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THE BENEFACTOR CREDIT IS DUE Chief Editors: Marc Saleme & Ashley d’Avignon Goodwin Creative Director: Ashley d’Avignon Goodwin Contriubutors: Ron Savage, J. Boyer & Patrick Dacey Illustrations: John Skinner Cover Photographs: John Skinner & Zoë Holmes
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August/September 2008 Short Story Series
Contents: Cover Art by John Skinner & Zoe Holmes Interviewing Brando.....................................................................................................................6-21 by J. Boyer Home Security............................................................................................................................26-34 by Ron Savage AStep Into Space.........................................................................................................................38-46 by Patrick Dacey
INTERVIEWIN J. BOYER
hank you for sitting for this interview, Mr. Brando. I know it’s not your cup of tea.
How long will this take? I haven’t many questions really. Why would you want to interview me? Why would I want to interview Marlon Brando? I’m not very interesting. Personally I think you’re one of the most interesting men in the world, and probably our greatest living actor to boot. I only have two things to tell you, young lady, and only one of them is even mildly interesting. Then let’s start with that one. I just did.
Then what’s the other one? This isn’t my cup of tea. Let’s just jump right in with both feet, shall we? What actress you’ve co-starred with comes to mind. Off the top of your head,which one? Sophia Loren. She was beautiful Anything else? She was beautiful in all the ways you think of as beautiful. Wasn’t she having trouble with her marriage to Carlo Ponti? Yes. She was raw from all that. That put me off. In what ways was she “raw?” Emotionally? Yes. She could border on maniac when logically she should have been happy or excited—become shrill when she thought she was just standing her ground. Even cold blooded. I remember once she humiliated one of the crew in front of everyone, a carpenter or maybe a grip, it was completely uncalled for. Later, she apologized. To everyone. Publicly. The first thing of the day. I’m intrigued that you use the word “raw” to describe her. That’s the word I’d use to describe the chemistry between you on screen. Sex is usually the last thing to go in a failing marriage, the more failed it is the better. Revenge. Spite. Murderous intentions. Those can be powerful aphrodisiacs. Though the pleasures they lead to are very short-lived. Toward the end, passions dwindle until they’re little of nothing and all you have left is akin to an enema. I know. I’ve been there myself. It’s like being anesthetized for an operation only to learn once you wake that it hasn’t been performed. Are you afraid of dying? No. But I’ve read where you’ve said you’re afraid of being old. Let’s talk about something else. 10
Despite your high fame, not much is known about your childhood. You grew up in Omaha. Can we talk about your mother? She had a hardshell perm. Yes? She fit right in. Go on. That’s all you’re going to get. Your childhood was less than ideal. Both your parents drank. Do you draw on the pains from that phase of your life? Do you draw on yours? That’s a useless way to approach this. You sound defensive. Not at all. I don’t feel the slightest bit defensive. I simply haven’t much patience with journalists like yourself . You people who are always so intent on getting at the real me. There is no real me. I’m an illusion. Does there ever come a point when the illusion becomes a de facto reality? You know, a point where it has to take responsibility for itself? Well don’t look at me, I’m not about to take responsibility for what I’ve become. You don’t seem very illusionary. But I am. I’m entirely made up. I’m a fantasy of yours. Actually you seem to bear height, weight, mass—most of the signs of an actual human being. You see? That’s my point. That’s where you journalists go astray. You make far too much of the moments when your perception of the world, which is a fantasy, coincides with reality as it actually is. Seriously: What is it you have against journalists, if you don’t mind me asking. 11
I hold journalists—at least good journalists—in the highest regard. You’ve been quoted as saying journalists are the barnacles on the—let’s say belly—of the whale. I never said any such thing. Do you want to see? Yes. Here. I found it when I was preparing this interview. I was misquoted. Believe it or not, I was once in the newspaper business myself. I delivered them. This was back in Nebraska? Yes. I didn’t keep the route for long, I should add. I cling to that memory for self-definition. It was the first time I realized I’d never be able to work to make a living. I knew I’d have to find something useless to do with myself instead. And I have. Do you ever go back to Nebraska.? Recently in fact. I drove past my old house. Everything has changed. Omaha is virtually a city. It was barely a town when—I didn’t recognize a thing. Now you sound disappointed. Or maybe that’s regret in your voice. Would you go back again? What for? I saw what I came to see. Things change. Why should I regret that? That’s life. No. Regret is a waste of time. So is disappointment. I don’t regret things, and I’m never disappointed. In anything. Or anyone. Are we almost finished? What should I ask you? What would be a better line of questions than the one I’ve been pursuing? I haven’t the foggiest idea—The meaning of life. Let’s start there. All right, What’s the meaning of life? What’s the meaning of sand? What’s the meaning of the number twelve? You make me feel like a novice at this. 12
In 15th century France, in Avignon in particular, it was common practice to perform the initiation of the novice not in studio but rather in a public gathering, sometimes a feast, for which the noviter intretibus was expected to pay. The cost of the banquet was treated like a tax, I suppose. The price one paid to get in. The rite began with this banquet for his masters and school companions, the studium generale. It, continued into the night until everyone was shit-faced, then the novice, what today we’d call the “freshman,” was stripped bare, washed head to toe before everyone, then submitted to who-knows-what awful treatment. This hazing ritual varied from place to place but included the infliction of blows, various and sundry humiliations, and no doubt sexual acts as well, but it’s hard to be more precise since any bans against such practices are vague in their wordings, and probably insincere. Since a code of silence was strictly enforced among those who’d survived the ordeal themselves, it was unlikely a ban was of any use at all. Who was going to report it? And should it be reported, it would be just as quickly denied by the accused and refuted by the student body at large. Abuse and humiliation were widely understood to be the constituent cells of what it took to be one of the guys. Occasionally of course things went too far, but even this was taken in stride. The perpetrators were punished by making them not simply attend the funeral and pray for his soul like everyone else, but actually accompany the corpus domini. It is from this practice that the modern pall bearer comes. What began as retribution on behalf of the victim’s family, that is, making those responsible—literally—bear the weight of their deed, it became something other: a love song, of sorts. Is any of that true? No. I don’t think so. How am I going to be able to publish this interview if all we do is fence? I’d recommend you publish it under an assumed name, that’s what I’d do. Look. Just make something up. Treat all of this as fiction. Ask the questions, answer them yourself, that’s what you people do anyway. You could sue me. Wait until I’m dead to publish it. How can you die if you’re actually illusionary? Very good. I like that. I’ll have to think about that one. Let’s come back to it. Okay.
