Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2019

Swim Through It for a While

Swim Through It for a While
Photograph via Flickr by Tulio Bertorini

The gallows stood at the lowest point of the valley, with no noose and no hangman. It showed up in every tourist’s nighttime diary entry. Most people wondered about the person due to be executed, wondered about his or her whereabouts, and wished someone would remove the gallows before death could be carried out. No one wondered about the crime. A few hopped like rabbits to the bottom of the valley and drank coffee in the gallows’ hollow shadow.

You were the only one who identified not with the condemned but with the gallows. Their loneliness and toughness fascinated you. Within a few seconds you started talking to me in the voice of the gallows, and waxed poetic about your resilience, standing there like that, listening to meteorites, always tempted to fall with them, always resisting the temptation.

Your eyes shone with an electric glow similar to the light bulbs in Isaac Asimov’s basement. You wore a black jacket with a red diagonal line reminiscent of a slashed throat. Still speaking as the gallows, you attempted a prayer but messed up the Lord’s name and unleashed a string of profanities so uncomfortable you almost tripped over a piece of rotten tree bark. “Good thing the gallows don’t swear,” I joked and ran my fingers through your hair, releasing long-forgotten rose petals. You hummed your favorite homage to Pallas.

Then you took out your flask and sipped cognac, consciously avoiding eye contact. A scholarly tourist approached us and started to hop around like a rabbit. I asked him if he was the condemned. He took off all his clothes and hopped toward the gallows, then right past them and the fuck away.

I don’t remember everything that happened that day, couldn’t tell you how much my pulse was, whether my blood pressure was at an acceptable level or whether I craved coffee like some black bear with a headache. I do remember your attempts to take on the shape of the gallows and cast a similar-looking shadow.

Much later you told me you had come with me to the valley on the recommendation of someone you secretly loved, a casual fan of outmoded execution devices with whom you had shared one coffee in the corner of a third-hand bookstore. You carried his third-hand book in your pocket. You had lost touch with him. It was in honor of your feelings for him that you wanted to become the gallows, to stand unshakable in the middle of a grassy plain.

I think back to the poses you struck, silhouetted against the bright lights of distant all-terrain vehicles. I’m no longer in touch with anyone who remembers you. The valley has been paved over. The gallows has been replaced with a museum of contemporary art. I drive to its parking lot, strip down to my bathing suit, plunge into the viscous macadam, and swim through it for a while.