Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Wilds

The Wilds
by jake kilroy.

It was later afternoon with the sun only beginning to perform its summer trick, where it only hints at setting. And then, suddenly, after a set of piercing rays, the majesty is gone. It was the cool end of a reasonable summer day, the kind that make even the weary feel young again, or, in the very least, nostalgic. Two men in their late twenties sat next to each other in lawn chairs in a backyard belonging to the taller one of them. They drank beer and stared at the powerlines against the coming stage of sunset. They watched a barbecue carry smoke towards the sky that was very slowly and vividly mutating from blue to orange.

"What do you suppose ever became of The Wild Whips?" the taller one asked, following a long sip and a sigh.

"The Wild Wipes, you mean?" the shorter one asked, not turning his head.

"No," the taller one replied with a spit, turning his head to the other one, "The Wild Whips, right?"

"I thought they were called The Wild Wipes."

"Why would they be called The Wild Wipes?"

"Well, they were a roller derby team, so I figured they were saying that they'd wipe the floor with their opponents. And then they were an all-girl team, so they added the word 'wild' to sound sexy...or wild, I guess."

"No kidding," said the taller one, the thought staying with him.

"Well, why did you think they were called The Wild Whips?"

"You know, because they'd do that move where they link arms and then whip the last person at the other team. Plus, I imagine they gave the other girls whiplash."

"Hmmmm," the shorter one drawled, sipping his beer. "Let's just call them The Wilds."

"Yeah," agreed the taller one with a dreamlike sigh, "Let's call them The Wilds."

The breeze rustled the trees and a bird moved from the tree to the powerline. The bird moved in spasms, looking around and taking in its environment as fast as possible.

"It's funny to think about what The Wilds would be doing now and how different they'd be from how they were in college," mused the taller one.

"Marriage and kids, you think?" asked the shorter one, opening up a new beer from the cooler between them.

"Probably. Just like the rest of America, they'll move along with nothing to see. They went from being the wildest and toughest girls we knew to becoming mannered wives and then patient mothers and then, someday, loving grandmothers," the taller one said, seeming to sink lower into his chair. "Now that's something to think about."

There was a pause in the conversation and a breeze came through the backyard sounding like the sweeping of a porch.

"Remember Susie Q-Life?" asked the shorter one.

The taller one laughed. "Oh man, 'Quarterlife?' How could I forget? One night with her..."

"...and you lost a quarter of your life," finished the shorter one with a laugh. "Yeah, she was probably the wildest of the Wilds, though that's a risky statement to make. Goddamn, it was hard to take her anywhere. She always seemed to start a fight."

"Yep. You know she was responsible for my first black eye?" the taller one said with a nod.

"Really? What'd she do, drag you into a bar fight?"

"Nope. She slugged me."

The shorter one laughed. "Well, what'd you try to pull there anyway?"

"Nothing," the taller one said, shaking his head slow, as if he were remembering an old friend. "Well, I guess that's not entirely true. I tried to tell her she was too drunk for more vodka."

"Hot damn, consider yourself lucky that you only made it out with a black eye."

"Yep," the taller one said, as if recalling the details of a dream. "Once a fighter, but now she's a wife and maybe a mother and will probably end up as some kid's grandmother. That's the wildest thing she could've done, I guess."

The shorter one nodded and added, "I can't imagine."

There came another pause in the conversation and the sun melted through the clouds. The sky looked like a fleet of old ships in flames.

"You think our grandmothers were ever young girls like The Wilds?" asked the taller one, opening up a new beer.

"I don't know," replied the shorter one, taking it more serious than light-hearted. "I didn't really know my dad's mom and I'm not too close with my mom's mom. Huh. What about you?"

"Yeah...I think both of my grandmothers could've been Wilds. My grandmother on my mom's side can still kick my ass and she's well into her 70s. Christ, she used to threaten to hang us on the clothesline by our ears and break our knuckles while tied to popsicle sticks."

"Whoa," the shorter one said with a stiff giggle. "Your grandma sounds like a mixture of housewife and Vietcong."

The shorter one rubbed his mouth thoughtfully. "What about your other grandmother?"

"The dearly departed?" said the taller one.


"Man, that woman was proud Irish Catholic and she sharpened her words like weapons. I mean, she put up with a lot from my grandfather, but, when she was younger, she was a religious girl with a whole lot of fiest to her, complete with fiery red hair and all, upset about something, maybe that she was somewhere in the Midwest, itching to make it to the big cities on either coast. No upstart wants to live and die in Ohio."

The taller one smiled, as the sun became a melted mass of popsicles and ice cream.

"I bet she would've been a Wild and probably started her own gang I never heard about," the taller one continued softly. "I wish I had told her that when she died."

"What, told her that she could've been a Wild?"

