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We Will Not Find His Goodness Even After He Is Dead G. K. Wuori

From

The Ampersand Review, Vol. 1


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We Will Not Find His Goodness Even After He Is Dead G. K. Wuori

Sonia had to get back at the old man, the little old man, she’d been told, the man with all the heft of a flea. Fiercely, she felt the need; fiercely, she felt the contradiction in it: the statute of limitations put everything out to pasture once you’d reached a hundred (or so). This need, though, felt terribly masculine for an old woman, felt of knuckles and axle grease, nasty dogs. Old woman? Well, older at fifty-eight with some of the boys still calling her a looker. The hair only slightly flecked with gray, that was it; her body still protein-tight with no fillers and nothing vacuumed out of it. In the summer, too, no three winter coats for her, no long johns, wool socks, and fingerless mitts. An old pair of bib britches cut off at the knees, and sandals when she had them; otherwise, barefoot – summer okay, hot as a virgin’s butt maybe, but her legs were still long enough to stab some Joe right in his fantasies. Men, though, they liked that business, that “getting back” thing, revenge, tit for tat (best when spoken), and Sonia, until now, had never felt it at all. She’d always thought most of the world’s malfeasances simply stinky and deserving only of being


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walked away from. Not now, though; not this time. # A quiet world greeted Sonia every morning, the town of Emily Handy without a police force, without a newspaper, and with no building over three stories high. Nor were there parking meters, street curbs anywhere except downtown, or fire hydrants. Rural ecstasy, as the newcomers from the east would say, people who, as Sonia always thought, had never visited a pig farm or fished a child out from under five tons of shelled corn. She’d done both of those things though not recently, events as nasty as an open sore on a preacher’s lip. She had, as well, cut her brother down from a walnut tree where he’d hanged himself, the tree all alone in the middle of a soybean field, her brother alone as well – very much so. That, too, was long ago and, as she thought about it, even the cities had walnut trees. Sonia, most mornings, walked right up to porches and decks where the citizens sipped their coffee and slurped their cereal, the little TV’s ubiquitous. Sometimes she’d take an offered hardboiled egg or piece of toast or banana (never, ever touching the dishes of strangers) as she watched the news or glanced over a shoulder at a newspaper or news magazine. Sonia, thus, knew what was what. She knew about the war (always there seemed to be one, Washington looking upon its young soldiers as though they were simply confidential documents to be shredded), about the uncivil chicanery of the politicians, about the earth fighting man’s efforts to kill it, about people so desperate to hold onto their possessions they would believe anything they were told. Sonia, who didn’t even own a radio, kept up. She sensed, too, that people trusted her. Easy enough, she knew, since most people saw her in town more often than they might see their own spouse or their kids or the neighbors who, for all anyone could actually know or see, might have secret lives that


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involved paranormal activity or politics or the occult. Not for Sonia, a secret life, Sonia who once said, “My life is an open book but you wouldn’t want your children to read it, dear,” who once also had been mother to twin girls – Ilsbeth and Elsbeth: lost to the Illinois Lottery. Well, lost to her husband who’d lucked out a winner by scrambling his penis size, his I.Q., and Sonia’s bustline (42) numbers and walked off with Sonia’s life, her daughters, her house (which he sold), all of that after he’d embarrassingly piled up their furniture in the backyard and burned it. Sonia hadn’t realized how effective money, or the lack of it, had been in keeping so much hatred locked up inside of Gary. Gary had a high-rise condo in Chicago now and the girls studied Latin and Calculus and Greek history in a private school. College loomed in the fall, Sonia knew, a fancy place where the dining hall had waiter service. Sonia had no contact with either Gary or the girls, but this town, this Emily Handy in northern Illinois where she’d lived all her life, was like a small beehive where the drones went out into the world every day and came back to tell everyone everything they’d seen and heard. Sonia also learned this. Gary told the girls Sonia, their mother, was dead. They believed him. # Sonia, then, this one day, walked downtown. She wanted to see how everything was going with the Main Street reconstruction, the thing a mess and all torn up right down to China so that the road being put in would withstand the nuclear attack (she liked to think) the Iranians or North Koreans would drop on the town some day. She’d seen that threat in the newspapers so she knew people were worried about it. People, too, always liked to build something when they had big worries. Since the protocols of a woman without an address fade quickly,


