Tonight I Was Going To Ask Her To Marry Me
By Dillon Dunlop
The transvestite has a machete strapped to her back and is telling us how she is billy goat of the hills around here. She loves being billy goat of the hills around here. She has climbed and billy-goated down all of them. The marine has a Rambo knife strapped to his belt. He smiles and nods and cannot take his eyes off the transvestite or my girlfriend, who is wearing high shorts and a bright orange tank top.
No, okay, listen: We spent half the day riding a train to get to this hill, what the brochure called, "The best scenery in upstate New York," the other half climbing this hill, and up top were these two and their weapons. And the first thing they said, soon as they saw us, want to know what it was?
We've been watching you climb! And then they cocked their heads at us, romantic, like we were some sunset they wished they could be orgasming during.
Where are the plants to chop down with that machete, where are the bears, the cougars or mountain lion or wild deer to stab with that stupid knife? Nowhere, that's where. There are only the everywhere gray rocks, a few trees, that's all there is. This is not a jungle.
I have it in me to kill them. I throw a fist-sized rock in my hand at a nearby tree to show them. The trunk thuds, a chunk of bark splinters off sideways.
Crazy, my girlfriend says. Little monkey, she says.
She shakes her head and shifts her weight to a new leg and tells them, I'm sure you saw him throwing rocks the whole way up here, climbing all over everything, a little monkey.
Oh. I have to come out here, Transvestite says. Else I'd go crazy, and she nods.
Marine makes a noise.
I bend over and pick up another rock.
Don't hit anybody, Girlfriend says.
I don't hit anybody, I say, and look down at the sun-drenched green valley, thousands of feet below.
He likes to pretend he's a caveman, Girlfriend says.
Nodding and pushing her lips together she says, He'll go on and on about how in caveman-times all they battled with was sticks and rocks and how that would be a great thing to be a part of.
And fingernails, Transvestite says, slashing at air in front of her with long, red nails that glint like metal in the sun. I imagine them running across my face.
Oh, Girlfriend says. Don't even get me started on his fingernails. Hon, show them your fingernails, she says.
When I keep my nails curled tight into my skin, she says, Oh, you shy? and tiptoes forward. He's shy, she whispers behind one hand, then grabs my wrist and kisses my cheek.
Her breath is warm with the smell of weed. We stopped to smoke about fifty times on the way up. She tries to slap my butt with my own hand, but I get my hand loose and around her wrist and squeeze.
I have to go to the bathroom, I say.
Be careful, she says and winks.
I go off into some nearby trees and climb a large rock. From up top, the three of them I can see standing in a triangle, and the river I can see, winding like a bloated dark green snake across the valley floor and on out of sight.
Even though I try to ignore it, before long the image of Marine forcing my girlfriend to undress with that knife and then having sex with her from behind while Transvestite watches and maybe even cheers is drowning my blood, and I slide off the rock and sneak back a different way from where I left.
I lie behind the closest tree on my stomach, in the dirt and over the everywhere gray rocks, and watch his eyes. They go wherever they want, the pieces of shit. They eat my girlfriend's legs. They crawl up into her ass and devour her breasts. Coming from behind and caving the back of his head in with one of the gray rocks would be easy.
Girlfriend sees me coming and says, Feel better, Mojito?
Boys are so lucky, Transvestite says. She takes a large bite out of a granola bar, and the muscles in her jaw contort under tight skin. Going to the bathroom wherever they want.
But who wants to carry around all that extra equipment all day? Girlfriend says. Seriously? she says.
Not me, says Transvestite and laughs.
Bent over and holding her flat, bare stomach below where her tight yellow tank top ends, veins ballooning from her strong neck, she says, Sorry.
Man, don't even mind her, Marine says. Sweeping at her, like she's a gnat, he says, She's just excited about the run down, is all. That's all she talks about, every time we go up any of goddamn hill, to anyone we run into. But when she goes, boy, there isn't hardly anything can keep up with her.
I don't even try to keep up with him, Girlfriend says. I just tell him to be careful.
When she goes, it's something to see, Marine says.
Transvestite has stopped laughing and is looking me up and down, judging if my skinny body can billy-goat down better than hers. For a moment, I think she might ask me to race, and my blood goes.
But the awkward silence, and Marine says, Well, we should really get going. I'm sure you came up here to be alone. It was nice meeting you.
And, Yay! Nice meeting you! Transvestite says, and glides across the gray rocks and has soon disappeared down the opposite side of the hill.
While Transvestite is out billy-goating down the hill somewhere in front of us, Marine tells us.
Tranvestite's a personal trainer and participates in triathlons and is so funny. She's from upstate New York and is a volunteer fire fighter and wants to adopt children. Her dad died when she was seven and her mom gave her away permanently to her aunt and uncle. She can drink more than anyone ever and one day really wants to open her own gym, or else nutrition center.
Girlfriend says, That's so cool, and the three of us walk in silence for the first time since leaving the top.
