Tripp has been in the tire shop for ten minutes and can already taste the
rubber in his throat. Sweat stings his upper lip and it only gets worse when he
tries to lick it off. The man sitting next to Henry turns the page of Car
and Driver and elbows him. Henry excuses himself and tries to be still, but
knows if he doesn’t keep his right hand in a fist, the shakes will devour him.
Henry stops caring if the man thinks he’s weird for switching seats. He stares
at the banner with hanging flag-shaped advertisements exclaiming, “Free Meat!”
and wishes his wife, the Philosophy-major turned stoner-mom, were here to
connect the dots from sirloin to Michelin. Catherine noticed the leak an hour
ago from the kitchen window as she took the four breasts out to defrost. The
tire was almost fully deflated, but the sign says they won’t charge him to
patch the hole.
a voice barks, heavy southern.
sees a man with a thick-patched salt-and-pepper beard, a man he would otherwise
resemble, standing near the entrance doors, wiping his forehead with a
grease-stained rag. Henry looks at his watch several times as he walks over to
him, although he still couldn’t tell you the time. The man wears a dirty white
flannel with a black t-shirt underneath and bleach-stained Lees. He holds half
a crooked nail, twisted, his explanation a wide grin from eyes to mouth. This
man tries to put the nail in Henry’s hand and Henry pulls away, like he’s come
too close to boiling water. The nail drops. Drip. At first the tireman’s
jaw slackens, then he snorts and wipes some of the grease and sweat on his
backside. His boots squeak whenever he moves. Henry picks up the nail, getting
light-headed on the way back up.
does it come to?”
tireman tosses the rag over his shoulder, clicks his tongue in disapproval and
sighs. Henry notes his twin reflections staring back through glassy irises.
Same color eyes. Five-feet, ten inches, a buck sixty-three.
“Hank!” Someone hollers from behind the
counter. They turn to see a tall young man with pockmarks, company shirt and
Dockers, grinning from some sort of inside joke, a clipboard at his side. “Need
ya out back, werewolf.”
half-turns, lifts his chin high and frowns.
careful not to make any sudden movements, slides out of the entrance door and
looks over his shoulder several times before driving home.
house is at the bottom of a downward-sloping lawn that overlooks the tall
woods, the rear of the structure on stilts.
see something out there, hon?”
is honey-coated chicken with ground Saltines. Henry picks at his food, watching
the glow of stale orange light from a neighboring window bounce off the
pavement of Replica Lane. Steam lingers toward the bottom in brown and orange
bands. He suspects that Catherine and Iona have been smoking again, knows the
smell and the heaviness of their eyes by now.
thinking about stars and shit,” Iona says.
of muffled chewing and silverware tapping not-so-fine china before Catherine
says, “ Jupiter’s a whole other world of stuff. This world here likes things
better when you’re in it.”
“Don’t you have a date with Glenn
tonight,” he asks Iona, scooping up a forkful of yams and shooting a playful
look at his wife.
told you, his name is Ronny. That was last night, pop. We went an’ peeped a Jai
in hockey?” Henry asks mid-chew.
lacrosse I guess, ‘cept you bet.”
not me really.”
Glenn is gambling?”
whispers something to Iona and they giggle, touch foreheads. Henry taps his
trying to impress you,” Callie tells her sister, stirring vegetables, “because
he wants to tap that ass.”
chokes on his third mouthful of yams and washes them down with water as
Catherine hides her mouth with the palm of her hand.
fill the dining room window.
taste of rubber fills his throat.
stands in the center of the living room, arms folded. The television comes on
full blast in Iona’s room, the only one in the house. Henry gave up on
television five years ago after a local channel, among other things, paid a man
convicted of raping and murdering two nine-year-old girls for an exclusive
interview. When Henry arrived at Goodwill with the Trinitron in the trunk, the
woman running things asked him why he wanted to get rid of such a “nice big
television.” His only reply was, “Nine-years-old.”
“You could at least make an attempt,”
Catherine says. They can hear her flipping through channels in search of her
game-show fix, a cute addiction when she was small that they both agree has
you scared?” Henry says.
glares at him like she’s just found him snooping through her private drawer.
In the smallest bedroom, Callie pulls the covers up to her neck. “You worry her
more than they do,” she tells her father.
know it,” he says.
try to make it go away. But you can’t.”
can you be so calm?”
I feel scared, then maybe something bad will happen.”
you’re only four years old,” his voice jumps.
stares through the crack in the purple blinds, her eyes touched by the
moonlight. “You’re scared those men outside are going to hurt us. Tell me what
you think about when you think that.”
