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The Sound of Success

Story by Terry DeHart (Read author interview) September 15, 2007

Art by Pablo Picasso

I’ve fucked it all up. Then I’m in a car, and it’s some kind of official car—a police car or a fire chief’s car. I am rushed to a scene. It’s an open, urban scene—the intersection of three wide boulevards, and there aren’t any tall buildings close in. Cars are stopped at random angles on the streets, and there’s a traffic island with an ornamental sculpture rising above it. It’s a cast iron minaret, freestanding in the island, maybe 40 feet tall. It’s painted orange and green and someone has climbed to the very top.

She’s up there when I arrive. I know her. I know her entire history and I love her and I know that she wants me to be there. The on-scene officials know that she’s serious, and that’s why I was summoned. But I don’t see the sense in trying to talk her down. I know it won’t work, in any case, but I know that I have to try.

I sit in the car for maybe 10 seconds, facing the sculpture but not looking directly at the woman. I don’t want to see her and I know that she doesn’t want to see me, not directly, but I keep her shape in my peripheral vision and I know that she is aware of my presence. I see her scrambling to stand up on the slick, painted iron, and she manages to get herself upright and then she kicks off toward the pavement.

The crowd is silent, respectful perhaps, and she hits hard, just as she intended. I hear the soft, corporeal thump of her flesh and then her skull and bones shatter with a single, damned snap. I feel as if my own bones have shattered with hers, but I manage to think Good for her, because it was what she wanted, and she got it perfectly right. I can’t move or breathe but I’m also proud of her. I think Good for you, and that’s that, except for the grief that’s a bayonet now, a bowie, a claymore and a Marine officer’s sword running deep.

The grief is a tomahawk and then it’s a heavy war hammer. I remember something else. When she fell, I had been listening intently for something. When she first hit the ground, I worried that she might not succeed. The initial thump of her impact didn’t sound sufficient. But when I heard that horrible snapping sound, I knew.

And I couldn’t bring myself to look at her, directly. I could only witness her final performance from the corner of my eye. The blades had me then, but I also felt a small, somber pride at her success. I listened intently for the crack of her skull and when I heard it I was filled with grief and pride and I wished her grim congratulations because it was the sound she most wanted to hear in all the world, as she showed off for me one last time, saying Daddy watch me now. Look what I can do, now.

About the Author

Terry DeHart’s stories have appeared in The Paumanok Review, In Posse Review, Vestal Review, The Barcelona Review, Zoetrope All-Story Extra, Night Train, SmokeLong Quarterly and other places. Three of his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is currently working on a novel about a family, and other nuclear events.

About the Artist

For more information on Pablo Picasso, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso.

This story appeared in Issue Eighteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighteen

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Steve Edwards is author of the memoir BREAKING INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY, the story of his seven months as caretaker of a 95-acre backcountry homestead along federally protected Wild and Scenic Rogue River in Oregon. His work has appeared in Orion MagazineThe Sun MagazineLiterary HubElectric LiteratureThe Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives outside Boston with his wife and son.