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though certain matters of etiquette always remain, Sonia, simply curious, had no hesitation in mounting what she thought of as a cute little ladder and climbing right up onto the one machine that reminded her there hadn’t been any fucking in her life for some time. She counted four hydraulic pistons each the size of a telephone pole, though not as long; big chain links (of a sort) – cold iron, smoke, noise: a monster whose name was Caterpillar, who denied its heritage as a quiet, squiggly thing that only moved such earth as it needed to eat or fuck. “How you doing?” Sonia said to the driver as she leaned into the cab. Sonia thought he looked to be about fifteen although he had a tattoo near his bare shoulder that read USMC and Semper Fi – the Marines, like Gary, never quite able to put down their gang signs. “Shit!” the boy yelled. “Did I scare you?” Sonia said, finding it odd that you could frighten an ex-Marine who’d mastered a machine the size of a small barn. “Ma’am?” the boy said. “I’m just curious,” Sonia said. “You can’t be curious this way,” the boy said. “This isn’t a good way to be curious.” Sonia couldn’t remember ever grading curiosity. Mostly, it had always been called good – something about a cat being killed not really funny – though she supposed the Marines might have a different way of looking at it. Curious Marines could well be a detriment to goals that non-Marines (like Sonia) never heard about. That might be why they were always featured in news stories about amazing new prosthetic devices. Imagine! All you have to do is think it and you can walk! She thought the Marines might need to think about having higher goals. “Have you ever dug into any bones?” Sonia said. “Have you ever felt the pulse of discarded life zinging right up from the ground


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and into all these levers and gizmos here?” “Are you a crazy person?” he asked. “Who’s to say?” Sonia said. “It’s a pretty kinky judgment to make.” Then the boy – the man, the Marine – said, “You have really nice legs.” Sonia, at the time, had on her shorty bib britches and a pair of lace-up boots she’d found down near the river. The boots, in a teenage girl’s style, had held a condom in one and a plastic bag of pills in another. Even though she knew she was condemning at least one BYOB (or P) party to infinite boredom, she’d thrown the pills in the Little Poorchop. Happy fish. The condom she’d kept, thinking you never knew when you might want to prevent a disease. “They go from my hips to my feet,” Sonia said. “I bet yours do, too.” “Honey, they’ll go right up and down yours, too, if you want them to.” “Wow!” Sonia said. “That’s bold.” “Just the kind of guy I am, sweetheart,” the boy said. “But insulting,” Sonia said. “I’m old enough to be your mother and you should never want to fuck your mother.” “I don’t want to fuck my mother,” the boy said. “What?” Quite angry then, Sonia unsnapped the top of her britches so that her breasts could jiggle out around the edges of denim. She knew the boy couldn’t decide whether to work or apply for a leave of absence. Then she said, “What’s this do?” Sonia pulled hard on what looked like an important lever. As she jumped off the machine she could see the great boom swinging upward and then over to the right hard enough to snap a streetlight arm right off its post.


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“Cocksucker!” she heard and assumed the epithet was meant for her, something she hadn’t done in a long time and usually didn’t mind doing if her mood was right, the timing just so – a certain need for degradation required (any of the possible positions never preserving much dignity and nearly always leading her to laugh and Gary to get pissed off). She’d offered to hang upside down from a tree branch one time for Gary, but Gary could never understand how a woman just occasionally had to put all pride aside and assume the role of a piece of gum on the sidewalk, stepped on repeatedly. Gary had, if Sonia remembered correctly, called her a harlot at the time.

# Sonia, who’d stepped quickly through the mud and debris to the sidewalk, watched as the boy struggled both to get his machine under control and to invent a story as to what went wrong. She didn’t think it would do for him to claim he’d been undone by a harlot leaping onto his unit. A boss always wants to believe screw-up stories especially if they don’t point to him or to lack of training or to his having hired someone who possibly belonged in a rehabilitation unit. Sonia, though, thought the boy might run to thin on imagination. “Excuse me?” Sonia heard the voice and turned and saw nothing, then turned again to find a man barely a foot from her, a distinguished man quite thin – striped suit (3-piece, charcoal), bow tie, white hair. Quite dignified, not the sort of man who’d buy a single can of beer over at Lenny’s convenience store, the man carried a walking stick which Sonia knew was quite different from a cane. He reminded her, instantly, of Eddie Raymond, the editor of a newspaper where she’d once been a reporter.