“I imagine them taking you and your mother
somewhere and doing things.”
sounds of a pre-recorded Jeopardy rerun thump through the drywall.
sleeps above the covers with her shoes on and a half empty Ny-Quil bottle
tipped over on the nightstand. The topic is “Potpourri.” Henry kills the
television, tip-toes to the door and when he’s half way out, Iona says, “Some
girls would do anything for their dads to stop touching them.” He
listens, but soft snoring follows.
They bolt upright to hollow popping sounds and smashing glass. Henry looks at
Catherine with red sleep marks on her face and bare freckled shoulders and
leaps out of bed. Iona sits curled in a ball in front of her door underneath
the DMX poster.
she can answer, something comes smashing through the dining room window a few
yards away. Henry sees the label of a beer bottle among the glass as the sounds
of the bottles hitting the house reach a crescendo. He runs to Callie’s room,
finds her bed empty, throws open the bathroom door between both bedrooms and
sees his youngest daughter propped up in the bathtub in cloud-patterned
smashing bottles abruptly stop as Callie parts the stark black hair from her
runs his finger along the fresh spider-web-cracks in the kitchen window and
sees one of the smaller trucks drive away.
thinks, “My dark side is Les Schwab.”
cannot smell the forest when he steps outside, the tents and surrounding firs
still dripping with last night’s rain. His newspaper lies in a brown puddle.
For the first time he can remember, Henry is glad to see his neighbor Don, a
completely bald, tan and muscular insurance salesman standing on his manicured
lawn wearing only shorts, his arms at his sides, hands in fists. Don shakes his
head when Henry approaches, searching for an opener that Don doesn’t wait for.
Maul got me a great deal on a set of tire chains last Christmas,” he says,
rubbing the top of his head, “That makes him okay in my book.” Don takes a pack
of Winstons out of his shorts pocket, crushes one between meaty lips. Henry
thinks of G. Gordon Liddy and watches as an old Chevy flatbed pulls up beside
two others at the tip of his property line. He is trying to avoid Don’s
cigarette smoke, which blows in his face even though Don turns to exhale.
“You don’t like me very much do you?”
semi-chuckles. “When you all moved here my wife Liv baked you and your girls a
Zucchini bread. You never returned the favor. I invited you out on my fishing
boat, you bullshitted me with some excuse. You’re not like normal people,” Don counts
chubby fingers as a demonstration, “Don’t like sports. Don’t have friends. You
have no respect for your lawn, I’ve mowed it for you twice this year, but you
never bothered to thank me. I’m not even getting into that black kid your
daughter runs around with. That’s right. My boy Kurt’s seen them in the halls
at school. So when I heard about what someone did to Hank, I gotta tell you,
you crossed my mind.” Don stares at him with his mouth open in the shape of the
o’clock. Catherine perches on the rear deck that overlooks the mouth of the
woods reading a book about Asian Elephants and taking the occasional puff from
a three-day-old joint. Callie plays in her room, Iona takes her third nap of
the day and Henry surfs a website explaining how to properly clean a .38. He
picked up the piece just after Iona was born and they were still living in the
city and has since kept it tucked away on the top shelf of the den closet,
buried under astronomy slides and stacks of spine worn science-fiction
paperbacks. When Henry dug it out and opened the chamber, he found the bullets
had left rust-stained streaks inside. The gun is laid out on the desk on a
dusty washcloth as Henry substitutes Pam for the standard cleaning oil the web
“Pop, you hate sports. Straight up.”
Henry goes over to the wall, unplugs her TV
and says, “You can’t hide from the world forever.” He carries the TV out and
looks back at her as she slams her bedroom door. The a/c blows it back just as
Catherine comes out of the kitchen and stands at the edge of the hall.
smirk bothers Henry, who suddenly feels like he did the first day he taught
college level Astronomy, sans the cold anxiety sweats and so far, the
“The barbecue’s still in the box,” her voice
rises as she shoots Henry a look of sudden urgency.
engines are like grumbles of angry old men. The large truck pulls away and the
rest align in V-formation, rolling smoothly up Replica Lane and disappearing
into the firs.
slips back inside, followed by Iona, who rolls her eyes and chuckles to
the front porch, Callie takes her father’s limp fingers in her hand and lets
them mingle with hers. His other hand remains clenched. He can still smell the
exhaust as he looks down at her long black hair, watching the balls of his own
sweat plop softly into her mane, absorb, and blend into darkness.