I have a list here of some of the people you’ve worked with in film. Let me see it— I thought if you could just tell me what comes to mind—A memory, what sticks out.. No, there’s no one here. I’ve met these people. I’ve worked with them, you’re right. But I don’t know any of them well enough to make a comment about who they are or what they mean to me, or whatever you were intending to ask. Do you know what they have in common? They said you’re the only truly original talent in American acting. No one’s an original talent. They seem to think you are. That’s what they call you. Why aren’t they called “jills”? Pardon me? Jacks. What, I don’t— Those little metal things. The game. For children. Boys don’t play with jacks. What are you talking about? If the world was a sane place to live, “Jacks” would be called “Jills,” because girls play the game more than boys. Right. Follow? Girls play with Jacks, not boys—You’re not overly fond of me, are you?
My point is simply that just because these people of yours call me an original talent doesn’t make it so.
So you’re going on the record as saying you’re not an original talent. There’s no such thing, not in an art. No? All art is plagiarism, all thought is theft. Who said that? Shakespeare. No he didn’t. Name the play. No? I thought he did. Perhaps no major movie star of your generation has distanced himself from the Hollywood community with quite the ferocity of Marlon Brando. Why is that? Orson Welles— But he was a director first and foremost. What do you have against being part of Hollywood? That’s not life. That’s not what life’s about. Let me list some of the interesting people you’ve met who were not in the motion picture business Aristotle Onasis. Your first thought. The shortest Greek I’ve ever met. Eva Marie Saint. From On The Waterfront. I ran into her in the Mediterranean not long ago. She has a summer house. She’s more beautiful than ever. She was wearing these ridiculous shoes. Their toes curled up, and I said, Why are your toes in a curlicue? She looked like she should have been doing Tartuffe—She was in the movies, by the way; did you think you’d just slip that one in? Sorry. You should be. I’m twice your age and you’ve been very disrespectful. I’m saving all the dirt for
my autobiography, I should warn you. Are you planning on writing a book some day? About my life and career? Yes. Do you think anyone would buy it? Why should they. I don’t blame them. Why write a book I wouldn’t want to read myself?! What would be the point? You’ve made no secret of your dislike for the press. You’ve said thousands of time that you’ve been misunderstood, mis-quoted, that the person they write about is a figment of their own imaginations. It might give you a chance to set the record straight. By which you mean, Explain myself. If that’s how you prefer to put it, yes: explain yourself. How can anyone explain their own life. To those who’ve been there beside me, it needs no explanation. And for those of us who haven’t? Then an explanation is impossible. Out of the question. What’s bothering you most about this interview? Is it the interview itself or your fear of what the finished product will look like in print. Both. I doubt it. It’s possible ,you know, that you just haven’t found the right interviewer before now. I hate seeing what I’ve said in print. I see the prepositions and clauses and I think, I don’t speak like that, do I? I feel as if I’m crystallizing. Or fracturing. Or freezing or melting or simply evaporating. I keep thinking, Who is that person? Not me, certainly. I think there has to be some other medium, one better suited to explaining who you are. Perhaps a dance of some sort. That’s what bees do when they appear to be dancing. It’s the way they have of communicating. Without prepositions and clauses. 16
As far as we know. When I read my interviews I think it’s all a pathetic impersonation. And I think, How was I reduced to this regrettable condition? What’s your most pleasant memory from making The Wild One. Riding the motorcycle. It was very bright and shiny. Vivian Leigh from A Streetcar Named Desire. She was bright and shiny as well. What was it like working with Charleton Heston? He was on mood altering drugs. I remember him as being drowsily good humored. Charleton Heston? I might have him confused with Glenn Ford. Someone who was washed up, in any case. What else do you remember about Glenn Ford? Once I came early to his trailer and I caught him wearing a dress. Next question. Oh I really think you should consider an autobiography. Just think of how many things you’ve been refusing to tell journalists lo these many years. What a perfect way to finally put them out in public. You must not think I’m –Welll--Writing a book about yourself has always struck me as pretentious, and putting your name on one that was actually ghost-written by someone else is patently dishonest.Whenever I see an autobiography of one of my friends that has “As Told To” on the cover, I always think, “Have you no respect at all for us, or concern for our welfare?Why you’ll send half of us to the hospital from laughing fits alone.” You’re charming. When you want to be. I am. I’ll have to watch myself around you, You should. 17
Have you ever considered writing a novel? My intuition tells me that would be more up your alley than an autobiography. I have no talent for fiction. Or writing, for that matter. If you can’t get at the truth, I naturally assumed you’d want to get at what’s real. What is real? Which is the more real, the skull of a baboon or a battered racing car? You don’t have to write a novel, or an autobiography for that matter, to tell the whole story. I remember seeing an ad in the paper. FOR SALE. BABY SHOES, SIZE 2, FOUR PAIR, NEVER WORN. BEST OFFER. CALL 212-715-4949 OR 602-990-3564. You see, there you have it. That tells you everything you need to know. There’s nothing left for you to write about. Where did you see that? And how do you happen to recall the phone numbers? I think I may have seen it in a Laundromat. In Turkey, perhaps. And as for my good memory, it comes with my profession. No you didn’t. You didn’t see it in a Laundromat at all. Hemingway uses an example like that as an illustration of how much can be told with how little. Are you calling me a liar? Don’t you think that someone should? Have it your own way. Think whatever you’d like. You’re considered a giant among living actors— A prince among paupers, I’m certain— And I’m wondering who you would rank among the great practitioners of your art. If not yourself, then who? No one, none of them. Everyone of them is swine. Seriously? What makes you think it’s an art? 18
Oh now you’re just being snitty. I’m sorry if I offended you.
