The Last Asteroid, by Robin Crawford
Revenge of a Father, by Michael Cook
Does Bigfoot Bury Its Dead? by L.T. Fawkes
WALLS, by Paul R. Buckle
Lela’s Game, by L.T. Fawkes
Missouri Story #1, by L.T. Fawkes
Ground Lights, by L. T. Fawkes
Summary of a Life, by L.T. Fawkes
Matthew, by L.T. Fawkes
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THE LAST ASTEROID
THE LAST ASTEROID
by Robin Crawford
Seven days ago, I stood on the end of the world and watched my girl Gidget go up in flames.
We were on a picnic. Gidget made the best ham salad sandwiches, even though there really was no such thing as ham anymore. No pigs. No animals at all. Animals had become a chapter in history books fifty years before I was born.
But back to the picnic. I had signed up for the spot months ago, hoping Gidget and I would still be together when my turn came. We were. I knew she was the one, with her one blue eye and one green eye, and the way her laugh made my skull tingle. And the way she didn’t mind that my eyes were both the same color – brown – and that when I laughed, children ran scared.
“No, they don’t, Henry,” she would tell me. “Children love you. Have you signed up for one yet?”
That’s why I loved Gidget. She could say the most outrageous things in the most innocent way. I could never scold her, though signing up for a child was the most personal, intimate act an adult could commit, and it was usually done with a partner.
Gidget was hinting, of course, and always fell quiet for awhile after I told her I hadn’t signed up for a child yet. That I was waiting.
But I had. I had signed up the day after Gidget and I met in line at the CHIP-checking station. She was standing in front of me talking to the friend who was with her. She laughed that skull-tingling laugh, and I knew right then and there this was the only person I could ever sign up for a child with.
I also signed up for the picnic spot the day I signed up for a child. It would only take months for the ten square foot patch of earth located next to Lake Yin, one of two remaining bodies of water in the world, to be available. And it was then I would tell Gidget, and we could spend the next several years waiting together for our turn for a child.
There was this mythical place called “paradise” people believed in centuries before my girl Gidget went up in flames. It was as remote a concept to us in the year 2712 as planet-hopping would have been to those ancient people.
The “state-of-mind” theorists of the twenty-third century had proven ideas such as paradise, hell, hunger, thirst, and even love were merely tricks one’s mind would play. We’d moved beyond that. Now we had total control. One could choose a state of hunger, or paradise, or pain, or pleasure.
It might be surprising to someone from outside our culture to know how many times people chose unpleasant states. But all things being transient and without substance, even sadness could be an entertainment. Contentedness replaced unrest in the world.
So I had decided to choose paradise. Sharing my life allotment of eighty years with Gidget was the state of mind I wished to dwell in for as long as I could. And sharing also with her the child who would one day be awarded to us would make it perfect.
The day we met, in line for the required yearly check of our EZ CHIP implants, Gidget met my eyes with her laugh and said, “I’m Gidget. What’s your name?”
I told her and she turned back to her friend. She didn’t say another word to me until I walked out the door of the station and reached into my Ziplok to program my Travelmate for home. She was suddenly in front of me.
I was so startled I accidentally pushed the “send” button before I had finished entering the coordinates. I spent the next ninety seconds at the foot of my next door neighbors’ bed before I collected my thoughts and hit the “reverse” button.
Gidget never let me forget that. It was her favorite “silly Henry” story.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me, Henry,” she said. “Just disappearing like that.”
She laughed. Her one blue eye and one green eye sparkled. And the hair on top of my head stood on end. I was in love. It was the best state of mind I had ever chosen. And it seemed Gidget had picked the same one.
Anxiety was the least popular of all possible states. No one wanted to worry, no one wanted to feel the dread of anticipation. That’s why no one had been told about the last asteroid.
If I had known, would I have taken Gidget to the picnic spot? If I had known about the five-hundred square mile chunk of space detritus heading on its unstoppable path toward our planet, would I have done anything differently?
Probably not. Except I would have been in a state of sadness, of mourning. Time with Gidget might have been spent railing against the unfairness of the universe or attempting to find a solution, an escape. This would have been a useless waste of time.
Our planet was relatively young, but we who were left on it after the ravages of civilization had eliminated all but three species—man, palmetto grass, and cockroaches—were tired. Our scientists were worn out from learning everything about everything, from pulling our emaciated ball of dust out of one fire after another.
Changing the course of previous asteroids and finding cures for every imaginable disease had taken its toll. Now new diseases mutated unchecked on a regular basis and asteroids continued to target our tiny world.
I suppose this is why no one was told. Someone had made the decision not to tell since nobody had the energy anymore to make another rescue effort.
Gidget and I had just finished our sandwiches and she was laying out dessert. I pulled her to her feet.
“Henry,” she scolded, looking down. “You stepped on a Twinkie. You are so silly.”
So I stood there with my skull tingling and white goo all over my foot, holding Gidget’s hands. Suddenly the air around us grew warm and there was a roar and something began to happen to the small lake behind us. I didn’t know what was coming, but I knew I’d better hurry.
“Gidget, I signed up for a child. Would you like to share it with me? Oh yes, and by the way, I love you.”
She smiled, she laughed. I tingled. The world exploded. And Gidget went up in flames.
Afterwards I pieced together what happened. It was some sort of luck that I happened to be standing with my back to a deep body of water at the time. When the asteroid hit, I was lifted off my feet and buried face down in the muck at the bottom of Lake Yin.
A pocket of air allowed me to breathe. I woke up sputtering, nearly drowning, and finally fought my way to the surface. Nothing is what I saw.
For seven days I’ve wandered and still I’ve found nothing. Not even a cockroach. Now I’m tired. Now I’m ready to choose the final state of mind.
Robin Crawford’s book One Man’s Dark is available on Kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/One-Mans-Dark-ebook/dp/B0054ZLGMC/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1331702256&sr=1-1
REVENGE OF A FATHER
by Michael Cook
Wisps of fog rose from the surface of the lake like ghosts rising from their final resting place, only to disappear on a wind that snatched multicolor leaves from their lofty perches. The leaves swirled around in colorful twisters until they floated to the forest floor and the surface of the lake. The smell of damp earth and pine needles filled the air.
A pair of woodsmen crouched on the bank, watching, listening. Birds sang and flitted about. Caleb Stewart looked at his son and was proud of what he saw. The young man of seventeen years had grown to be an excellent woodsman. Luke was smart like his mother and inquisitive like his father. At six-foot, three inches, he was a big man with a big heart.
“What are you looking at, Pa?”
“Ah, thought I saw a deer across the lake.”
Caleb glanced away, embarrassed at being caught staring. He deeply loved and cared for his family but putting it into words wasn’t something he was capable of doing.
The sound of a squirrel fussing stopped their conversation and the two men quickly slipped into the thick brush. They searched and listened to their surroundings. The squirrel fell silent and moved away through the treetops.
Caleb put his hand on Luke’s shoulder and signaled for him to move up the hill. The young man nodded, hefted his rifle, and silently crept away.
Luke took it as a compliment his father had such confidence in him. His father was known far and wide as an accomplished woodsman and Indian fighter and was respected for his bravery and courage. Caleb letting Luke take a separate trail showed him his father respected his ability as well. He had long since matured past any of the adolescent feelings that sometimes caused problems between a father and a son. Caleb’s confidence and respect meant a lot to Luke.
