Crayon Barn Chris


By Dylan Smith

If only on a cellular or like nuclear level I could embody my love for Alma in every moment through all of time while making love with her literally everywhere forever, I thought, maybe then in my body I might feel alright—but that’s when I came barreling out of a blackout, and I was sitting on a barstool next to Chris. Uh-oh, I thought. Haha. Holy shit. The length of the old oak bartop trembled with the energy of a newly felled tree and in my body, spirit, in my mind, I felt like a finger painting. Or like a piece of birthday cake mushed in barn dirt and glitter, with like alphabet confetti and crayons for candles burning purple pink black and red—like something smoldering, deformed, smeared. 

I’m here to get my car back, I thought. My mission, my purpose. To confess my love for Alma to Chris. 

A new beer shone in Chris’s hands, in those carefully washed immaculate hands, but I could tell from his eyes that we must have taken drugs. My glass, of course, was empty. Smudged. I had a sneaky look around. Last thing I remember I was upstate, taping Art’s taillight back together with Diane—so what happened? Art’s moonshine, maybe. Definitely. I felt Art’s flask in my paint-stained pocket. Now it felt like morning. Chris’s uppers were what woke me up. Those famous little blue ones. Thank God, I thought. I worshiped them. I found the only window in the bar, a basement window way high up with the sunlight shining through. Long, golden rays of it. The bar was dark wood. Pressed suits. It was happy hour. Golden hour. Somewhere in Manhattan—and it was evening. I felt like a hollow bone, the air-conditioned air like faint music moving through me. Humming, humming—what happened? Chris was waiting on something. The molecules around his head whirled in the mirror behind the bar. Keys to my Volvo on the bartop. My cash and credit card too. But I sensed a serious tension. The bartender came back around. A halo lit his loose silk shirt. I ordered another beer. Chris had our father’s eyes, eyes like boiling water. I looked down at the duffle bag at my feet. Hallelujah, I whispered. My notebook was in there. My Chris poems—my secrets. I felt his eyes on the side of my neck. Chris’s eyes were wild, trembling, whirlpooling, blue. 

“I’m pretty high right now,” I said. 

“No shit, man. I’m daunted too. But you were right in the middle of something.”

“Right. I was. I remember.”

“Mid-story, man. Like mid-sentence. Something about Art’s glasses.”

“Right. Sorry—I spaced out. Must have lost my trail of thought.”

At this Chris laughed. Or sort of scoffed. “We’ve got a thing called trains now, mountain man. You’ve been in the woods too long.”

I wasn’t getting it. 

“It’s train of thought, man. Not trail.”

The bartender came back with my beer. An angel lit by a loop of light. My brain throbbed loud blood, nervous fear-pumped blood. Chris’s pills had scraped at my eyes, my skull, it’s sockets. I clasped my hands in a pious way. Closed my eyes. Pictured Alma’s. 

Honey-colored moons. Depths of golden light. 

The bartender placed a candle between me and Chris. The yellow flame wiggled. Soon it would be dark, I thought. The city would come alive in the dark. Maybe I could too. Alma had completed the shape of my dreams, my future, my face. I looked at my reflection in the mirror. Oh God. I’d walked this city like a thin miracle once, I thought. Poems and paintings and people. Fearless. Alive. A part. What happened? I looked dislocated, incomplete, depleted. I had to come clean to Chris. I knew it was the right thing to do. I downed three quarters of my beer in one go, reaching for an ancient effect—but it was gone. Nothing worked. I was destined for disastrous, disgusting things. Dirty. Disconnected. I longed to go back home to my cave, my shack. To return to the beginning of time. To the center, the candle—Alma’s eyes. The cave. 

“Art’s glasses, man,” Chris said. 

“Okay, right. Sorry. I remember. It was probably just that I wore them. Wore Art’s glasses as a joke. The joke being that I’ve started to sort of absorb him. That I’m training to become the newer better, younger Art.”

“You’re not bored of it yet. You still have fun following him around.”

Chris asked questions as if they were statements. It annoyed me. 

“Definitely not bored, Chris. No.”

“What are you working on then, man. Tell me something specific.”

“Well we’re mowing lawns right now, mostly. But a lot of trees fell this spring from the rain. We handled that. Now at night we work on Alma’s doors. I mean those farmhouse doors—we took them up to the barn where the beer is. To patch the rot holes. Remember? Same red paint as the barn. Huge rot holes in the wood from the rain.”

Chris sipped his beer. The tiniest little sip.

“That’s when I started wearing Art’s glasses,” I said. “Drunk at night in the barn. But Art’s glasses are destroyed, is the point. Totally chipped up, chipped thin. Just like Alma’s doors. I bet that’s what I meant to say. Art told me it’s been a decade since he got new lenses. Ten years of carpentry work and trees, and sometimes metal shavings shoot up off the saws and chip away at his lenses. Little by little bit. Point is, it’s a miracle the old man can see.”

