Concussion Party by Nick Story

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The banner between the trees read: “Welcome Home, Logan!”

On the table below the banner there was a spread of yellow cake, hamburger buns, chips, ketchup and mustard, a plate of grilled meats, and fizzy red punch in a plastic bowl. In sweaters and jeans, Logan, Becky, and Sharise assembled their meals. Leaves were falling through the smoky air.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate my recent head injury,” Logan said solemnly, topping a hotdog with a line of mustard. “This is concussion number six, which is a magic number. Feel free to rub the bandages for luck.”

Becky and Sharise touched Logan’s votive, bandaged-up head. To Sharise, Logan’s skull felt like an eggshell beneath her skin, so she didn’t press too hard.

“Peace be with you,” Logan said, tapping the girls on their shoulder with her hotdog.

At last weekend’s game against Pickerington, the squad tossed Logan in the air just as a breeze came by and carried her several feet away. She woke up in the ambulance. Logan had always had this problem with breezes. She was small for her age, and tended to drift.

The night before the party, her parents had checked her out of the hospital where the doctor said that this concussion would keep her out of the army. Her friends knew Logan was heartbroken: She had been planning on joining up after graduation. She’d always wanted to be in the army. She liked the idea that she could be trained to defend herself and others, even though she was small.

“You don’t have to join the army to be a hero,” Becky said.

“It’s not the only way, Logan,” Sharise said.

Logan said, sadly: “But I don’t have any other way planned out. Do you?”

They were quiet as Logan finished her hotdog.

“Fuck it,” she said. “Let’s bounce.”

They went over to the trampoline, past the football players who were huddled together and not-so-secretly drinking.

Nearby, Logan’s father was grilling brats, burgers, and a steak he had marinated in a plastic bag with Dr. Pepper and A1. The football players laughed at some disgusting remark and Logan’s father eyed them suspiciously. He flipped a burger and observed Gup, Logan’s boyfriend and the team running-back, walking toward the fence, then walking back through the leaf-strewn backyard up to the grill, and then turning around and walking toward the fence again. Sometimes Gup would lean on one of the trees and mumble up at the branches. Something was on his mind.

“He’s a strange son-of-a-bitch, isn’t he?” Logan’s father said to Logan’s mother, face shrouded in grill smoke.

“I think he’s sweet,” she said. “He just lacks social graces.”

Gup was joining up after graduation too. They had talked about being in the same unit. Well, Logan had talked about it. Logan usually did the talking. She talked about the drills, the traveling, the camaraderie, the hardware, the cause. She read him passages from books about battlefield bravery and blast radii. Being a part of all that would change their lives, she said.

Her excitement was enough to convince Gup to meet with the recruiter during lunch at school, though he still had doubts about going over there to fight. He had a lot to say on the matter regarding the pros and cons of army life, the justness of the war, etc… He had a lot to say about a lot of things, but he had a tough time getting it all out in an order people could make sense of.

Gup and Logan met at Lord’s Harvest Camp in the summer between eighth grade and freshman year. All that week Doug Jenkins bullied him, called him a retard and a beast-of-the-field and a hundred other things. Gup had comebacks but couldn’t bring them down from his brain to his mouth in time, and ended up absorbing Doug’s insults quietly. Logan got tired of the abuse and when Doug called Gup a dumbass at the ice cream hut, she made Doug cry by pointing out that baby fat was just something his mother had made up to make him feel better—that he was just regular fat, not to mention regular ugly. After which Gup was more or less eternally amazed by whatever Logan did and ready to follow her lead.

And now he had the most important message of his life to deliver, but couldn’t think of the way to say it.

They say your daughter has a squeaky voice, but to me, sir, ma’am, it’s like music. Like a viola. No. I mean…

The girls were on the trampoline now, whose black jumping surface was rimmed by a flaking blue safety pad. They bounced up and down. Logan looked childlike next to Becky and Sharise, who had the muscles and curves of grown women. The football players, sipping clandestine beverages, could not but leer.

They were playing Popcorn. Two of the girls would sit holding their knees to their chest, and the third would jump and try to bounce them into the air and get them to release their arms and legs: To “pop.” Logan’s father didn’t like this game. He sensed in it an uncontrollable element. He went over to the trampoline and asked Logan to put on her special concussion helmet.