What difference should it make whether I’m offended or not? For the purposes of the interview? It could make a great deal of difference. Interviews are always as much about the person asking the questions as the person who’s answering. You people always want it to appear as if we’ve both had a jolly old time, sitting with our feet up, just shooting the breeze. It’s like smiling for the camera. It’s photographers who are always obsessed with getting the person to smile, not the subject of the photograph. Haven’t you ever noticed that? I understand that’s a modern phenomenon. No one smiles in the great painted canvases of the Renaissance, do they. And for the simplest of reasons. A smile changes the dimensions of so many features on our face. No one could possibly hold that pose through a full sitting, much less repeat it the next day. When we see The Mona Lisa today we misunderstand. We try to read into the dull face of the doltish girl some mystery in her smile, some hidden meaning, subtext upon subtext, when, in its day, it was important most of all because Davinci dared to paint a smile. It was a technical achievement, not an aesthetic one. He was showing off his craftsmanship, he was dribbling the ball through his legs. Let’s talk about your marriages. I thought we’d be getting around to that sooner or later. I’ve come to think that the secret of a prosperous marriage is to enmesh yourself in a sea of monotony. I didn’t learn that until it was too late. I might have been a much better actor had I been quicker on the draw. I’m not always certain when you’re being wry or ironic, or when you’re telling the God’s honest truth. What makes you think that God’s not being most truthful when life is wry or ironic? Are these things mutually exclusive? You see, there you go again. Let’s turn the tables for a minute. I’m going to give you three names. Freud. Darwin. Karl Marx. What do they have in common—the first thing that comes to mind? They were revolutionary thinkers. Each of them, in his way, did much to undermine conventional thought. Do you know anything of their wives, their marriages? No, not particularly. 19
Each of them was married to a very conventional woman. The marriages themselves were humdrum, respectable, matrimonial. They were marriages like any other. Colorless. Monotonous. You have to ask yourself, Would they have hatched the same ideas if they’d been bachelors, or in exciting, tempestuous relationships? Are you recommending colorless marriages? Perhaps. If I am I’m not a zealot. Think of me as an enthusiast maybe. What makes you hesitate? Well, to begin with, each of the men we’ve been talking about suffered from nausea, weakness, headaches and palpitations. That might have been due to their marriages too. They all ended their lives in secluded invalidism of one sort or another. It’s sad, when you think about it. Darwin shuffling around his house near Sevenoaks, raising little clouds of dust with each step. How would you describe your politics? Evangelical Conservative. Seriously. I’m being serious. If you’d done your homework you’d know I won the Stars and Stripes Essay Contest as a lad. This was in Omaha? Next question. Is it true you were on the Vice Presidential list of Barack Obama? The long list, not the short list. How did that happen? I was shopping at Walmart one day. They stopped me in the parking lot and said, Wanna be Vice Prez? And how did you respond? 20
I trembled with pride.
Your campaign slogan? America: Do more and cost less. Do you know what a gallon of gas costs these days? You sound like William Bennett. William Bennet’s getting fatter and fatter. Of course so am I. Your son, Christian. And Cheyenne. Fuck you. This isn’t going well, is it? From whose perspective? That blue ribbon around your neck. I’m not wearing a ribbon. Suppose that you were. A ribbon, and a medal. What would the medal be? The Congressional Medal of Honor. That’s the highest military honor that can be bestowed upon an American. But you were never in battle. Go figure. The inscription’s in Latin. What does it say, do you know? The whiskey on your breatth/ Could make a small boy dizzy/But I hung on like death/Such waltzing is not easy. Thank you, Mr. Brando. You’re welcome.
VISUALS JOHN SKINNE
HOME SECUR RON SAVAGE
e knows there is a driver inside the mail truck and not because he has seen the driver but because he knows trucks don’t drive themselves. Lorenzo can also imagine the mail truck having its own resolve, its own agenda. Forget the work he puts into his lawn. Forget the work of his neighbors and their lawns. The mail truck doesn’t care if you work hard or don’t work at all. The mail truck doesn’t care if you are a good neighbor or a bad neighbor. Everybody gets the same cruelty, the same indifference. That’s what Lorenzo thinks. The mail truck goes too fast and too close to the curving edge of the cul-de-sac. Thick black tires expel dirt and grass like a race horse at the last turn. Most postal workers drive their own trucks, and this truck is a boxy, dark brown bully. A big hungry thing, Lorenzo thinks. This mail truck does what it wants to do.