A long pause. Another tiny sip of his beer. Long pauses were common with Chris. Alma called them pregnant pauses. They annoyed me. If he’d only just take a bigger sip of his beer. I picked up the key to my car. Held it to the light. It reminded me of Chris’s scar—I looked for it in the mirror behind the bar. Barely noticeable in the candlelight, but it was there. The width of a key. Right in the center of his head. Chris’s mother, April, she’d left him up on the kitchen counter, playing with a ring of keys. In one of those plastic car seat things. Bottle of vodka under the sink. Chris rocked himself off the counter with the keys—and thwack. White tile. Blue face. Blood red blood. This was how our father told it. Chris was too young to remember. The key almost got to his brain, our father said. Swollen eyes. Fractured skull. That’s when my mom came into the picture. Quick divorce—quicker marriage—quickest me, etc. 

Later April died in a desert motel alone. Alcohol and pills. Chris had just turned ten. 

I wrestled a half-breath up out of my chest, and put the key to my car in my pocket. The bar had grown more crowded, and the window had started to darken. The bar felt like an airplane taking off, the way it was shaking and shaking—but now it lifted. Chris cleared his long thin throat. I felt the question come before he formed it. Here it comes, I thought. Hold on, Bill. Strap in. Here it comes. 

I felt like a little bird. 

“So have you spent any time with Alma?”

Chris’s eyes became two black circles in the mirror behind the bar. I looked away, down, and deep into the flame of that candle. A darkness opened in the center of it, and my life unfurled in there for a while. Black thoughts like a road tumbled out. My fugitive love for Alma. I had every intention of telling Chris the truth. Of coming clean. The road opened onto my future, I thought. Nothing in my way. Nothing to hide—I rode it right up onto a bright horizon. The sky inside me sparkled, it was my future. To tell the truth. And at the end of the truth was my freedom. 

“No,” I lied. “No—I mean, I see her up there in the garden a lot. You know, alone. But no. We don’t really ever spend that much time together.”

I finished the rest of my beer. Haha. My future folded right back up. 

“I saw her yesterday,” Chris said.

“Wait—what?” My reaction was not nearly calm enough. “Hold on—when? Saw her like how?”

Chris looked at me for a long time. 

Like a really, really long time. 

All Chris said was, “Yesterday, man. In Brooklyn.”

“But saw her like how?”

“Do you remember that guy she was seeing before me?”

“Not really,” I said. “The film guy?”

“Right. We went to his documentary together. The one about the old fisherman living alone on that island. Alone in that church. You remember. That film guy.”

“But what about him?”

“I saw Alma walk into a movie with him.”

“Where, though—are you sure?”

“Just a glimpse. But yeah, man. It was her.”

I felt sick. My vision shook. I thought about going to the bathroom, but I didn’t trust myself to stand up right. I was blowing it. Chris could see straight through me. Betrayal. Calamity. Death and doom and all that. I could still change my mind, I thought. There was still time, like right now—I still had time to surrender. To the moment. To confess my betrayal—no, my love—my love for Alma was pure. Just come clean, Bill. Right now. Come on, man. You have nothing to hide. Just do it. Come clean, Bill, this is your last chance—but then we were up on the street. 

Bury me, I thought. God, bury me directly underground. 

Above the bar Chris turned to face me, and I flinched. The last bit of daylight beamed off a tower, and cast him in this strange green secondary light. Chris laughed. He pulled something out of his tote bag, then the light was gone. A regular summer night. We stood there staring at each other for a while. Two stones in a stream of people. A current. The two of us totally still. 

I thought Chris would be holding a knife or gun or like some kind of crowbar or something, but it was a gift. A long box wrapped in red paper. Red bow. Red card. Chris pulled me in for a hug.

“Happy Birthday, Bill. Thank you for everything, man.”

My birthday. Haha. Holy shit. Chris was right. Somehow I’d forgotten all about it. 

“Just put this box straight into your duffle bag, man. Open it later. Let’s try and have ourselves a night.”

Chris made me buy us both CitiBikes, two of those crazy gray electric ones with the engines that go quietly vroom through the city like cars. I stuffed the red box into my duffle bag. Noticed my poems and notebook were still there, my secrets, then I nestled my bag into the bike’s plastic basket. Chris led us downtown. Second Avenue. Toward the fountain. Young rich drunk couples leapt into the street like deer and whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, Chris and I curved and swerved all around them. We stopped in front of a deli for beer. Chris said he’d watch my bike. I picked up two six packs, paid with cash, then came back out. A dark blue night in New York. Back on the bikes. Back on the street. Chris howled up at the half-moon, a liquid neon rainbow blur. I howled too—and we were laughing. 

We walked our bikes across the square, beers clinking around in my basket. There was the arch. The fountain. I hadn’t ever noticed these trees before. Chris passed out more pills. Beyond the fountain was a catalpa tree the same size and shape as Diane’s. Its leaves looked blue and fleshy and wet. We sat on a bench made of chiseled rock. Washed the pills down with beer and more beer. Chris told me about the job he’d landed at a museum uptown. An old professor of his was the director. Chris got paid to guard the art. 

