MANHOOD

 by Randy Reynolds

The knot of fear in my stomach feels like a cherry bomb with a lit fuse. If I wanted to, I could make it go away by coming down from the tree to the riverbank twenty feet below where my friends are currently in a contest to see who can shout the vilest epithet of encouragement to me. But if I leave the tree in any manner other than riding the rope, my reputation as a daredevil—which as far I can figure is what manhood itself is based upon—will be shot. Kaput. Finished.

Clinging to rough bark with one hand, gripping the rope just above the knot with the other, I look out at what the lying s.o.b. Louisiana swamp river below wants me to believe is a languid current and I know that I don’t want to do this but I have to.

I concentrate hard to make my mind go blank, seize the rope with both hands and push forward from the tree, falling swiftly toward that nadir where I could let go and slip feet first into the water with barely a splash.  But I miss the moment, the arc of my swing heads upward and the water disappears from my line of sight replaced by treetops and the sky.

Where gravity says “You take him!” and centrifugal force says, “Screw that!”  I feel a change of direction coming on, like Wile E. Coyote after he’s already over the edge. Blink, blink. The earth stands still for the briefest moment and then the cherry bomb from Acme Explosives goes off in my stomach and I let go the rope.