“I lost my wonderful bracelet you gave me,” Nettie says. The fingers on her right hand are quivering. Her fingers are thin with cherry red polish. She is sitting beside Lorenzo on their front porch. Nettie has a fashion magazine propped against her knees. It’s opened to an article about wrinkle free getaway dresses. Toss and wear for a busy you. She keeps reading the same paragraph. Her concentration isn’t working today. “I never once took that bracelet off,” Nettie says. “That’s thirty-four years, almost thirty-five,” she says. “Don’t upset yourself,” Lorenzo says. He is reading the manual from a home security kit he ordered on the internet. Lorenzo and Nettie like sitting on their porch and reading together. Two months ago Lorenzo had his fifty-fifth birthday but he looks ten years younger. His hair is brown and curled and he has a narrow face and a flat belly. He likes showing his flat belly to Nettie. “Tell me how you’re feeling,” Lorenzo says. “My insides are jumpy,” Nettie says. “Everything burns, my legs, my arms. I can’t get used to that.” Lorenzo and Nettie are instructors at a private high school in Norfolk. Lorenzo teaches biology and Nettie teaches English. Then Nettie quit her job on Tuesday a week ago. She had not been feeling good for awhile. The porch has a low white railing and gray wood planks. A breeze scented by pines and cedars flap the pages of her magazine. The trees bring shadows to the front porch and break up the sunlight. A small rust colored rug is draped over the railing. Nettie’s thumb and forefinger pinch the corners of the pages to stop them from rattling. The red polish on her thumbnail has a chipped spot. “We should take a trip this October,” Lorenzo says. They will be married thirty-five
years in October. He cannot grasp thirty-five years. He is amazed how quickly the years go. Lorenzo is watching Nettie’s face and rubbing the back of her neck. Lorenzo says, “We could go to Paris. Would you like that? The colors are beautiful in October. And the French aren’t too bad, really. We could plan a trip.” Lorenzo has loved Nettie since they were kids and lived across the street from each other on Fayton Avenue in Norfolk, Virginia. At the end of Fayton Avenue was a swamp with cattails and a stream and trees that had gray moss hanging from wet black branches. They had their first kiss on the roof of a tiny abandoned house in the swamp. Lorenzo was nine then and Nettie was seven. She wore a fuzzy pink sweater that didn’t cover her belly. Her eyes were very green and very wide and she watched everything Lorenzo did as if she might miss a clue. Her blond hair had been thick when she was a girl and clipped straight and cut just above her eyebrows. Allergies tortured her, the season didn’t matter. Watery snot would crystallize on her upper lip like pale scabs. They had a good first kiss, though, and he loved her right away. Afternoon sunlight is on the page of Lorenzo’s home security manual and he has to shift in his chair to bring back the shade. One of the system’s sensors is giving him a problem. He can’t figure out why the alarm won’t trigger when he taps the screen window. “Don’t worry about the bracelet,” Lorenzo says and props his bare feet on the low porch railing. He is sitting next to Nettie in a white wicker chair with a maroon cushion. “I’ll buy you a bracelet in Paris,” he says. “This one was hand made in Mexico,” Nettie says. The bracelet is silver and has her name engraved on it. Nettie and Lorenzo went to Puerto Vallarta for their honeymoon. The fingers of Nettie’s right hand are quivering again.
“It has a special jade clip,” Nettie says. The tone in her voice lets Lorenzo know the bracelet’s cannot be replaced. “Paris has terrific bracelets,” Lorenzo says. Last week Lorenzo had driven Nettie to the doctor for tests. This morning the doctor asked Nettie and Lorenzo to come see him in Richmond. Lorenzo doesn’t trust doctors and doesn’t like going to doctors but he went today so Nettie wouldn’t be alone. Doctor Heckman is a short young man with blond hair who wears tailored suits and silk bow ties and smells of limes. The doctor has a neurology practice downtown and teaches at Tidewater Medical College. This morning he told Nettie and Lorenzo that Nettie had Multiple Sclerosis. The man didn’t look old enough to tie his shoes, Lorenzo had thought. How can he sit there in his tailored suit and his bow tie and tell people things like that? Doctor Heckman was tapping the tip of his pen against a beige desk blotter on his desk and not looking at Nettie and Lorenzo. He called Nettie’s MS the primary progressive type. He said mostly older people get the primary progressive type. That type has no periods of remission. On bright days the sun will glitter the windows of the mail truck and on cloudy days the windows are dark and reflect the neighborhood lawns. The driver can’t be seen. Once or twice Lorenzo tried to see the driver by wedging binoculars between the slats of the Venetian blinds in his living room. He only saw the reflections of sunlight and the neighborhood. A week ago Lorenzo embedded spikes along the edge of his property to protect his lawn. The spikes are plastic, a vivid yellow. This should send a message, Lorenzo thought. But the mail truck doesn’t know boundaries. Its thick black tires grazed and bent one of the
spikes. The mail truck won’t respect the hours and the effort Lorenzo has put into his lawn. The seed and the fertilizer, the weekly mowing, the watering, a lawn can be more trouble than a pet. The mail truck ignores everything but what it is there to do. Fantasies have come to Lorenzo. He imagines metal shards outlining the divide between the gravel and tar road and his lawn. Lorenzo wants to crouch behind the cedars and the pines that cluster at the front of his property near Nettie’s azaleas. From there he could track the thick black tires with his shotgun. A breeze goes through the pines and the cedars, cool in the warm afternoon. Shadows crisscross the front porch. Pine needles are scattered over the gray planks, and the needles roll with the breeze. Nettie has stopped reading the article on wrinkle free getaway clothes. She is looking at her thin fingers with the cherry red nail polish. The fingers twitch more than quiver. “I hate the way my body just does what it wants,” she says. “It never asks my permission anymore. And I’m always tired. It’s funny how we take our bodies for granted. Don’t you think its funny?” “You look fine to me,” Lorenzo says. He stops reading his manual and leans over to her and kisses her cheek. She smells of baby powder and shampoo. “I don’t see anything different,” Lorenzo says. “You look cute as ever, hon.” “You don’t want to see,” Nettie says and pats the pockets of her jeans for cigarettes then remembers she quit last month. She drops the fashion magazine next to her on the wicker two seater and says, “We want everybody to stay the same. People think like that. We get nervous when things change.” Nettie has on a white T-
