parts of our bodies were still capable of heartbeats

Mark Baumer

Leon and I stood on another onramp next to the highway. The onramp was dirt. Leon and I were stranded on a dirt onramp. An hour passed. The dirt onramp remained empty. We left the dirt onramp and walked to the highway. None of the passing cars on the highway noticed our thumbs. I said something about being enthusiastic for the rural financial systems of America. Leon pointed at a gas station next to an empty field. Across from the gas station there was a diner. A mosquito once landed on the roof of this diner and drank the breakfast oils until its wings got fat. Leon said he wished there were more beach resorts in Kansas. Most of the state seemed to be an empty fracture on a limb that had detached from any idea of financial growth. In its emptiness I thought about a multinational corporation’s ability to build multiple skyscrapers in Kansas. If my human body ever liquidated its assets into the form of a multinational corporation I would make a lot of poor investments in Kansas.

A truck drove by. The mouths inside the truck were talking too loud about things that weren’t important.

Leon noticed something that would give us trouble and pointed at it. I thought he was pointing at a dandelion, but then I realized there were no dandelions and he had been pointing at something else.

A highway patrol officer stopped and asked us what we were doing. I thought about pointing at the ground and saying, “Earth,” but instead I answered his question. We were told we weren’t allowed to be where we were. Leon wondered where our bodies were allowed to be human. The highway patrol office said, “You can stand and wait on the pieces of earth that aren’t shaped like highways.” He wrote up his observations of us on a piece of highway patrol stationary and asked if we understood the information he was presenting. We nodded. Before leaving, the highway patrol officer said, “If I find you on the highway again I will make you both literally swallow a bullet.”

Leon was so hungry he walked to the diner and ate some eggs and home fries. I followed. The waitress had boobs and a perm. She refilled our water glasses twice. Leon drank some orange juice with a straw. When our plates were empty we walked back to the dirt onramp. Leon picked up a pebble and threw it at me. The pebble hit me in the lip. I picked up a pebble and threw it at Leon’s mouth. The pebble hit Leon in the shoulder. We continued to throw pebbles at each other’s faces for the next hour.

A truck drove by carrying hazardous wastes.

Another hour passed.

Leon got tired of throwing pebbles at my face. He said he wanted to drink some gasoline. I watched him walk to the gas station. I waited on the onramp and looked at all the pebbles Leon had thrown at my face. I could no longer see Leon. I thought of him getting raped in the bathroom of the gas station. I began to cry. I picked up the largest pebble I could find and threw it at a nearby sign. I missed. I picked up the second largest pebble. I missed again. My right arm yawned. My left kneecap twitched.

I watched a truck filled with ten thousand grass-fed tomatoes move towards the highway.

Twenty minutes passed. I figured Leon was either dead or he had met a girl. A car stopped next to me. I looked at the gas station where Leon had gone to talk to the gas pumps. I did not see him. I looked at the car that had stopped next to me. I looked back at the gas station. A tear grew a mouth at the corner of my left eyeball and said goodbye to Leon. I picked up my luggage. Pieces of my body felt sick at the thought of never seeing Leon again. In a few days I would have to send Leon’s mother a postcard and tell her that Leon had died a few hours west of Kansas City when he tried to eat forty thousand grains of sand and ended up choking on a beetle.

The car that stopped was red. When I opened the passenger’s side door I found Leon sitting in one of the front seats. He laughed when he noticed the teardrop near my left eyeball. I climbed into the back of the car. The man driving the car had a small haircut. His name was James. He said he would drive us to Denver. I looked at one of James’s eyeball in the rearview mirror. The whiteness of his eyeball was a fog trying to consume a brown stump.

I knew someone in Denver named Jake. We played on the same youth hockey team. Once he had been a little fat, but then he lost some weight and got handsome. I told Leon that Jake lived in Denver. Leon said, “Maybe Jake will give us a few pillows and some cornbread.” I tried to call Jake, but my cell phone didn’t work correctly because I didn’t know Jake’s phone number. I called some other people to see if they had Jake’s number, but their phones were as dumb as mine. I called one guy named Jason, but when he answered I realized he didn’t know Jake so I pretended I was calling to ask how his life was. Jason said, “My life is pretty good. I sweated yesterday. But I have not had sex with my girlfriend in two months. Once, I made her dinner and she said the next time she wasn’t tired we would have sex.”

James continued to drive. Most of Kansas was a green corn sprout. A song about turnips and religion came on the radio. We passed a field of sunflowers. I opened my mouth because the field of sunflowers excited me. Leon asked James if he liked Jesus. James said, “My father was an Amish dad. He taught me how to eat wool. When I was five he let me cut my own hair. A few years later he got a job driving a large truck. He bought a CB radio. The other Amish dads told my Amish dad that he was no longer allowed to be an Amish dad.”

