Splat! That is the noise. Splat! Like an overdrawn word in an action comic book. I watch it where it’s fallen. It is a fish and it is dead. I stand breathing, chest full of old cigarette tar, sweat-suit sweating. The sky is clear. Not a bird, jet, tornado. It is a trout—I think. Almost a foot long. The nearest body of water is five miles east of this highway. I take a picture with my cell phone. It comes out blurry.
You tell people these things, but they’re never as interested as you’d hope. I talk to my son about it on the phone that night. He’s eleven. Atop the sounds of grenades and M16 fire, he mutters a mild, “Huh.”
Thunder crashes outside and there is no rain. An image of a lightning bolt fish keeps flashing through my mind. Clouds light up as it zips in the night. Shwap! will be the sound when it hits pavement.
“I miss you buddy,” I say.
Tiff, my daughter, is eight. She says, “Tracy told me fishes die when they’re not in the water.”
“Well. Tracy is correct, but that’s not— Hey. How was school today? What did Miss, uh, what’s-her-name talk about?”
“Um. Dad. Summer started like a million years ago.”
“Right. I know. I remember.”
“Listen Dad, I have to go. The new CSI is on.”
“Okay. Hey is your mom—” The line cuts. Goodnight.
I take out my phone and watch the dead fish. It lays there, being a dead fish. I left it on the side of the road. The image is making my eyes water. I don’t even like fish.
I meet her the next day in some unfamiliar diner up the road. Neutral ground I guess. It smells like stale coffee and ham and the flapjacks are rubbery fins. An old man three booths away keeps glaring over her shoulder.
“If you would just sign the fucking papers,” she’s saying. “Jesus.”
“I fucking am.” I keep picturing a cow soaring through the air. An explosion of pink guts and milk as it lands on a prairie road. Ka-Blam! I sign the papers and slide them across the table.
She snatches them up, folds them into her purse and sighs. With relief. Sorrow?
“I live in a God damn hotel, Allie. I want to see the kids more than once a week. I didn’t do anything.”
She stares at me. She is trying to burn a hole through my forehead. Steam out my brains. “You fucked a seventeen year old girl.”
“I didn’t do anything to the kids. And I didn’t know she was fucking seventeen.”
“Well she fucking was!”
A waiter comes over and stands with his stupid pen sticking out of his stupid apron and asks us to please mind our language. The old man in the booth grins, triumphant.
“God, Kev.” Her voice is low. Exhausted. “Why? Really. Just tell me I was inadequate. Tell me you never loved me. Tell me— Jesus. Tell me you were drunk.”
The thought of honesty crosses my mind. The truth is, I don’t know why. There is no logical explanation. Sometimes a fish just falls from the sky. I almost say, I’m sorry. Yeah, I almost say that I want her back. Her damn nails when she paints them. I want them on my hands. I miss my kids and I almost say, more than anything, I’d like to forgive myself. All that quack’s office crap. But the papers are signed and neatly folded.
“She had your eyes.”
“You disgust me.”
I pucker my lips. A fish face, you could say.
She storms out the squeaky door and the bell chimes an upbeat Ding!
Winter is coming and something is falling through the atmosphere. A dark shape over the parking lot where I fiddle with my keys. Something oversized and hollow. It drops through fluffy white clouds—a frost will have formed over the face, sealing the eyes, the lips. Too far to see, but I know. Up there, it is my face. My head, falling through the sky, waiting for the sound when it lands, and needing the waking.