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You are old now, Deborah,
the sun that would not set,
the small rare face
that brought forth
many a suitor's tear
You stir the pulse
no longer in the long
nights of sleep;
you wake the heart's
surge no more.
I see you now,
elegant and old,
queen of autumn,
a queen bereft,
your kingdom abandoned,
a forgotten name, a dead leaf.
Powerless and desolate,
retiring, withdrawing, retreating,
queen of a season only,
among the massive shadows
of the west
like a rose at evening
About the Author: Jack D. Harvey’s poetry has appeared in Scrivener, Mind In Motion, The Comstock Review, The Antioch Review, Bay Area Poets’ Coalition, The University of Texas Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal and a number of other on-line and in print poetry magazines over the years.
The author has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and lives in a small town near Albany, N.Y. He was born and worked in upstate New York. He is retired from doing whatever he was doing before he retired.
“Go in the house,” he yelled at his brother and sister. The palomino stallion exploded onto the front yard, whirling and stomping. He was in his tree and not sure he was safe there.
Mr. Murry and his hired man dug their heels in the goathead and hornytoad-infested patch of grass, weeds, and sand they called a lawn, trying to hold the beast, and still he drug them from the mail box to Mother’s jonquil bed. For such a monster, he had dainty feet, and their fine dance made a mess of her tackstems and Russian sage.
Paul hauled hay and cut grass for Mr. Murry, and he took him and Simon to cattle sales and flea markets. He was generous and nice to them, treating them to roasted peanuts and Coca-Cola, but sometimes he preached at them, which Paul didn’t appreciate. Another thing he didn’t appreciate was the way he looked at Mother. And flirting with her. Didn’t even try to hide that he was sweet on her.
Mr. Murry had the soft hands of a man who worked in an office – which he did at Tinker Field – and tried to make up for it by acquiring livestock that he fooled with on weekends in his forty acres. Paul believed he looked up to men like Che at the same time he looked down his nose at them.
“What would you want a horse like that for; you don’t mind me asking?” Paul said the day before to their neighbor when he and Billy brought the stallion home. The yellow terror had kicked the homemade trailer to splinters by the time they got him backed up to a corral.
“Watch yourself, son,” yelled Mr. Murry, waving a quirt at the stallion. Like that was going to do any good. “Ride him in the Frontier Days parade if I’ve a mind to, is what for. After your daddy breaks him for me. Shoot, they’re likely to name me grand marshal they see me sitting a rank steed broke by the great man himself.”
Paul thought if he shut up, Mr. Murry would let the whole thing go, realize how idiotic the idea was, but the man kept on about it, until Paul realized he meant to go ahead with it, so he tried to take the chicken shit way out and mumbled, “Che, he doesn’t really ride anymore, Mr. Murry. I know he would really like to help you – and he sure could – but him being old and stove up and all …”
Mr. Murry poked his hired man with the short whip and smirked. “Hell, your old man’s a world’s champion, son.” Then he laughed. Billy didn’t.
His big goddamn mouth was going to get Che killed. He punched the pillow that night like it was his face. When he grew tired, a couple of my jabs slipped the case and grazed Simon’s snotty cheek, but he was so far under Che’s ‘surefire’ asthma remedy, he wouldn’t have noticed if it’d been Floyd Patterson himself that slugged him. He only whimpered and turned over in the bed.
As far as Paul knew, the first Che ever saw of the animal that was going to kill him was when he pulled the station wagon up in the gravel, opened the door, lifted his hat, grinned out the corner of his mouth as he was want to do, and said, “Well, whatta we got here, boys?”
Mr. Murry, all of a sudden, acted like he was in a hurry. He gleeked out a diarrhea stream of Union Mule on the hyacinth and said, “Here’s a stud horse, Mr. Dennehey, we thought you’d want to take a look at before we called in Danny Schmitz and his boys.”
“Preciate that, Howard,” Che said, his eyes never leaving the horse. “Yeah, you needn’t trouble Schmitty and them over something like this.” Then he shifted his eyes up to Paul like he hoped and feared he would. “Skinny down here off that locust branch, Son, and give me a hand.
Paul was proud and terrified.
Che leaned over. “He’s a fine looking animal.”
“He’s nasty. I’m scared.”