“If you’re gonna jump, you gotta wear it.”

“That thing makes me look like a psycho, Dad.”

“I know, honey, but it’s what the doctor wants.”

“I don’t believe the doctor has my best interests at heart.”

“Of course he does, sweetie. Why would you say that?”

“I believe he wanted to diddle me.”

“Honey, please.”

“I saw it in his eyes, Dad. He had the eyes of a diddler.”

Becky and Sharise laughed. Logan’s father shook his head and went back to the grill, wondering what had made his daughter speak so coarsely. It must be TV, he thought. It must be all that internet.

Her father clutched the helmet under his arm as he flipped the steaming meat. He winced every time his daughter was launched into the air—ten or fifteen feet on some of the pops. He wondered if there was something wrong with the trampoline, like maybe it was on the wrong setting somehow.

If it was defective that would not be surprising considering where he got it. He rolled a few of the hot dogs in the smoke and recalled a garage sale three years ago. He had responded to an online ad and drove his truck in to town, to an old house where the paint had curled into dozens of white hooks. When Logan’s dad got out of his car he saw bins and boxes filled with old mirrors, gumball machines, huge musty books, gemstones, and furry, hard-to-identify shapes, maybe botched pieces of taxidermy. The trampoline was the only thing of value.

The man running the sale wore square sunglasses and had long black hair. He was sitting on a folding chair on the driveway and did not greet Logan’s dad when he pulled up to the house.

When Logan’s dad asked the price of the trampoline, the man said it was free, he just wanted someone to take it off his hands.

“That’s very generous,” Logan’s father said. The man shrugged.

“I used to have kids to jump on it,” the man said. “Now they’re gone. What am I gonna do with it? Jump all by myself?”

“It’s hard when they go off to college, I’ll bet.”

“They didn’t go off to college, exactly,” the man said. He didn’t elaborate. As Logan’s father rolled the trampoline into the bed of his truck, the man took big loud gulps from a weird black bottle. Logan’s father had had a bad feeling about it at the time, but a deal was a deal.

Logan’s father decided that after the party he would burn the trampoline.

Logan’s mom poured two glasses of punch and handed one to her husband. They clinked glasses and gave each other a look. They were relieved Logan would not be joining up after graduation. They were glad mostly because she’d be out of harm’s way now, but they were also glad because they were against the war—though they kept this to themselves. There were American flags and Support the Troop bumper stickers all over the county, and saying you were against the war was a way to get called unpatriotic and worse. Earlier at the party Winston, the enormous linebacker whose father owned the lumber company, had given Logan’s mother one rationale for the invasion: “The thing about mooslims, Mrs. Saddle, is they didn’t have a Protestant Reformation like we did, so they’re all stuck in the damn Middle Ages. They only understand strength. Invading is the only way you’re gonna get peace over there, short of bombing the desert into one big-ass sheet of glass.”

Winston said all of this while tenderly assembling four cheeseburgers, as if his hunger and his intellect were independent of each other. Logan’s mother nodded politely and sipped her punch. She’d heard this argument before and she didn’t care for it—it seemed simple and it seemed mean—but she kept quiet.

She was relieved for another reason, too—though she didn’t mention this either to Logan or Logan’s father. For the past few months she had been afraid, given the opportunity, Logan might (just maybe!) commit a war crime over there. No matter how many pictures of Logan as a baby she looked at, she could not shake this idea. When she saw the photos on the news of the naked men in the hoods and that lady giving the thumbs up next to them, and of that same lady holding that dog leash, she thought to herself, calmly, but with a strange certainty, “Oh, that’ll be Logan soon. That’ll be my baby.” She felt guilty: Was she a terrible mother to have these intuitions? But this was just a sense she had: Logan tended to get carried away in a group setting. To drift…

“Higher!” Sharise said.

“Higher!” Logan said.

“Lower,” her father shouted.

On their ascent the girls could see the roof of the house and the leaves sliming the gutters. They could see over the tall wooden fence to the flat, hazy-yellow fields of wheat and corn and the occasional pond. Becky thought the sudden viewpoint shift from down here to up there, had something spiritual in it.

