Just around the stand of firs, behind the spring-blooming shrub, stood a beast. This particular beast was eight feet tall, a thousand pounds and made of iron. Its legs were straight and strong, but its obvious lack of flexibility called for extra struts. The thing would have a hard time getting up if it fell over. It was a hungry beast, judging by the hole in its stomach; or maybe that was a perforated ulcer. The hole in its head suggested the intelligence of a bottle opener. It was frustrated, no doubt, by its stubby little arms.
Audrey had taken this loop of the trail on a whim. Urban trails around Portland encouraged whim-taking with bonuses such as this. Audrey studied the beast from her perch on a log. She clutched a journal and her seven-year pen, which had been a birthday gift last October. (She calculated that at her rate of use the ink would last another six weeks.)
Half the journal was filled with dense, choppy handwriting. She flipped past it to a clean, blue-lined sheet. She couldn’t remember the description that had only moments ago rushed through her brain, so she sketched what it looked like and finally wrote: Iron man. Really tall. Clunky, lunky, metal guy. No more words came out. She stared at the page.
She closed the journal.
She opened again to page one.
She looked up when the words bled from the first drops of rain.
• • • • •
Audrey shook out her anorak and hung it by the door.
“Hey, hon,” Carl said. “I was about ready to send the dog after you.”
“We don’t have a dog.”
“I was gonna get one and train him to your scent, and then send him after you.” He popped the bottlecap off the cold beer in his hand as Audrey ripped out the last journal page she’d written on.
“Next time, use this,” she said. “It really stinks.” She crumpled the page and threw it in the sink, which Carl retrieved and read.
“Iron man? Did he look like Robert Downey?”
“Clunky lunky metal guy. Huh.” He watched Audrey bang her head on the counter. “It’s not that bad. Sounds like something I’d write,” he said, eliciting a groan. “Why do you care?”
She looked up at him. “What?”
“Why do you care? What’s so important about this?”
“I don’t know—because suddenly there it was. Something to write about.”
“You sound like Joe.”
“And you think that’s a coincidence? I’m just saying, maybe you should write something else.”
“Like your novel. The thing you’ve been working on for ninety-nine years. You buy all these notebooks and fill ‘em with new ideas for new chapters and you haven’t even come up with a title. Am I right?” He opened the journal to the splattered first page.
“Happened so fast,” he read aloud. “Birth. My birth. My birth, mother says, was like getting caught in a steel bear trap. One minute she was seventeen with a cigarette in one hand and a boy in the other. Next minute she was a mom. Happened so fast.”
He snapped the journal shut. “Like that,” he said.
©2010 Pam Wells