I bend over and pick up an old stick lying at the side of the trail. I spin and throw it like a tomahawk against a tree and it snaps in two.
Whoa, says Marine.
Careful, says Girlfriend.
For no reason Marine tells about where he's from, and I want to say, Who cares? Did we ask? Go find your friend already. This was supposed to be our special day together.
But he's from Oklahoma and grew up on a farm. He had to wake up before school every day to milk the cows and feed the cows. His dad did not pay him for this. His dad let him have extra milk with his dinners and sometimes extra milk after school. He did not want extra milk. He was sick of extra milk. He ran away when he was 16, because of all the extra milk.
Go find your friend, I want to say. We do not care about you and your cows and your extra milk. We did not invite you. We do not care.
I want to say, to come in close and whisper into one of his pink ears, Two weeks ago I finally saved enough to buy the ring, motherfucker. I could slide his hand across the small bulge in my front pocket and say, I wanted to ask her at the top of the goddamn hill, and because of you it's ruined, you asshole.
My girlfriend is saying something about her having to feed the dogs before going to school not seeming so bad now, and down the trail a ways I see what looks like a body, face down in the rocks.
I hesitate for a moment, and then run down to see, and the yellow tank top and strong shoulders come in to focus.
She's completely still. Blood sticks to the back of her hair in clumps. Blood glints purple when sunlight slicing through the trees slides across it. Blood is pooled on the gray rocks around her head, and I feel dizzy.
Jesus, Marine says. He bumps me out of the way from behind. He is breathing hard. He lowers to his knees and turns her over.
Jesus, he says. He stares into her pale face. Baby, he says. Baby. He shakes her by the shoulders, he cradles her head in his hands, and blood is all over.
It is everywhere.
From behind us my girlfriend says, Oh my God! What happened? hands over her mouth, eyes full of the reaction to the blood.
I don't know, Marine says. I don't know. She fell, I don't know, and then his face freezes and folds and he's crying, just like that.
Help me! he yells.
He gets low and tries to heave her body up over a shoulder.
My heart's going. I feel dizzy. I back away.
You shouldn't carry her like that, I say.
Shut up and help me! he says and keeps lifting.
The blood, I say. It will drain out her head...
Something like hate flashes across his face.
I'm just saying, I say. I mean—
I'm sorry, he says. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry, he says.
He places her softly back on the rocks and moves to and picks up her feet, has one in each hand, one pressed against each hip. Then he looks at me.
Sweats runs out of me like water. It pools down the crack of my back; it sticks my shirt to my skin; it makes the corner of one eye sting.
I don't want to carry her by the shoulders. From climbing rocks and trees the whole way up, from throwing rocks and sticks all day, my hands have small cuts all over them, and who knows if she's clean? I'm sorry, but just look at her. There's no telling what's tore her up in the past. Her blood, it will rub and drip and slide all over me. Her blood, it will become part of my blood.
It will soak and dry into my skin.
She's not dead, Marine pleads, and his eyes shine from below the brim of his all black hat with the most desperate light I've ever seen. She's still warm. We have to get her down, he says. We have to get her down.
My girlfriend's hands squeeze my shoulders and slide down the back of my bare arms and goosebump my skin.
We have to get her down, she whispers, her breath cooling on the damp back of my neck.
My pulse a metallic hum in my ears, wondering what I am doing, I step forward. I kneel onto the rocks beside her body, and their sharp edges dig into my knees. I look closely at her face, at the muted pink and dull gray of her eyelids, at the spray of blackheads across her nose and the light downy fur below one ear, then at her thick throat, where I think the pulse should be. Don't ask me why, but I don't check it. Nothing could make me check it.
Marine's stare is boring a hole into my forehead when I finally position my hands behind her shoulders and lift. Her weight is limp and awkward. She is so big and still. Blood from her hair slides across the undersides of my wrists as we move slowly down the trail.
My girlfriend walks silently by my side, and I imagine the blood turning slimy in my palms is lotion. It's just lotion. Marine walks backwards, facing me. His eyes and face are blank as a field of snow; his already pale skin has turned the color of skim milk.
His eyes and his soul and everything about him are glued to her face, and I look between my legs and try to see what he sees. I look close and I look hard, but all I see is the dangling face of an ugly woman who used to be a probably even uglier man.
That I can't see anything else makes something deep inside me begin to ache.
We walk in silence and, still looking down, What's her name? I hear myself ask.
Without looking up he says, Tonight I was going to ask her to marry me, and for a moment I swear I feel my girlfriend flinch to the side of me. I don't look over. I can't look over. It is like the tendons and muscles in my neck have been replaced with immovable steel beams and cords. The bulge in my front pocket sticks out painfully, obviously, against my moving thigh.
Dillon Dunlop lives in Reno, Nevada. He is studying to be a nurse, but on most days he spends more time reading and writing fiction. His stories have appeared in Words and Images, The Meadow, and Reno News and Review.
Photo "Face," Anonymous, Athens, Greece.
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