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“Yes, sir?” Sonia said, feeling, in the man’s presence, that she might be seeking his approval for something. He had that look about him and also seemed to be wearing a quite strong aftershave. “That was mischief, I believe.” the man said. “Mischief?” said Sonia. “Practical misdirection,” he said. “Rather expensive, too. Repairs will have to be made.” “Do you have a name, sir?” Sonia said. “I don’t do very well in the face of anonymous criticism.” “By the looks of you, you’re not doing very well in any sense,” the man said. “Could be,” said Sonia, “though I eat well and am never gassy. I sleep ten hours a night and have a college degree. I believe that boy wanted to take me somewhere and insert his penis into my vagina. The prospect did not please me.” “My own experience is that whores are never hard to please,” he said. “Albert O’Malley’s the name. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?” “I’ve heard of Albert,” Sonia said, “and O’Malley. But not together, at least not here. Not recently.” Any woman without an address, Sonia knew, ran the risk of being called a whore. She liked it – her thinking perverse, but she didn’t mind that, either – that in such modern times with so many modern inventions reorganizing the human brain, no one had yet come up with a replacement for that charming, if archaic, slur toward a woman. She began to feel that at least there was some room for improvement of the species, or at least its language. “You’re familiar with whores, then, sir?” Sonia continued. “Intimately, so to speak?” “I married one,” Albert O’Malley said. “Perhaps you’re lucky,” Sonia said. “Most whores tend to be rather free-spirited – unconstrained, if you will. That’s something a man ought to prize in his wife. Freedom, I think, comes in


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many varieties, as do insults.” “Sorry if I called you a whore,” Albert O’Malley said. “That was presumptuous. Bitch seemed rather harsh. Still, you’ve chosen to live, so to speak, without portfolio. Might I ask why?” “Only a man, sir. My husband,” Sonia said. “Took everything I had and the courts let him do it.” “Children?” “Gone, too. My girls, quite lovely. I miss them a great deal. They’ve been told I’m dead.” “Your claim, then,” Albert O’Malley began, “to the works. You have none. You might understand it as a ticket to the dance. Gone. Can you comprehend metaphors?” “I can comprehend a cranky streak when I see one. You, sir, are quite cranky. Can you comprehend that?” Albert O’Malley, then, warning Sonia neither metaphorically nor with his gurgly voice, slapped Sonia on the back of both calves with his walking stick. “Holy ouch!” Sonia yelled. “That hurt!” When he whacked Sonia’s shins, though, the tears came immediately to her eyes, a ditsy pisser of a pain already filling her nose and throat with phlegm. “No use for you, you see,” Albert O’Malley said. “No use at all.” “But it’s still assault,” Sonia said. “I learned that in the courts not so long ago.” As she tried to move away she noticed the old man had one hand on a bib strap, holding her tight as he slapped his walking stick squarely against both of her breasts. “Sexual assault?” Sonia said. “For God’s sakes, sir.” Then, as he struck the backs of her legs, an entire configuration of muscles went out and she fell to both knees, the blows continuing now to her shoulders, her arms, her head. “Please …?” Sonia began. She looked up as the blows stopped, then down the sidewalk, and


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finally into the scarred bulk of the reconstructing street. He was gone. Another man – Sonia feeling as though she’d had enough of men that morning – came out of the shop to her left and knelt down beside her. “Let me help you,” he said. “Here. Just come into my shop and you can sit down.” “I’m quite all right,” Sonia said. “I’m sure I am. Mostly pride, you know. That’s always what’s taken from you at first.” “Happens to all of us,” the man said as he helped her sit down. Sonia remembered then the place was a bookstore with something odd about it, not odd like the one down toward Lenny’s, the adult one with hardly a book in sight but artifacts aplenty to stir the imagination, even the aesthetic sense of wonder. Not odd like the Barnes & Noble over at the mall, either, where you could be almost illiterate and still read most of what they sold. Books, though, were all around her, new books she’d never heard of though they looked interesting – paperbacks, poetry, lots of poetry like the kind she used to read in The New Yorker when she still had an address and a desire to fill her mind with something besides Gary and diapers and two hungry mouths on her tits (I liked that!) and killing the weeds coming up through the cracks on the patio. “Being beaten like that?” Sonia finally said. “Happens to all of us?” “Oh?” the man said. “He was so old, you know,” Sonia said, “and so proper. I couldn’t hit him. I’m not sure I even had a chance but I couldn’t have anyway.” “Would you like some water? A cup of coffee? I always have coffee for my customers.” “That would be nice,” Sonia said. “Coffee. A cup of coffee would