I fell asleep for an hour. James and Leon talked about politics and the small pink American elephants that look like pigs. When I woke up James said he needed gas. We stopped at a gas station. I bought some trail mix. Leon asked James if he liked ice coffee. James said, “I sometimes like ice coffee.” We got back in the car. James continued driving west.

I tried to think if I knew anyone else in Denver, but I had trouble thinking so I decided that I had never known anyone. Leon said, “What about that girl we used to know who moved to Denver after college?” I looked at my phone to see if I had the phone number of the girl Leon and I used to know who moved to Denver after college, but after a few minutes of looking at my phone I decided to give up and never think about the girl who moved to Denver after college again.

A calm breeze drifted down from the sun. James said, “I have a house a little north of Denver. I live with two roommates, but one of them is out of town. We have a cat. It likes to poop in the corner of any room with carpet.” Leon laughed and said he used to hide in the corner of the bathroom and watch his ex-girlfriend poop.

We passed through Denver. James didn’t stop. He said we could spend the night in his condo. I looked out the window at Denver and saw a pile of construction equipment. A man with a goatee shaved his head and chewed on a mechanical shovel.

James lived in Longmont, Colorado. Longmont was twenty miles north of Colorado. It was founded in 1871 by a man named Chicago. Originally Longmont was called, “The membership colony for men who live in this town.” In the 1960s IBM killed a bunch of cattle and built a large factory in its place. Longmont is near a river that takes up only five percent of the city. The river is five-thousand metric units above a place where there are no metric units.

The neighborhood where James lived was dry and brown. There were some blades of grass, but they were shaped like small, bleached stones. James lived in a two-story house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. He said we could sleep on the floor in the computer room. Leon and I put our luggage on the floor in the computer room. I saw some cat poop in the corner. One of James’ roommates was wearing a white shirt. He said he was a food chef. I noticed an old stain near the left nipple of his white shirt. James’ roommate left to go cater a high school graduation party.

After his roommate left James said, “I like that guy, but sometimes he leaves his dirty socks in my room.” I thought of Leon microwaving a wet sock in St. Louis. James asked if we wanted to eat some nachos. We ate some nachos. He pointed at a bathroom and told us to shower. We showered. Soon it was three p.m. James said he was tired and went upstairs to lie down.

Leon and I decided to walk around Longmont. We left James’ neighborhood and walked down the street to Subway. I bought a five dollar sandwich and ate it while Leon watched me eat it. I asked if he wanted a bite. He said he wanted an ice cream. We left Subway and walked somewhere else. Leon asked a man sleeping in his truck in a supermarket parking lot if he knew where to buy drugs. The man sleeping in his truck yawned and said he wasn’t a drug dealer.

Two girls in a red Saab drove by. Leon said, “We should try to have sex with those girls.” They parked near the supermarket. We walked over to the red Saab and Leon said hello to the red Saab. The girls in the red Saab smiled and said we both looked creepy. I saw a Dairy Queen. The two girls went inside the supermarket and bought goat cheese. Leon said, “If I lived in the Middle East I would own an antelope.” We walked over to Dairy Queen and bought some ice cream.

On the way back to James’ house we got lost. Leon found a playground and kicked a swing set. He then looked at himself and said, “Not as much has happened in my life as I thought would happen.” I nodded. He told me to lick the swing set. I looked at it and wondered if anyone had ever licked it before. Leon said I should write a book about him and then told me I could be his personal biographer until someone more famous offered to be his biographer. I thought about writing a book about Leon, but figured the book wouldn’t be any good because my interest in Leon wasn’t as strong as it once was and my interest would probably continue to slowly decrease the longer I knew Leon.

The playground was silent for a few minutes and then Leon asked if I ever caught my father touching my bedroom stuff. I couldn’t ever remember my father touching my bedroom stuff. Leon said, “When I turned sixteen my father started going in my room when I wasn’t home and touching things I didn’t want him to touch. After a year of this I decided he wasn’t allowed to be my father anymore so my parents sent me to prep school.” I thought of the day I decided my father wasn’t quite my father anymore. He was in the bathroom flossing his teeth with a q-tip. When he finished I told him I was leaving soon and would not return until I had become my own father.

It took us an hour to find our way back to James’ house. James was still asleep. It was six p.m. We spent the next five hours watching television in the living room. Someone we both knew from high school called because he heard we were hitchhiking across America. Leon talked to them for a little while and then hung up. Our mouths got hungry so we looked in the refrigerator. We found some fried chicken and put it in our mouths. The television continued to watch us look at it. Around midnight we went in the computer room. The cat poop was still in the corner. We laid down on the carpet and fell asleep.

Mark Baumer was the daughter of a clergyman and grew up in a spinal complaint in 1854. In 1860, she was sent to live with a doctor in America to improve her health. In 1862, she made several excursions to outer space where she wrote articles on island crocodiles and the poetry of John Donne. After her return to earth she moved to Hawaii where she made friends with the world's largest volcano, Mauna Loa. url: