In Our Lovely Deseret
Edited by Robert Raleigh
[p.153]Speaking of miracles, we drive northwest through Reading toward the Appalachian Trail. Reading’s ugly—train tracks, shack boards, and such. In the newspaper you read about murders and they’re always in Reading and they’re always weird. A tennis court lies to the left of the highway. A thin blonde knocks tennis balls on the otherwise empty court. She’d be found dead in the middle of the afternoon, pitched over the chain link spikes of the enclosed court. That kind of weird. Devil weird.
“I stuffed this Cracker Jack’s ring down in the couch, back behind the cushion,” Elder Watson says. He folds the Triple A atlas in half upon his lap. “I said some hocus pocus words and waved my hand over that part of the couch where I’d stuffed the ring. The ring disappeared. Presto! It was gone. I swear to God, it wasn’t there. I looked all over for it because like I couldn’t believe it.”
Elder Watson looks out the window just as the thin blonde lifts her arm for a swing. Her t-shirt rises. Her belly’s stone white. Elder Watson rearranges his entire body, turning from the window, bending his knees on the seat beneath him. He holds out his hands to me as if to show me there’s nothing up his sleeve.
He says, “Where was I? Oh, yeah. So the ring’s gone, right. And [p.154]I look all over for it. It’s not anywhere in the couch or in the whole living room. It’s just not there. And do you know what?”
I say, “What?”
He says, “My mother has one of those, what do you call them? Where you keep your china and stuff? And there’s this antique drawer. I open up the drawer and there’s the ring. I think it was that same day I found the ring, but maybe it was the next day.”
I say, “That’s not a miracle, Paul. That’s magic.”
Reading’s out of sight out of mind. We’ve unhooked the odometer. When you do that, there goes your speedometer, too.
Up ahead the neon sign of the Deerslayer Lodge blinks. It’s twilight. We pull over. Elder Watson calls our apartment for messages. He sticks his hand beneath the elastic band of his sweat pants as he dials, waits, listens. He wiggles his thumb as if it were a bird lifting his fist in the air. With his other hand, Elder Watson adjusts his balls. He leans inside the window he’s left unrolled. He says, “Come on, Dan. Let’s go in for a beer.”
He gets in before I can say, “Let’s go.”
Before this afternoon, I was Elder Hepplewhite. He was Elder Watson. We were bit by the bug of autumn. We said, “Hell and damnfire. Let’s go camping. Even we deserve a weekend off.”
Elder Watson says, “If that disappearing-reappearing act I did with the ring wasn’t a miracle, then, no, Dan, I don’t think I’ve ever had a miracle.”
He gets a lot of breath in his lungs before he says my name like it’s an effort.
I say, “I almost died once. Then I got a priesthood blessing and that brought me back to life.”
Elder Watson asks, “Do you think it was a miracle?”
It’s dark. Just like he’s told me his story, I tell him mine.
Elder Watson says, “You didn’t know you were going to die until after the fact?”
I say, “My mom told me the next morning when she was getting my stuff ready to leave the hospital.”
Elder Watson says, “Your mom could have made it up.”
“Maybe,” I say. “Maybe so, Paul.”
This part’s unclear. Unable to find the Appalachian trail in the darkness, we stop for the night in the parking lot of what looks [p.155]to be a defunct electrical power plant. Metal pipes jut from the east side of the concrete building. On the north side a barbed wire fence encircles a smallish makeshift pod. We’re not sure where we’re at, but it’s deserted. We’re exhausted. Being missionaries, we don’t have sleeping bags. We spread out all the blankets we’ve brought and place the pillows at the top side by side as if it were a couple’s bed we’re sharing. During the night the building begins to chug. At dawn the automatic sprinklers spray us with arcs of water. I’m awake this whole time and Elder Watson’s snug against me when the building wakes me up, his belly against my back, his arm flung across my chest. I roll toward him. He rolls away, reversing our positions, placing his hands and mine beneath the elastic band of his sweatpants. The part that’s unclear is whether I’m holding onto the knuckle of his thumb or the ridged head of Elder Watson’s hard, uncircumcised penis.
We traipse around the Appalachian trail for the greater part of the day. In the afternoon we take pictures of each other acting like explorers, like Lewis and Clark looking for signs of civilization in a new, untamed world. We’re bored. Elder Watson picks up the fallen branch of a tree. I get a picture of him staring at it quizzically. He takes a picture of me standing on a boulder. We’re mostly quiet. Come nightfall, we decide to head back rather than stay another night camping as we’d planned. It’s my decision, but Elder Watson agrees that it’s a good decision so as not to press our luck.
About eleven o’clock a Camaro passes us on the highway, followed by a Trans Am. They’re racing. The Trans Am cuts off the Camaro. The Camaro slides to the shoulder of the road and passes the Trans Am.
Our speedometer’s stuck on zero.
I say, “I wonder how fast we’re going, Paul.”
He says, “Not that fast, Dan.”
Later, this side of Reading, we pass the same Camaro, the same Trans Am. They’re in a ditch, soldered into each other. If we hadn’t seen them earlier, we’d have thought they were just one car. The transom of the Camaro is twisted through the roof of the other car. It appears they’ve tumbled into the ditch this way.
I say, “Do you think they’re dead?”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Paul says, looking away from the wreckage. [p.156]We don’t stop to help. Paul folds his arms, presses his cheek against the window, sighs. He says, “I mean, Elder Holmes.”
DEREK GULLINO has published stories in several journals and magazines. “Sleuths” is a portion of his novel Wasted Seed. He is a returned Mormon missionary. He lives in New York City with his boyfriend.