“And I’m seeing somebody new,” Chris said. 

I passed him Art’s flask. Opened him another beer. 

“I’m happy to hear that, Chris. Really. You have no idea.”

“Sarah’s her name, man. She’s uptown. Near the museum. This great big building a couple blocks from the park. You just wait, man. You’ll love her.”

The half-moon hung high above the fountain. A kid in a star-spangled cape wrote CURRENT on the ground in red chalk, and I started to feel a little better. The pills, the moonshine, the beer. Sarah. Suddenly my secret felt totally manageable. Maybe Chris had already moved on. My innocent love for Alma—maybe he wouldn’t even care. Chris talked about at the museum. How he planned to work his way up to a more powerful position. To be in charge of the parties, Chris said. Fundraisers. Events. Money to acquire more art. CURRENT. What a wonderful word! The fountain unfolded like a flower. Electricity. Water. The moment. I tried hard not to think of the film guy. I pushed the film guy violently out of my mind. I was really starting to feel much better. People sat around in the fountain spray, spun circles around it laughing, singing, dancing. The square had its own rhythm. Its own pulse, like a body, I thought. Everybody growing up said Chris had Vision. Always looking up ahead. Radiating light. Making new things happen. I followed him around wherever he went. Hung back behind him, watching. My teachers said I liked to reflect. A man in a suit painted silver and gold sat on a bench beside us, smoking. No longer a sculpture of himself, I thought. He looked so loose and breezy. Chris told me about his favorite painting at the museum. This portrait of St. Francis by Bellini. “I’ll take you back uptown tomorrow to see it,” Chris said. “We can meet Sarah up there too—the Volvo’s parked out in front of her apartment.”

Chris followed my eyes. The statue guy smiled. Exhaled smoke. Chris waved. “Poor dude’s covered in bird shit,” Chris said. I touched my own bird shit stain, the one from my blue bird upstate. My blessing, I thought. My gift. I was glad hadn’t come clean to Chris. I felt wave after wave of drug-fueled relief. Moonshine. Haha. Fuck this film guy, I thought. I would win Alma back. I would stop doing drugs. Stop drinking. Whatever Alma wanted, I thought, I would do it. I had Power. Divinity. Control. I felt like a miracle again. I’ve been blessed, I thought. Alma’s grace. Our love. My secret. 

Chris and I biked over the bridge into Brooklyn. Orange blue sky. Purple black blue water. We shot through the air like shooting stars. I felt just like Evil Knievel. Our father’s favorite. I looked down at the birds flying home, the sail boats sailing on the surface of the river. Moonlight is reflected light, I thought. The city lights rippled in the water. 

We re-docked the bikes, like boats. 

A bookstore not far from Chris’s place. 

Rainbow lights. A courtyard. A tall brick wall. 

A couple poets, Chris whispered. A reading.

But I couldn’t pay attention to anything at all. I felt very very, very high. I got hooked into staring at the bones of the poets’ hands, got fixated on the fact that there were cells that made up the bones in hands and that each poet had cells deep within the center of the bones of their bodies, their hands, and I looked around. Everybody had bones. And I fixated on the fact that there was marrow or something in the bones of this one particular poet’s hands, and I concentrated on the nuclei of the cells that made up the marrow of her bones and her poem was boring and looking at the brick wall behind the poet and her reading of this boring poem, I became conscious of the density of the bricks, and of the atoms at the center of each thick brick, and I thought of a thin yellow falling maple leaf twirling up out of a tree in late autumn. Then the red of Art’s barn at dawn in winter. A shard of his busted taillight, shining. The poet finished her poem and then read another, better poem about muddy water. About all the colors of the rainbow mushed together to make a muddy wet brown, about the cold wet density of the wind above a creek in the morning, and I realized there were probably pipes full of blue water behind the bricks that made the wall behind the poet, reading. Why can we see through clear blue water, I wondered. Through glass? I remembered my reflection in the blue sloshing water of the toilet on the bus ride down. The only thing I remembered. Art says mirrors reflect back the colors we see in the light, and I thought back to the mirror behind the bar where earlier I lied to Chris. Moonlight is reflected light. And I thought about Chris’s scar.  

Chris looked drunk. Haha. He turned to look at me too. Like looking into a mirror, I thought. Everything was fine. I laughed. Chris laughed too. He patted my knee with the bones of his hand. He had no idea, I thought. No clue. I was going to turn my whole life around. Alma loved me back. I knew she did. And now I had a secret. Something to keep. That’s what I was going to do, I thought. I would do anything. My love for Alma. I would keep it. 

“Where’s your duffle bag, man?” Chris whispered. 

The rainbow lights swayed, then flickered. 

I looked down and around at my feet. 

Uh-oh, I thought. Haha. Holy shit. 

For money Dylan Smith plants flowers on rooftops in New York and has a website with links to other stories online. Oh and check out The Other Almanac. A piece of Dylan’s will be published in print with them this fall.