John never thought he’d end up living in the apartments above the old dead storefronts on Main. He’d passed by these places all his life—the pool room that never opened, the shoe store that used to anchor the corner, the antique shop that opened and closed at someone else’s whim. He and Curtis had crawled through the ground-floor window of what had been a hotel at one time—this was back when they’d been 12, before any of the upper floors were made more or less habitable again. John had cut his hand on the window glass going in, but they’d found an old girls-and-cars pin-up calendar from the 40s that he and Curtis ogled later. John doesn’t know what happened to that calendar; he wishes that he still had it.
But most of the things John had then are gone now: his father, the house they all shared out off the hard road a mile out, his plans to grow up and do anything that wasn’t farming. All of that passed like leftover crops through a gleaner, used up and gone. Most of it was the drugs, the rest of it was the stupidity. Curtis never got that. He was up at Statesville last time John bothered to check, with a swastika on one arm and the high school’s Indian Chief on the other.
John met a girl named Lisa back when Curtis was still on the outside. Lisa hated Curtis—said she’d never met a Curtis who wasn’t up to something. This had forced John to choose between the two, which turned out to be a good thing when John wasn’t in the car that night Curtis got pulled over and things went south for everyone involved. Later, when Lisa got pregnant and decided to keep it, John stayed because he thought he owed her. Later still, when Lisa left with that car salesman from St. Louis, John found himself a single father to a three-year-old girl.
Today is her first day of kindergarten. Half-day, mornings. It’s lunchtime. John feels the steam rise off of the waxy macaroni water as he pours it carefully into the strainer. He cuts slices of already-melting butter into the pasta, pours in the cheese and some milk, and stirs. He looks at the clock, feels the cool air from the open window on his face, breathes purposefully and loudly through his thick nose to calm his nerves. John looks at the limitless blue of the sky outside, considers its depth, and wonders if this is what it means to be a father: the waiting for her. Waiting for her to make her mistakes. Waiting for her to understand the sharp edges of the world. Waiting for her to survive it all, just out of sheer luck.
She Let Him
Listen to Teague Bohlen read this story:
She let him, finally, in the woods around Marrowbone Creek. It was right off the hard road, down a lane she’d seen once as a girl, looking for minnows flashing in the muddy water. She picked the place, because she’d heard from her friends these stories about how sometimes a boy would choose a spot strategically close to where his friends were hiding up high in the trees, camouflaged purposefully like they were hunting deer, perched in blinds with binoculars instead of guns. Or worse, cameras. She let him because she was afraid he was bored with her, more afraid that she was bored with him. Afraid that neither of them had other options.
He tried to make it nice. He put six blankets in the bed of his truck, plus two to cover them up, because it was September, and just in case. He brought two candles from his mother’s coffee table and set them on the roof of the cab. He left the radio on.
It was dark, and getting darker; warm but getting cooler. She liked the weight of him, his insistence, his gratitude. She was sure they weren’t being watched, that no one knew where they were and probably didn’t care. Cars and trucks passed on the road, shining their headlights into the canopy of brush, these small bursts of incidental clarity. She stared at the trees the entire time, lit or not. She liked the way they loomed, the way they shook their tiniest branches at her, the way they seemed somehow to look right back.
Listen to Teague Bohlen read this story:
Bill Jumers is aware that his wife Joyce haunts their kitchen sink. Not the sink itself, but right in front of it, where she used to stand all the time when she was washing, rinsing, peeling, scrubbing, and humming all the time she was there. He doesn’t still hear her humming there at the sink—nothing so direct as all that. But then, he didn’t hear her that night, either.
He did hear her fall. She mistook the door to the basement for the door to their hall toilet in the middle of the night—or so he guesses, because there’s no way of knowing—and broke her neck somewhere on the way down. They’d been married 42 years, in the same house for almost 30. He remembers hearing her tripping down the stair, but Joyce herself didn’t make a sound.
And Joyce was not a woman known for quiet. This is what troubles Bill. Joyce’s reputation for speaking her mind was almost as well-known as her reputation for her homemade applesauce, which she made from the fruit trees in their backyard and brought to every church event and potluck. All Bill knows is that it feels wrong to stand there, like he’s walking on her grave. Displacing her. And so, he avoids it as much as he can. He reuses the same frying pan night after night, just leaves it on the stove for the next time. He drinks from the same water glass, eats off paper plates, stirs his coffee with the same spoon, washes things in the hall bathroom when he has to. He gives Joyce her space at the kitchen sink, if that’s where she wants to be.
Bill sits in his chair at the kitchen table, eats whole apples, and watches the sink. He does this almost every night now, until the quiet itself becomes a sound. He wonders if Joyce knows that he heard something the night she died, but since she said nothing, didn’t know what it was. He wonders if she’s angry at him for ignoring the noise that night. For calling out, “What the hell are you doing?” For going back to sleep.