shirt and her jeans are thready at the knees. Her skin is transparent enough to show blue veins on her thin arms and the tops of her hands. “I don’t think I can travel,” Nettie says and slips her foot from her leather sandal. She has a small narrow foot, a child’s foot. The toenails are painted cherry red like her fingernails. Nettie tucks her bare foot under her on the small wicker sofa. “I’d be too afraid to travel,” she says. “Paris is big and people do nothing but walk.” “You walk fine,” Lorenzo says. The home security manual is on his lap now and his arms are folded to his chest. He looks at Nettie then looks beyond the front porch toward the concrete driveway. The cedars and the pines are patches with sunlight and the sunlight is long and thin on the concrete and mixes with shadows. “We go hiking all the time,” Lorenzo says. “Or used to hike. Remember how we used to go hiking in the Blue Ridge?” “We were kids,” she tells him. “That’s not my point,” Lorenzo says. “My point is, you were always a good hiker. You like a good walk. You know how to put one foot in front of the other. That’s my point.” “I was in my twenties,” she says. “You know what you know,” he says and looks at the driveway and not at her. A new breeze trembles the sunlight and the shadows on the concrete. News about Nettie’s MS followed less than a month after their daughter Martha had quit Virginia Commonwealth University and left home to marry a VCU graduate student. You save and save for a child’s future and what happens? Lorenzo thinks. All children want to do when they grow up is mate. Martha and her new husband then moved to Costa Rica to do something with the Hawksbill sea turtle. Lorenzo still isn’t sure what people do with sea turtles. Possibly repair them or help them lay eggs or do
something the sea turtles can do for themselves. Nettie used the remainder of Martha’s college money to start law school but her memory became so bad she had to quit. “I wish I knew what happened to my wonderful bracelet,” Nettie says. Her fingertips touch her bare wrist. This is a boxy, dark brown bully who announces itself. Lorenzo can hear the stop and start of the mail truck no matter where he is in his house. Its fumes saturate the air. Its exhaust enfolds the cedars and the pines like foggy insecticide. Gears scrape into second then into third as the mail truck emerges from the trees and the curve in the road. It is forever riding the edge of the cul-de-sac. Many days the sides of the truck and its thick black tires are layered in dry mud. A metal gray and black U.S. Mail sign is attached to the rear of the truck with duct tape. Mud also dries on the sign and does things like blot out the ‘U’ in U.S. or the ‘ail’ in Mail. Yesterday Lorenzo hid behind the cedars and the pines at the front of the house near his wife’s white and pink azaleas. Her beautiful azaleas. Her babies, if you were to ask Nettie, the azaleas she trims and nurtures year round. He waited close to an hour before he heard the stop and start of the mail truck. The fumes were strong, the exhaust drifted between the cedars and the pines. Its windshield wipers had cleared half circles of mud from the windshield and the sun glared off the clean parts of the glass and turned the half circles into radioactive eyes. The mail truck was again going too fast and pressing too near the rim where the gravel and tar street met Lorenzo’s lawn. Thick black tires mowed deep into the lawn and churned dirt and grass. Black tires snapped each of the five yellow plastic spikes that divided the lawn from the
street. Each spike had a separate and distinct crack. Pieces of yellow plastic mixed with the dirt and grass expelled by the tires. Lorenzo has seen the mail truck dig into other lawns. He has talked to angry neighbors. It’s nothing personal, Lorenzo thinks. This is what he imagines the mail truck would say. Look what I did to the family across the street, it says. Look what I did to your neighbors next door. That doesn’t matter, Lorenzo thinks. You are doing it to me and that’s personal. Lorenzo is on his knees trying to fit what is left of a shattered yellow spike back into the ground. Her blond hair has become thinner and whiter. Nettie likes her hair fixed in a ponytail with a rubber band beneath a bright red ribbon. She likes the feel of a breeze fluttering loose strands across her forehead or cheek. Lorenzo knows this about his wife. He knows the little things, the minutiae. A late afternoon sun outlines the cedars and the pines with yellow light. Shadows go the length of the front porch, the gray planks, the low railing that has the small rust colored rug draped over it. Pine needles are on the planks and behind the wicker furniture where the house meets the porch. “You must always love me,” Nettie says. “You must.” Nettie’s cupped palm strokes the back of Lorenzo’s curled brown hair. “I do that best,” he says. Lorenzo’s new security system has sensors for motion and breaking glass. The alarm will be heard in their home and at the Norfolk Police Department. There are four color cameras positioned to show the front and back and sides of the house. A twenty inch flat screen monitor is in his study next to the computer. Lorenzo thinks this should give Nettie the sur-
veillance she will need when he is away from the house. “I think I’ll go and buy our tickets tomorrow,” Lorenzo says. “We’ll stay riverside in the Latin Quarter. If you’re going to Paris, the Latin Quarter is the best. The Sorbonne, the cafes and the Jazz clubs. I know just the hotel, too. You’ll get up in the morning and walk out onto the terrace and see the Left Bank and Notre Dame. Won’t that be amazing, Nettie? Won’t that be wonderful?” “More than wonderful,” Nettie says. Lorenzo gets up from his chair next to his wife and sits beside her on the white wicker two seater. Nettie rests herself against his chest. She holds his slim long hand between her smaller hands. “Tell me everything,” she says. “We always loved our travels,” Lorenzo says. He tells her about the Boulevard St-Michel and the Rue St-Jacques. He describes the narrow cobbled street with their tiny shops and bistros, the theatres and the cinemas. Nettie has pressed herself to his chest. She smells of baby powder and shampoo. Her skin is warm from the summer day. Lorenzo leans his head down to kiss her hair. Then he is quiet and closes his eyes and feels the last of the sun on his face. Nettie whispers to Lorenzo and pats his hand. “I think I’ll start supper,” she says. “I’m famished. All I do is eat and wait to eat,” she says. “Aren’t you famished, hon? Maybe I’ll make us a tuna salad, something light.” Lorenzo feels her lift away. A breeze fills the space where she left her damp imprint on his arms and chest. The air is chilly on his skin. Lorenzo opens his eyes halfway. He wants to let her know how much he loves her. Nettie is walking to the front door when her thin legs wobble and fold.
