“You’re fine if you clear the hose.” I take a fistful of hair and tie it into a messy top knot before wiping down the lens with the cleanest part of my shirt.
“Are you watching?” Logan nervously taps his board against the ground and it echoes down the hallway. I can’t see him from where I sit at the bottom of the stair set.
“No one’s coming.” It’s a Sunday and there’s not much activity near the school. The only other people around are three guys leaning up against a truck at the far end of the parking lot, passing a joint between them. “But seriously, traffic’s not even going to be an issue if you can’t clear the hose.”
“I can clear it, shut up.” He rolls close to the stairs, though not enough to move into the shot, then kicks his board around and pushes off in the other direction. I look up at a security camera pointed directly at me. We’re pretty sure they’re fake, plastic shells that stick onto the walls with double-sided tape. Though for a moment I have a slice of doubt. I picture myself being pulled out of first period calculus and dragged to the vice principal’s office. They’ll insert a tape into the school’s only remaining VHS player and pause on the exact moment I clock the camera. Can you explain this? That’s school property you’re defacing. Are you really going to screw up, this close to the end of your senior year?
“Are you ready or what?” He’s further down the hall now, psyching himself for the run up. I frame the shot and practice the pan. The camera we use for footage is secondhand from Goodwill, but it works well enough. Though sometimes I have to tape the battery in or it doesn’t charge right. The weather is overcast. Good for filming, less glare. I tell Logan he’s good and he says fuck yes in response. His wheels on the smooth concrete are honey. The men against the truck turn their heads to watch.
The approach is tense shit. You can always tell by the noise how close the skater is, whether they have enough speed. At a certain point you have to stop pushing and commit, placing your back foot on the tail to prep the pop. When that moment is depends on the skater, their confidence. I’m chickenshit, but Logan believes he’s invincible and only sets himself just before he’s about to hit the gap. He’s crouched low when he finally arrives in the shot, knees nearly at his chin. He’s got on a knit cap. He thinks it’ll protect his head if he slams. His tongue probes the place where his lips come together. He’s concentrating. Then he launches.
Watching this part is like waiting to see if someone’s parachute is going to open. It’s only a five stair, though on the path at the bottom is a black irrigation hose we couldn’t move, so he has to make it past that too. But it’s just an ollie. He’s done it plenty of times and we’re filming for fuckall reason. For a moment it looks pretty good, like he might land. But then something is wrong. He can’t keep his feet over the bolts and he’s flailing. The board falls out from under him and he flings his arms out in front, bracing. I simply watch. Keep filming, Logan always tells me. “Even if I end up lunchmeat.”
The board lands before he does and rolls into the grass beside the sidewalk. When Logan finally hits the ground his body lands like a sack of rice. I leave the camera on my improvised tripod—my own board propped on its side—and run to attend. One of his shoes has come halfway off his foot.
Logan sits up slowly. He looks at his hands. Apart from a cut on his chin he seems fine. I check his pupils, something I’ve seen actors playing doctors on television do, but I have no idea what to look for. Logan wads his shirt in a fist and dabs at the blood running over his chin. There’s little bits of gravel pasted around the gash. It’s going to scar.
I look out over his head but the men watching are no longer there and the truck is gone.
“You alright?” I ask.
“I popped too early.” He stands and I help him to his feet.
“Aw what the fuck.” He doesn’t seem to hear me. That or he isn’t listening.
“What? What’s up?”
Logan gestures to his legs. “Look at this.” He grabs a sizable rip in his jeans with his free hand, a pasty thigh exposed. “These are new. Ellen’s going to roast me.”
— — —
Logan hungers for footage. Road crews are busy patching potholes and fresh asphalt makes him singular-minded: skate-skate-skate. We’ve been friends since short pants but we’re finishing our senior year at different schools. Still, every day after class we meet up at the Ready Getter on Main and buy day-old taquitos rolling in their own grease before looking for spots to film.
“We’ve got to make a pit stop.” Logan holds his taquito like a cigar and pretends to smoke.
“Where?” We’re sitting on the curb outside the automatic doors. The owner knows our faces at this point and only shoos us away after ten minutes. Pretty lenient, considering.
“I want to go by Ellen’s first to get wax.” Ellen is Logan’s grandmother and his legal guardian since his parents both died in a car accident. She lives by herself in a townhouse near the large animal hospital and keeps the blinds down. “Then we’re gonna swing by and get Kendra.”
“Kendra’s coming? Why?”
