Prodigal Heart
by James Robison
In Texas, I swam 72 lengths of an Olympic pool at the University of Houston daily, swinging and digging through my lane, and then ran five miles in the Houston noon sun, along Buffalo Bayou, through the Montrose, by the trains burning in rows of light and heat, by the factory making white dust, one making blue plastic barrels. 
There weren’t cowboys.
Yes, there was; I knew one cowboy, an ex rodeo rider so broken by the bulls that his organs were mushed  plus he was in a wheelchair with worthless knees, replaced hips, fused ankles, so he was drinking the Jose Cuerva, going crazy. He needed a colostomy bag.
Out west I knew a woman who was a stunt flyer and flew for Hollywood pictures, flew biplanes, as in WW1, and she flew a cherry red Vegas, Amelia Earhart’s plane, for Hollywood movies, and it was a replica but she said it was a bitch to land and on weekends she did air shows down near Bakersfield and was a wing walker. She had posed for Playboy years earlier and was still ravishing to look at. I saw the Playboy photos and they were hyper saturated with old colors and her figure wasn’t such that you might say, “Good god!”
Only, “A kind of girl,” is what you would say.
You would say this about those photos:  “Look, a generic assemblage of tapered volumes, a suffering machine, as we all are, and a girl is behind the magazine eyes.”
 I knew a woman homicide detective who carried a big handgun in her attaché case. There was a guy named Octavia who showed me that in the trunk of his BMW were all kinds of weapons including what looked to me like machine guns that I'd seen Israeli soldiers use on the news and I saw what I thought were  grenades.
“If you saw me driving past you at like 95 on a backstreet, would you pull me over?” a student asked this detective who said, “No, too much paperwork.”

I knew an ex Israeli soldier called Noam who was so upset by what he had done in wars that he pretty much gave up on peace, except to play basketball and go to Rio for the carnival every year. He said, “You should come. The people are beautiful and they care about only dancing  and dance so beautifully, and all life is a party with beautiful music.” He needed a lyrical, radiant and bloodless and throbbing balance to the huge mute weight he carried. He carried dead people, and they are hugely silent.
He had an early version of a MAC pc and he typed a column in Hebrew for an Israeli paper. I saw the actor, Ethan Hawke, walking around outside this house which they were using for the exteriors of Reality Bites.
I saw a shark in the water with me on Galveston Beach because the water was so garbagey and sharks are scavengers and love garbage. There were signs saying, "Don't play in the dunes because of rattlesnakes." You could park on the beach which is really lowbrow-gearhead  but I did it, parked my Dodge Colt Mitsubishi on the pancaked sand in the heat and saw five foot waves, brown as rivers, cap and bust. Years later a hurricane would blow that beach and its rattlesnakes and garbage all to hell.
But in a surf shop in Galveston I bought some Speedo swim goggles and I used them for four years until they were stolen from my towel at Sunset Beach on Oahu and I went to the Ala Moana Mall and bought new Speedo goggles and a new G-Shock swim watch and I’ve been using both ever since. That’s like ten years.
You leave for a while, the long days, burning sun, the hot places. You leave the running, the ghosts, the water, the waves and gulls. You sit in the dark with books as heavy as marble, as coffins. The cold days are smoky and you wear the glasses with no girls, no Brahms, no Sex Pistols or Mad Dog or deeply black coffee.
Everyone loses the numbers, names, addresses.
You will come back.
You will live and see the athletes on the track at UC Irvine, working out for the Olympics to come, the high hurdlers. You will see the streak of triathletes, sleek and varicolored, with the teardrop helmets in coral orange or silver, firing by on bikes on the Pacific Coast Highway.
Maybe you go to a nice hotel in Laguna and have iced tea on the restaurant balcony, maybe with mint and maybe the tea is oolong, iced cold and frosty, and you will see the blazing smoking sunset coast, burning all the way up to Malibu it looks like.  Maybe your shoulders will ache from the long swims, your legs from the long runs.

James Robison won a Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his first novel, The Illustrator. He has published many stories in The New Yorker, and his work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and Grand Street. The Mississippi Review devoted an entire issue to seven of his short stories. He co-wrote the 2008 film New Orleans Mon Amour and has poetry and prose forthcoming or appearing now in The Manchester Review, Story Quarterly, Raleigh Review,Smokelong Quarterly, elimae,The Blue Fifth Review, Istanbul Literary Review, Wigleaf, Commonline, BLIP Magazine, Blast Furnace,The Houston Literary Review, Scythe, Metazen, Corium Magazine and elsewhere.

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