A team of firemen had to peel Michael Garvin off a tree. It was the large southern live oak that spills over the corner of Lehi and Pearl. All the big chunks came off easy enough but it took a considerable effort to strip away all the little fibers and smears and what not, pressed and tangled into the bark as they were.
The first fireman came alone early in the morning. Every now and then he’d wipe the sweat off his brow with the back of his baseball cap showing his freckled and sparkling scalp. He kneeled in front of the trunk on one knee and reached into a shiny leather purse pulling out boney aluminum objects that looked like surgical instruments, clean enough to turn the color of the sky when he laid them on the grass beside him. There were a dozen or so in there with slim cylindrical bodies, identical apart from the half inch appendages that stuck out of their top ends like different types of bird skulls, the parts of them that provided each with their own objective and mode of action whether that was to scoop or pinch or grind or something else. He used each of them for at least a couple minutes, holding them at the hard ends of his fingers, wearing standard issue latex gloves, robins egg blue, semi transparent. He squinted and got his face real close and tilted his head like a King Charles Spaniel, moving with a light poise, all the tension in his body flooding away from his limbs and into his face. He was gone by noon.
The next two were younger with tattoos and hard shiny hair. They came around 1:00 pm with a palette knife, a box cutter, a trowel, a garden shovel, a clump of steel wool, and a Bosch Starlock Plus Brushless 18-volt Variable Speed Oscillating Multi-Tool Kit with six interchangeable attachments slung in a black and yellow canvas Dewalt toolbag that hung with an uneven, pregnant swell. Their gloves were yellow with little raised circular bumps for grip on the palms and fingers, a thicker grade of rubber than the ones the first guy was wearing, intended to be used more than once. The two of them were hunched around the tree, one housed in the groin of the other. Their backs were huge, energetic clustered lumps of muscle gyrating under their tight navy blue t-shirts like rabbits trapped in a sack. When they used the multitool the fat on their arms would vibrate and when they stood up they had dark ovals of wet on the knees of their cargo pants. They walked back to the truck at 2:30 pm, a few minutes before two black billed magpies were to land in that southern oak’s upper branches, yapping and whistling back and forth, communicating in some mysterious way.
The last fireman came the next day around 11 am with a splintery wooden crate. Inside it were four or five of the sort of Gatorade blue cleaning liquids that turn your sperm autistic if you breathe them in. Each bottle had a distinct shape and size, dressed in its own shiny label with its own color scheme and typographic style with dense blocks of text and illustrated step by step instructions on the back telling consumers what they were meant to do with them and why. He poured them each into their own red plastic buckets and, one by one, in a deliberately ordered succession, massaged them into the cracks of the bark with a big sponge, canary yellow on the coarse side and hot pink on the porous side, the size of his face. Between each substance he’d spray the tree down with a firehose, standing just far enough away for it to not splash back on him. The light passing through the mist of the hose twirled out the other side as a procession of glassy, rapidly dematerializing rainbows. His smooth rubber gloves were dark turquoise on the outside and light tan on the inside. He had a tangerine mustache and a little flat, square nose. He was wearing the sort of wire framed glasses Napoleon Dynamite and Jeffrey Dahmer wore. He left at 12:30 pm, his right hand angled above his face to block the sun as he drove away.
They managed to unstick all the three dimensional bits, which were carefully set aside to be buried with the rest of him, but a big blushy stain still soaked the trunk, pressing its eyeless glare into the street. It wasn’t human shaped per se, more like a vague, man-sized oval, but it was anthropomorphic in a truer sense. It would grab at you as you drove by and hang on for a while. You could usually shake it off by the time you passed the post office but it could stay with you all the way to the desert if you were in a particularly vulnerable state, and once you reached the desert all bets were off.
I drove past it at least once a day five days out of the week. It didn’t bother me as much as it did a lot of other people. I didn’t know him too well. I knew he was in good shape and he was tan. He had blonde eyelashes and eyebrows like blank clouds and the murky, paranormal aspect shared by most men with flourishing heads of swan-white hair. His eyes were so clear a blue they looked like they might’ve been blind even though he only needed glasses for reading.
He came to Utah from Pasadena. His Dad was an early player in the bodybuilding scene. Not much by today’s standards but definitely something to see. Whiskey bronze skin, pearl white teeth, his son’s eyes. The quiet type of Irish Catholic. He’d wake up next to his pool at two in the afternoon with a book on his chest, cradled by the white rubber straps of his reclining, adjustable chair, forgetting everything he’d read, bewildered by the paleness of the light. He never hit little Mikey or any of his brothers but he cried in front of them most nights about God knows what and that can be almost as hard on a boy as fists in some cases.
