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The Man with a Fish in His Heart photo

I had runoff all over. I hadn’t escaped the heartland. I had touched the bottom of the reservoir with both hands and then my feet. That should have been it. I came to in a drainage ditch at the bottom of a hill on the side of a country road. I had the bucolic sick again: the sneezing and the sunburn and the wild mushrooms you could smell through your lips. I felt sucked-off and siphoned. The pipe was dripping onto my stomach what had been inside my pockets when I jumped. The change hurt. I deserved it.  

“You best be careful or else I’ll do it,” I heard spoke in my head. I wanted it to be god. It was no god. It was a man with a gun pointed at my chest. 

“I thought I was dead,” I said. 

“Looks like you’re not from around here,” he said.  

“But I’m here,” I said. I watched a skein of birds pass overhead. I hooked my arms around the pipe and lifted myself up. 

“Don’t go too far,” the man said. The hammer clicked.  

I looked down the road. There was no sign of anything. “Does this go east to west?” 

“Goes neither far as you’re concerned.” He raised the gun to my head. Then he collapsed. I could see the shape of his heart beating through his chest. He was on his knees. He pounded his chest with both fists until his heart’s beating couldn’t been seen anymore. He took up the gun. “Don’t look at me that way,” he said. “It’s just my fish.” 

“I think it wants out,” I said. 

He fired into the sky. “You don’t say something like that in a place you don’t belong.” 

I put my hands up. I lied. “I didn’t mean it.” 

“Be still.” 

Me or the fish? I thought. I turned toward the road. I was a hundred yards gone after two rounds. The third round went over my head and turned that skein of birds into a loss of direction. One of their bodies dropped in front of me. I jumped over it. I kept going. I was running as I had always been running. It was what I was born for like a fish in the water. The length of the road and the way it rivered through the heartland made me think this time it would be different. This time I would find the end. But it wasn’t true. Because every time I think I have reached it, it isn’t. I am only ever reaching. 

image: Aaron Burch