Saturday, August 24, 2013

Excerpt: Colorado Mandala by Brian Heffron


A narrowing canyon: deep, long and slim, with fluted columns of red sandstone and brickish dented walls. Yellow cinquefoils blooming from niches bob in the noonday breeze. Within the canyon is a fast stream so filled with rocks and boulders that the water can hardly find a course. The bank is clay and has retreated with the burden of the spring run-off. Along the southern shore is a roadbed; beside it a flock of brewer’s blackbirds feed on ticks and water spiders. Their hollow white eyes snap-to at the first rumble of an approaching vehicle.

Red dust, clouds of it, rose like a plume from the back of the jeep. Michael Boyd Atman was sitting on one side of the open tailgate with Stuart Jr., the kid on the other. Between them lay the pup, Strider, on his side panting. They had to keep their eyes closed tight against the clouds of red dust, but occasionally Michael would open his for a quick glance across the stream, his eyes always alert and on the swivel, observing and absorbing everything with a military precision. We were just entering the canyon and here the far bank sloped up steeply, completely covered with thin bristlecone pines.

I didn’t know where I was going, but that really didn’t matter. The rutted roadbed was unyielding to my steering, and the dried mud creases held the wheels like a slot car. Driving was more like being a switchman, choosing the route by the ruts at all points of decision. Beside me sat Michael’s girlfriend and the kid’s mother, Sarah, smoking a long thin cigarette. The shapely supple muscles of her slim arms tensioned and loosened, holding on tight to the jeep as we veered back and forth in concert with the canyon.

We came around a bend and the canyon was suddenly filled with Cub Scouts—dozens of them on both sides of the road, carrying plastic garbage bags and running around cleaning the place up. On the bank near the water was a mountain of filled sacks. The scouts were all grinning at us and giving us the peace sign.

“They look like little beavers building a dam,” said Sarah.

The pines began to yield to rock, tall and speckled cliffs, seventy feet up and overhanging. We were now in the South Platte River canyon. Ahead, three fishermen, all in tall olive waders, splashed around in the stream like bird dogs. They looked up as we passed, frowning at the noise of our jeep, as if their own commotion hadn’t already scared every trout for five miles. One of them, the smallest, gave us the finger; the kid thought it was a new kind of peace sign so he flashed it right back. The guy must have felt great getting the finger from a little kid. Michael sat up between the front seats and looked out. Except for his long twirling hair, you might think Michael was still in the Army. Even now, years after leaving Viet Nam, his jaw still retained the clean-shaven, sharply defined line of a Special Services military man. Beads of sweat dripped from his strongly aquiline face.

“The river is a lot lower this year than when I was here last. It was right up to the roadbed then. You can see where it carried off that shack and left it in the sand.”

In the middle of the stream on a high sandbar was a graying wood shack on its side, roofless. The parallel walls leaned far to one side.

I had never been here before. It was a thinning, dusty canyon. Michael had told me about it the night before at the Loop Lounge.

“How did you hear about this place?” asked Sarah. Glancing over at her, I could see that the apex-noon sun was casting shimmering yellow flecks into her clear green eyes. She was still holding on tight to the jeep with both hands.

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Genre – Literary Fiction

Rating – PG

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