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Extraordinary Machine

by Jan LaPerle

The following piece received 3rd Place in our 2013 Hallow/Hallowed Flash Fiction Contest.

The last time I saw Jack Kite alive he was sitting by the river. He was watching the silver fishes flowing beside him, easing like currents through a wire. Jack was the sort of man that only vain and beautiful women could see as beautiful, as they saw in him their own shallow movements, their special way of looking above and around others in order to catch a glimpse of themselves in the glass or window. But the day I saw him by the river his beauty was as real as the willows.

People in town talked of Jack like they talked of power tools and sports cars, using words like energy, might, and steel, so it seemed fitting that Jack was a mechanic. Jack’s physique and work ethic, his passion for muscle and car, gained him a reputation among the men as a hard worker, as someone to work beneath their hoods, and for all the eligible ladies in town, his body was a force they drew to, even when his hands and pants were covered in grease from the motor. The prettiest ones risked ruining their shirts, but I never met one of them who cared a bit.

The day I saw him by the river I was out for a walk. I remember his face, how it seemed to fill, bit-by-bit, with sadness, like a glass filling with water. After I ran to town someone told me how a car hood had fallen on Jack’s arm, how it had cut his flesh, and how when Jack looked down through his skin he had found metal instead of bone. He had pushed his fingers into the cut and pulled his skin back. He stripped himself of his skin as simply as we all pull off a shirt, pants, a sock, but everything he found was metal. He looked at himself in a car window, and that is when he ran to the river, passing cars and buses along the way.

A fisherman found Jack’s body on the shore five miles south of town. Several men from town hauled his body back, shined his limbs, and set him in the courtyard as a monument. Many see Jack as a symbol of strength and courage, the women in their pretty shirts remember him as he was long ago, and several, maybe a handful, see Jack as a gaudy structure that has begun lately to rust. A petition to tear him down circulates the town.

But I feel like the only one who has ever really seen Jack Kite. Next to the river that day, I watched him run his hand, slowly, down the trunk of a tree. I watched him smile sadly as he felt, for the first time, grasses between his toes. I watched him watch the birds as if he had never seen a thing fly. Then I watched him enter the river, and slowly float off, as sparkling and quiet as all the silver fishes.

Jan LaPerle (Matthews) is from a small town in northern New Hampshire. She lives in East Tennessee with her husband Clay Matthews, daughter Winnie, and dog Morty. She has poems and stories in PANK, Rattle, BlazeVOX, Subtropics, and other places, too. She has an e-chap of flash fiction, Hush, published by Sundress Publications, and a poetry collection, It Would Be Quiet, from Prime Mincer Press. Thanks for reading.

Lead image: “man on beach” (via Flickr user floato)