“I know you are. Just reach over and take that lead from Mr. Curry and hold on with all you got. You can do it.”
He was just about to tell him, no, he didn’t think he could do it when the stallion lunged forward as quick as a cat and knocked Che to the ground.
MJ started crying.
“Thought I told you to go inside!”
“Who was it died, and made you my lord and master?” she said.
Che laughed hard, placed both hands to the ground so to get back up, then smiled at Paul. “It’s okay, Son. I know better’n to come up on a spirited horse. New and all to each other. Like that.”
The horse’s eyes were about to pop out his head, and he kicked at the two men trying desperately to hold him. “Think we got him as ready as he’s ever gonna be, Mr. Dennehey,” said Mr. Murry. “Don’t know how much longer we gonna hold this animal.”
“That’s fine, Howard,” Che said. “Just fine.”
Che got the toe of one boot in a stirrup and maybe his left butt cheek in the saddle before the two men let go their hold, and that horse jumped straight in the air like a helicopter, whipsawed his middle far to the right as quick as the copperhead snake had uncoiled to kill Paul’s pup, Blackie, and then threw Che hard against the slate siding of the house.
He hit the wall about chest high with a sickening thud, and Paul knew his arm was broken before he tried to hide it from him.
Now Simon started blubbering.
Mother came out of the house. She was not one to comment on a situation until she had studied it some, and Paul knew well the manner in which she took in a scene. First, she’d find the children: Simon and MJ standing together like twins – which they weren’t – holding hands and bawling, her eyes would behold him moving fast, she’d see Mr. Murry and Billy running after a wild horse in her front yard, and then she would find her husband up against the house on all fours and laughing like it was April Fool’s Day.
She scowled, but her eyes held that tiny, amused hint of light in them that she claimed was her Welsh. “You kids go inside and read or color or draw,” she said to the children, who didn’t move an inch. She said to Paul, “Son, see to your father.”
“That’s where I was heading, Mother. Don’t worry. I’ll bring him in to you.”
“No, you won’t.” She plopped on the big box she kept outside for her garden tools. “I’m tired. I think I will just sit and watch.”
Mr. Murry took off his hat. “Morning, Mrs. Dennehey. I believe your husband may be hurt.”
“Good day to you, Mr. Murry. My husband’s people came from over near Killyslavan, and that was after they were driven out of Ardnamurchan by famine and the English. They were a hardy breed. He’s fine.”
Che was still grinning when Paul reached him, but he knew he was in pain.
“You’re not crying are you, Son?”
“Hell no. These dang allergies.”
“Okay. Fine. I got a cramp in my leg. Rub it for me. Grind it hard like you do.”
“Arm’s fine. Don’t need but one to ride that rhinoceros-headed stick of dynamite anyway. I do need to ask you something though.”
“Sure. Anything,” Paul said, brushing his shirt sleeve across his eyes.
“Can you hold that horse for me?”
“You’re not getting on him again?”
“I ain’t been on him once yet. And that’s what I need you for. Can you hold him? I mean really hold him. Until I get on him, really on him? With me in a good seat and my feet set deep in them worthless Spanish stirrups? I don’t want Billy or Murry. It’s gotta be you. I want you. It’s gonna take ever thing you got though, son. Can you do it?”
No way he could do it. He nodded. “I can do it.”
“Not with tears in your eyes, you can’t.”
“Fine then. Let’s go.”
Mr. Murry and Billy had finally got the stallion settled down somewhat and were prancing him out the gate.
“Hold on, gentlemen,” Mother said.
“What’s that you said, ma’am?” Mr. Murry hollered from the gate.
You couldn’t have gotten Mother to yell if Satan was about to pounce. She considered raising one’s voice to another person about the lowest form of personal behavior there was. If Howard Murry was going to hear what she had to say – which he wanted – he was going to have to come closer. Which meant he had to bring the horse closer. Which is what Mother wanted in the first place.
“'Hold on,’ is what I said. Hold on because Mr. Dennehey will ride that horse of yours.”
Mr. Murry took off his hat again. He looked at Mother but couldn’t hold her gaze, and his eyes slipped downward. “It was wrong of me, Mrs. Dennehey. We’ll take this animal off your property now.”
“Howard, I do not know for sure if you intended to humiliate Che Dennehey in front of his children, but I will accept your apology, nonetheless. Now, if you will hand that lead rope to my son and back away, I believe my husband will ride.”