“You’ll see. It’s a surprise.”
Kendra’s mom is friends with my mom, and thus, nearly as far back as infancy, we too became friends. Well, more than friends, but only for a few months in ninth grade. Then we split amicably like people dissolving a business. In the last year she’s started dating Logan. Before they made it official she called asking if it was okay. Why wouldn’t it be, I said. Why indeed, she replied.
“Okay, that’s fine. You think we’ll be done by seven?”
“I can’t say. I’m but a slave to the road.”
I knuckle his shoulder and he drops his taquito into a pile of cigarette butts.
“Fine, yes, seven. Now you owe me the rest of yours.”
He finishes my taquito and then we push off toward his house. We can get around the city okay by just skating, though sometimes if Logan wants to go out far we borrow his grandmother’s mammoth Chrysler. We know the town by its skatable landmarks. There is no Performing Arts Center, there is just the kinked rail by the handicap ramp. The Mongolian barbeque restaurant is the curb-to-curb gap. Even the hospital where my mother works is known only as the drop from the truck loading dock.
When we get to Ellen’s I tell Logan I’ll wait outside, but he insists I come in and grab something from the fridge for the road. This is his way of saying to grab him a soda.
“I’ll be right back.” He runs up the stairs and disappears.
His grandmother’s house is all wood paneling and hardened carpet. Ellen is where she normally is, sitting in front of the television watching afternoon chat shows. I don’t know that she likes me very much and barely recognizes my presence when I’m in the house. Even now as I walk into the kitchen she doesn’t acknowledge me, which is hard for anyone given my height. “Tall as canyons are deep,” my own grandmother says.
I linger in the kitchen, which, like the rest of the house, is awash in various shades of brown and tan, and watch while a panel of attractive doctors talk about cellulite on television. A woman in a two piece bathing suit stands in front of a crowd and the doctors circle parts of her thighs and buttocks with magic marker. The volume is too low for me to hear what they are saying, but it’s almost as if this woman is being publicly shamed. Here is where your body underperforms, the doctors seem to say. Let us highlight the failures for you.
Ellen stands up and shuffles into the kitchen. She pops the microwave door open and removes a mug of something, though after tasting it she pours it down the drain. She takes a tea bag from the cupboard and refills the mug before putting it back in the microwave. Though she doesn’t start the timer and goes back to sitting in front of the television again.
Logan bounds down the stairs and motions for me to follow him outside. He says something to his grandmother and she looks at her watch before waving him away with some affirmative gesture. Stepping over the threshold and into the sunlight feels like being flung into a star. For a moment I’d forgotten it was still daylight.
“Okay, let’s go to Kendra’s.”
“I thought you said you were going to get wax?”
“I did.” Logan unzips his backpack and pulls out a cardboard box of shabbat candles and a stick lighter. “The holiday closet is full of these. She won’t miss a few.”
As he closes the bag I catch sight of a small black ring box wedged behind a trig textbook.
“Okay, let’s go.”
I follow behind on the way to Kendra’s. They’ve been dating for six months now. Kendra goes to school with me and we share most of our classes on the honor track. Though we’ve been seeing less and less of each other. We’re both busy preparing for college credit exams and Kendra’s so often at Logan’s house, up in his bedroom where they get high and blow the smoke out the window so Ellen doesn’t notice. Logan doesn’t have any plans past graduation. He tells me he’s going to stay at his grandmother’s place until he finds a job or gets sponsored. “She’s not going to kick me out,” he says. Logan is never going to get sponsored, he’s simply not good enough, but either he’s unaware of this or unbothered by it because after every single session he demands that I email him the raw footage. He has gigs upon gigs of files sitting on his loaner school laptop. Still, it’s fun to skate so I accompany him as he scouts spots and cracks his dome open on various sidewalks across the city.
Kendra is waiting on her stoop when we arrive. She has on cutoffs and a Metallica t-shirt. The shirt was a gift from me for her birthday a few years ago. I’d gone down to Columbus to see the show and missed “Enter Sandman” so I could stand at the merch line.
Logan and Kendra hug and exchange a brief kiss. “Do you have it?” he asks.
“I do.” She holds a bulky camera by its strap. It’s incredibly professional looking with a chunky lens and stippled plastic. A printed label is stuck to the side that has Kendra’s father’s home address on it. Her parents live apart, but they’re not divorced. Not yet anyway, she tells me.
I ask Logan what it’s for.
