Out of My Control and Going Up


fiction by Chris Messer


We didn’t have enough wings. The thing needed three wings, and we had two. He slapped one of the plastic ones down on a piece of cardboard and took out his pocketknife. He etched around it with the tip of the blade. He poked it out with his pinky finger, jammed it into the side of our model rocket, and held it out to me smiling.

I walked slowly towards it on its little launch pad and lit the fuse with his cigarette. I ran back quickly. “The…” my father said, and then the rocket shot straight away from us parallel to the ground. It crashed into the side of his trailer and burnt out loudly.

Later that day I got a black eye while we were shooting gophers out of his bathroom window. I was new with guns. He showed me how to hold it and point it. He told me not to put my face on the scope but I did. It bucked back at me and knocked me to the ground. My bullet sailed into the sky. He spun out the toilet paper quickly. “We’ve got a bleeder!” he said laughing. “We got a bleeder!” he said again because he rarely said a thing once.

I ate dinner holding that bloody melting toilet paper to my face. We sat there in front of his tiny television and watched every single minute of The Apple Dumpling Gang. The only thing I remember about the meal is the glazed buttery yellow of the steamy broccoli.

The guestroom I was staying in smelled like nella wafers. It had two empty closets and an over turned box with a little outened lamp on it. I paced around, holding my throbbing black eye.  The stale carpet crunched below my feet. I was twelve years old and in a state of high anxiety.

The next day we went to the driving range. I swung my club over the ball again and again. I was new with golf. He gave me tips. He said, “Keep your head down,” then when I missed he said, “Keep your head down.”

A man he knew came up behind us and slapped his back. They smiled and laughed at each other in their sherbet shirts. While he was talking I finally connected with the ball. It puttered off the tee and rolled down the short hill below. I saw the balls of other men flying in huge arcs off into the sky.

I got better as he talked. I hit one, and then I hit a second one, and then I missed, and then I hit a third. They had these pitiful arcs. One went eight feet straight up and landed behind the tee. My furthest made it all the way to the 25 marker. A man next to me clobbered one. It probably landed somewhere in heaven.

I was pulling on his sleeve suddenly. “Can I go closer?” I asked. He cackled at his friend. He smiled at me and said, “Sure, boy!” He patted my head.

I walked down the hill below my tee, holding my lefty club and my neon orange bucket of balls. I dropped one onto the ground and stood unevenly above it. I swung and knocked out a huge divot of grass.

I could hear the crack of balls behind me and watched them fly over my head into the distance. Some landed past the 300 marker.

I felt a ball whizz past my ear and saw it sail off, as if it flew out of my mind.

He screamed down at me. I looked up and saw his shaking arms. I heard the soaring shots of everyone around him.

That night I rushed into the living room in a state of high anxiety. My father shot up from the couch. The news was on. It was turned down so low that you could only hear the loudest parts: the anchor’s hissing laughter, musical segues, a report on marching bands.

I told him I couldn’t sleep. He looked around the living room with his eyes half open. I looked around it too. We looked around it twice and looked at each other. He looked around it again.

“Hey,” he said, kicking off the orange and green afghan around his lower half. His underwear shifted as he stood up and moved towards me. “Ever do this?”

He moved into the doorway and put his arms down at his side. He put his knuckles against the frame. He stood there quietly. I noticed his arms were shaking slightly and realized he was pushing against the frame. He did it for an odd amount of time. I just watched.

He said, “look.” He moved forward out of the doorway and lifted his arms up slowly. Eventually he stopped and dropped them to his sides. He was smiling the whole time.

“Neat, huh?” He said.

“What?” I asked.

“Here, you try.” He put me in the door and put my hands at my sides. He put my knuckles against the frame. “Now push against this as hard as you can and count to thirty in your head.”

I pushed. I counted to thirty. It made my muscles tight. I shook a little bit but not much. When I was at twenty-seven in my head he said, “Now step forward and keep your arms relaxed.”

I stepped forward.  I kept my arms relaxed. They began to slowly rise, but I wasn’t doing it. It felt like something else was moving them. They arose quietly. They were out of my control and going up.