You could see that Mr. Murry wanted to say more. He didn’t.
When that rope touched Paul’s hands, it felt like he’d just been handed the tow line attached to a submarine. There was no way in hell he was going to hold this creature. The horse yanked his head, and Paul thought both his shoulders had come out their sockets.
“Hold him, son, hold him,” Che said softly as he took the reins. “That’s the way, Paul,” he said when he settled in the saddle. “Don’t get your face In there.”
Too late. The palomino jerked again, this time sideways, and the tooth just back of Paul’s dog tooth flew out the side of his mouth.
“That’s it, son. Let him out!”
If someone ever tries to tell you that a full-grown American horse cannot turn a complete circle in the air without at least one hoof touching dirt somewhere in the entire three hundred-sixty degree process, you’ll know that you’ve just been told a lie, because that is exactly what that palomino stallion did with Che Dennehey seated firmly on his back that day in their little front yard. When the animal finally landed, damned if he didn’t turn around (literally) and do it again – only this time in the other direction.
That magnificent mankiller jumped, bucked, twisted, kicked, stomped and did everything but turn a somersault for what seemed like the rest of the morning to shake the man from his back and couldn’t. At times, Che’s body looked like one of MJ’s ragdolls being shook in the mouth of a large, irate dog. Other times, he resembled the hood ornament welded fast and unmoving on a runaway pickup bouncing along the pasture. Most of the twenty minutes, though – which is how long the ride actually lasted – he looked glorious and in total control above the beast through the sultry June gluck, his bent and twisted right arm held high for balance, with Paul and Billy screaming their throats dry, Simon and MJ only weeping slightly now, Mother sitting ramrod straight and grand atop her garden chest, and Mr. Murry, standing at the gate, gape-mouthed and petrified.
When the stud horse finally gave up, Che aimed him straight through the gate at a dead run and ran him hard through the orchard. He sprinted him past the crabapple trees and pulled him to a splendid stop at the one cherry tree. For another thirty minutes Che walked, trotted, galloped and raced the palomino through the fruit trees. By the time he eased him back through the gate and handed the reins to Mr. Murry, that yellow stud horse was as sweet and behaved as Simon’s broom stick pony.
Mr. Murry tried to take his wallet out his pocket, but Che waved him off. “Was my pleasure, Howard.” What he didn’t wave off, though, was the half-pint Mr. Murry took out of his other pocket. “Don’t mind if I do, sir,” said Che, taking a big swig and then shoving the bottle in his own back pocket. “I’ll probably be sore tomorrow,” was all he added, walking toward the orchard to retrieve his hat which had fallen off during the ride.
Mother probably thought Paul followed Che to the orchard – which is what he usually did – so he didn’t think she knew he was still in earshot when she said, “Mr. Murry, I will allow Paul to continue helping you around your place because he needs the money for the baseball items he swears he cannot do without, but you are not to speak anymore to him or to Simon about evil and sin and morality for I am sure they will find it in their own bad time and method. Now, sir, you may take that animal off my property.”
About the Author, Stanley Beesley: Scholastic Magazine chose my acclaimed book Vietnam: The Heartland Remembers (University of Oklahoma Press) as its book club selection for mature readers on the American experience in Vietnam. The Sunday Oklahoman said this about my collection of short stories, Sweetwater, Oklahoma; which won the University of Oklahoma Master’s Thesis Award, “Beesley is a strong, talented, witty writer whose works are likely to show up in anthologies and future textbooks.” Pegasus Books released my novel The Last Man to Hit .400: A Love Story (2016) “Last Man superb. Stanley Beesley hits it out of the park. The Last Man to Hit .400 is terrific. Great characters. Original premise. More twists and turns than a ballpark pretzel. The year’s Silver Slugger award winner in Fiction,” Carolyn Hart, three-time Edgar Award winner and author of Walking On My Grave and Ghost in Time and 58 other novels.
to be ready to read i say but the book never changes. the color on my nails
changes though in order to permit a thought of another color. suspend the
makeshift bridge between two trees farther apart. she remains in her
pajamas all day resting. but at some point taking a long bath bubbles even
maybe. pluck the courage of hair follicles. razor burn a side buttress. the
reading which is new to this book but not the one before it enlivens the lives
of potential lovers. she grooms herself while sitting reading the new book.
