Pull," he tells me and I cock back and hurl the bottle. He fires a shot from the little pellet shooter and misses. This is what drinking looks like once you've pissed everyone off at the only two bars in town. It is two men drinking tall mean beers and throwing bottles and growing uglier. He has never once hit the bottle cleanly enough to break it. Every now and again you hear the chime of it ricocheting, glancing the glass as it flies by and into the green sprawl of woods before us.
This here is a land of lost fathers and wandering sons. Between black and white there are infinite shades. You learn to name them living up in the northern vast paradise: soft whites, talcs, steel, creams, ash, char, soot. All can point to the rest of the day, and coming night. Each imbued with meaning. You can see the snow from days and miles away. It's the way the sky gets to be like a surgeon's metal table and its children, the clouds, cling to it, unable to rise above. Everything hovers, grows fat and pregnant. Then the world goes the white of death. You can see the blues too, precious blues coming in for warmer days.
"Pull," he tells me. I launch it high, high enough where he can get off three shots before it stabs itself into the hard snow. No hits. No glances. We open two more beers. Our sixth each.
It is a slow drinking game. He gets two shots, his beer and mine. I never get to shoot. I always throw. Then we go back to drinking the beers until they drain and he gets two more shots.
Bull is a lost father, but underneath those types there is always a wandering son, not a man even if his mustache is all gray and hanging at the corners of his crooked mouth.
I am only thirty-six. I am a boy next to Bull. I am a wandering son still as far as I know. No children. Nothing to go mad wondering over. Bull is old. His face droops like a cartoon dogs, heavy wrinkles, left half the victim of stroke. It's like talking to two men. One looks young enough, vibrant in that there's still energy flowing from the eyes. The other is like a sad old man, the sort you have to skirt around on a street because his shuffle's so slow it's depressing to walk behind him, and you'll be late to where you're headed.
There's no good reason we drink together, only that I worked one summer on his property setting traps and reinforcing his trailer against the coming cold. He gave me a bit of money and a lot of beer. He reminded me of my old dad who died working when I was a kid. He fell from a ladder, my dad, and broke his back on a pile of bricks. I remember the clouds being whitish blue like fat jellyfish, and the sky being black-blue like the ocean. He'd slipped. Simple as that.
He goes by Bull. Which is a real asshole name, but because he looks so harmless and crippled it doesn't come off that way. I think he sees I'm lost. Even though really I am old too. Thirty-six is too old to be hiding from the world in an old man's yard, drinking and playing games.
We finish the beers.
"Pull," he says and I toss it lightly, try to get it to hang so he can level it off and hit. It's a miss. His right hand is pretty steady but he shoots with his left. That's the side dripping off of him and broken. I think that's the point of the game. If he can hit something with that ruined side maybe it'll mean something.
I am readying the bottle, and waiting for the word. Instead he clears his throat.
"Tell me about that girl," he says. He means the girl I was with two weeks past. She may have broke my heart but I am not sure as of yet.
"Why?" I ask him. I don't feel like talking about her.
If you have never lived in a town as small as this then you can't comprehend the closeness. There are not many people unknown to you. Everyone is a mirror. Everyone is like the shiny steel sky before it snows. Everyone is related. Everything you've ever done or will is reflected back at you. It's why I left. I can't reason why I came back except that there are only so many places you can go that look the same. Every town was grey, and all the people too. They all looked like home.
"Because I am a dirty old asshole. I need a story. Payment for the beer." Guilt trip. Even Bull doesn't understand because he is a lost father. He came up this way to be faceless. He says he had a girl once. Where is she now? He doesn't know. So he runs away. The closeness kills you eventually. It strangles you.
There aren't too many girls that come up willingly into such wasteland cold. The ones here are for the most part born here. They are the daughters begot of couplings whose underlying love was one of warmth and not one another. There isn't much else to do unless you hunt or fish but to make warmth, fires or otherwise that simple flesh to flesh.
"The girl was a ten. Big tits. Brown skin", I tell him. What I am supposed to say is the girl was a beauty. "Outsider. From Arizona," I explain again. Which means she smelled like the desert and its sun. She was like cinnamon. But you can't say that out loud. "It's a long way from home I told her. And she said it was, and that she had always wanted to be in Alaska. It's cold, she said. So what do you tell every outside girl when they come up Bull? You say: I'll warm you up."
But she didn't say it was cold. What she said was that she figured Alaska must be the exact opposite of Arizona. What I told her was it isn't. I had a good line too and I wasn't going to spoil it by telling it to Bull. I told Arizona that the desert is just like the tundra. They are vast and lonely and the only thing worth doing is finding someone to keep you company because nights are the same in any manner of vast and lonely place. I was like a poet. You can't be like a poet in front of people like Bull.
"Then what?" Bull says.
"You know then what," I tell him.
"I'm sure you rode it like they don't down in Arizona," he speculates. I ignore him.
"All her life she was in the sun," I say without wanting to.
"Nothing, Bull." I say.
"She broke your heart," he says almost like he enjoys it. It could be he wants someone broken by his side, someone to sit on his good side, the side not drooping and limp to make him feel whole.
"Some girl? Broke my balls. That's all," I tell him. All her life she was in the sun. All my life I've been sapped by cold. Of course she broke my heart. It was like a dream. Of course.
"She broke your heart," Bull says again, and he laughs. He leans back, and grows quiet.
She did, but what's the relevance of that? Any girl from Arizona could've. Anyone of them. All of a sudden I don't want to be this Bulls surrogate anymore. This is how it starts. The wandering. With a persistent broken heart. Your heart breaking over and over again because time is illusionary. It heals nothing. Once it breaks that's it, you can't escape it. That's a reason to wander. Landscapes as grey as these.
I look at Bull and I want to kill him all of a sudden. For making me say what hurts aloud. I start imagining doing it and the real sick truth of it is probably no one would know I'd done it. Who would find him? No one was looking for him. He'd be just another lost father, self-sacrificing himself to the cold in repentance for all the shitty things he'd done. For abandoning his girl, and never making it right.
He is staring off, long into that dark green nightmare of a forest.
"Pull," he says, and when I throw the bottle he makes it explode into white shattering flashes of light. Then we cackle like demons at this momentous victory, and our horrible howls echo back.
BIO: Ryan J Ouimet is currently working to establish and edit the new poetry journal Predictive Texts, set to launch in the Fall of 2014. He is working very long days and nights while attempting to finish his first novella. Ryan holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maine. His work has been published in the Sandy River Review where it garnered an Editors Choice Award. He splits his time living and writing between NJ and NY.