Uncle Bruce – Kevin Bigley

Every time a car passes, the crickets go quiet.
I am amongst the muck, the moon reflecting off the flooded rice field. It’s the only light that touches me. As a car engine fades, the crickets return with the rustle of mice in the cattails, belching bullfrogs, and the pop of bubbles as tiny fish disturb the water’s surface. My friends giggle, calling my name from the road. But I stay where I am, staring at the water, thinking about Uncle Bruce.
“Why’s there fish in rice fields?” I asked him one time.
“They plant them to help eat pests.”
Uncle Bruce has an answer for everything. But I don’t think he could wrap his head around the game we’re playing.
“That was the closest one yet!” yells Duke from the road. “I didn’t bail til his headlights were at the mile marker.”
“That’s the new record,” says Corey. “You see that, Tony?”
“For sure,” I say, joining them on the dark asphalt.
“This is genius,” says Duke.
Duke thinks he thought up the game, but it’s just chicken. You wait in the road for a car, standing still as long as you can. There are various indicators to judge distance. The Officer John Linden Memorial Highway sign was the previous record, but that was just broken by Duke who let a car get as close to him as the mile marker. No one has stayed long enough for a car to reach the roadside cross with flowers (someone died there, but none of us knows who it was).
“Let’s fucking blaze,” says Duke hitting his vape. The smoke clusters beneath the bill of his Volcom hat as he effortlessly exhales. He’s pretty good at smoking.
“Gimme that shit,” says Corey, who’s always competing with Duke. But the only edge Corey has on him is he’s the first one of us to have sex. He reminds us constantly.
“Fuck yeah,” he coughs. “Maybe I’ll call up Jenny. I love fucking when I’m baked.”
As he and Duke laugh, they’re joined by the yips of coyotes in the distance. Corey goes stiff.
“They’re close,” he says.
“Chill, pussy. They won’t bother us.”.
More yips echo as we stay silent. Then, a shriek pierces the night.
“Rabbit,” says Duke. “See? We ain’t on their menu.”
Uncle Bruce loves rabbits. Whenever you go to his house, he’s got wild cottontails in the backyard. He attracts them by littering the lawn with bark, sprouts, and leftover fruit.
“Cute little buggers, aint’ they?” he says as we watch them from the kitchen window.
“Want a hit, T-Money?” Duke offers me his pen.
“Nah, dude. You know that shit makes me paranoid,” I lie. It’s my go-to line so I don’t feel pressured. Like how I also told them I got a handy on the last day of school from Jessica Peters so Corey would stop giving me shit about being a virgin. I’m really hoping that doesn’t spread around because I plan on asking Jessica to homecoming once Freshman year starts.
“I think that blond girl has a crush on you,” said Uncle Bruce when he picked me up from school one time.
“Why you say that?”
“Trust me, buddy. I just know.”
I hope Uncle Bruce is right. But then again, he’s right about everything.
“You’re up, T-Money,” says Duke.
“Let’s see your brass pair,” says Corey.
They giggle as they toke, disappearing over the bank. As I listen to the midnight hum of the rice field, I scuffle my sneakers on the cracked asphalt to join in on the noise, showing the world I ain’t scared.
This is the road Uncle Bruce drives when we go fishing. We get up early, him fixing himself coffee, pouring me orange juice. He makes the best Denver omelets. Then we take this road to his “secret spot.” He works Reclamation, so he knows all the best spots. On the way home, we grab a bag of cherries from the fruit stand and spit the pits out the window as he introduces me to old rock bands.
“Oh, this one’s a classic,” he always says, turning up the volume.
I can’t help but think I should be with him, sitting at his bedside. But hospitals give me the willies.
Headlights on the horizon.
But I know I’ve got some time before the car is at the Memorial Highway sign.
As the lights get bigger, they remind me of the lights soldiers talk about seeing in war movies. Uncle Bruce loves old war movies.
“You’re gonna dig this one, pal. I guarantee it.”
Uncle Bruce is right about everything.
When the lights hit the mile marker, I think about what it’s like in Uncle Bruce’s room. His open mouth making that constant rasp, the beeps of the machines, the smell of latex gloves.
The lights are at the roadside cross, but I can’t move. I hear Duke and Corey yelling and swearing. I try, but my feet are planted. My eyes are trapped within the glow of the lights as I see a shadow.
Ears. An arched back. A puffy tail.
One of Uncle Bruce’s rabbits limps onto the road.
I dart into the light, grabbing the bunny, rushing and rolling over the bank, into the mud. The rabbit’s wail matches the screech of the tires. As I hold tight, I hear the slam of a car door. The sound of the rice field is replaced by the putter of exhaust and an angry man.
“You stupid little fucker! What the fuck are you thinking?! Get some goddamn sense!” With another door slam and a screech, he’s gone.
As the crickets return, the shadows of Duke and Corey hover over me, smoke billowing from both of their muddy faces.
“Holy shit,” says Duke.
“Are you okay?” asks Corey. “What you got there, dude?”
As I release the rabbit, it runs from my hands. In the moonlight, we watch it limp away, its rear leg chewed raw.
“Looks like the coyote’s supper managed to wiggle free,” says Duke.
“You think that means they’re still hungry?” asks Corey.
“Look at your hand, dude.” Duke points to my bleeding palm and fingers. I hadn’t felt it, but the rabbit had ripped into my skin as I’d held it tight.
“Dude, you could have rabies,” says Duke.
“You gotta go to the hospital,” says Corey.
“I know,” I say.