An IN THE AIR Excerpt: “Burke’s Mission” by Victor Hawk

He gave himself back over to the mechanical work of bicycling. Put enough leg effort into something, you don’t have the glycogen available for putting thoughts together.

The sun rolled across the blue backdrop.

“Posted. No trespassers.”

Throop had put in a new cattle guard. Treacherous things on a road bike. Hickey had once caught his front tire and flipped his bike crossing one. But Burke’s fat tires rolled easily across. One of the many inexpressible reasons for getting the fat tires. One of the many inexpressible reasons for doing a lot of things. Burke thought not in words, letters. He saw things—the relationships of things, the physical forces propelling things to outcomes. Like how much torque to put on that wrench. He knew it, but he couldn’t explain it. Get him to try, and it would take all night.

It had caused a lot of friction in his family.

“Why did you come this way when it’s the long way? We’re going to be late again.” Permelia’s temper rose close to the surface in her last year.

Burke didn’t know how to explain himself.

Hickey discovered a small washout rich with little green clam fossils.

Burke wanted to find one for him, a good luck charm, for the game, for something, Burke wasn’t sure what.

“The game is going to start, and he ain’t going to have no water,” said Permelia.

Burke turned the truck around right then.

It was a problem in his shop, too.

“Why did you put a new muffler on Johnson’s car? He didn’t ask for it. He’s not going to pay.” Burke wiped his hands on the rag, dabbed some aloe on his burned wrist. Johnson needed a new muffler. Somehow a rock had gotten into the old one. A rock creates hotspots in the resonator. Could cause all kinds of problems with the exhaust backpressure. All those reasons sounded weak. He shrugged. Johnson needed a muffler, and Burke knew it. Johnson never paid for the muffler. But at least the problem was fixed.

Burke lost his license in the same way.

“Sir, you know you were going one-ten, against a seventy speed limit? I know you knew it. You waved to me when you went past.” How could he explain himself? That he was in a hurry? He wasn’t. He was checking the alignment of Murray’s Mustang. Vibration was a function of speed. Front wheels or back wheels was a function of gas or brake. No one was in danger; the highway was empty except for Burke.

And apparently, the state trooper hidden in the shadow of a roadcut. Startled Burke so much he raised his hand in reflex, swerved, and braked at the same time, an easy way to lose control of a fast car. Too many inputs. The trooper was more of a threat out here than Burke. But how do you say that?

Words never matched what he knew to be true. He could only picture the forces in play. The Mustang needed neutral camber in front, right rear tire re-balanced. The problem was solved, but he lost his license in doing it.

“That’s when I got this bike,”he told the cricket.

His GPS unit chimed. The turn-off to Throop’s house was just ahead.

And the house sat just down the valley. There.

In Throop’s farm compound.

“Maybe I could just write him a letter and put it in the mailbox,”said Burke.

The cricket was quiet.

“Yeah. Maybe not.”

 

 

48416177_2008938705839504_8094266344947580928_n Hawk left engineering in 2005 to pursue his teaching and creative writing interests. His poems have appeared in small literary presses over the years, including The Davidson Miscellany, Wind: A Literary Magazine, Cold Mountain Review, Word River, and New Plains Review.

 

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