Five new plastic spikes mark the jutting edge of his lawn. Lorenzo is sitting cross legged on the grass behind one of the cedar trees. He has his single barrel shotgun in his lap. Pink and white blossoms from Nettie’s azaleas are scattered like snow on the ground near him. Every few minutes Lorenzo looks at his watch. It’s one-thirty-nine now. The mail truck will usually come between one-thirty and two. Shade from the pines and cedars cut the sunlight and hide Lorenzo. He has a good view of the street and a better than good view of the five yellow plastic spikes. Nettie’s fall had fractured her left ankle. Lorenzo was no more than three feet from her in the wicker two seater when her legs gave way. I should’ve been quicker, he thinks. I should’ve watched her better. She was walking one minute and sprawled out the next. He drove her to the emergency room at Norfolk General. The doctor let Lorenzo and Nettie see the x-ray of Nettie’s ankle. He pointed with his gold pen to the two hairline fractures. Nettie wanted to know if her ankle would be healed by October. “My husband’s taking me to Paris for our anniversary,” she told the doctor. The mail truck is heard and smelled before it is seen. The fumes and the stop and start of its engine warns the neighborhood. I am here, it says. Are you ready? Is everything seeded and mowed? it says. Exhaust covers the cedars and pines like gauzy white fog. Lorenzo raises the shotgun and fits the polished wood stock to his shoulder. He does a practice aim in the direction of the yellow plastic spikes. Maybe he will shoot a tire. Maybe he will knick a muddy fender. Something that speaks to the mail truck’s indifference, Lorenzo thinks.
Sunlight winks across the silver barrel of the shotgun. Another light winks back be-
neath the azaleas. Lorenzo lowers the shotgun. He begins clearing the white and pink blossoms from under the azalea bush with a sweep of his hand. Nettie’s bracelet lays on the grass like a curled silver worm. He is caught by it and it pulls the breath from him. He is caught by it the way a pirate is caught by treasure. The stop and start of the mail truck is louder. Gasoline fumes are strong and sweet and bring a cramped feeling to his stomach. Exhaust lingers just above him in long transparent layers. Lorenzo is trying to fasten the two ends of the bracelet together but the jade clip won’t work. His fingers shake and he doesn’t know why. Tell me everything, she had said to him. Lorenzo had told her about the Boulevard St-Michel and the Rue St-Jacques. He described the narrow cobbled street with their tiny shops and their bistros, the theatres and the cinemas. The jade clip just won’t snap shut, he thinks. Lorenzo cannot stop the shaking in his fingers and he cannot hook the bracelet together. He wedges the shotgun under his arm then tries again to hook the bracelet together. The mail truck has emerged from the trees and the curve in the road. Now this boxy, dark brown bully begins its too fast and too close race along the curving edge of the cul-de-sac.
A STEP INTO PATRICK DAC
ax was lying in bed, reading from a novel by an Argentine writer whose epistolary style bothered him and made it so he could only read a few pages at a time before putting it down. The section he had just finished was about a man who had expatriated from Argentina and gone to Chile then from Chile to Uruguay and Brazil and up through Mexico along the pacific coast crossing into the United States and finding work in San Francisco. Soon, he made enough money to get to New York. He was in a dirty apartment in Queens and he was writing letters to the people he had met in all the places he had been. The letters explained that he was working on a novel about Argentina. He admits he can understand the place much better from New York. He can hear the voices of the people and smell the stink of the streets and see the buildings and countryside like never before. It is as if he is a child again, uncovering every secret of his private world, amazed and frightened by what he has found.