Logan, who was bouncing twice as high as Becky and Sharise could see even farther, almost into the next county. She saw her home, the place where she was raised and formed spread out before her, and felt sad she wasn’t going to be able to defend it against threats from abroad. She got higher and higher and the more of the landscape she saw, the worse she felt…

Logan’s mother thought that if everyone relaxed like she was relaxing now, in the sun with their feet rubbing the grass, punch in hand, the world would be a better place. A slower place, but a better one…

Logan’s father—putting more meat on the grill than could possibly be consumed—thought about how many times Logan’s poor brain had been knocked around over the years. Cheerleading falls, that oar whack at the Lord’s Harvest Camp, getting thrown from Uncle Jesh’s German Shepherd when she was four years old. This party was for her sixth concussion. Who knew what a seventh would do. He wished there was a way to give her some of his skull for extra protection…

Gup paced and paced. May I, Mr. and Mrs. Saddle, have the permission to begin to consider or no to think about no asking for your daughter’s tiny hand in, or no, wait, asking for her very good hand which, in my hand, is not small but large in import. No…

After nearly retching in the hedge from nerves, Gup finally made his way over to Logan’s parents.

“Hello Gup,” Logan’s mother said. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, ma’am,” he said. “I…need to ask you…”

“Why don’t you speak up, son,” her father said. Her father didn’t like him. He’d seen Gup and Logan on the trampoline at night doing who knows what, hopefully just looking at the stars.

Just then Winston, the linebacker with the geopolitics, rolled onto the trampoline. Everyone turned to watch.

“You call this weak shit Popcorn!?” he said, and jumped. When he landed, his weight combined with Sharise’s and Becky’s, sent Logan in her little popcorn ball soaring above the banner, above the tree tops. Thirty, maybe forty feet. Logan was so high she thought she saw a little boy wave to her from the window of a passing jet.

It was amazing to be up so high, higher than she had ever been in her life. To see so much. But it still wasn’t that much, was it? Not as much as she had dreamed. Is this as much of the world as I will ever see? she thought.

When Logan reached the apex of her flight and hung in midair, a dot in the blue, it became clear that her voyage back down to earth would not reunite her with the trampoline. The wind had carried her, as it always did. A panic ran through the yard. Her father lost his stomach. Her mother dropped her punch on the grass.

“Oh no!”

“Help her! Someone!”

Without thinking, Gup ran to the trampoline. He told everyone to get off and dragged it to the spot in the yard where he felt in his heart Logan was going to land. She plummeted and plummeted, and hit the trampoline. She bounced high again, but not quite as high, and again he moved the trampoline exactly where she was going to hit. She bounced only a little now. When she came down, he caught her in his enormous arms, unhurt.

Logan beamed at Gup: “What a catch, soldier!”

They kissed. Everybody clapped.

Sharise punched Winston in the arm.

“Ladies, it’s just physics. It’s not my fault,” he said.

Becky punched him in the other shoulder and he released a meaty belch.

Logan’s father strapped the helmet to Logan’s head and kissed it. Her mother gave Logan some punch.

“How about a beer?” Logan’s dad said, grabbing Gup by the shoulders. It took Gup thirty seconds to agree to the drink—to figure out if it was a prize or a punishment—and another two minutes to choose the kind he wanted. He inspected the cooler anxiously. The choices overwhelmed him. There was, it seemed, always a lot to consider in life, always, always a lot to consider…

Ten months later, Gup was blown up on a road outside Baghdad, asking to see a man’s identification. Afterwards, Logan couldn’t go to work and refused to see friends. She stayed in bed for days with the lights off, and thought about how no one was there to protect Gup, Gup who was so tall and good and so far away now…

When he couldn’t sleep, when he was up thinking about Gup or his daughter’s sorrow about Gup or the war spiraling out of control, Logan’s father would bounce on the trampoline. He couldn’t explain the urge, but it was a relief to bounce, to hear the squeak of the springs in the quiet countryside.

He jumped on starry nights.

He jumped on cloudy nights, too, when fog was on the ground. He jumped high. From the air, there looked to be only darkness below. He could never guess where he might land.

glasses

Nick Story

Nick Story is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His
fiction has appeared in The Café Irreal and is forthcoming in The
Offbeat.

If you enjoyed ‘Concussion Party’ leave a comment and let Nick know.

You can find and follow Nick at:

Photo by Wikilmages

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