Caleb took the lower trail with his rifle at the ready. The last thing he wanted was to walk into a bear. Or worse. A bend in the trail loomed ahead so he moved ahead cautiously. He knew Luke was searching on the cliff which rose on his right. The brown, green, and burgundy of their clothing blended well with their surroundings and the fringed edges broke up their silhouettes. Like spirits, they made very little noise.
Caleb continued forward until he heard a blood-chilling noise – a chorus of war whoops. They were coming from above, up where . . .
Caleb turned, only to be brought up short by the muzzle of a musket pointed at his face. On the other end stood a young Shawnee Indian. The warrior’s black eyes bored into him, and Caleb knew he was about to die.
Oh, God. Luke would die thinking his father hadn’t come to help. He couldn’t let this happen. But what could he do? He was helpless.
He saw the warrior’s finger tighten on the trigger. Caleb tensed, preparing for death. The Indian squeezed the trigger.
But no hot lead of death came from the musket. A harmless puff of smoke rose from the lock. A flash in the pan. Misfire!
Caleb acted, ducking to the right and pushing the muzzle to the left. At the same time, he unsheathed his hunting knife.
A slow burn! The musket fired and the shot grazed the side of Caleb’s shoulder. He ignored the pain. His solitary thought was to help Luke.
Caleb turned the knife edge down and plunged it into his attacker just below the Indian’s ribs. He drove it down, ripping him open to the waist. The warrior dropped his musket and grabbed his stomach. It was a useless attempt to stop the inevitable.
Caleb slashed again, cutting the warrior’s throat to stop the warning cry he was about to raise. The Indian fell and Caleb, sheathing his knife, was on him. He pulled the shooting bag and powder horn from the Indian’s body and slung both over his left shoulder. He grabbed the musket and his own rifle and then ran as fast as he could to where Luke had ascended the hill.
Caleb slung his own rifle over his shoulder and began reloading the musket as he ran. He got to the top and saw evidence of a struggle, but Luke was nowhere to be found. That meant he wasn’t dead – at least not yet. If he was a captive, there was still a chance to save him.
“I’m coming, son,” he said softly.
He crouched and began looking for tracks to determine the direction they’d gone. In his fear and concern, he almost missed the approach of someone from behind. He sank down in the brush and peered through it at a warrior carrying the one he’d just killed. He slid up behind a large tree and waited.
Caleb saw the man was going to pass right by his hiding spot. He reached around to his lower back and pulled his tomahawk from his belt. As the warrior came even with him, Caleb swung it and buried the blade in the man’s chest. Both warriors dropped and Caleb seized the additional powder horn, ammunition, and musket.
He circled the area and found the tracks of the war party and those of his son. A sigh of relief expelled from his lungs. Luke was still alive. Caleb headed west at a ground-eating run, following the tracks.
Luke had the hell beat out of him. His knife, pistols, and rifle had been taken from him, along with his shooting bag and powder horn. His lip was bloody and his left eye was swollen shut. There was also a deep cut from a tomahawk in his left upper arm. His sleeve was soaked with blood. His hands were tied behind his back and a warrior pulled him along by means of the rope which was tied around his neck.
He knew things would only get worse when they got to the Shawnee village. There would be torture and they would make him run the gauntlet. His only hope was his father. If Caleb was still alive, he knew he would come for him.
Caleb ran until his legs screamed for relief. Then he slowed to a walk and kept moving toward his son. Finally, he had to stop. Fear, anxiety, and exhaustion took over and he heaved. His whole body jerked and everything in his stomach came up. He filled his mouth with water from his canteen, spit it out, and then took a couple of small swigs.
He rested only a few minutes before he walked on. Finally, feeling better, he caught his breath and began running again. One way or the other, he would catch up to them before sunset.
Luke knew he had to somehow slow his captors. He stumbled and fell, making them stop and help him up. He took a couple of kicks to the ribs for his trouble but he’d slowed them down and managed to leave a lot of evidence of their passing.
When he stumbled a second time the beating was worse, but the war party decided to stop for the night. Luke felt like he’d been kicked by a mule but at least he’d accomplished what he wanted. If his father was still out there, he’d catch up soon.
The sun was beginning to set when Caleb smelled the smoke. There was at least one campfire up ahead. Maybe more. He stopped and checked the loads of the two muskets, his rifle, and his two pistols. Then he climbed to an overlook, took off all but his own shooting bag and powder horn, dropped to his stomach, and eased up to the edge.
He counted seven warriors in the camp below. Luke sat off to one side. He wished he could catch his son’s eye to let him know he was there. But Luke, tied to a tree, appeared to be sleeping.
Caleb slipped down from the overlook and into the thick brush. He knew his best chance was to wait for nightfall then move in to rescue Luke once the Indians had bedded down. He ate some jerky and then dozed. It was a fitful sleep, and he awoke with a start a few hours later.
Checking the stars, he figured it was almost midnight. He stretched and got ready by checking each gun he had one last time. He checked his own shooting bag and powder horn, strapped on the other two powder horns, slung his rifle across his back, stuck his pistols in his belt, and picked up the muskets.
His earlier anger and fear turned to a slow simmering desire for revenge. The warriors might kill him and Luke, but they would do so only after Caleb exacted a great toll on them for taking his son. If he had his way, none of them would live to tell the story of what had happened in these woods.
He made his way down to the trail and crossed it, slipping through the woods like a ghost. With several hours of darkness left, there was no need to hurry.
As Caleb got close to the camp, he saw movement up ahead and dropped to the ground. He searched the woods and spotted the guard about forty yards from the edge of the camp. The man had made a fatal mistake. He was facing the camp rather than away and wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings.
Experience told Caleb that the light of the fire had destroyed the Indian’s night sight. He propped one of the muskets against a tree and then crept forward another twenty yards. He laid the second musket on the ground and drew his knife. He silently stepped up behind the guard, put his left hand over his mouth, and shoved the long blade into his rib cage, piercing his heart. The man tried to yell but no sound came as Caleb dropped him to the ground.
He crept forward again, drawing his tomahawk. With murderous determination, he ran into the camp. The first warrior to see him sprang, but a smashing tomahawk blow to the Shawnee’s head split it open like a gourd.
The camp erupted into chaos. A chorus of war whoops broke the night quiet. Another warrior sprang from beside the fire and reached for his musket. As his fingers wrapped around the stock, Caleb swung his tomahawk, chopping off the man’s arm. Spinning, he drove his knife into the man’s chest.
Luke could only watch as his father fought like a man ten years younger. His long, salt and pepper-colored hair was loose and wild-looking as he moved about the camp. He thought Caleb resembled an angry silver tip grizzly and struggled to free himself so he could help.
Caleb wrenched his knife free just as one of the others jumped him from behind and forced him to the ground. The man rose and straddled Caleb’s back. He raised his war club but Caleb pushed up and bucked toward the fire, rolling the warrior off and into the roaring flames. The Indian’s old, dirty clothes caught fire, engulfing him. He rolled out the other side, howling in pain and batting at the flames in a useless attempt to put them out.
Caleb sprang to his feet and spun around as four warriors came after him. He pulled one of the powder horns from over his shoulder and dropped it in the fire as he leaped over it and ran to the far edge of the camp. The horn exploded, killing three of the warriors and mortally wounding the fourth.
Caleb turned to see the warrior he’d first batted away crouched behind his son with a knife to his throat. Blood covered the side of the man’s head and neck and he appeared dazed. The point of his blade pierced Luke’s neck.