It was nearly four in the morning, but Max could not sleep and decided to go for a drive. The weather had turned cold and vicious and a snowstorm had just passed through, leaving the roads slick and the banks black from car exhaust. The months where he could have befriended others in this new city had passed and carrying chopped wood from the garage to the house had become more meaningful in his mind than anything he could imagine for himself. He had learned to make a perfect fire and this gave him pleasure far beyond any of the academic work he had been doing at the time. He remembered there was a twenty-four hour diner on the main boulevard positioned on the left side, somewhere in between a furniture store and a muffler shop. From the university he could take the road that went up past his place and around the boulevard, out toward the apple woods and salt mines. He could drive down Columbia Ave., through the streets of vacant houses and past shadows of gun toting hoods. He could drive through the residential neighborhoods of professors and executives, real estate agents and retired unknowns, having to make many turns and possibly getting lost. It satisfied him to have these routes to choose from, like three chance meetings. He drove the empty street, watching ahead of him as a wind blew trash from a tipped over barrel across the intersection. The streetlights switched off, and the sky turned ashy gray as morning came near. Moving forward, he felt at peace. He saw a parked car outside an elementary school, the headlights shining on the brick face, leaving an image of big yellow eyes like those of a sick dog’s. An old man in a black winter hat humped a short row of grocery carts across the far end of the parking lot toward the supermarket. The salt mines past the turn shimmered under streetlights as the wind col-
lected handfuls of salt and shook them over the icy roads. The night clouds had become visible. Patches of tar covered the cracked pavement in the shapes of letters. A car swooped past, emitting a chunk of cloud from its muffler, stopping suddenly and flinging from the passenger side window a bound stack of newspapers. He reached the end of the boulevard and started back towards its middle. The diner he had thought was open all night was closed, but the lights were on inside and there was a woman mopping the floor. She was a short woman with dirty blonde hair and sunken cheeks. He knocked and she rested the mop against the counter and unlocked the door. “We’ll be open again in a half-hour,” she said. Her voice was soft and sleepy. There were dark swaths of purple beneath her eyes. “Can I come in anyway? It’s freezing out.” “You’re not evil are you?” “I don’t think so.” “I’m not cooking anything for you.” “That’s fine.” “I’ll put on fresh coffee,” she said, locking the door behind him. He sat in a booth and watched her make the coffee. The smell of the brewing coffee filled the diner and took away some of the dank, foul smell left on the floors from the dirty mop. “You must be hungry,” she said. “No, not really,” he replied. “I’m pretty hungry myself, but the boss don’t like us making our own food, so I gotta wait for the cook to show up, but he ain’t shown up, obviously, ‘cause if he had I’d of told him to make me a mushroom and cheddar omelet ‘cause that’s my favorite.” She poured the coffee and brought it to him.
“Cream and sugar?” she said. “No, this is fine.” “I like a lot of cream, but no sugar. I got diabetes.” She returned to the mop and bucket. He watched how she flicked the end of the mop after every swipe across the floor, how precise her movements were, and thought of how one could train oneself to do anything if they did it every day and how this, in many ways, was the core reasoning to explaining the pyramids. “You ever been anywhere neat?” she asked him. “I’ve been to some interesting places,” he said. “Like where?” “I’ve been to Spain. I’ve been to China. I’ve been to Mexico a few times,” “Those are just countries. I’m talking about a neat place, like some place you’d take a woman if you had one.” “How do you know I don’t have one?” “You’re here at four in the morning and we ain’t cooking nothing.” She walked to the back of the restaurant with the mop and bucket and returned with a bottle of disinfectant and paper towels. “I went to a neat place just last week,” she said. “It was up in the country. I’ve lived here thirty-two years and never been up in the country, believe that? It was this dude’s farm. This dude I’m sort of seeing. Well, who knows if I’m seeing him or not. I’ve seen him a couple times anyway and last week he brought me up to this farm in the country. He said it used to be his family’s farm or something. How you doing on your coffee?” “Fine,” Max said. “You let me know.” She wiped down a table with big, circular motions, as precise as she had been with the mop. “There were no
friggin’ animals at this farm. I said, ‘What kind of farm has no animals?’ He’s a wise guy, this one. He says it’s not a farm anymore and I say, ‘Well, what is it?’ He parks his truck and we sit there and smoke a little weed, which I like to do every now and again, but never alone ‘cause I start to think people I used to know, you know, dead people, are going to pop up in my head and I’ll have to start talking to them like you do when you think about a dead person. Well, that only happened once, but it was scarier than shit ‘cause it was my grandfather who I didn’t really even know, except that he was a police officer and he told me the worst story once about seeing a boy all bloodied from being hit by a car and how he had this yellow puss coming out his ears and I asked him why he told me that, I said, ‘Why’d you tell me something like that when I was just a little girl?’ and he said that I needed to know these things for when I got older, which I guess is true enough, but still, I can’t ever get the image of that boy out of my head. Anyway, I don’t smoke that stuff alone no more, so this dude and me were smoking and laughing some and I tell him to put the radio on and he says no, that that would disturb them, and I say, ‘Whose them?’ But he don’t tell me who’s them, and I say, ‘Jesus Christ, man, what’s going on here?’ And I’m getting a little scared ‘cause I don’t know this dude that well and he brings me all the way out to the country and he’s got me in his truck, a little stoned, and I can’t see nothing but snow and a farmhouse and a few trailers beyond that. Coffee, hon?” “A little,” Max said. She walked behind the counter and brought the coffee pot to his table and poured some into his mug. “Thank you.” She went back to her work, spraying down two tables side by side and tearing off a