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be quite nice.” An owner, he’d been that – the old man, proprietary over his streets and his town, the sort who’d require you to possess deeds and bills of sale and paid-up credit card accounts before he’d loan you his hankie if you were sneezing golf balls. She’d known old people like that before, so tight they shit spider webs and would wipe a water glass with a piece of bread to get the very last drop. Request an endearment (Grandpa, I love you) and you got a lesson about hard times and how easy things are today. Which Sonia didn’t think was true at all – things being easy. “Albert O’Malley,” Sonia said as the man gave her a thick crockery mug filled with coffee, good-smelling coffee, too, no doubt fresh. “Do you like something in it?” the man said. “Black is fine,” said Sonia. “Albert O’Malley,” the man said. “I said that,” said Sonia. “What’s your name?” “Schuyler.” “Okay.” “And you’re …?” “Sonia. Sonia the Bruised. Sonia the Undefeated. A little bent, but still around five-eight.” “With a sense of humor still intact,” said Schuyler. “I hope so,” Sonia said. “I have so little left to cry over I’d damn well better be able to laugh.” “So a story emerges,” said Schuyler. “No story,” Sonia said. “I feel more like an event that simply starts and stops now and then.” “Of course …,” Schuyler began and then stopped. “Of course?” “I’ve noticed you. Around town, I mean. You walk a lot. I’ve seen you eating on the steps of the old bank, and I’ve seen you sleeping on a bench down at the park.” “As I said,” Sonia said, “an event. You try to please the audience


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but you never know their moods, their politics. They do, however, like helplessness. Always, they like helplessness.” Sonia heard the noises as she and Schuyler talked – something upstairs and then a careful, slow stepping on a stairway: soft shoes, perhaps no shoes. She had thoughts of a demented grandfather kept hidden away, Schuyler not so much embarrassed by the man as perplexed, all possible solutions down to dust balls and practical jokes. Or a wife, perhaps, aware of her husband in quiet commerce with a woman, the man trying hard not to stare at her breasts though they were bruised, a reddish blotch already spreading to the top and edges of the bib on her denim britches. A woman came into the room then from the inside stairway. Proprietary? The landlord? A poet being held in bondage upstairs until she produced a bestseller? No, a housewife. She has that look about her, if missing the usual sterile aspect. Somewhat dirty – definitely the dress, too tight, really, shabby, the thing in need of a wash and if I still had my sewing bunny I could mend that tear on her hip – allusions to grime on the hands and feet, hair untended though quite long. Wounded? Oh my, one wan soul in need of stitches, possibly general surgery, which reminds me of the story I once read about a soul surgeon, a woman of ethereal arts, quite skilled in drawing out the pus from days that had never been what they should have been. Or maybe I just made that up, stories like that all the same anyway. I bet there’s a husband behind this woman, a neglectful man not given to many compliments. “Sullivan?” Schuyler said as the woman entered the shop. Flats, Sonia thought. Not many women wear flats anymore, not a comfortable shoe, hot in summer, not very warm in winter. It could be I’m interrupting something here but, in spite of this man’s kindness toward me, it’s still an open shop, even business as usual.


