After Midnight in Bloomington

Photo by Sean Munson
After Midnight in Bloomington by Katie Moulton

Midnight is a wire across a sky, impossible to tell one side of dark from the other. One crow says I’m that much closer to morning. The last line in my diary says otherwise, but for now it’s gone missing, and I am cranking through Bloomington on a rattletrap 1970s road bike that I borrowed and never bothered to return. I’m on my way to find some trouble somewhere, find a proxy for the last young man I left. Maybe tonight it’s Kilroy’s, Nick’s, Bear’s, the Video Saloon. Maybe tonight I’ll fall off my barstool, maybe the bell tower. Maybe tonight I’ll go rushing past the orange-washed dogwoods, back to my parents’ old dorm, that monolith, that inside-out quarry.

I left the porch light on, a wager against the dark that I’ll return. I want to ask my mother if, when my father said come over, did she make a point like I do to tell her roommate, I’ll be back, I won’t be long? Did she feel alive when she broke those promises nobody asked her for? I’m seven years older than they were then, unrolling my body like a film over these same limestone walls, dipping fingers into the holes in our little family history. The sidewalks molt the ghosts of young men, trailing me like my father did once after he loosed the screws of my training wheels, believing I’d learn fastest in an emergency, when pushed into the momentum of survival. His best ideas made him panic the most. My mother remains his best idea, and I balance without touching the handlebars. But did he ever trust in the kick-off, one foot on the pedal, the other swinging high overhead? I want to ask what the young men are reading in my old diary, and if I’m a good, patient girl, will they give it back please? I had memorized the map embroidered on the cover, but I’ve forgotten. I’ve forgotten the way into my parents’ story, though the limestone landmarks haven’t budged since they made that movie Breaking Away here and I know this town’s shortcuts the same way I know to pause the videotape at the precise minute and second when my twenty-year-old father, my young-dead, long-dead father, flickers by in the crowd scene, the trophy-filled finale, when the underdog hero’s feet are finally unstrapped from the pedals, same way I know that the blur of brown is his face. Same way I know the smudge of light at his shoulder is my mother on her tiptoes.

I want to tell them not much has changed in Bloomington. How one crow lifts off when another settles on the wire. How the dormant quarries can hardly remember the bodies and machinery thrown into them. Can hardly remember the ghosts they contain and do not dream of unbecoming, of turning back from basin to plateau. Some of us never return to haunt our young parents. Some of us do and find them gone.

And this absence is an un-ending, somehow, a hope—that there are other girls for the hero to love, and other young men for me. I still want to know which way to the rocks in the night, how to tell what’s black sky and what’s black water, and whether the quarries have it, floating among the sunk tanks and scraps of myth—that thing I was supposed to keep close. Tell them I had it when I left home, or else had come looking for it. I know a few things: it is red and heavy, tied up in coarse twine and easily persuaded to unravel. Inside is a hole in the shape of a chisel.

Katie Moulton's creative work has appeared in Muzzle, Hobart, The Collagist, Ninth Letter and elsewhere. Her writing has been supported by the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, OMI International Arts Center, and Indiana University, where she earned her MFA. She lives in Denver, where she is the Music Editor of Westword.