sketch out a probable line of import to the left of each stanza even when
there are none. i sit alone eat hot chinese knowing the result will be
unpleasant dreams. she softly strokes her shoulder where another hand
might once have grown. in the book circles of favored words obscure
meanings potentialities. this one drives me to write she thinks. and nobody
stops unannounced thus preventing panic since the mask is not yet applied.
oh and the runaway ideas that spread throughout the moment of page
About the Author: gary lundy’s poems have appeared most recently in Cleaver Magazine, In Between Hangovers, The BeZine, Fragmentarily/Meta-Phor(e)/Play, and Vallum. His chapbook, at | with was recently published by Locofo Chaps. each room echoes absence, his second full length book, will be published this fall by FootHills Publishing. He is a retired English professor and queer living in Missoula, Montana.
Ethan Hoffman sat in a white plastic chair on his porch, drank scotch from a mug with the words World’s Greatest Dad written in bright, bold letters across it, and listened to the electric chorus of a thousand cicadas. It was a Wednesday night, late July, the air heavy and still. He searched the tops of the towering maple trees for the insects’ vibrating abdomens and translucent wings, until his eyes were drawn to the light of Mr. Peterson’s bedroom window across the street. Ethan watched him take off his jeans, fold them carefully and lay them on top of his oak bureau. Mr. Peterson was 61-years-old, had retired too early, could no longer pay his mortgage and had recently watched his wife pack two flowered suitcases, get into a car with a man she met online and drive away. He sat on the edge of his king-sized bed, in a white t-shirt and loose jockey underwear, put his head in his large hands and cried uncontrollably. On nights like these – despite the fact Ethan hated his job, his 10-year-old son showed signs of Asperger’s, and he couldn’t remember the last time his wife had touched him—he felt fortunate. People he knew had divorced, lost jobs and houses, become addicts, hung themselves from trees in the college woods or jumped from the tops of parking garages in the city. At their funerals, as he stared at their distorted faces, he understood just how fragile their lives must have been.
He looked into Samantha Robinson’s bay window. The light of the television bathed the living room and her profile in a soft, blue light. He watched her bring a large wine glass to her lips. Her black Audi was in the curved driveway, her husband’s BMW absent, as it always was, on Monday and Wednesday nights.
He told himself that one day he would summon the courage to sneak across the street, duck behind the row of yellow roses around her driveway, slowly climb the three steps of her back deck and stand before the sliding glass door. He closed his eyes and imagined her turning to look at him from the couch with a mischievous smile. She would walk to the door, wearing a blue silk slip that rose and fell against her thighs, her red painted toes barely touching the marble, kitchen floor. He pressed a hand against the glass as she stood behind it. The thin strap from her left shoulder fell to her elbow; the top of her dark nipple peered out from the blue silk. The door would be unlocked and he pictured himself sliding it open, letting her lead him upstairs where…
A bird shrieked. He opened his eyes and looked down the front steps. On a broken, gray paver, sat Mrs. Heinrich’s fat, white cat, a house wren held in its jaws; the bird’s tiny body shuddered as it tried to free itself.
“Drop it,” Ethan said.
The cat’s tail swung like a metronome behind it. It smiled and its teeth pierced the skin of the bird. The wren’s black eyes shut. Its head drooped. Drops of blood stained the white fur around the cat’s mouth.
Ethan hated the cat. It killed songbirds and voles, left them in Ethan’s son’s sandbox, or in his wife’s flowerbeds. She screamed when she found them, stormed inside and would tell him to call the police.
“For what?” he always asked her.
“Murder, littering, trespassing. I don’t care. Just make it stop.”
Once, he went to Mrs. Heinrich’s house, knocked on the door, determined to tell her to keep the cat inside or he would call the police and animal control, but she never answered. In the ten years they lived next door he had only seen her a few times, just before dawn, in a white nightgown, planting bulbs in her garden or floating like a ghost past her upstairs windows. An old Buick that never moved sat in the garage and he had never seen anyone visit. She was childless, as far as he could tell, the cat her only companion. Each morning Ethan roamed the yard and collected the scattered bodies of birds and rodents in plastic grocery bags, cursing Mrs. Heinrich, her cat and his wife the entire time.