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The woman, Sonia noticed – Sullivan? Odd name for a woman. – held about a dozen small paperbacks in one arm. A reader – of course, the shabby clothes explained that. “I’m done with these,” the woman (Sullivan) said. “They’ve spun my head into a froth.” “That’s good,” Schuyler said. “I know,” Sullivan said. “I’m just not sure how smart I want to be. I used to be happier when I was dumber.” Sonia looked at Sullivan then and politely said, “Dumb gets you screwed.” “Sonia, is it?” Schuyler said. “That’s right. Sonia this is Sullivan. She lives upstairs.” “I used to live in a house,” Sullivan said. “But my husband’s girlfriend said the three of us were just too cramped. Not being the girlfriend, I had to go. Funny how families are these days.” “That’s about the shortest life story I’ve ever heard,” Sonia said. “So far,” said Sullivan. “You look a little tossed,” Sullivan said to Sonia. “Which reminds me,” Sonia began as she looked up to Schuyler. “This Albert O’Malley. You looked like you knew him when I mentioned his name.” “I even have some copies of his book,” Schuyler said, “though no one’s asked for it in a long time.” “He wrote a book?” Sonia said. “Here,” Schuyler said as he stepped over to a bookshelf. “From Beans To Bucks: God, Man, and the Entrepreneurial Spirit. It’s the sort of thing a lot of men would like to write at the end of their careers. I don’t usually stock such things, but when it’s local …. Anyway, they’re all pretty similar: hardships overcome, joys encountered, and always, always the presumption of wisdom.” “Are you going to write a book like that someday, Schuyler?” Sullivan asked. Sullivan, Sonia thought, had a smile that could persuade armies


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that a war could be put off till tomorrow. “I don’t know,” he said, smiling. “The hardships haven’t been overcome yet; I’m not sure about joy, and I know the wisdom is still out there on the horizon. Maybe way out there.” Sonia looked at the book in her hands and thought for a moment how long it had been since she’d had this sort of conversation – simply words intended to clarify or amuse. Not yet had anyone told her to get off their fucking lawn chair; not yet had anyone assumed she had nothing to contribute to the world but trouble, a tale of woe. She looked at the picture on the back of the vanity press book and saw that it was, indeed, the man who’d beaten her a short time ago. What had she thought? A proprietary man; yes, that was it, an owner. He would control his town. Behaviors would be deemed worthy or not depending on his judgment, and anything new would be subject to his will. Sonia couldn’t imagine why anyone would want such responsibility. She opened the book to read the jacket copy. Albert O’Malley, generous benefactor of Emily Handy, Financier, banker, philanthropist, a hero to Generations who’ve benefited from his wisdom in Guiding their town out of its rural roots and into the role Of major player on the fringes of that great city to the east, Chicago. His words tell the story of conflict, growth, corruption, and renewal. “So he’s an old man,” Sonia said. “Very old,” said Schuyler. “He has all the presence of a biting mite and never goes out when the wind is blowing.” “You said before it happens to all of us,” Sonia said. “You’ve had


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experience being beaten up by old men of miniscule substance?” “Perhaps it was just …,” Schuyler began. Sonia quickly unhooked the top of her bib britches then and dropped the bib down to her waist. “… my imagination?” Sonia said, her bruised and mottled breasts cupped in her hands. “I believe the mite bites.” “I don’t know,” Schuyler said. “I just sell books.” “Of course you do,” Sonia said. “I’m sorry.” Sonia decided she’d been much too hard on herself during these recent months. Much too hard. That, of course, excused nothing, particularly did it not excuse Albert O’Malley’s rude, his presumptuous, his violent behavior. He’d shamed her, humiliated her, and caused her actual, if minor, physical injuries. A price had to be paid for that, always, and the diminished presence of your elderly times never salved the wounds of those you’d humiliated. Sonia didn’t just then know what that price would be, but she would find it. She would take that old man to the cleaners and shake the moths out of his tweeds. First, however, she had to ask this very kind man or this truly interesting woman if they would mind her using the bathroom.


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G. K. Wuori is the author of over seventy stories published throughout the world in the U.S., Japan, India, Germany, Spain, Algeria, Ireland, and Brazil. A Pushcart Prize winner and recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, his work has appeared in such journals as The Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review,

The Barcelona Review, Shenandoah, The Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, The Massachusetts Review, Mad Hatters Review, TriQuarterly, and Five Points. His story collection, Nude In Tub, was a New Voices Award Nominee by the Quality Paperback Book Club and his novel, An American Outrage, was Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year in fiction. He currently lives in Sycamore, Illinois where he writes a monthly column called Cold Iron at www.gkwuori.com, and blogs at www.fancydancercoachlightcompany.blogspot.com.

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"We Will Not Know His Goodness Even After He is Dead," by G. K. Wuori