The Gift Registry

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An Excerpt

“I can’t afford it,” he said. About eight years later, both mothers-in-law came together over lunch to jubilate over the accomplishment of a nest egg so that Diane could start nesting. “Is it a boy?” Diane’s mother asked. “Is it a girl?” Jack’s mother asked. “It’s a grandbaby!” they both said, and they ordered champagne.

Diane’s hand was still touching the phone when she felt something go wrong, and without a second thought, she rushed to the hospital, her Ob/gyn on the phone, but something had gone wrong. She lost the baby. It was a miscarriage.

The shock wore off, and the tears dried up, so Jack and Diane tried again. Another little baby appeared in the ultrasound, a squirming gift from God, and another miscarriage. Her Ob/gyn brought in a second doctor to examine the case. Both of them scratched their heads. “Bad luck,” they said. “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just bad luck.” Jack took Diane to church to pray.

Tumbling ass over teakettle upon vinyl seats in a late model sports sedan was a joy long gone, but Diane’s comportment had become health-class textbook-efficient and formal, far from enjoyable, and hardly fulfilling in a marriage marked by hard work and fidelity. One morning after, Diane was rummaging in a kitchen drawer, looking for a cereal spoon, when she happened upon one which displeased her greatly. She glared at Jack, holding it before him.

The Gift Registry

The Prostate Son

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An excerpt:

Dad shuffled out of the house, grabbing his jacket as he went out the door, started the car, and Mom hustled after him. They drove away into a light gray afternoon. Then it was a drive to a urologist. Then it was a drive to Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Mom couldn’t bear to ride with him, so she sent him away early that morning, and I drove him. I shook his hand after his sage advice to a married man who’d fathered four children, holding his hand, really, holding it in a religious bond. It was good advice.

When I was seventeen, Mom and Dad went to Europe with my sister, leaving me behind to work, to save up for college, and to save up for my own trip to Europe after I graduated from high school. The very day they boarded the airplane, my relationship with Amy soured. We didn’t break up, but she decided to tell me she was seeing Brad. “I thought we were going steady,” I said. I tried to play it cool because Amy was tall and fair, and very hip. She put the chic in chick, man, and all of us who went for the alternative labels in our musical tastes—all of us went for Amy, so she could afford to choose. “I really did,” I said. “I thought we were going steady.”

“Is that what you want?” she said back to me, in an absolutely unforeseen response. I was bracing myself for something more along the lines of “Well, no, we aren’t going steady, you silly boy,” or “I don’t believe in such limitations.” Indeed, the latter was what I expected to hear because for Amy, it was freedom. She only wanted freedom, and I felt like I had won some sort of sweepstakes to be pulled into her orbit.

Months after our first meeting, we had our first kiss. Months.

The Prostate Son

Sergeant Jinx Lucks Out

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An Excerpt:

“Let’s move out,” said Reynolds. “If we walk straight east, we’re bound to hit the Tigris, and from there we can get our bearings.”

“If we can find some shoal water, we can cross over to some higher ground and get out of this infernal swamp,” said Jenkins.

“Shoal water?” asked Reynolds. “What in the hell is shoal water?”

“Ain’t you ever heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama?” demanded Jenkins. “Shoal water is shallow water where you can cross over to the good fishing hole.”

Reynolds stared at Jenkins. “And you know how to find shoal water.”

“Sure I do,” said Jenkins. “I grew up on the bluffs.”

“Bluffs? Do you see any bluffs around here? And what do bluffs have to do with shoal water?”

Jenkins spat. “Down in Alabama, growing up on the bluffs meant you growed up on a river that had lots of holes in it for fishing, but you had to find the shoal water to get to it. Don’t you know any of this stuff? But you can’t just cross at any shallow spot; the current might be too strong. It’s got to be shoal water, where the river is whoa’d up a little, you understand.”

In this way they walked eastward in the swamps of southern Iraq, talking about Alabama shoal water, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Confederacy, completely lost somewhere between Basra and Baghdad and somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. At last they found themselves on the banks of a river, and presuming it was the mighty Tigris River, they turned left. Reynolds kept an eye open for what he thought might be shoal water, to prove to the hick that he could spot shoal water without the experience of being raised apart from civilization.

Sergeant Jinx Lucks Out

The Demolition of a Mother, Part 2

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An Excerpt

There, in the lamplight of his narrow above-ground hole, air-conditioned cool, but still damp, like the earth itself, without any television or radio, he sipped at his vodka, reminiscing, watching a water bug and a silverfish route themselves amicably to a common goal found somewhere behind the wall. Once the vodka glass was empty, he rose from his seat, went to a closet near his bedroom, pulled out a lock box, unlocked it, and wrapped his hand around his .45. He gave its muzzle a kiss, loaded a magazine into its grip, then went outside and around to the back of his trailer, where he shot at some shredded targets, practicing his grouping.

“Guess I’ve got to call some time,” he said, after the magazine was empty.

He went back inside, and after returning his pistol to its safe, he sat back down and poured another double-shot. He stared into the dark TV screen, contemplating while he sipped on his vodka. About halfway into that glass, he picked up the phone and dialed the number. The line did not ring; it went straight to voice mail, which confused Ernest. When the beep came, he stammered, “Yeah, uh, listen, Terrell, this is your father; I know: long time, no see. Or hear. You know. Yeah, uh, listen, Terrell, your Grandma Maude is dead. You can call me back. If you want. Yeah. Okay, bye. Love you.” He searched for the button on the number pad which ended the call. “I wish you could just hang these things up.” Vodka had made him forget that he could simply fold the phone closed.

