Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Oil Man Blues

“How much is left?” Ken asked, looking up from his newspaper, as if the question were a causal one. “About an eighth,” said Vicki. Her forehead wrinkled as she peered out the window at the swirling snow. “We’re going to have to call.” Ken sighed, setting the paper down. “I guess we can skip paying the electric this month. Cut back on groceries.” Vicki pulled the collar of her wool sweater around her neck. “We skipped electric in December. We’re still behind.” “Just order 100 gallons,” said Ken. “That’ll last a couple of weeks. We’ll figure it out.” Ken stood up from his chair and crossed the room to put his arms around his wife, who still stared out the window. A thin crust of ice had begun to form along the edges of the glass. “I’ll call the oil man,” said Vicki. “No, I will,” Ken said. “Let me.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mrs. Asarian

After church on Sundays, Mrs. Asarian would stand outside the kitchen door, smoking long cigarettes while the other mothers brewed coffee and sliced cakes. She wore sheer black stockings and pencil skirts, and looked like she’d come from another time. Six months before, she’d moved to town with her two teenage sons: strapping, dark boys. They bought a historic house, an enormous colonial that had been vacant for years. Her olive complexion and thick accent caused kids to whisper that she was a gypsy. But I knew she wasn’t. People said that her husband was dead. When no one was looking, I would lift the church hall curtains to watch her. Freshly shoveled snow piles surrounded her high heeled feet as she held her rabbit coat closed with one red-fingernailed hand. Smoke curled around her head, and sometimes, if I was too slow, she would look at me and smile.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Goldfish

Michelle was the kind of kid my mom didn’t want me playing with. He knees were always dirty, and she said “shit!” and “damn it!” whenever the mood struck. Once, I saw her kill a toad with stick. Her father was dead.

One afternoon, Michelle came to my door with a plastic shovel in her hand, the kind you use at the beach.

“Come on,” she whispered, motioning for me to follow her. We ran through the patch of woods connecting our yards.

In her backyard she knelt down and began to dig until a hill of sandy dirt formed. She reached into the hole and pulled out a small fish, its eyes like plastic discs.

“It was my brother’s,” she said.

A call from inside the house prompted her to toss the goldfish back into the hole and quickly bury it.

I ran home, and never told a soul.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Canada

Timmy Paine tossed his backpack onto the bedroom floor. Crammed with pajamas and socks, he struggled to get the zipper closed. Just as he tossed the bag over his shoulder, his mother came in. “Where are you going?” she said. “There’s no school. It’s Saturday.” Tim was only in the second grade, but he knew what day it was. “I’m going to Canada,” he said. When his mother didn’t reply, he offered, “There’s polar bears there. And I won’t have to listen to Jeff. He says I talk like a girl.” Jeff was Tim’s older brother. He was in the fifth grade and knew just about everything. “It will take a long time to walk to Canada,” his mother said. “Why don’t I give you a ride? We can get ice cream on the way.” Relieved, Tim handed her his backpack. “Can you carry this? It’s kind of heavy.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dead Girl

Outside the funeral home I heard a boy say that she had fallen off the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle. Broken her neck. She never knew what hit her, he said. I was 13. The dead girl had been a junior in high school.

The line to see her snaked around the building. Boys with long hair, wearing ties they’d borrowed from their fathers, and girls with thick blue eyeshadow smoked cigarettes in the parking lot. Someone passed a bottle of Jack. There were no adults there, just very old kids.

She almost looked like she was sleeping, except that she was too still. There was a puffiness to her face that didn’t seem quite right. They had dressed her for the prom; the crinoline sleeves of her gown like poofs of pink cotton candy. Some kids prayed, but I couldn’t. I just stared at the roses in her corsage.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Corner Store

When you walked into Rocco’s the first thing you noticed was the smell. All Italian stores smell this way, at least the real ones, like warm cheese and cured meats. These smells still transport me to my old neighborhood, where the houses stood just feet apart and mothers hollered from their porches.

Rocco’s was owned by an older couple, originally from Sicily. Their son was a doctor and they had a newspaper clipping about him under glass at the counter. Sometimes on weekends you’d see him there, wearing a stained white apron at the deli.

The freezer was in the back. There were rabbits wrapped in thick butcher paper, whole chickens, veal and geese. But the best things were the ices: little cardboard cups of joy that came in a rainbow of flavors. For a quarter you could get one, then sit out front eating it with a wooden spoon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cat in the Wall

“How’d he get in there?” said Amy, peering into the opening in the basement wall with her hands cupped around her eyes.

“Got me,” I said, taking a look. Barney, our 18-pound Maine Coon, peered up at me with his yellow eyes. The cat had squeezed his massive frame through an opening in the wall that an animal half his size would have had trouble with. He was trapped.

“What are we going to do?” said Amy. “We can’t just leave him there.”

A metallic aroma, the scent of panic, perfumed the damp cellar air. She was right. We couldn’t leave him. But we wouldn’t get him out without tearing down the wall, and we were only summer tenants.

The cat let out a mournful meow.

“Barney’s going to die!” Amy cried.

So I brushed the tears away from her little cheeks and grabbed the hammer from the toolbox.