Seth Borgen

I Used to Know This Place

Bones and Sidney loved each other like soldiers and pitied all friendships not their own. In their last winter of high school, they rattled down Main Street in Bones’ ’82 Civic. The yet-to-be-overturned zoning laws of Hunnsicker Township prohibited change, one side of Main Street a city green and gazebo, the other a train of antique stores, candle stores, and an old-fashioned soda fountain called Saywell’s. Behind Main Street sprawled vast nothing, back roads and barren, loping fields of snow and mud.

They turned onto those back roads, off Main, no destination in mind, Sidney saying he’d lost all interest in living in the wake of a breakup with a girl named Annie, Bones not believing him.

"I don’t believe you," said Bones.

"Am I lying?"

"I don’t think you’re lying. I just don’t believe you."

Miles of fresh chain-link fence and SOLD signs jigsawed the earth, random metal chomps taken out of what had always been open and endless and theirs.

"Where did these fences come from?" said Bones.

"I don’t even know how I would begin caring about that," said Sidney.

"Your ire lacks authority. You woke up this morning and showered and brushed your hair and put on clean clothes. These are not the actions of a soon-to-be dead man."

"What do I have to do to prove it?"

"Die," said Bones.

"All right," said Sidney. "Kill me."

The alignment of Bones’ ’82 Civic was off. If he did not keep the wheel crooked to the left, the car veered towards the berm. If it had its way, the car would list only in lazy circles the size of a lake. Bones took his hands off the wheel and laced his fingers behind his head.

"All right," said Bones.

"All right, what?"

"I’m not gonna right this car. You are. Because you want to live."

Sidney crossed his arms tight across his chest. "Bet me," he said.

"I already have," said Bones.

Picking up speed, they passed the old hangar some artist used for her studio. It sat still and strange in the snow, a half-buried HoHo painted bar-soap green. Like the rest of the familiar nothing, it too was caged in silver fence and SOLD signs.

"Annie was it," said Sidney. "There are no other Annies."

"Annie’s half as funny as she needs to be." Bones took off his seat belt. "All she really has going for her is that everyone loves her."

"You only think you know what you know," said Sidney, undoing his seat belt. "The end result of your wrongness is going to be ghastly."

"When we don’t die," Bones said, "man are you gonna look like an idiot."

"When we do die," said Sidney, "man are you gonna look dead."

With every bump, the wheel flinched like a polygraph needle. The road’s vanishing point dragged driver’s side in the windshield, Bones and Sidney adjusting their posture to the pull of this new gravity. Easing into its freedom, the Civic was going to break apart or fly. It hadn’t decided yet.

"She used to ask me how my parents raised me," said Sidney. "She said that’s how she was going to raise her kids."

"That’s one of those things that’s so easy to say if you can think of it," said Bones.

The passenger side wheels were off pavement, kicking up slushy gravel.

"You’re going to right this wheel."

"And I think you’re going to be very surprised by what happens next."

Up ahead, the road narrowed underneath an abandoned railroad bridge. The little tunnel was haunted, everyone said. When you passed through with the windows down, you could hear the moans of some prom queen ghost bouncing off the walls. The Civic settled on the right support wall as its destination.

"My heart is a collapsing star."

"I won’t let them put that on your headstone."

Half off the road, ice-capped branches clicked against Sidney’s window. Brown icicles hung from the rusted-out bridge. The approaching wall, stone blocks the size of ottomans, grew larger and larger until they could see the moss calking the cracks. Fifty-seven miles an hour and getting faster.

"Wake me when all this is over," said Bones, reclining his seat back, draping the inside of his elbow over his eyes.

Sidney turned around, sat Indian style, and leaned his back against the dashboard. "Me," he said, "I’m just working on my tan."


Bones would return to Hunnsicker years later to find that those back roads, those barren fields he once knew like he now knows the difference between good whiskey and bad, were gone. Gone. Replaced by the new Hunnsicker. Boutiques, salons, dress stores, jewelry stores, cell phone stores, ice creameries where kids pounded M&Ms and gummi bears into the ice cream right before your eyes. These stores for miles.

And for miles Bones walked the unrecognizable ground. Limped actually, if anyone was paying attention, up and down clean sidewalk and storefronts so new they looked wet. If he could find where the artist’s hangar used to be, he told himself, he’d be only a half-mile east of where it happened, where he came to-right ankle turned into paste, left tibia and femur jutting out through muscle and skin-and saw sheet-metal sky through a Sidney-sized hole in his windshield.

When he thought he had found it, standing in front of a store that sold copper pots and pans, his first impulse was to find Sidney and ask him who it was in Hunnsicker that needed copper pots and pans.

"An all-grown-up Annie," Sidney would have said. "A show wife puttering around her show kitchen. That’s who."

"Oh, yeah," Bones would say. "Her."

"Yep. Her."

"And you’ll tell me it was worth it? Launching yourself through a windshield, cracking your skull and spine and smearing your insides twenty feet down a salty strip of black road? All because of some girl destined to be an average wife for average men?"

"Absolutely worth it. One-hundred percent. Because that is what love means to me."

"I don’t believe you," Bones would say.

"Am I lying?"

"I don’t think you’re lying. I just don’t believe you."

And for a moment there had never been a day where everything changed. For a moment, in Bones’ mind, he and Sidney are two grown men who drink Jeppson’s Malört while talking on the phone once a week. About how Bones had talked Sidney out of three bad marriages or how Sidney had talked Bones into one good one, to the woman who didn’t get away, who maybe really did love him for real. Or how they’ll never return to Hunnsicker to see what’s become of the old place or to imagine who they might have become if things had been just a little different. Like that day we almost smashed into the railroad bridge before you righted the wheel.

Depressing, they’d agree. Enough of that. Now let us kill these bottles so that we might get back to the lives we are so thankful to be living.

But only for a moment.


Return to Volume 4.4






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