Sleeper

by Stephen Hundley

There’s a bomb in the water. Dropped by mistake. One plane touched wings to another, and in the fire and snapping metal, in the crash that scattered birds and made ticker-tape of the marsh grass and carved a long and muddy row, the bomb was lost. Eaten by the waves and now sitting in their belly.

Covered by sand leached from the wide ocean, blanketed by silt snaked from rivers and fields and, somewhere, the feet of mountains, world weary, at last dissolving and giving themselves to the processes of time, come to cup and hold and press the bomb that lies swaddled and gurgling atomic equations to itself, perhaps looking up through Saint Catherines Sound and seeing the suggestions of stars on an enormous mobile. Perhaps feeling kinship with the celestials. Knowing that, it too, will burn itself to quick splendor and hot death.

Infant Star, the bombers named you Mark 15, but you’ve been cut from them and left to something wilder, where bottlenose dolphins puzzle at your devil dagger fins and big ocean-liner rays gust over your head.

A Mustang broke its face against a tree, and the tree kept growing, folded itself over the steel. The acorns grew to saplings in the folds of the backseat. So like the barnacles gilding your sides, little bomb, stacking one on another, little beaked mouths opening and loosing seed: you’re a bloom.

Come a hurricane and a past life while the waves lift and throw you. For a second, flying in the ocean dark, you are at 30,000 feet and counting the seconds until the lever is pulled and you scream, nose first, for the concrete. Hurricane Dennis, like a child’s clumsy hand, makes sputter Spitfire noises with its lips while it lifts and drops you, makes you fly.

If bombs have blood, yours has run hot from the tumbling, end over end, across the sand floor until you rest, lodge again, at the foot of an island with its beach stripped and drawn out long and shallow beneath the water so that the sun can reach the bottom where you rest, letting daylight touch you and the mirror moon trace your bulge beneath the sand. The sun is touching you, and you are touching it back, glimmering sweet.

Some think you’re sleeping, but you’re a bomb, dreamless and awake. You’ve been faking all along, while the undersides of turtles loom black above you and men jet around. What have you been thinking of all this time, if not of your arrival to the halls of short and violent fission. You must be aching inside that shell. In the half light of summer, with the sun so long in the sky, so even the fish grow bored of treading water, you must be drunk for change. You must be smitten with combustion.

The water runs warm here. The grey sand like a skirt in high wind. Hiding and flashing steel. You must be singing, thinking: I’m in love.

I’m in love, and nobody knows it but me.

Stephen Hundley is a former high school science teacher from Savannah, Georgia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Cutbank, Carve, and other journals. He serves as the fiction editor for The Swamp and is a Richard Ford Fellow at the University of Mississippi.
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