Flash Fiction, Words
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The Time at the Hill

Photo credit: Alexandra Reinecke

Words by Alexandra Reinecke

It worked out that my father’s sister, his own image and two years older, had two sand colored children, the older of which has taken in his thirteen years a broad shouldered stature and a disposition not unlike my own, the younger of which has grown slight and with a very thin mouth and a rare stubbornness brought by way of his father’s blood, the stubbornness that leads to recklessness, which has accounted for what seems to be eleven years strung together—in the manner of popcorn strand—of accident and conflict.

They live in Oregon, the two boys and their parents, in a modest brick house fitted on the outside of town, opposite on one side a false lake on one side belonging to the town’s singular country club and separated them by fence, and on the other a wood cut up into squares of yard for three or four similar houses and with space left to accommodate toy rifle hunting and leaf forts and other such pastimes. There’s a small wooden deck in the back area that looks to be falling back into the very dark brown dirt, leaning disobediently from the brick exterior like a child from sleep.

It was a gray morning and early; we’d been pulled out of bed with hardboiled eggs and two percent milk in glass bottles. Garrett stood on the deck, with a hardboiled egg face up in his palm. He wore a hunter green pullover sweater and yellow boxer shorts. He was smiling at something and his front teeth were large. His gray eyes looked like the salmon he’d stayed outside with that time he’d slept on the deck.

He ate his egg, in slices and slowly, and I remembered he’d eaten that way, always, and that I knew him very well and that I’d forgotten how well I knew him until I’d remembered about the salmon and about a hundred times like it.

It was night time with the salmon. It was dark when we’d gotten home and we’d laid the salmon out in little metal tins on the deck with paper towels under; we’d cleaned the fish, the six we’d caught, but dad had read somewhere it helped take the oil out to lay them out overnight before cooking them. Garrett had caught two himself and wasn’t happy with rice and chicken for dinner instead of them and so he’d stayed outside past twelve looking at them, reading by flashlight and keeping the gray dunes, the silver landscape of their sides in the plane of his vision. When we asked him to come inside and sleep he wouldn’t do it; we found him there in the morning, lying on his back with the sun hanging red and milky over him like a thing done in crayon. He cooked all of them on the griddle for us and watched us eat and fed the skins to the dogs afterward.

As I sat beside him that morning I thought the incident defined him, thought it more an appendage his own than the slope of his shoulders or either of his hands, for it distilled that recklessness that ran like blood through him, distilled it and set it down simply. It seemed to pronounce his name clearer than any other part his own. There must’ve been a mirror of the salmon incident in every week he’d ever lived.

The most recent mirror was a thing we’ve taken to calling the time at the hill. It started with us there on the deck. Garrett was finishing his hardboiled egg. Dylan, his older, more reasonable brother, had finished his. He wore a white blue colored t-shirt, worn and pilled from the dryer. It featured a screen print of a pack of matches. Across the box it said ‘Freedom lights the way’ and on the back it said, in small letters, ‘Freedom Matches, Virginia.’

He nudged me with his leg. “We going yet?”

“Garrett?” I said.

“What?” Garret said it rudely and fast, as though I’d interrupted him. He was pulling apart two slices of egg on his palm.

“You pack anything yet?”

“What?” he said.

“For the hike. Up the hill.”

“Whoever said we’re going to the hill?” He had his hand outstretched. A bit of the egg yolk was smudged on the collar of his sweater, a hunter green pullover.

“We’re going,” said Dylan. He was looking at his feet. “Don’t matter who said it cuz we’re going. We’re going and we’re going now before it gets bright as hell. You know how it gets. You want it bright as hell and scare off all the deer?”

“Fine.” Garett went and got the two BB guns, slung the straps across his chest so they made an X, with one hanging on each side of his thin, concave torso.

Dylan wrapped up two hardboiled eggs in napkins and two pieces of bread cut into triangles and put them in his shorts pocket.

We walked to the hill. It was probably a mile, but a mile through the wooded area, and it took a good half hour for us to get to the start of the incline. It was a good hill, and a strange green as the gray light of morning ceded to day. Atop the hill you could see the wooded area from the clearing and their house, with the deck receding to the earth, off to the side.

Garrett took the gun straps from off his shoulders and set them down. There weren’t any deer out, in the brightness, but he didn’t seem upset by this. He’d lugged them up the hill for the same reason he’d slept outside that night with the salmon; to prove something to himself, to fulfill some whim. He was smiling because he’d done it. The yellow spot from the egg yolk on his pullover had dried. There was a thin, pink scar running up the side of his ankle.

“Hey, Garrett!” Dylan ran past his brother, his sand colored hair the color of the hill’s dried grass, the back of his shirt billowing in the back like sailcloth. “Remember when John beat you down?”

“He didn’t beat me. We weren’t racing. I had the guns,” he said, but there was a dull look in his gray eyes, a darkening, that looked to be his reckless blood rising in his face.

“He beat you by seven minutes.”

“No he didn’t.” He turned to me. “He didn’t.”

“He could do the hill in half that time—John.” Dylan was a few yards off. He had his hands in his shorts with his thumbs tucked over the line of the pockets. “You hear me? Half.”

Garrett walked calmly up to Dylan and hit him with a flat hand on his chest. When he hit him he covered part of the words on the shirt, so it said ‘the way’ and showed only half the matches box.

“Think you’re so tough then run it.”

Garrett pulled off his pullover, with the egg at the collar, and threw it in a hunter colored heap atop the guns.

There were two bug bites along his collarbone he’d scratched red. He ran silently and quickly and with his arms swinging wildly beside him like knives on set, horizontal tracks.

He ran three minutes and we watched him. At the four minute mark by Dylan’s watch he picked up the guns and the sweater and we began walking down the hill to meet him at the bottom and to see it that he met it under the time. Dylan took out the toast as we walked and gave me a triangle of it and we ate it.

Garrett was up ahead, a sand colored thing like an extension of the hill. It was quiet with only the sounds of morning, of birds and of animal feet on twigs and leaves and things, and with the terse talk we carried, with the guns, as we descended. At five minutes a shrill noise made itself known, a whimper, a shout, a guttural use of lung like a dog might make with the blades of his back stuck under a fence.

The shrillness continued another minute, and we continued on down the hill, neither of us thinking for a second it was anything besides an animal, more than wind. Our feet fell to solid ground at six minutes by Dylan’s watch. We looked at the leather band of it and the reading of the little letters a beat before we even recognized Garrett lying there, in a small crevice of earth between hill and wood.

There was a pool of reckless blood open on his right kneecap. He reached for his pullover, which he pressed against the spot. His thin mouth was pulled against his chin, tightly, and so the corners, where the skin was dry, another spot of blood rose.

He was smiling, and for this we weren’t sorry for him. “Five,” he said. “Did it in five. Did the hill in five minutes.”

Back at the house we wrapped his knee in something of a triangle bandage made with gauze and tied in the back. He smiled and muttered incoherently about leather watch straps and hills and about John and complained only in intervals. He fell asleep early, in the gray of late afternoon, with his very thin mouth upturned in contentment.

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