"Yeah, or something like that, something that would've sounded closer to the truth," said the taller one, grinning sheepishly. "I wish I had told her, 'Hey, I know you took a beating in your twilight, but I'll bet anything I've got that you were a real upstart back in the day, before the second half of the 20th Century,' you know? I wish I had told her that I was proud of who she probably was decades before I knew her as an old woman. That's the worst, meeting some of the best people on their way out. Grandparents are like old, dearest friends you run into at a restaurant that you just arrived at and they're heading out. You've only got a brief conversation in you, but it means so goddamn much and you talk about that conversation weeks or months or years afterward."

"Yeah," said the shorter one. "But nobody can talk forever, right?"

"Ain't that the truth," the taller one said. "Especially my family. Goddamn Irish Catholics only want fighting words. Apologies would weaken their heart too much. Fragile busts for once-solid hearts."

"Yeah, your family had kind of a weird falling out."

"Something like that," said the taller one with a sip of beer.

"Even at the hospital?"

"Even at the hospital. Damn, maybe especially at the hospital."

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."

"That son of a bitch Dickens," the taller one said with a shaking head. "Well, actually, he probably had something go down with his family in some cavernous hospital somewhere in the modern depths of the dying Britain Empire."

"And it was like that when your Grandma was in hospital?

"My family was a tornado that wanted to be a hurricane. Nothing and everything matters when it's like that, even in a hospital room, even after years of a family falling out and all the stupid aftermath that the people put themselves through," the taller one explained. "When you say goodbye to someone who doesn't know you're there, it's like spitting in the rain or laughing on a windy day. It means something to you, but it doesn't mean anything to nature, and, before you know it, it's gone, disappearing into the unknown. And then everybody's there watching you say goodbye, and, if every one of them has spent the last few years angry, then they want to make sure you do it right, meaning 'their way.'"

"So you said goodbye at the hospital, yeah?" asked the shorter one.

"Yeah, I said a lot of things at the hospital and the words came out of my mouth as cautious as ghosts from a haunted house. After years of silence, I still had things to say and they didn't seem like they meant the same things in the real world as they did in my head."

"But she couldn't hear them anyway."

"She couldn't hear them, no."

"How'd you feel in the end?"

"Awful. Who doesn't?"

"Beyond the usual awful, or do you mean guilty?"

"Maybe it's always a mixture of everything."

"Why?" asked the shorter one, acknowledging that his family had never been through the rough.

"Because years of silence pile up and the weight becomes too much for any man or woman," said the taller one, aimlessly tearing the wet label off of the beer, "so everyone tries to pass it off. Nobody was making phone calls, so somebody blames everybody for not calling. Everyone asks, 'Hey, where the hell were you?' And then everyone else asks, 'Well, where the hell were you?' Finally, everyone just sits at the hospital bed and brings their confession with them like their dying relative is a priets. Can they hear anything? No, of course not. Everyone confesses to a host of morphine in the end."

"Your relatives too?"

"My relatives too. When my grandmother was passing, I felt like the heavy air of the entire hospital weighed on me. I felt like it was difficult to sit and breathe and talk. And I looked at the relatives around me that seemed a foot and a mile away at the same time, and it was pretty obvious they were in the same sinking boat as me, praying."


"Yeah, most of them were worse off than me. There some of them that were holding my grandmother's bones like rosary beads, counting off sins or regrets or wishes or who knows. Confessions are for people with something to say. You can still do a lot of talking in the end, but you don't have to make amends with yourself."

"You don't confess to your dying relatives?"

"Of course I do. That's the other thing about hospital wards; they make you a hypocrite," the taller one said with a sigh. "Do you know what my grandmother's last full sentence was to me?"


"'I wish things could've been different.' But who knows what it means?"

"Well, I'm assuming she meant that she wished things could've been better."

"Yeah, that's the obvious call, but you never know. You never know what people are thinking. You know what her actual last words were?"


"'Well, I was thinking.' And she could've ended that just about any way possible."

"Yeah, but it was probably something good."

"Everything good is always worse in a hospital room. It reeks of loss."

"That's harsh," said the shorter one.

"Yeah, but that's what my grandmother would've said as a young upstart. She had glimpses of being fiery. There was a trembling rocket in her soul, waiting to go off. It's just that the cancer got their first and it came after years of silence between my family and hers, or something like that, I guess. If it had happened fifty years before, my grandmother would've never stood for it all. She would've whipped us into talking and being a family again. Nobody would've remembered why we were fighting. Nobody would've wondered anything at the hospital. And maybe nobody would've prayed."

"That would've been wild."

"Yeah," the taller one said with a pause, taking in the colors seeping through the sky and turning the powerlines into thick shadows, "my grandmother could've been a Wild."

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