“Angles.” He frames his fingers into a box like a movie director. “That’s what we’ve been missing, real cinematic shit. Now you can follow me and Kendra can get shots from the landing.”
He looks a bit crazed, eyes wide. The faintest hint of a moustache has begun to grow and it looks like dirt smeared above his lip.
“Do you know how to edit clips together?” I ask.
“I can learn that later. What matters now is the footage.” He spreads the word out for emphasis. “Put it in my pack.” He motions to the camera.
“No, it’ll get annihilated,” Kendra responds. “I’ll carry it. If this gets broke I’ll have to replace it. These are like, seven-hundred bucks.”
“But you can work it?”
“Yeah, I can work it.” She gives him a wry smile and puckers her lips, some shared joke.
Kendra retrieves her ten-speed from the garage and fruitlessly tries to convince Logan to wear a helmet. Then we’re cruising down East Elliot Street on route to the junior college where Logan claims to have found the “mother of all spots.” As we push across the flat streets Logan attaches himself to the back of Kendra’s bike and she chides him, calling him a lard ass and slowing her down. The three of us don’t spend much time together as a group. We all seem to occupy different spheres of one another’s social strata. We appear to be a rather motley crew as we pass the industrial print shop across from the public pool. Before Logan leaves town—when and to where he still isn’t sure—he wants to skate the drained deep end like he’s seen on so many shared clips from the reels of professional skaters. “That would be the shot, right?” He sketches the line in his mind and tells me about the changes he’s made. “If I can noseslide above the suicide zone, wouldn’t that be great?” Can you do a noseslide? I ask. “Not yet, but by then maybe.”
The college is deserted. Classes are mainly done for the day and Logan guides us to the back entrance of the student center where a narrow concrete handrail splits a set of steps.
“I’m gonna boardslide that.”
“Are you sure?” The rail is long, longer than anything I’ve seen Logan attempt before. Once you’re on there’s seemingly endless time to go tits up and sack. But Logan just looks at me like I’m out of touch and shoots his board into the grassy hill beside the stairs.
“I figure you’ll follow me on the run up and Kendra can film the wide shot. Easy.”
Kendra and I look at each other, resigned to the idea that we probably can’t talk him out of it, and then watch as he digs through his bag and brings the candles and lighter over to the rail.
“In the meantime,” he shouts over to us, “play lookout, would you?”
We nod and sit in the grass, lazily watching for campus security but really just staring off into space. Logan heats the base of a candle with the lighter and spreads the wax over the rail, something he says he’s seen online.
“Will it work?” Kendra asks.
“Maybe. He’ll be going fast though.”
“Is fast good?”
“I don’t know.”
Finally finished, he runs the underside of his board over the rail, scouting for cracks and juts. I worry about what is going to happen to Logan after we graduate. I’ve been accepted up at Case Western, nearly a two hour drive from here. Sometimes the worry is physical, like what happens if he bails and no one’s there to catch him before he rockets into an oncoming car. But other times it’s less tangible. Kendra’s leaving too, headed to Dayton. With both of us gone Logan will only really have his grandmother left in his life. He tells me that he will come visit. “Think of the spots!” Though I’m not sure that this isn’t just talk. There’s no way his grandma will give him the Chrysler for an entire day. Knowing him he might endeavor to skate all hundred or so miles and pass out on the interstate shoulder from heat stroke.
“You decide on a major yet?” I ask.
“Maybe anthropology,” Kendra replies. “You?”
“I’m going to go in undeclared, see what finds me.”
Logan waves us over and tells us he wants to try the trick.
“What do I do?” Kendra asks.
“Situate yourself at the bottom and just point. You can’t miss me.” Logan instructs her on where to set up and then I follow him down the sidewalk over to the doors of the student union.
“Do you need this much space?”
“Have you seen how high I have to pop to get up to it?”
I turn on the camera, which is already warm from being out in the sun, and set myself up to push off behind him. I can hear the college radio station playing on the speaker system inside the building, the chunk of a bottle falling through a vending machine. Kendra’s hand appears up over the top of the stairs, waving. She’s ready. I’m ready. Logan has a smile plastered on his face, wide and open-mouthed. We fist bump and then we’re going.
The first few attempts are as expected. I see him run up and stop before the rail, I see him pop off to the side, I see him make contact but then fall and nearly wreck on the concrete. All of this is seen through the viewfinder of the camera, making sure I get the shot. I can tell Kendra doesn’t like being here. Every time Logan bails or slams she scrunches her face up in sympathetic pain, after which Logan tells her to keep him in frame. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Nothing’s broken yet.” Then he kisses her cheek before spitting into the grass.
