art by Luis Rubio Vargas
Roger Angle has held more than 40 jobs, including standup comedian and photographer. A journalist, he also writes novels, short fiction and poetry.
He won the Random House short fiction contest in its first year, 2000, and was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in journalism his first year as a reporter. He has published more than 20 poems and short prose pieces in various literary journals including The Plumed Horn, Caprice, The Coldspring Journal, and the California State Poetry Quarterly.
Last Summer's Air
Last Sunday, I went out to wash the car, and found an old rubber and nylon air mattress in the garage. It was still inflated. Later, I was talking to my friend Kenny, and he said it was full of last summer’s air.
Last summer’s air, I thought. Hmmm. What could I do with it? I could breathe it in and then maybe I would relive the whole of last summer, when I had met Grizzelda and fallen in love. Grizzie, I called her, at first. Later, Grizzly Bear.
She was tall and furry, all right. Her pubic hair was like a huge black bush that started in the middle and sprouted outward like vines, like creepers, like hollyhocks and thunderlings.
She was hairy from her navel to her knees, or so it seemed. She never shaved anything. Her armpits, her legs, the backs of her thighs. I like hairy women. But this was almost too much, even for me.
So, I could open the valve and breathe in some of last summer’s air. Grizzie had helped me blow it up, so some of her breath was locked in there, inside the air mattress.
I took it outside and lay down on it, on the concrete driveway behind the garage where nobody could see me. Ahhhh. Soft, and comfy. Then I heard a small high-pitched noise, like a mosquito eeee-ing around; maybe it would bite me. Wait. A leak! I detected a leak. Oh no, Grizzie’s air was escaping.
I found the patch kit and needed to find the leak, so I ran to my neighbor Sam’s house and nobody was home so I threw the air mattress over and jumped the fence, stripped off my clothes and dived into the swimming pool, holding the air mattress. I held it underwater and with my eyes wide open I looked for tiny bubbles, searching for the small leak.
Finally, I found the bubbles and put my ear next to the pinhole where they were coming out, and even under water I could hear the high-pitched bubbling whine.
Then I realized it sounded a little bit like Grizzie’s voice.
I held my breath and put my ear next to the leak. “Eeeeeeeeeeeee,” it said. I listened more closely and heard Grizzie speaking.
“I never get a break,” the tiny high-pitched voice said. “You always make me do all the work.” That was what she had said when we blew this up. I remembered it now. I had made her blow it up, because she was going to sleep on it. She was still speaking, through the tiny hole.
“When we make love I always have to get on top and ride you like a horse.”
It was true, I realized, I had been a bit selfish with her. “I’m sorry, Grizzie,” I said underwater. Now I missed her terribly and started to cry. I missed her hairiness. I missed her sense of humor, her soft voice, her fuzzy legs, her furry bush, and the braided cords of hair under each arm.
I was running out of breath. I swam to the surface, took a big gulp of air and plunged back down, holding the air mattress as if I was holding onto Grizzie herself.
Now I had trouble finding the leak. I squeezed and turned the mattress over and over, trying to find it.
Finally, I saw the tiny stream of bubbles, which seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. I put my ear to it and could hear only a tiny bubbling sound, as if Grizzie was drowning.
I shouted, “Grizzie, are you there?” Surprisingly, my mouth filled with water.
“Oh-oh.” I inhaled a big gulp of water and in my shock inhaled some more.
By that time, the air mattress was almost deflated. As I struggled to get to the surface, it began to wrap itself around me. I turned and twisted, trying to get free, but it wrapped around and around and it was heavy and I sank to the bottom.
I struggled and fought and finally clawed my way free and swam to the surface.
I was lying by the pool, naked, and puking up green water on the concrete, holding this old deflated air mattress when I heard a sound and looked up.
It was my neighbor Sam, and his family; wife, three kids, and the dog. They stood there, mouths open, staring at me.
“What’s going on?” said Sam.
“Grizzly Bear,” I said. “I was trying to recover last summer’s air.”
“Oh,” he said. “Now I understand.”