The cat stared at him with wide, yellow eyes, the dead bird clenched in its mouth. Ethan felt the burning rage he kept in his gut boil, spill into his veins and travel through his entire body. He threw the mug as hard as he could and watched it sail past the cat’s head and land in the rhododendrons. The cat sat perfectly still, even as Ethan walked to the front of the porch and picked up his son’s aluminum baseball bat. He raised it above his head, jumped over the four steps and brought the bat down as hard as he could. The cat dropped the bird, turned to run, but the bat crushed its back right foot. It screeched in pain and ran on three legs through the bushes to its own yard. Ethan let go of the bat and ran after it. The cat had almost reached the back steps of Mrs. Heinrich’s house when Ethan lunged, grabbed its tail and pulled it towards him. He knelt in the soft, wet grass, the cat beneath him, his right hand clenching the throat, that felt, beneath the soft fur, as thin as a plastic straw. The cat dug his nails into Ethan’s arms. He muffled a scream and tightened his fist until he felt his fingers dig into his palm. The cat’s eyes bulged, the nails retracted and when he finally relaxed his fist the cat’s body let out a slow, final breath, like a punctured bicycle tire.
A floodlight came on. The backdoor opened.
“What have you done?” Mrs. Heinrich asked as she stood at the top of her back steps.
She was wearing a long, sheer nightgown. Her white hair reached below her shoulders. Her fingers were long and thin, her skin so pale he could see the outline of her veins. He watched her long, slender breasts swing and brush against the light fabric as she walked down the concrete steps. She stood above him in the grass. The air around him grew cold.
“Give it to me,” she said.
Ethan stood, handed her the dead cat and wondered if she was going to call the police.
She took a step toward him. He felt her stale, dying breath on his lips and stared into her bright, gray eyes. Hairs rose from every pore on his body.
“I’m not going to call the police, if that’s what you’re wondering. You’ll be punished, every day, for the rest of your life, in ways the police could never imagine.”
“I was trying to save the wren,” he said.
“It was already dead.”
She turned around, cradled the cat in her arms, and walked up the steps into her house.
He stayed in her backyard until she turned off the light, then walked back through the bushes, sat in his chair and poured another mug of scotch. His hands trembled.
The next morning he looked out his bedroom window and saw Mrs. Heinrich, in the same thin gown, kneeling in her yard, digging a hole with a small garden shovel, the body of the cat next to her on the grass. He felt the familiar seeds of guilt sprout in his stomach and turn into vines that constricted his heart, just like they did each time he grabbed his son by the arms and shook him too hard or when he felt like hitting his wife.
That night, as he sat on the porch, Mrs. Heinrich stood before her bedroom window and stared down at him. As soon as he stared back she slipped behind the walls. Each night, as soon as he sat down on the white chair, she appeared in the window, reminding him of what he had done and each time he stared back, silently acknowledging his guilt and her sentence, she disappeared.
He was almost disappointed when, eight nights later, she wasn’t there.
“Have you seen Mrs. Heinrich?” he asked his wife the next morning as they sipped their coffee.
“I never see her,” she said.
It was a Sunday. The two of them looked out the kitchen window and watched their son, lying in the grass, pointing at the clouds, talking to some imaginary friend.
“I think she’s dead,” he said.
“Why would you think that?”
“I see her every night, standing in front of her bedroom window. She wasn’t there last night.”
“Call the police,” she said. “And tell them to take the cat too.”
He waited until his wife took their son with her to her sister’s, and then walked next door to Mrs. Heinrich’s house. He rang the doorbell and listened to the electric chimes echo through the rooms. He put his face against the glass oval and looked inside. The hallway walls were bare, except for a long, gray trench coat on a single hook. He checked the door, but it was locked. He walked around the house and peered into each window searching for any sign of life. All he saw were large pieces of furniture that looked like they had been bought at the Good Will.
He walked up the back steps, turned the doorknob and pushed the door open. He stepped into her kitchen. The air was cold and stale. Dust floated through a stream of light. Next to the white Formica and chrome table was a bowl of cat food covered in flies and a small bowl of curdled milk. The kitchen counter was lined with cat salt and pepper shakers and coffee mugs with pictures of cats, clichés written beneath them.