Caleb didn’t think. He just reacted. In one quick move, he drew one of his pistols, and fired a hastily aimed shot at the Indian’s head. The warrior jerked as the hot lead ball tore through his left eye and exploded out the back of his head.
Luke’s neck muscles tightened as the blade dug deeper. He stared wide-eyed at his father. Pushing back, Luke rolled with the warrior and the knife fell away from his neck.
Tears welled up in Caleb’s eyes.
“No . . . ”
Dropping the pistol, he rushed to his son. The cut was small but deep enough to bleed like a stuck pig. Caleb tore a strip from the hem of his hunting shirt and soaked it with water. Gently, he cleaned Luke’s neck and then bandaged the cut.
“It’s alright, Pa. I’m alright. Untie my hands. I can’t feel them.”
“Aye, I can do that.”
Caleb moved behind his son. Once Luke was cut loose. Caleb walked to each warrior and made sure each was dead. He reloaded his pistol, stuck it in his waist belt, and then retrieved his knife and tomahawk. Then he walked back over to his son.
Offering his hand, he helped Luke to his feet and was rewarded with a bear hug for his efforts. Caleb fought back tears as relief flooded over him. Luke was safe, and that was all that mattered. Exhaustion over came him and Luke had to hold him up.
“Pa. You alright?”
“Aye. Let’s move on.”
The camp was filled with death – death he’d brought upon it – and he had no desire to sleep in its midst, but Luke was able to persuade him to at least sit for a while and let the tension drain away.
Caleb felt very old and tired. After some time, Luke came over and offered his hand. Caleb took it and was lifted to his feet.
“Let’s put out the fire and move on,” Luke said. “I think it’ll be good to get back and see how Ma and the rest of the family are doing. What do you think?”
“Sounds good to me, son,” Caleb agreed.
“Should we bury the Indians?” Luke asked, looking around the camp.
“No. The varmints have to eat as well, so leave them. They’d done nothing better for you or I.”
As they left the camp, Caleb stopped and looked back. A dozen men had died that day, and he was thankful his son hadn’t been one of them. He felt no remorse for what he’d done. He knew if any of these men had his child taken, he’d have done the same.
Turning away, he walked to catch up with his son.
DOES BIGFOOT BURY ITS DEAD?
By L.T. Fawkes
It was Saturday night. All up and down the avenue the street lights came on. In all the complacent houses the men sat in front of televisions and the women scrubbed supper from plates.
Bennie believed that Saturday night was an internal function. She thought that she would sense Saturday night even without sight or sound or anyone to make her yearn. Saturday night had to do with the way the atmosphere changed and the way risk suddenly seemed to be less risky.
She paced the space of her home willing it to stretch for her but it shrank instead and seemed ready to squeeze her out into the night. It was Saturday night and the quiet of her home didn’t fit anymore. It felt unfamiliar and uncomfortably tight.
She opened the back door. Ten years before, the gravel of her parents’ driveway was disturbed again and again by the tires of cars piled with friends who had plans and ideas. This was another driveway she watched now and it slept undisturbed.
Bennie was twenty-seven and she felt embarrassed standing in the doorway in the cold night air wishing ghosts of teenagers into her driveway.
She crossed the corner of the driveway and moved barefoot out into the wet grass. The damp mood of the grass crawled up her bare legs. The cold found its way to her bones.
She knelt, then stretched long and straight on her back and watched the stars doing nothing in the inky void. She sought the comfort of unimaginable distances but instead the Earth heaved toward the gallaxies and the gallaxies sagged.
Small insects took microscopic pieces of flesh from her bare ankles and her bare neck. She was twenty-eight and she’d learned many hard lessons. She’d run up a long tab of experience but somehow she’d forgotten how to handle Saturday night.
Later, she locked the door and turned off the lights. In bed, she curled into herself and sang a silent, private chant designed to persuade Earth to turn her back around to the sun again.
by Paul R. Buckle
Weir– A low dam; On the hop – Skipping school; Holliers – Holidays; Langer – Contemptible person; Quid – Pound; Boy – buddy/mate (pronounced – by); Leaving Cert – Leaving certificate (End of high school certificate); Nagan – Small bottle of alcohol; Offy – Off Licence; Whacker – Uncouth youth; Half cut – Half drunk; Fag -Cigarette; Snazzy – Well dressed; Hopped – Jumped, attacked; Preggers – Pregnant.
It’s a warm summer afternoon when I find out that Joe has killed himself. His image comes to me, him hanging there in his bedroom, his long red hair swaying about his face, his shadow flicking about the pale yellow walls. ‘Walls the colour of puke’, he always said.
I stand there helpless.
“Remember Graddard?” Joe is asking.
Joe and me are down the weirs watching the water bubble over the rocks. We’re on the hop, and it’s the usual haunt for truants, right behind the school and easy to get to if you can squeeze under the wire fence at the back of the sports field, which you can because it’s been pulled up many a time for just that.
It’s getting to the fence without being nabbed that’s the trick; you have to slip your way through the loose line of ferns that start at the school gates and go all the way past the prefabs up to the gym, and then there’s that bit of open space, a couple of yards you have to sprint across before you kind of dive-wriggle under the fence.
You can be caught alright. A few lads are. Dewey, the Vice-Principal, is no fool and it kills him to have fellas get away with anything; but as keen as he is he can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s often worth a go. It’s our third time down here this month actually – it being the best time to go on the hop, with the holliers coming up an’ all.
“Do ya remember Graddard?” Joe asks again.
I don’t say anything. I don’t want to remember Graddard. I stand up and try to skip a stone down the river but it’s not flat enough. One hop and it goes under with a plop.
“Christ, he fucked you over, didn’t he? You know he got kicked out of Bell’s too, do ya?”
“Did he?” I say, glad as.
“Yeah, so I heard. No school would hold that langer.”
“He’s a langer alright.”
“Remember that shit with the bike? Fuck’s sake, he really fuckin’ had you goin’ didn’t he?”
Joe is smiling away annoyingly. I try for another skim. This one goes down without even a jump. Plop. I don’t like to be reminded about Graddard, not only because of the bike.
“Didn’t he rob twenty quid off ya as well, the fucker?”
“Jesus, will ya shut up about Graddard!”
“Oh, soft spot is it, boy? Come on for fuck’s sake. Will ya relax? Just chatting like. Besides, I was the one who helped ya like. If it wasn’t for me he’d probably have conned ya out of your underwear too.”
The thought of it brings a huge smile to Joe’s face. “Jesus. He’d a had ya bollocks naked if it wasn’t for me, boy!”
Now he’s going red in the face with his own humour; splitting himself, he is. I spot a heron on the other side of the water, a pale dirty one, and I wonder if I can get him with a stone. I pick one up and take aim.
Joe sees me and the bird too. “Just imagine he’s Graddard, boy!” he says, barely able to get the words out so cracked up is he at himself. I fire the stone off but it’s woefully wide. Still, the heron is at least nice enough to raise its wide wings and fly off, though more slowly and lazily than I wanted.
I grab a scoop of river water and fling it at Joe.
“Alright boy, alright boy,” he says, still grinning away. “Change subject like.”
It’s a great feeling of freedom to be down here, in amongst the trees and rocks, with the long grass bent under our arses and the smell of the green and the river surrounding us. We can see over to the farm on the other bank and take turns giving the little farmhouse the finger. Pointless as it is, it feels good, and there isn’t much else to be getting along with but flinging stones down the river and talking shit to each other.
