When You Get There You’ll Be Waiting
The move to Oregon was supposed to solve all the problems, though he had not exactly promised this.
What he said was that the move to Oregon would be good for them.
A fresh start. After all, nobody in Oregon knew them from Adam.
It wouldn’t be like it was in Atkins, where she couldn’t go to the supermarket without the whispers and stares.
Their story would stay in Iowa, he told her.
Looking out on the leaden gray sky, the wet fields soaked by continual rain, she realized now the hollowness of his promises.
It was never about what all the other people thought.
It was what she herself felt and remembered about that awful day.
There was no escaping her own memory, wherever she might go.
She walked across the sodden grass to the ancient barn on the corner of the property.
The vast space was hushed and almost holy, as though nothing terrible could ever happen here, or anywhere.
She looked up at the sturdy crossbeam above the empty hayloft.
Dust motes swirled in soft shafts of light beaming down through chinks in the roof like a holy benediction.
The sun must have come out.
William Faulkner Wins The Nobel Prize
The poet James Galvin once told me this story about when Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel for literature:
There was a cub reporter in Oxford, Mississippi who was nuts about Faulkner, so his editor sent him to tell the great author that he had won the Nobel. The kid, delighted and nervous to meet his hero, drove out to Faulkner’s Rowan Oak house.
He stepped up on the porch and knocked at the screen. Faulkner’s man, immaculate in white jacket and bow tie, answered the door.
“Excuse me,” said the kid. “Is Mr. Faulkner home?”
“Mr Faulkner,” said the man, “ain’t in just now.”
“Do you know where I can find him?” the kid asked.
“He out there in the field someplace,” said the man, gesturing at a row of distant trees.
The kid set out across the grass and into the woods. As he approached, he heard the sound of thrashing punctuated by occasional curses. He soon came across William Faulkner, pantless, but incongruously wearing a shirt and tie and sock garters. He held a shotgun by the barrel and was swinging it at the weeds. In the other hand he had a half-full quart bottle of beer.
“Mr. Faulkner, sir?” said the kid.
Faulkner stopped his hacking and looked at him.
“Uh...” said the kid. “I’m from the Oxford Eagle.”
“Is that so?” said Faulkner. He pulled at his beer and wiped his mouth with his hand. “Well, what do you want?”
“I came to tell you that you have been awarded the Nobel Prize,” said the kid.
Faulkner continued to stare at him.
“For literature,” said the kid, feeling awkward. This was not going the way he expected.
“That prize,” said Faulkner. “It comes with a cash award too, if I’m not mistaken?”
“Yes sir. I believe it’s two hundred fifty thousand dollars.”
Faulkner raised his eyebrows, looked at the bottle in his hand and pitched it over his shoulder. “Then what the hell am I drinking beer for?”
Join the Royal Flying Corps and Share Their Honour & Glory, the poster had said in tall blue letters.
Lies, thought Peets as he strode across the slushy grass in his boots and helmet and leather flying coat.
The only glory was a cheap, easy kind you only felt at first when you wore your wings and your Sam Browne belt with a revolver and sounded your boots on the tiles and pretended you didn’t notice women staring at you.
Mirror glory. Vainglory.
As for honor, well. Getting behind an enemy and firing your machine guns into his back hardly seemed honorable, nor did shooting down unarmed observation craft caught unawares, nor did shooting at the soldiers on the ground.
He remembered the discussion with his friend the Subadar earlier in the day.
“When you return, perhaps I will tell you the tale of the Vimana,” the Subadar had said.
“What’s a Vimana?”
“Some say it is a castle in the sky. To others it is a golden chariot employed by the Gods to deliver to us our fates.”
“Sounds unlucky,” said Peets.
“Luck, like dreams, is usually determined by its interpretation,” said the Subadar.
The Night Manager
The Night Manager exuded quiet confidence, taste.
His Gieves & Hawkes suit was impeccably tailored, yet not at all ostentatious.
The subtle pattern of his Brioni necktie quietly matched the hotel wallpaper.
In five languages he would give guests comfort, guidance, bits of colorful lore about the city or the hotel itself.
He solved problems efficiently, discretely, his demeanor projecting an almost overwhelming calm.
There was nothing about the hotel or the city he did not know, no specialization of service in which he was not expert.
He would tell arriving guests about the amenities and luxuries they could expect, the small touches that made his hotel one of the finest in the world– sheets of Egyptian cotton with so high a thread count that their softness could not be measured, bottled mineral water from an ancient village where people routinely surpassed their hundredth birthday, the healing powers of the hotel spa.
He did not tell them of the man in room 2146 lying naked in a tub of ice, his newly harvested organs stored in the basement refrigeration units, nor of the background checks routinely performed on guests to see who might make inquiries should they suddenly go missing.
Él No Se Pierda Esta Día
Father Estrella was drunk, but not too drunk to hear her confession.
Marco always joked it was better to have a drunk priest hear your litany of sins because any righteousness on his part would be offset by the hypocrisy of his own weak soul. Not that Father Estrella was ever especially righteous, even when sober.
“Say three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers,” Father Estrella said through the grate, the wine on his breath giving the confessional a pothouse odor. “Go with God.”
She crossed herself and genuflected outside the booth, then hurried past the line of old women, wondering as always what sin a woman that old could commit.
Marco once told her they probably borrowed sins from the radio plays. "Or maybe they make them up altogether!"
