Until then, I would stick to darning socks in front of the fireplace, keeping myself warm, getting only half-drunk at night like a good little girl.
Kevin Spaide is from Auburn, New York. His stories have taken hold here and there, most recently in Atticus Review and FRiGG. He lives in Madrid with his wife and son.