One way or another Mikey ended up out here in Fruit Heights, Utah, green in the shadow of the Angel Moroni, new. Now he’s gone, practically vaporized. His body is at least. Maybe his spirit’s new all over again in some other place, a paradise of some kind, a garden lined with gleaming neoclassical arches. Maybe Michael’s inspiration was sparked by the true presence of the Lord. He struck big. The papist shit his daddy tried to feed him was all vanity and idol worship. He’s up in Mormon heaven wearing a space age white robe with a big stiff collar. Everyone has snowblonde hair and glowing blue eyes like the kids in the video for “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, the same shade of blue as the sky they’re all floating in. People of all races, Caucasian mostly, but people from every part of the world scattered here and there, considered dead to us earthlings but joyously alive for all eternity in a way we can’t comprehend. Snowblonde with glowing skyblue eyes, every single one of them. His Dad’s skin bubbles in the Catholic section of Mormon hell, eternally fused to the long cylindrical bulbs of the devils tanning bed. All he did to end up down there was be Catholic and whine. Maybe a little premarital here and there without a glimmer of joy that wasn’t forced. A stray thought or two about the younger guys at the gym, suppler than he but bigger than anyone you’d have ever seen in your life back when he was their age, more chiseled too, and pretty, and stupid as goldfish. He never touched any of them. He barely even thought about it. Thinking was the worst of it for old Don Garvin. Imagine what’s in store for regular pieces of shit like the rest of us, those of us who’ve done wrong, if Mike Garvin, with his feathery eyebrows and flat veiny calves, turns out to be right.
What I know about Michael’s life was relayed to me by my little sister Kara. She works with his daughter Cecile, a synthetic blonde with big shiny gums, at the As Seen On TV shop in the Gateway Mall on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Every now and then he’d stop by, usually in bike shorts, usually around lunchtime, with one of those chapel shaped boxes of munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts for her and the rest of the girls working retail.
What I know of his appearance I picked up from his having lived down my street, Pearl Street, for the better part of the last decade. He occupied the split level ranch with the mint green siding and the cobblestone walkway and he lived there alone. He planted a row of gnomey little evergreens that wouldn’t so much as quiver when the wind blew. They stood awkward in the middle of the yard throwing long nighttime shadows that looked like evil wizards into the glittering cone of the motion activated spotlight that perched on the corner of his portico intermittently spraying the patchy, semi-arid grass with its spectral silver upon the weightless passing of a coyote or deer or a nightjogger.
I’d see him pretty frequently, looking like some sort of mechanical insect-humanoid cyborg in his knee pads and elbow pads and ribbed, brainlike helmet. His iridescent, violently aerodynamic sunglasses would occasionally catch the light and erupt in brief white flares as he rollerbladed up and down the sidewalk in a gently curved, wavelike pattern, his shoulders barely rising or falling like there was no ground beneath him at all.
I’m more familiar with his stain. I’d see it on my drive to work everyday and unlike a man on rollerblades the stain would stay still long enough for me to get a really good look at it. Going off of appearances the helmet and pads didn’t do much for Mikey in this case. He might’ve even died before he hit the tree. Whoever’s car that was launched the poor motherfucker. He exploded. Dicky Henderson was hammering a croquet wicket into his lawn the afternoon after the accident and found a couple of Michaels teeth and a quarter of an eyelid with the eyelashes still attached sitting in the low shade of his marigolds getting eaten by ladybugs. Dicky lives across the street two lots away. That has to be at least a good 50-75 yards. That’s a long way to fly, no way around it, no matter what the wind was doing at the time. Unless they got carried over there by a bird or by Dicky’s little Maine coon Denise (which is far from impossible but not exactly likely considering Denise is typically an indoor cat barring the occasional window escape, only made possible under certain circumstances such as Dicky’s wife Charlotte forgetting to close the guest bathroom window after sneaking a cigarette or taking a particularly rancid smelling shit that she would rather the rest of the family not know fell out of her ass), I’d estimate he had to have been going 45-50 miles per hour upon impact at the very least.
Knowing he hit it that hard is almost reassuring. Erupting into a torrent of mist like that has to be one of those experiences that land somewhere beyond the terrain of human bodily experience. Unfeelable.
I went to the Aerodrome with my uncle as a kid. They re-enacted the Battle of Tannenberg. We watched them drop sacks of flour, which played the part of bombs, on plywood Germans from the cockpits of little World War I planes. They’d burst in spinning white clouds that rose toward the sky then spread out and disappeared. From across the field it looked pretty convincing. It did to a seven year old at least. I don’t know what it’s really like standing 50 yards from a bomb being dropped out of an airplane, let alone a World War I bomb being dropped from a World War I airplane, but to my mind the main thing missing as far as realism was concerned had to have been the sound. I think it’s safe to assume that the sound at Tannenberg was pretty impressive. I would imagine it was the caliber of sound that vibrates your eyeballs and paints your mouth with a mysterious tang of blood. If you shot a goose out of the sky with a bow and arrow it would land louder than those flour sacks did. It gave the whole spectacle a buoyant, ephemeral quality, like watching children play tackle football on a shadowless, snow padded yard from the dumb warmth of your bedroom, like everything and everybody there, trees, dogs, Dads, Moms, SUVs, mailboxes, could become unstuck from the ground and float up into space at any moment. I know Michael was red and rubbery on the inside like everybody else but I like to imagine he went out like one of those sacks of flour. A dry cloud of white powder. Quiet.
— Grant Harlow is a writer and artist living in Rosendale, NY