handful of paper towels. “I don’t say nothing after that. Don’t say a word. He hands me the joint and I tell him I don’t want any more of that. I start thinking he might’ve slipped something in there, some powder or something, start feeling my legs go numb. You know, I was scared. I’ll admit it. I’m not afraid to admit I was scared. He says, ‘Let’s go, baby,’ and gets out of the truck, but I’m feeling planted to that seat, so he walked around the back and I’m looking through the back window thinking he’s got some shovel in there to dig a hole to put me in, but the ground must be frozen stiff, I think, so maybe he’ll just conk me on the head with it. Then he opens the door and puts out his hand, this dude, a real gentleman let me tell you. I say, ‘What the hell’ and he says, ‘That’s the spirit,’ and he puts his arm around me, walks me out into the field. It was just a few days ago, you know, so there was all this icy snow from the storm and I could walk fine on it, but he kept falling in, and I was laughing, but he had this real serious look on his face like he was on some secret mission or something so I stopped laughing. I wasn’t cold ‘cause I got this great big coat that my boss here bought me for my birthday ‘cause he knows I work more doubles than any other girl, saving up for who knows what, I just like keeping busy. So we’re out in this field in the snow, and this dude’s acting real cool, which I just hate ‘cause I hate when someone acts like they know something you don’t, so I say, ‘Alright then, tell me what this is all about,’ and he says, ‘It’s not about anything. Sit down,’ he says. ‘I’m not sitting anywhere,’ I tell him. ‘You have to or else you won’t see it,’ he says. ‘See what?’ I say. Man, I think, this dude is out of his goddamn mind. But, he sits down and I can see in his eyes he believes what he’s saying and he don’t seem threatening so I sit beside him.” She took a scraper from her back pocket
and drove it into a mash of ice cream or cheese, chipping it loose and blowing it off the table. “Bunch of slobs around here, let me tell you. This dude. I say to him, ‘I don’t know how long I can sit here, man,’ ‘cause my butt was freezing. But he don’t say nothing. He just closes his eyes and I’m watching him and he’s got this peaceful expression on his face, which I’ve never seen on anyone’s face before ‘cause I’ve never been around people like that before. I say, ‘Come on man, let’s go back to the truck.’ He says, ‘Just try.’ So I give it a try. I’m quiet and listening, but I don’t hear nothing except a door rattling on one of those trailers and I don’t see nothing but the white snow. ‘What am I supposed to be doing here?’ I ask him. ‘Close your eyes,’ he says. I close my eyes this time and let go, just listen and try to see like this dude’s telling me to. Then I’m gone. I don’t know where. It was like I just stepped into space, but no space I’d ever known, and I’m sitting at a table looking at this little girl, cute as hell this kid, and she’s eating cut up hot dog and she picks up one of the pieces and throws it at my face, and I say, ‘What’d you do that for, man?’ But she just giggles and I can’t be mad at some cute girl giggling like that, so I laugh and let her toss another piece at me, but this time I catch it in my mouth. When she’s all through eating, I take her in my arms and clean her up in the bath and get her ready for bed. I read her this story about this old dog that no one wants just wandering the streets until some girl, and I say, ‘A girl like you,’ and she giggles, picks him up and brings him home and feeds him and takes care of him and soon the dog is happy as can be until the family comes home and says they can’t have a dog in the house. So the girl gets mad and says she’s going to go wherever that dog goes and so the dog leaves and the girl follows the dog and the dog brings her down the street, leading her
out of her neighborhood and they’re walking through the city and people are staring at them, but none of those people say nothing ‘cause it seems like pretty much everything’s odd these days, and so the dog keeps leading the girl until they’re out in the country and they’re at this farm and the farm is all covered in snow and the dog lays down in the snow and so does the girl and goddamn I opened my eyes and swore that was me.” She had finished wiping down the tables and sat down in one of the chairs. “I’m exhausted just recalling it all. Man, it was crazy.” “What about the guy you were with?” Max asked. “He was still off in whatever world he was off in. I let him be there, because by then I knew why he’d brought me to that farm. You see, he’s just some dude, works at some body shop in town, probably pretty good at what he does ‘cause he’s got a nice truck and a decent home, but that’s all he’s got.” There was a knock on the door and the waitress went and unlocked it and let in who Max presumed to be the cook. “You’re late,” the waitress said. “Got held up in traffic, car wouldn’t start, woman giving me a hard time, what line you want, deary?” “I want you to make me a mushroom and cheddar omelet,” she said. “Let me wash my hands.” She sat back down and looked the place over. It was clean as could be for a diner and she seemed pleased with her work. “I don’t know what all that’s supposed to mean, you know, if I’m the girl and this dude is the dog, or if I’m a mother and got a daughter somewhere, like there’s another me or something. Or if it was a memory from a long time
ago and I just forgot it and maybe I really was out in the country once with this old dog sitting in the snow. You got any ideas?” “Not at the moment,” Max said. “If I could remember how the hell I got out there, I’d tell you, but I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I’ve been thinking lately this dude wasn’t even real ‘cause he hasn’t called me since. But I hope he does ‘cause I think I like this one. Well, I like him better than most I’ve been with.” The cook made an omelet for her and she sat and ate contentedly until her plate was clean. She wiped down the table and took the plate and silverware out back. After a while, the diner began filling up with customers and the waitress made her way from table to table, pouring coffee and writing down orders. She smiled at Max from time to time and he had the impression that she thought he might try to find that place where she had been. He left a few dollars for the coffee and drove down the boulevard, and up one of the cross streets to a stop sign. He was at that stop sign for a while, thinking about what the waitress had said. His loneliness had made him forget how beautiful it could be to wander around in the mind. A car horn sounded behind him and he drove up the hill and back home. When he returned home, it was cold in his place and he went to the garage and stacked some wood across his arms. He made a fire and the heat warmed him. Soon, he needed more wood and he put on his coat and went outside and stacked the wood in his arms. As he walked back to his front door he heard car motors running as they warmed up in his neighbors’ driveways and the rustling of black crows in the trees and the shouting of children as they dragged their backpacks down the road. His street ran up a hill to where the sun rose and shined toward
the corners of the sky, and he watched the darkness parting like a theater curtain at the beginning of a play, cars disappearing into a blot of white, the crows springing from the trees to spots of sun, the children waiting at the corner for the long, yellow bus, which would transport them toward an understanding of the world they would struggle for years to forget.
About the authors:
JAY BOYER teaches in the creative writing of Arizona State University. RON SAVAGE worked as a psychologist at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia before re-
tiring to write full time. He has published over seventy stories around the world. Some of his recent and forthcoming publications include Glimmer Train, Shenandoah, G.W. Review, Film Comment, and Southern Humanities Review.
PATRICK DACEY is a graduate and former creative writing fellow of Syracuse Universityâ€™s Masterâ€™s of
Fine Arts program. He has published in BOMB Magazine, The Smithsonian Magazine, Faultline, Avery, and The Washington Square Review. He currently lives and works in Centerville, Massachusetts.