He walked into the dining room. The table was set for three, with white china, crystal glasses and silver. He ran his finger through the dust on a plate. He heard the song of a wren come from an open window upstairs and followed it up the steep staircase into a long, narrow hallway. He walked into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. It was empty, except for a tube of toothpaste and a prescription bottle of Wellbutrin.
The bird’s song became a long, slow whistle that came from her bedroom. He walked down the hall. The air smelled fecal. He stood in the doorway of her bedroom and stared at her dead body, in the white gown, hands crossed over her stomach, her eyes straining to see the crucifix over her bed. Her jaw was open and her feet were purple. Her skin had loosened, fallen away from the bone and landed in small puddles on the white sheet. On the table beside the bed was a Bible. He thumbed through the pages and found a wallet-sized picture of a young boy, around eight-years-old. His face was pale; his nose long and thin like hers, the narrow lips forcing a painful smile. On the back was the name Michael, the dates 1971-1988.
He knelt next to the bed, took her frail, thin hand in his, and felt the echo of his pulse. He closed his eyes, saw his mother’s face, his son laying in the grass, his wife when she was younger and Mrs. Heinrich, carrying the dead body of her teenage boy up the back steps. He pictured himself there, dead, alone, what he realized then, as his greatest fear and what must have been hers too. And if the cat had been there, she wouldn’t have died alone. Her words that night no longer seemed like some predestined curse. It was a warning, from someone who must have understood loneliness better than anyone else he had ever known. He looked at the cross and asked for forgiveness.
A quadrangle of light came through the window and rested on her face. The wren chirped. When he looked over at it, it flew away.
“Thank you,” he whispered, put her hand back on her stomach, and covered it with her other hand.
When he returned home he called Mike O’Connor, the local police chief, and told him that Mrs. Heinrich was dead.
“Where is she?” Mike asked.
“In her bed,” Ethan said.
“How do you know she’s dead?”
“I went inside to check on her. I couldn't find a pulse.”
“Next time, just call the police,” Mike said and hung up.
He sat on the porch and watched Mike and the county coroner carry her body, wrapped in a white sheet, from the front door into the back of a van. His wife pulled her car into the driveway as the van drove away. His son got out of the car, ran up the steps, but before he could open the front door Ethan grabbed him, knelt down and hugged him. He kissed him on the forehead and told him that he loved him.
“Okay,” his son whispered and went inside.
His wife stood at the top of the porch steps and stared at him.
Ethan nodded, walked over to her, and took her in his arms. She stood perfectly still as he kissed her neck and whispered I love you too.
“What about the cat?” she asked.
“It ran away.”
She opened the door and went inside.
He forgave her for her coldness. Forgave his son for his lack of affection. They would never understand how much he loved them, and if it hadn’t been for the cat, Mrs. Heinrich or her dead son, he wouldn’t have either.
Three days later he came home from work and saw an older, silver Mercedes parked in front of Mrs. Heinrich’s house. Her front door was open. He walked up the front steps and knocked on the door. He heard footsteps upstairs.
“Hello,” he said as he opened the door and stepped into the foyer.
A man a few years younger than Ethan came down the stairs, stood at the base of them and glared at him. He wore too tight jeans, white sneakers and a perfectly pressed, white, button-down shirt. His hair was blond, styled to look like he just rolled out of bed. He had her thin nose and lips, her gray eyes, pale skin and thin bones.
“Can I help you?” the man asked.
“Are you Michael?”
“How could you know that?”
“There was a picture, on top of her Bible. I saw it when I found her.”
“My name is Ethan Harris. I live next door.”
“Why were you in her house?”
“I hadn’t seen her. I was worried. She died peacefully, in her sleep.”
“Are you sure?”
“She was in bed. Her hands on her stomach. She looked like she was smiling.”
“I suppose that is what most people would like to hear.”
“Will there be a funeral?”
“If there is anything I can do,” Ethan said.
“I think you’ve done enough.”
“Will there be some kind of service?”
Michael took a step towards him and narrowed his eyes
“Did you know her?”
“We were neighbors,” Ethan said.
“You didn’t know her. If you did, you wouldn’t really care if there was a service, or if she died in peace, which I’m almost certain, she didn’t. A truck from The Salvation Army will be here tomorrow. The house will be on the market by the end of the week.”