He can’t seem to get his balance right, and the wax is making him go faster than he can handle, so he goes into what he calls “serious mode” and tells us to wait in the grass while he practices.
Kendra and I watch as he tries and fails to slide down the rail before his board launches out from under him or he loses his balance. With his arms out and flapping he looks like a large uncoordinated bird wearing a faded Misfits long sleeve.
I’m starting to sweat and as I lay back on the grass the freshly cut blades stick themselves to my body. The sky is barely streaked with high clouds and the heat makes me feel like I am floating. I have to stop myself from falling asleep.
In a month I’ll be out of school, and my summer will be spent changing motor oil at my dad’s shop and trying not to lose a finger in the tire changer. “But you can skate after, right?” Logan asked. We were loitering outside of Ice Cream Exchange watching the prep school sculling team practice on the river. I tell him maybe, if I’m not too tired. Though I don’t know if that’s true. I think that, as I get busier, as life past high school—real life, I’m told—pushes closer, that I won’t skate as much. For the last month every time I’ve gone out with Logan I’ve worried that it’s the last time we are going to skate together, the last gap, the last slide, the last time watching him eat shit into an embankment. When I visited Case Western last September I saw plenty of “no skateboarding” signs posted around campus. It felt like a portent.
Kendra lays in the grass beside me and we stare up through the branches of an oak tree newly leafing. The clattering of Logan’s board hitting the sidewalk echoes over the quad, followed by him grunting in frustration.
“How long does this normally take?” Kendra asks.
“Hard to say. He’ll go until he gets it.”
It feels a bit romantic, us laying together in the nice weather, and I nearly take Kendra’s hand in mine before reminding myself why that’s not a good idea. Somewhere behind us a group of ROTC cadets march in cadence.
“He’s going to propose,” I say.
I prop myself up onto my elbows. “How?”
“He had the ring just out on his desk one day when I came over. It’s his grandmother’s.”
I watch Logan nearly balance on the handrail before jumping off to the side and rolling into a juniper bush. “What are you going to say?”
“I’m going to say no, of course. We’re not going to get married.”
“Oh, yeah.” I lay back on the ground, fitting back into the imprint my body left in the grass.
I think about responding, of telling her that maybe he won’t, that his often singular focus only plans for one outcome, but instead I pick dandelion fluff and allow the wind to take it from my fingers.
“Okay, I’m ready.” Logan is out of breath and I am only alerted to his presence by his shadow spilling over the two of us. He takes Kendra’s hand and helps her to her feet and I grab my board. He preps her on the blocking, where she needs to sit. He’s really perfected it, he says. I want to ask him if he’s landed it yet but I know he hasn’t. Regardless, he thinks he’s ready, and it’s hard not to be taken in by his confidence. Kendra moves near the bottom step and I follow Logan up the walkway.
“I really have it,” he says, clapping my shoulder blades. The back of his shirt is stained with grime from the sidewalk. “You good to film?”
I tell him I am and then without warning he begins to run, throwing his board beneath him and rolling up toward the rail. I point the camera and push hard to catch up, watching for sutures in the concrete. He’s going faster than normal. He’s impatient, ready for the trick to be done or for his body to fail, whichever should come first. For Logan these are the only ways to leave a spot.
I haven’t told Logan this yet, but I’ve been taking all of the footage from the last couple years and editing the best parts of it together. I’ve added music, a fake fisheye filter to give it that legit look. It’s nearly a half hour of continual grinds and gaps and flip tricks. It even has a section after the credits for his best bails and slams. I’m going to give it to him when I leave in August. I hope he watches it with Ellen and that she thinks he’s made it big.
I pop the tail of my board to stop right before he lifts over the steps. He has the height, the speed. He manages to land on the rail and slide into the shot clean, his arms barely moving, his frame straight. He looks pro in this moment, like it’s no big deal. A woman pushing a stroller watches from behind a nearby fence, a captive audience. I hear him land before I see it, and I frame up the camera just in time to see Kendra run up to him and wrap her arms around his sweaty body. Logan chucks his board over near where we had been laying earlier and runs up to me, frenzied.
“Tell me you got that,” he pleads. Tell me.
Benjamin Kessler’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, DIAGRAM, Entropy, Hobart, and Pithead Chapel, among others. He lives, writes, and parents a hedgehog in Portland, Oregon.