At about lunch-time Joe decides to take a nap. Lying back on the grass now, he is, jumper under his head, mouth half open, dribbling on himself. I look out over the water again. Another Heron has come down by the bank over. Maybe it’s the same one, mocking me.
Leaving Cert night and we’re on the piss. We got our results and the points we needed so good fucking bye BCS forever. Joe is off to the regional tech to do Mech. Eng. and I’m going up to UCD to study communications. We won’t see each other that much after this so we’re going to make the most of our last weeks down here together, which means going on the piss as often as possible.
We’ve just got out of Farran’s offy where we usually get served ‘cos they never check ID. We stick our nagans in our jackets and head for the alley near Spitzer’s. We’re going to down the nagans and then head into the nightclub. We’ve got past the bouncers there before, so we’re pretty sure we’ll get in.
We’re not the only lads in the alley. There are small groups all around. Everyone’s drinking. It’s dark and the ground is wet. Small puddles light up under match flames and laughter bounces around the damp walls.
There’s a group of whackers not far from us and one of them asks us for a fag. We usually don’t talk to whackers but we’re half cut and not much seems to matter so I throw them a ciggy and we get talking. There’s four of them, fairly rough, shaved heads and white faces, pale and thin.
“On the piss, boys?” one of them asks.
“We are. Headin’ for Spitzer’s after this,” Joe says.
“Ah Spitzer’s. Nice one, boys. We’d be in there too but the bouncers are cunts. Ye’ll get in alright though, snazzy out,” he adds, looking at our clothes.
Compared to them we do look snazzy, but it wouldn’t take much. They look like they don’t wash – themselves or their clothes.
“Cheers anyway like.” He raises a can of cider and we knock our nagans off it.
“Got another fag there, boys?” his friend asks.
I open the box and offer one. He takes two.
“Where are ye boys from?” another one of them says.
“Ballincollig,” I say
“Ahh, I know it alright.”
“And ye boys?” says Joe.
I can’t help cringing.
Joe nods. “My cousin works up in Apple,” he says.
“Me brother robbed a chip out o’ there once,” one of the whackers says casually. “Couldn’t get nothin’ for it though.”
“The ‘collig is it? D’ye know Deccy MacCarthy?” another one asks.
We do. He’s a dealer.
“Yeah.” We nod.
“What d’ye think of Deccy? He’s a langer isn’t he?”
“Cunt,” says Joe without hesitation.
The whacker looks at him carefully.
I take a swig of vodka.
“And what d’ye think o’ Smurf. D’ye know Smurf?”
We do. Smurf is one of Deccy’s delivery boys.
“Langer,” says Joe simply.
“I think he’s alright,” says the whacker very slowly.
I cop it but Joe doesn’t seem bothered.
“Couple o’ lads hopped me brother out in the ‘collig one time,” says his friend. “Kicked the head off him, they did.”
“Probably those cunts down in Castle Park,” says Joe happily.
“My cousin’s from Castle Park like,” says one of the whackers quickly. “You got a problem with that?”
Joe looks blankly at him.
“No boy, there’s all sorts in Castle Park,” I say.
“He wasn’t fuckin’ askin’ you, boy,” his friend says with a sneer.
I turn and look at him. There’s an ugly acne scar on his forehead. My eyes rest there for a moment.
“What are ya lookin’ at, boy? Are ya alright like?”
“Chill the beans, boy,” Joe pipes in. “Have some fuckin’ vodka.”
He offers scar-face his bottle.
“I don’t need no fuckin’ charity, boy.”
I grab Joe’s arm.
“We’re out of fags lads,” I say quickly. “We’ll just go grab some.”
One of the whackers steps in front of me.
“You’re not goin’ nowhere, boy.”
Blackness comes over me, a black drowning fear. I try to push past the whacker. He kicks at me. I half fall towards the wall. He swings at me with his fist but misses and hits the wall. He grabs his hand in pain.
Then I hear Joe cry out. They’ve started on him. I half look around and see one of the whackers knee him in the stomach. He doubles over, dropping his nagan on the ground.
“Cut the fucker,” someone shouts.
I twist past the whacker who’d swung at me.
“Come here ya cunt,” he says, still holding his hand.
I run and don’t stop until I get to the end of the alley.
“Joe,” I shout back into the darkness. I don’t hear anything. I don’t see anything. I stand there helpless.
Those were the first words he said to me from his hospital bed. I don’t know what I expected from him but I didn’t expect that. I never asked for any of it. What could I have done? But to Joe, it was all black and white. I ran. I left him there. Now he was in hospital with a punctured lung and a mangled kidney and I was just the one who got away.
I didn’t stay long at the hospital. I tried to explain myself and he nodded, just nodded. We chatted for a while. I left. He was in there for over a month. Missed the start of college. Then we hardly saw each other. I was up in Dublin anyway and he was still down in Cork.
When I finished my course, I stayed up there and got a job with RTE. He failed his first year in Mech. Eng. and didn’t bother repeating. Took a job at a butcher’s. Got well into his drugs.
I saw him when I was in a nightclub once, back down in Cork. He was high on E. He came up and hugged me and for a moment I felt things were alright with us, but then he was gone again, into the smoke and light.
I left RTE and went to London to work for the BBC. I didn’t talk to Joe at all after that, just heard bits and pieces: he was still at the butcher’s; he was on the dole; he was working for the ESB; he was mad into his E’s; he’d got a young one preggers; they were living together at his mother’s place.
Bits and pieces, and eight years later, this. Swinging from the roof of his bedroom. Hanged. Swinging between yellow-puke walls.
By L.T. Fawkes
Lela sits at her seventh-floor window like a tweed-wrapped vulture looking down on the city. I watch her from the hall across half-a-ton of smooth off-white carpet. The building is corporate headquarters for Lela’s Bank and Tooth, or whatever it is she calls her power factory.
The window is the closest she usually comes to the city down there. She has a penthouse on the building’s top floor and there are gofers to run her errands for her. If things were different between us for five minutes, I would get her out in the sunshine, but I expect things between us will always be the same.
Lela’s short hair is the color of dried blood and her face is the color of a claw. Sometimes I love her and sometimes I wish she would jump out that window. She gives a little start, glances around, sees me. She smiles with her lips squeezed together.
“Ah, darling,’* she says, and I wonder if my name has escaped her for the moment. “When did you come back to town?”
Of course I haven’t been out of town. It’s just that I’ve been managing my life well enough that I haven’t needed to come and see Lela for awhile. I don’t tell her that. I don’t tell her anything. Lela doesn’t care if I don’t answer her questions.
She stands up slowly. “I assumed you were here to ask for a job,” she says. “That’s why I had my secretary send you down to the clinic for the physical. Have you brought the form?”
I have the long blue paper in my hands. At the top, in thick black letters, it says, “Medical Summary.” I hold it out and she snaps her bony fingers. People bring things to Lela. Lela does not come and get them.
It’s easy enough to feel strong watching her from the doorway, before she knows I’m there, but the power always flies over to perch on her shoulder when I have to walk across all that plush carpet to give her the form. She watches me coldly with licking, scavenger eyes. She takes the form and sits, examining it, while I stand awkwardly in front of her.
She finishes reading and smoothes the blue paper across the polished surface of her desk. “Very good, dear.” Her eyes run over me like steam rollers, mashing all the soft places so the harder parts become prominent lumps and bumps.
“And how is my dear sister?”
“Mother is ill,” I report. Mother is actually very well, but when I come to Lela, Aunt Lela, with my hat in my hand, I feel I should hold up my end of the bargain.