Michael grabbed his elbow and led him out the door. Ethan was too stunned to resist and stood speechless on the step as Michael slammed the door shut.
He walked down the front steps, over the cracks of the sidewalk and into his own house. His wife was on the couch in the living room, drinking Chardonnay, watching reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Their son sat next to her, staring at the screen. A fat man fell through a trampoline.
“She had a son,” Ethan said.
His wife stared at him. His son watched a dog scoot in circles.
“Who?” his wife asked and muted the television.
“Mrs. Heinrich. He’s over there now.”
“Is he moving in?”
“Good,” she said and turned the volume back up.
Ethan went into the kitchen, grabbed his coffee mug from the cupboard and the scotch from under the sink. He walked between his family and the television, out to the porch as a cat played chopsticks on a piano.
He sat in his chair and filled the mug with scotch. He heard the front door of Mrs. Heinrich’s house shut. He looked over and watched Michael put a single box in the trunk, get in his car and drive away.
When Ethan’s mug was empty he filled it again. The sun went down. The cicadas started their nightly chant. He watched Mr. Peterson take off his clothes and cry on his bed. He watched Samantha Robinson bring a glass to her lips and change the channel.
He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there or how many glasses of scotch he’d had when he saw a white cat, sitting at the end of his walkway, staring at him. He stood up and walked slowly towards it. The cat jogged across the street, into Samantha’s driveway. He followed it through the rose bushes, into the backyard and up the steps of the back deck. The cat sat in front of the sliding glass door. He knelt in front of it and whispered, I’m sorry.
The glass door slid open. The cat ran into Mr. Peterson’s yard. Ethan looked up and saw Samantha standing above him, wearing a green silk nightshirt that came down to her thighs, the top three buttons open.
“Hello,” she said.
He stood up and faced her. He smelled the coconut shampoo in her long, dark hair and the cheap, red wine on her breath.
“Do you want a drink?” she asked.
“Okay,” he said.
She took his hand and led him inside, across the marble floor, down the one step to the living room. The television was large and bright. On the screen a pack of hyenas surrounded an injured wildebeest.
“You sit,” she said and walked back into the kitchen.
He watched her fill two large glasses with wine from a box on the counter.
She handed him a glass and sat next to him.
“To neighbors,” she said and held her glass in front of her.
He gently touched her glass with his.
“And windows,” she said and laughed softly.
He took a sip of wine. It tasted like fruit juice mixed with vodka.
“Do you watch me?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” he said.
“Do you think about what it would be like?”
“What what would be like?”
“To fuck,” she said.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yes,” he whispered, but as she dug her nails into the back of his neck and put her large tongue in his mouth, he wasn’t so sure. She unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it off him. She bit his nipples, undid his belt, pulled off his pants and boxers, then took off his socks and threw them over her shoulder. She stood in front of him, curled her drunken lip, and pulled the nightshirt over her head. Her skin was light gold, her nipples large and flat, on top of breasts the size and consistency of too full water balloons. She put her hands on his shoulders, straddled him and slowly moved against him. Her pubic hair felt as coarse and stiff as a scouring pad. He was almost inside her when he saw flames in the mirror over her fireplace.
He stood. Samantha fell to the floor. He ran out the front door, across the street and up his front steps. Sirens wailed. Flames shot out the windows. The metal doorknob felt hot in his hand. He opened the door and a wave of smoke knocked him down. He smelled burning wood, hair and skin. He crawled back towards the door, screaming the names of his wife and child, until two EMTs grabbed his ankles and dragged him down the steps to a waiting ambulance where they covered him in wool blanket. He watched firemen enter the burning house with oxygen tanks on their backs.
His wife survived. His son didn’t. A burning rafter fell on her legs outside the child’s room. Crown molding, engulfed in flame, fell on the left side of her face. The insurance company hired investigators. It was an electrical fire, caused by the knob and tube wiring his wife had asked him, years ago, to replace.
They moved to a single story house on Westdale Avenue, on the very edge of town. In his spare time he built ramps and widened hallways for her wheelchair. In the summer evenings, when he pushed her down the street, a blanket over her thin, useless legs, the left side of her face as raw as a baby mouse, he heard the cicadas call, summoning the ghosts of cats, old women and children, who followed him with every painful step.