He’s on his way to pick up a new handle for the storm door. It’s been broken for weeks, and now that the season has changed, the cold is getting in. There’s always a bunch of graffiti between his house and the hardware store — inscrutable lines and symbols that must mean something to somebody. So identical, they seem almost stenciled. But they’re usually cursive, their size adapted to the available surface.
Graffiti didn’t look like this when he was young. Its message was clear. He used to think “graffiti” was singular. He used to think you couldn’t use a marker for this kind of thing. He used to think it would last forever, like hieroglyphics or handprint silhouettes from that cave in France. But the city beautification projects turn the bridge trestles and highway pillars into a uniform gray. It’s a thick industrial shade. Nothing leaks through. It creates a clean canvas for whoever is stupid enough to risk it.
He remembers his own stupidity, how he climbed down from the woods above with an extension cord tied around his waist to spray paint in lemon letters that “Greer Holloway is a goddess.” The night cars of summer sped by on Route 91. It was virgin stone at the time. He had to write part of it while he was upside down. He had to rely on the only knot he knew to keep him tethered to the oak. He had to shrug it off when the whiskey slipped out of his pocket to the rocks forty feet below.
The next day, he drove Greer down the highway so she could see. Then he showed her the paint on his hands and shirt as a proof — a fine stippling of golden freckles. It was a gesture that let her say yes.
But in thirty years, a lot of idiots have had the same idea. In winter when the leaves are down, he can see a yellow “G” and part of a yellow “s.” The rest is obscured by a mediocre Rolling Stones tongue, by “Mark Loves Tina,” by “Dickhead Joe,” by “Angelo 96.”
Greer still comes back now and then to visit her folks for the holidays. He saw her stopped at a traffic light once, singing along to whatever was on the radio. She didn’t turn when he beeped, and she and her music floated away when the traffic began again.
When he gets to the hardware store, he learns that the handle has been discontinued, that he’ll have to replace the whole damn door, which is more than he expected.
He gets in the car and starts off down 91, headed for the rocks he’d painted with such clarity. The birches on the surrounding hills are a fumble of bones, and the air outside would turn his breath to fog if ever he tried to scale this stone to the height that he had been.
Charles Rafferty‘s poems have appeared in The New Yorker and The Southern Review. His stories appear in Sonora Review and Staccato. Currently, he directs the MFA program at Albertus Magnus College.