UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
RANDALL BROWN

Mechanical Arm

          Lucy Barrow and I picked parts together in the Emergency Orders Department of

Max Ernst, Les Hommes n'en sauront rien
the only work in Stevens Creek. I'd given Lucy the name Sports Illustrated used in their article. The Breeze.

          Her windup began with the ball in her gut, the ball shoved forward, nothing moving but that hidden ball and glove. Both arms out and raised, she drove the ball back into her stomach, paused—and then everything took off. Her arm swung back, her legs bent and pushed off the dirt, her red hair blew past her face, and the blur of the ball hurtled toward home and the whoosh of strike after strike after strike. I called it a re-wind up, with its double motion and the start and stop. Sports Illustrated used that too. I stood behind Lucy in the picture, but they left that out.

          Lucy would be leaving soon, for a full ride at USC, while I stayed in Pennsylvania, waiting for the robotic arm to bring me a box of screws, coverlets, fuses, the tiniest parts possible that I had to count, mostly into the tens, sometimes a hundred. It paid $18 an hour, time and a half for overtime, a fortune, really, in a town full of nothing except Lucy Barrow and her whirlwind pitches that no one could hit.

          And I hated Lucy for that, for leaving me, for promising she'd never return, for wondering who might play her in the movie they would one day make, a movie that would begin in California and end with gold medals in a faraway part of the world.

          "You're ruining everything," she said that afternoon, two days before she was to leave. We stood next to each other, almost touching, counting in our head, the robotic arm poised, waiting for us to push the return button so it could grab the box, return it to its slot, bring a new one. The same motion over and over, for a million years it could do that, until robots could pick out parts and count them.

          "I know," I admitted. "I hate that. How I can't let it all go."

          I mentioned her red hair. She also had more freckles than the sky had stars. And the greenest eyes. And pale. Or I guess fair is the nicer word. And long and lanky with calves and thighs full of muscle and coiled springs.

          "These clips," she said. "All freaking stuck together. What a god awful life."

          My life. Lucy forgot that, how it was all I had.

          "Let's go to Stevens Hill, tonight," she said, pulling apart the impossibly connected clips. "Smoke some. Maybe even sleep up there."

          It was too easy for her to leave, as if this world were the dream she would awake from into the real world that awaited her. I hated that, too.

          "And then what?" I asked. I had screws to count, ninety-six of them to a plant on the other side of the world, an emergency order. Could it be possible that somewhere a plant had shut down because ninety-six screws had unloosened? If so, one could almost imagine someone else counting upon you to count these screws, send them out as fast as the wind.

          "Jeez. You've got abandonment issues. Big time."

          That was true. And I grew up with Lucy and she knew everything about me. So she knew what her leaving would mean and then she acted surprised by it. The town would turn to more than nothing with her gone.

          The wish, while waiting for the robotic arm to return with the next bin of parts, always had been for the world to stop its motion, to pause and stay in stasis, the arm forever poised above me, the bin still locked in its grasp. I didn't know that until then, standing there, the wish clear in my mind.

          Lucy pushed me then. "Snap out of it," she said.

          I nudged her with my elbow. "Don't pretend," I told her.

          She pushed me harder, knocked me against the metal bar. We were waiting for that arm to bring us parts.

          "Grow up," she said.

          Lucy was strong and her pushes hurt. And I shoved her with my foot, right into the meat of her thigh. "Screw you, Lucy. I named you and I take it back. You can never ever use it again."

          She threw a punch into my shoulder and it truly hurt and brought tears. "You don't have a say," she said. "Breeze. Breeze. Lucy 'The Breeze' Barrow. Live with it."

          My eyes stung and she looked like a blur herself, like the way Superman flies, and I kicked into the center of that blur, kicked The Breeze and drove her into the parts bins and the robotic arm lurched forward, reached toward her hand, as if to tear her apart. Then and even later, after it was over and I never saw Lucy again, that tiniest part of my entire life stretched out and lasted forever. The mechanical arm clenched, opened, descended for Lucy's fingers and then closed upon only air.

          In that infinite stretching space, I had grabbed Lucy and, with everything wound-up inside me, I had pulled her away. I didn't hate Lucy at all. I loved her, the way a nowhere boy in a nowhere town loved stars and everything else beyond him.

Randall Brown teaches at Saint Joseph's University. He holds an MFA from Vermont College and a BA from Tufts. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Connecticut Review, The Saint Ann's Review, The Evansville Review, The Laurel Review, Dalhousie Review, and others. He’s recently finished a collection of (very) short fiction, Mad To Live.







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