portion of the artwork for Shelagh Power-Chopra's fiction

The Story of Johnny Head-in-Air
Shelagh Power-Chopra

When you used to visit me it was usually late at night and you’d bring a Slurpee from 7-Eleven and I would always feign surprise—oh, now who really drinks those anymore? I’d shout out and you’d laugh and your lips would be lined in red like a circus clown who hadn’t washed all his makeup off after a long show and now he’s having drinks with the fellows from the ring; they’re all drunk these clowns who earlier were tossed off horses and rode atop elephants’ heads.

We’d make love on the stairwell in my apartment building, didn’t bother with private rooms. And no one reprimanded me for seeing you, you who never paid much attention to the street below. And then there was one day—a pitch-perfect day, all winter blue inside and ash storms outside and I think it was a picnic and we brought bottles of wine to the shore and I walked across the beach grass and scared some plovers and you were angry after I dove into the water and swam out far, so far and few with a dozen gulls at my back.

All you could see was a black dot on the ocean; a blip on the radar screen and you called my name and dove in the dark water but the wine was too much and you returned, your body heavy and weighted with drink and I came in minutes later, joyfully ran over, straight from the sea, wet like a seal and you were angry and lay on your back and stared up, straight at the sky, then towards the sea.

Stared for hours it seemed and caught most of the language of the sea and currents, the tides and wakes and I thought you had gathered your thoughts, had thought you gone, dropped away, were rotted in your pipes, your organs and all. Running is just your way, Johnny, I said and I realized I was with Peter not Johnny and it was you who were always crowded, six sleeves on one arm, gathering your own wool, trudging through the damp countryside, foraging for partners and not looking where you were going.

And when you walked back into the sea looking for me, after your growly repose, after you had forgotten that I had returned, you lost your writing book, a month of toil, and it filled with treasures and pleasures so great or so you told me and it floated past the ocean buoys, the thick cold mothers that bobbed silently, passively judging us and our art. Your first line was this: He rode on planes and traveled by trains and always looked up to the great black sky.

Return to Archive

FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 34 | Fall 2011