ANGLE OF DECLINATION
MEGAN G. NEWCOMER
It’s not that I want to—and it’s not that I know I will—it just tastes so good on my tongue and the thought of it cradles my heart. It is sweet, scary, and a little salty, but I want to die there. Right there. Do you see it? Not today though, not even any time soon, maybe in fifty-four years. I hope I don’t see it coming. I hope it happens like burning my finger on the stove. If I move my finger fast enough, the energy transfer is too small to notice. The involuntary reflex doesn’t allow me to feel pain. That is, until the remaining energy simmers the skin and pain crawls to the surface. But when I die, it will be like when I pull away, but there will be no time for the energy to surface.
Hunter once said he wanted to die late, in love, a little drunk. I fell in love with that and held those words in a fist since I’ve known them. Yet, opening my hand now, they seem to have slipped my fingers. I want to die and not know I died. I want to be straddling my Ducati Monster 796 singled-sided swing arm through turn five at NCBike. I want it to happen there, and only there. But—remember—I don’t want to know it happened.
The wind will hold my body against the tank (I learned much earlier I have to tuck when I go 110 down the straight. They said to me, speed clearly doesn’t scare you. The first time, it did, I just did it anyway). The speed will allow the wind to shelter me, and I will be safe there. The turn will be blind from the long grass covering the bend in the road. That road will beat from the burning rubber of the tires, radiating its heat into my leather suit. The additional speed will be necessary to counter the burn. The long grass will sing to me as I brush it with a knee digging into the pavement. The shadows will dance on the Monster and will accompany me into turn six. That grass will be as deceiving as it always is, hiding the gaping holes and ruts that will consume me, if I choose that path. Come and play, they will say. I may listen. I may not. I won’t know.
The sun will follow me around turn five, blanketing me with a small cloud, as if an umbrella. Its light will send additional heat into the pavement, which will make me aware of the lava ground. The sun will flirt with the grass and long for my skin, yet allow me shadow under that single cloud. The sun will be surprised when it happens. It will be deceived, just as I will. It will shine a lovely beam, as if to tell me nothing is going to happen—because of course, I think nothing is going to happen.
I will be covered in a grey leather bodysuit, zipped into the crevice of my neck. My Arai helmet will be tinted. My boots will be white. Everything that will have once saved me will be sound asleep when it happens. The roar of my motor will dim the rest of the track. The vibrations of the handle bars will spark an unnecessary pump of epinephrine into my veins. Though my heart will race, I will be tranquil, leaning my body off the seat of the bike, and stretching my face across the pavement.
When I die, it will be at NCBike in turn five. Turn five only because in that one you are able to lean the bike low enough to kiss the earth and stay for seven seconds. In turn five, I will have just enough time to lean off the bike a little more than I’ve ever. There, I will ask it how it has been, whisper my secrets. The tremors of the pavement will answer. Turn five is not a quick turn, not abrupt. It is the long graceful sweep of a turn. A turn that will let me play with the laws of physics, allow me just enough time to extend my comfort zone.
The bikes behind me will be too far to care. They will call out in multiple pitches, telling me to wait for them. I won’t, because in time, I will think we’ll be together soon enough. The track will be my blank slate, and I’ll pin the throttle until my wrist aches.
When I die, I hope it’s unexpected. It will not be a crash or a run off the road. It will not be a high side, where my bike will eject me from it. No, instead it will be something subtle. It will be something like a kiss goodbye in the midst of turn five. My body will just turn off. And in turn five, it will look like a low side and the bike will slide out from underneath me and get lost in the tall grass. My body will slide to the beginning of turn six, I won’t move. It will be as if I were sleeping on the burning pavement, curled up against a wonderful dream. Others will not hear it. The roar of the surrounding motors will be too dense to notice. People will cry and not understand how I will never stand up, it was just a low side, they’ll think.
But that is where I want to die. I want it to be unextraordinary and quiet. I want it to be like a love affair, silent and mysterious. Because what if where we are when we die, is the memory we live over and over again? What if those last ten second is the continuous loop of the afterlife? I want it to be there in turn five at NCBike. I want to be on my Ducati Monster 796 single-sided swing arm—toying with the pavement as it longs to pull me in for the rest of my life. And when I go down, I will have already passed, so that last ten seconds will be and be and be.
STRING THEORY: EIGHT SELF-PORTRAITS
IN MIXED MEDIA
MEGAN G. NEWCOMER
Megan was born bleach blonde with lime eyes. Her features were not that of her father’s, and he asked if she was his. Her mother pleaded, of course she’s yours. And she grew up this way. In those odd moments between time, like when she would brush her teeth, her father would look at her and his eyebrows would furrow skeptical of his own daughter. When she was nine, she spoke to her father, and he noticed a slight cleft chin, as if a ghost were pushing its thumb against her face. He yelled at her mother that night, cleft chins are genetic, neither of them had one.
Megan woke up on her thirteenth birthday to a fight below her. She turtled herself at the edge of the stairwell and was waiting for her moment to appear. She waited so long that she decided to walk down stairs and hoped her appearance would simmer the tension that threatened the walls. Go back upstairs, they said to her. And what was she to do? She was finally a teenager, does this mean she could, or even should, argue back? She didn’t. She waited on her bed, until the door slammed and seconds later her mother came running up the stairs and climbed into bed with her. But I love him, her mother said to her. Megan decided to bake herself a cake, maybe this would get her mother’s mind off of things. It was strawberry, with vanilla icing. Normally she prefers chocolate with vanilla
icing, but this year she wanted to evolve. Her father walked in with a march that shook the house. He saw Megan mixing the batter with the little might she had. She looked at him stunned, met his gaze
and then got right back to work. I’m sorry, he said to her from a distance.