Micro Prose: Two pieces by W. Todd Kaneko

METALHEAD’S PLEDGE

From the rear wall, Metalhead looks at the back of a girl’s
head in History class. She is the only black girl in class and
always sits in front, right next to the American flag. They
are learning about Civil Rights, how one man had a dream
and taught America about the content of a person’s
character. Metalhead thinks about how he hasn’t said the
Pledge of Allegiance since second grade—he just mouths
the words to a song he once sang with his father on a car
trip to Saginaw about dragons and smoking grass. After
class, Metalhead will eat a slice of pizza and get high in the
back parking lot. After school, his father won’t discuss
layoffs at the auto plant, and when the family moves to a
more remote suburb, there will be no conversation about
white flight or a neighborhood’s changing hues as it breaks
and corrodes. He won’t ask why his friends play air guitar
along with Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page but never
Jimi Hendrix because one day he will sell used cars and a
woman he remembers from high school will ask to take a
rickety Ford Tempo for a test drive. He won’t remember
her name, but will recall how she once looked at him that
way a child looks at an injured animal before learning that
people aren’t supposed to reveal how they feel inside. He
won’t let her drive the Tempo, guiding her to a car with a
sturdier axle, a truthful odometer. This will happen decades
after that girl in the front row looks back at the clock
ticking over Metalhead’s desk. Her eyes fall on him for a
moment before she turns back around. Metalhead places his
hand on his heart and discovers it still beating.

 

METALHEAD’S HEART

It’s rusty tin can, but he pretends it’s a fast car revving its
engine at the crosswalk. Some nights it’s a classic Mustang,
a cruel stampede of horses under the hood and a brimstone
streak where the rubber meets the road. Some nights it’s a
brand new Firebird gleaming in star tongue and chrome to
let the Devil know who’s the baddest out on a four-lane
blacktop. When you meet Metalhead in the neighborhood,
he white knuckles the steering wheel, his eyes focused on
the highway ahead, watching for potholes, for speed traps.
In traffic safety class, he learned to keep his hands at ten
and two, his seatbelt securely fastened about his body
because three more kids from his school will kill
themselves before he graduates. Everyone will gather in the
gymnasium and recall how happy they seemed, in spite of
how people drive the most reckless when they don’t mean
to, how everyone pretends their hearts are different things:
a python slithering through the canopy, a songbird flying
alone at night, a bedroom through which a boy hears that
horrible racket his parents make when they fight or make
love or whatever in-between. While Metalhead is at school,
his father will wish that his son’s heart was a shot of
bourbon or a fist smacking into palm. When he is at home
each night, his mother remembers how her son’s heart once
beat in sync with her own, a rabbit motionless in the grass.
Metalhead will lie in his bed, imagining the engine
rumbling in his chest, trying to ignore the twine knotted to
his heart and extending out into the universe. It quivers
with sound: Hello? Is there anybody out there?

 


W. Todd Kaneko is the author of the Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, Barrelhouse, the Normal School, the Collagist and many other journals and anthologies. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, he is co-editor of the online literary magazine Waxwing and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches at Grand Valley State University.

Photo by Mike Mozart

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