“But isn’t that blasphemy?” she asked, appalled.
“To a drunk priest?” he laughed.
The square was bustling with villagers and merchants setting out painted skulls, cascarones, piñatas, and food for the fiesta. Bunting had been draped between trees and luminaria were set along the clean dirt paths. She heard somebody playing a trumpet in the distance.
This would be the first Day of the Dead since Marco was killed.
It had always been his favorite holiday. “The only holiday we invented,” he said.
She hoped he would visit her tonight.
She hoped with all her heart.
My Utmost Wish
My father told me he spoke to ghosts as easily as people.
Coming from him, this did not seem crazy.
He mentioned a conversation he’d had that morning with his grandfather, retold the joke he had heard.
The fact that his grandfather dropped dead on the golf course on an April day in 1927 was of no consequence.
The joke was a good one.
Timeless, like its teller.
Now he too is gone, my father, gone to join the ghosts to which he spoke so easily.
I did not inherit his full facility with ghosts, only a touch of it.
I can feel my father and know he is there, but he is mute.
It is as though we swim together in the sea, masks and snorkels and fins.
I can neither speak nor hear as I float through this world, its currents wafting hot and cold, up and down, the only sound my own stertorous breathing and the rush of blood in my ears.
I see him there, my father, floating in eddies of his own.
Behind the plate glass of his mask I can see his lips moving.
To hear his voice is my utmost wish.
“Your coffee is getting cold.”
He picked it up, sipped it.
“I had the strangest dream. I was Superman’s son. They named me Superman, Jr. and made me dress in the red and blue suit. I had to wear it to school. The cape was always in the way.”
She started laughing. “That is pretty weird. Could you fly?”
“That was the thing. I didn’t have any of the powers. I was just a regular human. But I still had to wear the suit. My mother was the same mom I have now, only she was a real jerk. Your father works very hard. The least you can do is honor him by wearing the suit. It was awful. I wasn’t super at all.”
She leaned to kiss him, smiling. “Well, I think you’re super.”
That evening they grilled out in the apartment’s rooftop garden, the lights of the Chicago skyscrapers gradually coming on as the sky darkened into sunset.
It was getting colder, so for once they had the place to themselves.
Again and again, he found himself irresistibly drawn to the ledge.
He looked down on the cars and taxis rolling down Michigan Avenue, so near and yet so far.
I Wait For Sunday
I wait for Sunday to roll over me, crash its waves into my chest and tumble me to the shore.
A hard laugh catches in my throat, comes out as a mangled rattle. I forget what was funny, what I was even thinking.
I walk to the window. The Korean neighbor pulls out of his driveway.
He takes the corner too hard. The rear wheel clips a plastic garbage can and snatches it under the car, drags the can halfway down the block before it pops out, unharmed.
There’s a message there, I know. But what message?
From the other room, the football commentator’s brassy voice hammers stats and opinions into my father-in-law’s drunken face. He lives for football Sundays spent lying in his recliner drinking beer, moving only to go to the pisser or get himself another. He says he earned it. Nobody argues.
Later, I wonder why I can never remember transitions, how I move from one place to another.
How I got here.
The little green man in the crosswalk turns into a blinking red hand, then a solid red hand, then back into a little green man. He does this all day, whether I am here or not.
I take a deep breath and wait for Sunday to start over from the beginning.
Holcomb Sunday Morning
“Not like her to oversleep,” said Sue. “Especially on a Sunday.”
“Well, I suppose we’d better go in,” said Nancy. “It looks like they all might be sleeping.”
Sue had a strange feeling as she knocked on the kitchen door. Mr. Clutter and Kenyon were always up early on a Sunday, though Mrs. Clutter usually stayed in her bedroom.
Nobody answered. She knocked again.
“Maybe Mr. Clutter and Kenyon went into town early for some reason,” said Nancy.
“His truck is in the carport. Should we go in?”
The door was unlocked. Nancy saw the telephone was torn out from the wall, its wires trailing like broken legs. The kitchen clock ticked, the only sound in the house. An opened bottle of milk stood on the counter.
“Hello?” called Sue. “Anybody home? We’re going to be late for church.”
There was no answer.
Neither girl wanted to go upstairs.
I could tell from the look on his face that he couldn’t fix it. He held it between his blackened fingers, turning it this way and that.
“This,” he said, “is junk. Not worth repairing.”
I swallowed. “But my father gave this to me. He said it had been his father’s. It’s an heirloom.”
“Nonsense,” said the old man. “Cheap Chinese junk. Come here.” He crooked the finger at me. “Behind the counter.”
He picked up a small caseless watch from the work table, handed it to me along with an oversized magnifying glass.
“Look at this one. This is a Hamilton. Made in Pennsylvania in the 1930s. You see the quality? That ring on the outside, it’s called the balance. You see the center?”
“The ruby thing?”
“It’s a jewel. Not a ruby, but similar. Fine watches use jewels at the axis because they don’t wear out. You see how precisely everything fits together? How it moves? This is a beautiful thing. This is an heirloom.”
He handed my watch to me. “Now look at this one.”
The gears were plastic painted to seem like gold, the movement wobbly and uncertain. It looked sloppy and cheap.
“How much did this watch cost, you think?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Ten dollars. Maybe less. That it ever kept time is a miracle.”
My eyes stung. “My father told me something different.”
The old man’s eyes were kind and oddly hard. “Fathers,” he said.