She smiles. The air around her red mouth is sulphurous.
“And your father?”
This is the big one. Lela wants me to invent yet another failure in the health or business of my father, who was Lela’s lover first, but left her for my mother. My father has been flourishing ever since like a greenhouse orchid through their long and steady marriage, but by this time, I know Lela wants a vivid memory-leveler.
This time, I’m ready for her.
“Drinking again.” I hang my head and use the opportunity to glance at my watch. Eleven-thirty. Lela will be knocking off for lunch soon.
“Drinking? Again? Oh, my.” I can almost smell the poison washing across her tongue. She analyzes my face. “I believe you are beginning to look like him.”
This is a new touch. I am caught off-guard for a minute and I have to scramble for a way to bounce us back on the track. “It’s odd you should say that, Aunt Lela, because . . . May I confide in you?”
“Of course. Dear.”
“I’m afraid . . . I’m worried that I’m beginning to develop some of his – ah – tendencies.”
Now I’ve got her, the witch. She stiffens with excitement and regards me, eyes glittering. “And so, you have come to me.”
Now we’re rolling.
“I need your help, Aunt Lela. There’s no one else I can ask.”
She stands, walks to her desk, shuffles papers. Sighs. It’s ritual. We’ve been through this several times before, but I always admire the way she does it. “I’ll see what I can do for you, dear . . . ”
She turns to face me. “In the meantime, why don’t you run down to Personnel and take a few aptitude tests? Then I’ll have a better idea of where I can fit you in.”
I act surprised. “Oh, thank you.” She offers a brittle hand and I shake it.
“Run along to Personnel, dear.”
In Personnel, the clerk gives me a test folder as she has done several times before. I finish with the tests in a few short minutes, randomly penciling in several little doodles and smiley faces. It doesn’t matter that I don’t answer any questions because the tests will never be graded. They will be shredded by the clerk the minute I return them to her.
She watches me curiously. She doesn’t know why she and I are doing this, but she has been told to do it, so she does it.
I stack the test papers and, on the face of the top one, I draw a sketch of a mangy dog licking himself. It’s quite a nice sketch. I sign it with a flourish and give the stack to the clerk.
She notices the drawing but doesn’t let it interfere with her efficiency. As she feeds the tests to the shredder beside her desk, she says to me, as if the idea had just occurred to her and she hadn’t said the same thing the same way a number of times before, “Why don’t you wait in the lunchroom? I’ll let you know when your aunt is ready to see you.”
“What a nice idea.”
The lunchroom has as wide a variety of vending machines as you’re ever likely to find anywhere. If you have enough change in your pockets you can buy five kinds of soup, five kinds of sandwiches, twelve kinds of soft drinks, six kinds of chewing gum, ten kinds of munchies, sixteen kinds of candy bars, five kinds of fruit, and eight kinds of hot plates such as pizza wedge, turkey slice w/gravy, or Salisbury steak. Not to mention three kinds of pie, three kinds of pudding, and three kinds of cake.
The person with change to spend could blossom into downright obesity within the off-white tile walls of Lela’s lunchroom.
Unfortunately, I have no change. A publisher has had my novel for four months and I haven’t heard a word about it since that first postcard where a typewriter acknowledged its receipt. Two magazines are holding two stories and not being communicative.
I have used up every cent of the money I got tending bar up until two months ago when the bar changed ownership and it wasn’t fun anymore. That is why I have come to Aunt Lela. Of course, there are other places I could go for money: friends, my mother who is not ill, or my father who definitely does not drink . . . but all those good people would make me a gift of the money. Lela, bless her browned-out soul, makes me earn it.
I have three more stories ready to mail when I have the price of postage, which will be at approximately four-thirty this afternoon. After I mail my stories I will go to the best restaurant I know and order the biggest steak they have.
Then I will go to my favorite office supply store and buy ink cartridges, a case of paper, pens, paper clips, and file folders – oh, and a six or two of MGD – take them back to my room and go on a three-week literary binge. All courtesy of my Aunt Lela. Who pays top dollar.
While I wait in the lunchroom for Lela’s summons, I make my plans and I watch Lela’s employees. They scamper in like mice, a few at a time, plunk their coins into the machine slots, fall onto chairs, put their elbows on the tables, nibble nibble, chatter chatter, look at the time and scamper out. In and out, like mice.
Sometimes one of them nods to me and smiles. I like that. They have families and mortgages and lawnmowers and you could count on them if you were their friend. They live right. They save five dollars a month and after awhile it amounts to something.
I wouldn’t mind working with these people and doing my writing in my spare time, comfortably, with a paycheck every Friday. Actually, the first time I came here to play Lela’s Game, I didn’t know it was a game. I thought I really was applying to Lela for a job.
When Lela sent me to Personnel that first time, I sweated over the tests and tried to get every answer right. I confidently handed my handiwork to the woman behind the desk and was all the way to the elevators before I thought of a question. When I breezed back into her office she was feeding my tests to her shredder.
We stared at each other in horror. I was horrified she was shredding my hard work and she was horrified I caught her at it. Back in Lela’s office, I didn’t rat out the Personnel woman and I was pretty confused when Lela discussed the results of my tests as if there had been some, other than a bag full of shredded paper.
Lela asked me to come back and try again, and I did that less than a year later, still not knowing we were playing a game. The second time, I didn’t work nearly as hard on the tests, and I waited a little longer before I popped back into the office, figuring the personnel woman would wait an extra minute before she fired up her shredder, not wanting to be busted again.
When I busted her, I shrugged and smiled, and she shrugged and smiled back.
Each time since then, I don’t bother with all the little boxes and blank lines on the tests. I just draw any funny cartoon that comes to mind and she doesn’t wait for me to leave the office. She shreds them right away.
I didn’t fully appreciate that it was Lela’s Game we were playing here until I’d been back another time or two, but I gradually began to understand that Lela didn’t want to hear that father was expanding his business and mother was learning macramé. Now I understand it perfectly well and I play the game the way Lela wants it played.
Time passes slowly as I sit in the cafeteria. I haven’t eaten much in the past few days and my stomach is beginning to talk to me. You might say my stomach is fed up with all this waiting. I chew my nails and bounce my foot and watch the mice until the hands on the clock on the wall finally wind their way around to four-thirty.
The clerk is in the doorway. “’Your aunt has called for you, Sir.”
Lela is leaning back in her chair when I come around the corner. She pulls a long face and it would mislead you unless you look closely at her eyes, which are giggling with pleasure. Other people go to the Bahamas or Lake Tahoe for their fun. Lela imports it.
“Sit down, dear.”
I sit across the desk from her. She will wait for me to speak, but I am supposed to squirm uneasily first. After all, I am supposed to be waiting breathlessly for her to offer me a job, based on the results of the aptitude tests over which I am supposed to have spent the afternoon laboring.
My entire future is supposed to be riding on the coming minutes, remember? That’s the way the game goes. So I squirm. Then I ask, timidly,
“Well, Aunt Lela? Can you help me?”
She chews on the side of her mouth. “You didn’t do very well on the aptitude tests, dear.”
“I didn’t?” You mean that dog drawing didn’t qualify me for management training?
“Not very well at all. Perhaps you aren’t feeling your best.”
“I feel all right . . . ”
“You know that I want very much to help my dear sister’s only son . . . ” She loves this, “but I do have a business to run . . . ” She always does this so beautifully. “. . . so I can’t very well give free reign to sentiment. I hope you understand my difficult position.”