The Demolition of a Mother, Part 2

The Demolition of a Mother, Part 1

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An excerpt

“Odd,” she said to herself aloud. “It’s February. Why is Willie outside riding his bicycle?” She looked out the window again. “Oh no,” she said. Her heart had corrected her mistake before her mind had allowed. “Oh dear God, no.” She dropped her potato into the sink and jerked her head toward the living room, where, above the mantlepiece hung her crucifix, given to her at her Confirmation when she was thirteen years old. Seven years later she had given birth to Willie, delivering him to a proud William who had only eleven months earlier promised before God and man to care for her, to give himself up for her, and provide everything she needed to make him a house and a home till death did them part, and she delivered. He sang a doxology while he cried, holding up the boy, even as Zechariah sang when his tongue was loosed at the birth of John. “Ah, praise God,” William sang. “He has remembered us, Maude. Even us, a poor farm family doing the best we can to tear something up out of Adam’s cursed earth, he has remembered.”

Maude fell happily asleep with her baby in arms. “William, Jr.” she whispered as she forgot the pain.

Dust was not rising, but snow. It was not Willie riding his bicycle on the road, but a United States Army sedan, riding through drifts of snow, which rose up into the wind, whence they were whipped along the surface of the plains until the wind grew tired and rose up to regather its strength, releasing its present quarry to form another drift somewhere else along the road. The sun, hanging low in the southern horizon, never blinked, guiding the sedan without remorse.

“Ernest!” she cried. “Ernest, come here!” William was in one of the out buildings tending the animals. She slumped to the floor beneath the mantlepiece, clutching the ottoman, and she remembered the day the draft notice arrived. She held it in her hand, shaking with rage. “Why not class II-C?” she demanded of her husband. “Why not class II-C?”

“Our farm isn’t big enough, I suppose,” said William. “I suppose. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“What is it, Mama?” Ernest said to his mother. “Why are you on the floor crying? What happened? Are you hurt?”

“Bless your heart, yes,” said Maude. “Run outside and fetch your father. It is terrible. Terrible!”

Ernest heard the wrath in her heart pouring into her voice, so he ran, pulling on his boots in mid-stride, and without pulling on an overcoat, to fetch his father. By the time William and Ernest returned, Maude had composed herself and was listening.


The Demolition of a Mother, Part 1

The Primal Flower, Chapter 8

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An excerpt:

I waited for Lily’s father to return home. “Rescue must die soon,” I blurted out, “but I do not know how to put him to his end.”

“Mercy will dictate,” said Lily’s father. “Mercy always dictates. How do you know your dog is sick to death?”

“Your brother says so,” I accused.

Lily’s father went over to Rescue. Rescue was suspicious of Lily’s father, but was not afraid of him. He did not wag his tail, but he did allow him to pet him, lifting up his head to receive a fine scratch on the chin.

“Yes,” said Lily’s father. “It is so.”

Pain came into my body at his word. “Is it because we let him outside in the rain?” I asked.

“No. Probably not.”

“Then why?” I was fighting tears, but these tears were not for my damn dog; they were for a host of spirits and immaterial effects and clouds and fogs that floated in me according to an unseen will, a will that was intent on pressing against my will, with an ability to touch nerves deep in my insides so that my mouth opened with nonsense, nonsense that was perfectly sensible when my dog was now dying and would die for a long time. I wanted my dog to come with me, to chase after butterflies and squirrels, to alert me to comers and goers, to be beside me at night, and to be a general companion, even if Shur-qa-hil was the guide. The trip north was for me and my dog. Me and my dog! My dog and me, who had no home, together, homeless, free, and far away.

Who loved Shur-qa-hil? That horrible, fat, corrupt, know-it-all, pompous, hairy monster!

“Rescue has lived his life a happy dog,” said Lily’s father. “As we all live our lives happy dogs.”

“Happy dogs!” I shouted.

“Our Father in heaven teaches us mercy by giving us dogs to care for. Did you ever make a slave of your dog?” he asked, being patient with me.


“Did you let him do what dogs do?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Did you clean him, feed him, tend to his hurts, pet him, tell him he was good, and otherwise take care of him?” he asked.

“Yes. For the most part,” I said. “I liked to just let him run around.”

“What more are you hoping for your own life?” asked Arret. “Do you desire mercy when the end of your time comes?”

More pain came into my body. Couldn’t the end of my time come very soon? Lily came into the room. She had been napping. Her face was flush with the awakening of recent sleep. I did not answer.

“Show mercy to your dog,” said Lily’s father, “and your Father in heaven will show mercy to you.”

The Primal Flower, Chapter 8

A Life in The Day

A Life in The Day

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An Homage to Ingmar Bergman

“Bertram?” the vicar peeked around the door, scanning each hospital bed for his quarry. “Bertram?” Three beds were empty; the fourth held a sleeping figure. Bertram was laid out on his back, angled by the cruelty of hospital beds, and propped into that unnatural sleep by a drip of some sort and hot pillows. A third time the vicar called, venturing nearer the bed, “Betram?”

Bertram’s eyes came open, looking upward into the white of the ceiling. He scanned. The vicar drew near to him and sat down. The rustle of the vicar’s jacket pulled Bertram’s eyes away from the ceiling and toward the vicar. “Vicar!” he tried to exclaim, but phlegm blocked the greeting so that the vicar was greeted by an exuberant, thick cough.

“Lois told me you broke your hip.”

“Darnedest thing, Vicar,” laughed Bertram. “I was walking to turn off the lamp—you know where the lamp is—we run the cord for the lamp under the carpet there. Well, I tripped over the cord, fell down, and I heard my hip go ‘snap.’”

The vicar nodded. The nurse came tumbling in, saying, “His hip broke, then he fell.” The vicar nodded again.

Continue reading “A Life in The Day”

A Life in The Day