She plays with a jeweled letter opener, idly pushing it around on her desk with one very long, very red finger nail. This is the part of the game where the nephew, sitting across from her, is quietly suffocating as the weighty ramifications of his dashed career wrap themselves around his chest.
I play it just as she wants it.
“I don’t know what to say, Aunt Lela.” There’s a nice throaty tone in my voice.
Lela looks up. Our eyes meet. For an instant the game is suspended and with a blink we tell each other, “I know exactly what you’re doing.” Then she tilts her head and curls her lower lip out in a fairly good simulation of sympathy.
Of course her bird eyes are filled with joy, but I don’t suppose she can do anything about that.
“You know, even an insignificant little headache can throw a person off for those tests. Perhaps that accounts for your low score.”
I look off, as if I were pondering the possibility.
“Let’s do this,” Lela says, standing up. “I can’t offer you anything right now, but you come back when you’re feeling tip-top and take the tests again. Then we’ll see. How does that sound, dear?”
“Oh, it’s very generous, Aunt Lela.” It’s nearly over now. I can almost taste that strip steak.
“In the meantime,” she says, coming around her desk, taking my hand, leading me to her office door, “stop by the cashier’s office downstairs. I gave instructions for them to have a little something ready for you.”
“Thank you, Aunt Lela.” Humbled. Confused. What could possibly be waiting for me, down at the cashier’s office? Could it possibly be a check for a thousand dollars, like it’s been each of the other times I’ve come in here over the past three-plus years and given Aunt Lela the pleasure of telling me, the son of her lost lover and the sister he married, that I fall short of her tests, I just don’t have what it takes to be one of her mice?
She holds my hand between hers. It is all she can do to coat the naked triumph in her voice with thin solicitation. “You’ll come back soon, dear, and have another go at those silly tests, won’t you.”
“Yes, I will.” Who wouldn’t, who was struggling along, trying to write and pay rent and eat, all at the same time, and was offered the opportunity to make a thousand dollars in one afternoon?
“Thank you.” I add the one last touch: I kiss her papery cheek, lightly, because it is expected. Then she releases me.
Lela watches me walk tightly, carefully down the hall, exactly like a young man who has just had his spine beaked out. Exactly like a young man who wonders what other people trust on a bad day.
In the elevator with Lela closed away, it occurs to me to wonder for the first time who or what this game satisfies. I got what I wanted but I don’t feel victorious. Lela got what she wanted but I don’t see how she can celebrate, either. It suddenly occurs to me that we’re both victims, with a shared vulnerability to some predator that neither of us can name.
I wonder if Lela and I will ever find a better way to know each other. She’s on a super-highway and she’s been hammering down it for a long time. I still haven’t found the road that suits me. I still flip a coin at every intersection. But I think I’m looking for just the right country lane – one that rambles up and down hills, in and out of the shadows of trees, and is rutted by my neighbors’ wheels.
Maybe there’ll come a day when I’ll find my country lane. And maybe, when I know my lane so well that I can find it again from any direction, I can find a way to detour Lela. Bring her onto my lane. Walk her along in the sunshine. Ladle water for her from a natural spring. Talk with her.
MISSOURI STORY #1
By L.T. Fawkes
I walked on down the road, thinking to go over to his place and see if he was there, and if he was, to talk some and see if I could get him to talk about his old man and how long he was in for and exactly what he done this time.
In town they were saying that he got in a fight over in Cairo and tore the bar up pretty bad and that when he came up in front of the judge, the judge got to thinking about all the other times he’d been sent up and all the times he was probably going to be sent up, and he decided to save everybody some trouble by giving the old guy double or triple what he deserved.
Some folks were already adding to this that the old guy killed a man in the bar and he was in for life this time or that the old guy himself was hurt and died right there in the courthouse after the judge had his say and so on, but I didn’t believe any of that.
Probably the old guy got drunk and broke a glass and traded a few with the bartender or somebody and ended up in jail. But still, I was curious and I wanted to hear it right from his son who most likely knew all about it by now.
But I got to feeling sorry for the kid while I walked down the road. It was a lot like a lot of our Missouri days are. In the morning it rained and now as the sun got hot everything was warm and clean. There were blue jays and cardinals chasing each other and singing way up in the trees and there were a couple of old cows up close to the fence hanging their heads over it to get a look down the road and one of them mooed kind of pretty and I guess I liked that but I’m not one of these cry babies who walks around thinking about that sort of thing.
No, the idea that it was a nice day went through my mind. That’s all. And the birds and cows and the sun and the cleanness were what made it nice. That’s all. And I got thinking about my ma sewing on my old britches and my old man mucking stalls back at home, that’s all, and I felt bad for the kid. Seemed like he got cheated.
Anyhow, I didn’t go over to his place. I walked on by his turnoff. But I figure the old man just done a little brawling that was all and now he’s laying around over in county jail, fat and sassy, waiting for his up. That’d be my guess. The kid, back there working their place all by himself again, now, he’s the one serving the hard time.
By L. T. Fawkes
He is restless. He prowls. She watches his progress, how he rests one linen-sleeved elbow on the mantel, how his eyes sift the faces in the crowd, how he shifts his shoulders, tilts his head to overheard conversation, how he walks in the long, even strides of one who is accustomed to covering distances quickly.
He moves toward the French doors and pauses, starts when one of the waiters touches his arm to offer a drink from the silver tray on his palm. She takes in the hollows and gleams of his face in quick glances, lines and planes so fine they could be cut into marble, the soft shine his dark hair captures from the little candelabra behind him.
She is not shy but she does not allow her eyes to linger on the big, wild dark eyes for fear of accidently drawing them. She notices the right hand pocketed in the linen trousers and the left, hanging, clenched.
She inquires. No, the name cannot be Bill. I’m asking the name of that one, squeezing the lime into his glass. Bill? Not possible. Surely it’s something more exotic. And he does what? Imports?
Disappointing. She expected to hear he was a mercenary, for example, or a gambler. But there must be something extraordinary about him. What a fine-looking man he is.
She continues to observe him. Now he moves to the piano where a young woman in sheer pink is playing. He stands nearby, hands clasped behind him. The musician glances up. He smiles and nods and moves on. The musician turns to watch him go, then settles down once more to her music.
She remarks to herself that he certainly has presence. Now he stops near the bar and speaks with an older man, white-haired, distinguished. The older man steps closer to hear and nods.
When he’s speaking he fixes his probing eyes on the older man. When he listens he turns his head slightly and his eyes roam the room. And now, as he listens, his attention is on her. She is unexpectedly singled out.
A woman, talking in a group, laughs and steps back, interrupting the line of sight, moves forward again to take a man’s elbow and the circuit is reconnected, a two-twenty line Oh my but he is beautiful.
She smiles, not calculatedly but involuntarily, the result of nervous laughter building somewhere very near her stomach. He makes his excuses to his companion and takes a step in her direction and she catches her breath. There are times when she has the gift of prophecy and this is one of those times.
But suddenly here is her hostess, at last she has a free moment to show off the library. “Come along, it’s so nice to see you again. I hear you had an encouraging note from an editor. Have you reworked the story and sent it back yet? It’s all so exciting. I hope you’re finding some good material here at my little party, dear.”
She glances over her shoulder. There he stands, his lips suggesting an ironic smile. He shrugs, turns, and she glimpses his lean figure as he roams into the crowd once again.
She is steered along a hall, the party noise fading, and into the deep silence of the library. So many books. Floor to ceiling. Strong smell of furniture polish, long, gleaming library table, big, dark desk, heavy leather chairs, stone fireplace, long windows, books.
“Yes, I’m awfully proud of our library,” her hostess says, her voice soft as velvet. “You must come and work here sometime, will you? Over here is the reference section. Oh, yes, we’ve been accumulating books for many years.”
“Now over here, novels, poetry here, and that far section is the classics. Bill? Oh, ho, you have been finding material. No, I don’t know him well myself. He’s an acquaintance of my husband’s.”
There is a sound in the hall. “Oh,” says the hostess, “here is Mr. Glinn, the publisher. Come and meet the young woman I mentioned, Mr. Glinn.”
She shakes a firm hand and answers direct questions. Mr. Glinn is all business. Even his smile is economic. Yes, sir, she would like very much to send some of her work along, thank you.
The hostess and Mr. Glinn have run into each other’s friends here and there. They exchange messages. His wife is fine and was looking for the hostess earlier in the evening. Their boy is doing well at school. She feels awkward. She reads titles across the book shelves and tries not to appear to be eavesdropping.
“Oh, look how diligent our young writer is,” says the hostess. “Ready to roll up her sleeves and go to work when there’s a party in the next room. But why don’t you go on back and find your young man, dear. And will you close the doors behind you, please?”
She regrets noticing a touch of red in the hostess’s cheek, a certain intensity in Mr. Glinn’s expression. She wonders if maturity is the process of acquiring more and more bits of information that one must keep to oneself.
She feels strange re-joining the party, removed, as if it has shifted into another gear in her absence. It seems as if there are half again as many people now, and none of them is him.
She is served a drink and moves to the edge of the crowd so as not to be jostled. The crowd moves, too, and she edges along, looking for breathing room, finds it near the French doors where he stood earlier.
She turns, parts the thin gauze curtains and sees the large, lighted patio with big umbrella tables and geometric gardens running down the slope. Her eye slips on down to the lighted pool and beyond, down to where the earth falls away and becomes black sky. She knows, bringing her eyes back up and squinting to penetrate the blackness, that stars ought to be visible since it is a clear night, but she is blinded to the stars by the ground lights.
She turns back to the party and recognizes rising anxiety. There are too many strangers, unfamiliar social codes, too much noise, too much brilliance. She feels buried. She wanders to the bar, leaves the half-empty glass there, looks around for someone to talk to, any friendly face, wanders through the crowd into the hall, glances back once, looks for the hostess who is, of course, absent, pulls open the heavy front door and steps out onto the long front porch.
The long, broad driveway, lit by lanterns on posts and lined with big cars. Gleaming chrome. Three uniformed chauffeurs talking, smoking. Shadows. Distant party noise. Warm fragrance of honeysuckle somewhere nearby.
She walks along the porch to the end. Wide side lawn and then woods. Left of the woods, lights of traffic on the avenue and in the distance, down in the valley, the soft glow of the town. It is time she started home.
She reaches the broad porch steps and stops, hears a throat being cleared in the darkness at the other end of the porch, searches the shadows, sees the figure in white linen come into the light.
“Hello.” His voice is low and grainy. “Leaving?”
“I was about to speak to you earlier.”
He tucks his hands into his trouser pockets. He is standing close now. His eyes prowl the landscape, past the chauffeurs in the driveway, past the avenue lights, they dip into the valley, arc into the obscure sky, veer into the dark woods, come along the side of the house, peeking in the long windows, and finally they seize her eyes and hold. He has such deep and restless eyes.
Long moments pass. She waits while the creature inside her who acts out the real emotions squirms and screams.
Finally he sighs. “Like to go have coffee somewhere?”
Even though she understands clearly even now that she will certainly spend large parts of her spirit running to keep in front of whichever restless winds happen to be lifting him away, and if she felt buried when she was blinded to a clear night sky by the ground lights, well, involving herself with this man will be infinitely worse, yes, she knows that, and she also knows that this is a man who will not ration her but will use her up quickly, definitely, all at once, yes, she sometimes has the gift of prophecy, yes, she knows that.
SUMMARY OF A LIFE
by L.T. Fawkes
She went to a Laundromat. Here’s what happened first:
A decorator did the nursery in teddy bear wallpaper six months before she was born. On her first birthday her grandfather gave her a pony and a football. Only one of his gifts was meant as a joke. When she was two she painted Cyril’s Irish setter with Mae’s night cream. When she was three she rode her tricycle four blocks from home before Cook noticed she’d left the estate and went looking for her.
When she was four she played with her Barbie dolls on a priceless Persian carpet. When she was five she wouldn’t let go of Nanny’s coat at the door to her kindergarten class. When she was six a man who owned railroads taught her to shoot marbles while they sprawled on their bellies on a marble floor. When she was seven she was photographed riding Cyril’s shoulders into a Broadway theater.
When she was eight she left a tooth under her pillow and the tooth fairy left her a ten dollar bill. When she was nine she joined Mae and Cyril on their annual European tour. When she was ten she wore her first nylon stockings to Easter Sunday Sunrise Services. When she was eleven she cried because she was worried about beginning middle school.
When she was twelve she started her period and Mae gave a “Coketail” party for her and twenty-nine friends from school. When she was thirteen the Peddicords were divorced. She stayed with her mother. Cyril moved to Arizona.
When she was fourteen she cheated on her tenth grade English final and the teacher looked the other way: divorce or no, she was still a Peddicord. When she was fifteen Mae married Lauri Quesenberry. When she was sixteen she was arrested after a destructive spree through a cemetery with a group of friends, but Mae and Lauri fixed things and got her out of trouble.
When she was seventeen she made her debut in a two thousand dollar dress. When she was eighteen she entered an exclusive women’s college and lived in a hall where there was a maid for every ten girls. When she was nineteen, and in her second year of college, she sat on a leather arm chair in a hotel suite and listened as a tearful Mae Peddicord Quesenberry informed her that Cyril Peddicord had been having bad luck in Arizona. His investments had divested him of most of his funds and he was unable to come up with the tuition payment which was due by the fifteenth.
She comforted Mae, wound up her affairs at the college, and together they returned to Cleveland. She lived there with Mae and Lauri for two months. Mae made a habit of urging her in the most polite terms to find a suitable husband.
This advice seemed sound at first, but she noticed that Mae and Lauri drank most of the time, independently of each other. When she looked at the long-range possibilities, and considered the matter in light of how Mae herself had fared, she decided marriage was not the most promising alternative. She began to look for a job.
At college she had been a history major. Very early on in the course of her job search she learned there was not much demand for former history majors or former debutantes. She was hired only after she stopped mentioning her coming out or her time in the ivory tower. The job she found was working as a clerk-typist in a factory in the Cleveland flats.
After three days’ work she was promoted to assistant manager of customer service because the customer service manager said he liked her “manners.” She was sufficiently wry to reflect that the sum total of her nineteen-year course in Better Living had paid off as everyone had always said it certainly would: at the rate of twenty-five dollars a week, since that was the size of her raise. But she was pleased about the raise and said, “Thank you.”
She used most of her first three paychecks for the deposit and first month’s rent on a small and dirty unfurnished walk-up apartment above a barber shop on Euclid Avenue in the University Circle district.
Mae was opposed to the move. “You don’t know the first thing about survival,” Mae said. “If you walk through that door, I’ll never speak to you again.”
With what was left after the rent, and her fourth week’s wages, she bought a twin-sized bed, but she only used the apartment for sleeping, preferring to spend most of her non-working hours in the more pleasant atmospheres of the Art Museum and the Public Library.
She didn’t know how to cook, so she skipped breakfast and ate lunch and dinner at hamburger stands. She didn’t know how to clean the filthy apartment, so she simply tried to ignore the grimy floors and walls, the badly stained sinks and tub and toilet. She wasn’t certain what to do about the burned-out light bulb in the living room ceiling fixture, so she paid five dollars for a second-hand lamp without a shade and used it, instead.
For two weeks, she tossed her dirty clothes into a corner of the bedroom closet until she had nearly run out of clean ones.
Then she went to the Laundromat.
Nothing happened. Except that she walked up and down the aisles reading the directions on the machines and watching what the other people were doing, and figured out where to put the dimes and where to put the quarters and which machines were the washers and which were the dryers, and how to add the detergent, and how to sort the clothes so the colors wouldn’t fade on the whites, and how to tell what was permanent press and which cycles to use for what.
Two hours later she walked out of the Laundromat with four loads of properly laundered clothes. She went back to her apartment and put the fresh clothes away. Then she went to a nearby grocery store, where she bought a few basic things for cooking and cleaning (after a good deal of label reading and consideration) and a little bit of food, and some light bulbs, and a cookbook for beginners.
On the way home she stopped in a little crafts shop and bought a handful of brightly-colored paper flowers and an orange and yellow macramé wall hanging. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she was going to be okay.
Later that evening, she scrubbed her sinks and washed her floors and made and ate a perfectly nice tossed salad. Then, after she’d set the flowers in a paper cup on the window sill and hung the macramé from an old nail in the wall, she went downstairs to the pay phone in the all-night drug store and called Mae, just to say hello.
by L.T. Fawkes
My big brother Matthew has always been awesome to me. When I think about my life in a certain way, it seems like I’ve spent most of it watching Matthew live his. I’ve always admired his intensity, his flamboyance, his skills . . . I even admire his flaws. Like when you catch him drinking straight out of the two-liter Coke bottle he grins at you like this is the best thing ever and holds the bottle out to you so you can try it.
He’s the closest I’ll ever come to a super hero, but he’s not cocky. Instead of cockiness he’s got a quality . . . I guess you’d have to call it innocence. Most of all, I admire his innocence. Every day the rest of us are tinged by a lot of little corruptions. Not Matthew. Maybe he’s always moving too fast to be tainted that way.
Matthew is only two years older, but when we were kids he always seemed more like an adult than a kid to me. It was the way he was with me. I can remember when we were very small he’d put his hand flat on my back and come close to me and I’d look up into his boy face and he’d say, his brown eyes wide and bright and earnest, “Good job, Nathan. You did it.”
How, if a neighbor kid got a little rough with me, Matthew would give him that steady gaze and say in that even voice he has always, from the time he first learned to speak, used when he’s angry, “That’s my brother you’re pushing around.” And in those rare cases where his mild warning wasn’t enough, he can fight. He’s fearless in a fight. He’s never lost a fight. I doubt he ever will.
Matthew’s magic, perfect, bigger than life. I’m almost his double, only the mold was a little worn when I was cast. I’m slightly less-perfectly shaped, slightly less graceful, my features are a little bit coarse where his are fine.
Where he has an instinct for success, I have to labor. Where he can do everything, I have to be selective. There are some things I just can’t do well, no matter how hard I try.
Since I’m so nearly like Matthew but so obviously not exactly like him, there’ve been those who tried to get between us because they thought I had to be jealous of him, but the fact is, I never have been. That’s because he’s so generous. He’s never had anything or done anything that he wouldn’t share with me, and he’s always shown much more pride in my accomplishments than in his own.
I remember the Homecoming game in high school when I was a sophomore and Matthew was a senior. Matthew had been the quarterback since his own sophomore year and he was a star. He electrified everybody. Even the other teams’ crowds.
I made varsity sophomore year and Matthew and I had tried to convince Coach to put me in some other position so we could both start, but quarterback was the position I’d learned because of all the work Matthew had done with me, so I was second string quarterback. Matthew’s backup.
I didn’t mind running the scrubs at practice and riding the pine during games. Sure, I’d have liked to be playing, but it was so cool watching Matthew. God, but he had style.
So there we were at the Homecoming game, and it was a bruiser, Matthew on the field matching the other team point for point and me on the sidelines watching, when all of a sudden he got popped, blind-sided, and I heard his bone snap from clear over on the sidelines. I got to him before anyone else.
His leg was sticking out at an odd angle and he was holding it, rocking back and forth, his face twisted with pain. The doctor and Coach ran up, and behind them a couple of the guys with a stretcher, and the doctor took one look and sent somebody to tell the EMTs to get the ambulance ready to go and roll down the gurney.
Matthew didn’t want the stretcher. He threw one arm over my shoulder and one over Coach’s and we carried him off the field. All the way to the sideline he talked in my ear.
“It’s yours now, Nate. 86 can’t beat Willis on a long pass. They’re weak on the left. 15 thinks he’s a one-man blitz. Remind Pecarek every play to keep 15 off your back . . . ”
Coach said, “He’ll do fine, Matthew.”
All I remember saying is, “God, Matthew. Your leg’s broken.
We put him on the bench. He wouldn’t lie down to wait for the EMTs to bring the gurney. Coach started telling me the next play when all I wanted to do was stay by Matthew. The EMTs came running down the hill and Coach told me to put on my helmet.
Then I heard Matthew say, “I’m not leaving ‘til the game’s over.”
By that time our mom and dad were down out of the stands and for a minute everybody was talking at once. Then Matthew said in that even voice that nobody argued with, “Tell that guy to turn off his gumball. I’m going to watch Nathan blow them off the field.”
Coach and the doctor looked at our dad, leaving it to him to talk some sense into Matthew but our dad knew how things were. He said, “It’s Matthew’s call. If he wants to stay, he stays.”
That was that. Matthew sat on the bench until the end of the game. His face got paler and pastier and he was grinding his teeth because of the pain but he stayed.
At the top of the fourth quarter there was a bad call against me and Matthew got so mad he would have jumped off the bench except our dad had his hands on his shoulders and held him down.
In the middle of the fourth the play was supposed to be a shovel pass but I saw the safeties were up and in so I told Willis to run a post and I told the guys to keep ‘em off me because we were going long. I said, “This one’s for Matthew.
I threw the bomb and while the ball was in the air I heard Matthew yell, “What a pass. Look at that kid throw that ball.”
We got the touchdown to tie, missed the extra point, recovered a fumble on the kickoff and scored on a field goal to win.
Matthew was swaying and the doctor had told our dad he was concerned Matthew could go into shock, but he wouldn’t let them take him until I came off the field. They had him strapped onto the gurney and were ready to roll him up to the ambulance.
I came up beside him and he reached for my hand. He said through clenched teeth, “You schooled ‘em, buddy.
As the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance he said, “Ride with me, huh, Nate?”
I climbed in and sat down beside the gurney. Our mom and dad went to get their car. The EMT pulled the door closed and the air suddenly smelled like sweaty football players. The EMT climbed in over me and started organizing his equipment. I felt helpless and tried not to cry.
Matthew looked up at me. The ambulance started moving and the driver turned on the siren.
Matthew said “I’m a little scared Nate. I’m glad you’re here.
I pushed some of his wet black hair off his forehead.
No, I’ve never been jealous of Matthew. He’s my big brother.