Web del Sol has invited
Daryl Scroggins to present a mini-chapbook of his short-short stories.
Daryl lives with his wife and daughter in Dallas, where he works as a writer and a part-time teacher.
For several years he taught fiction and poetry writing courses at the University of Texas at Dallas.
His poems and stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies around the country.
He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Mini-Chap from WDS
The Farmer's Widow
Everything and More
(originally published in Carolina Quarterly)
Hoyt was not going to let the black Chevy pickup pull in front of him again, no matter what, but it blasted onto the shoulder and around a gravel truck and did just that. After some quick lane-changes and hair-trigger accelerator-to-brake-to-accelerator motion, Hoyt managed to give a good bash to the black pickup’s rear bumper, and to swerve off onto the Frontage road exit--which made the joy of it all even greater since it was his exit, the exit he took every morning.
But when he looked up at the highway and didn’t see his victim, his eyes shot to the rear-view and he saw the truck sliding and fishtailing down the grassy embankment toward him. Both the pickup and the brown Dodge Monaco careened to a stop in front of the Texaco station and both men surged out, knowing with a panicky kind of glee that it was kick-ass time, and a fine morning for it. Hoyt sized up the other man, checking for any sign of a weapon, speculating in an instant as to whether or not body bulk was muscle or flab. An embroidered name tag on the man’s workshirt read “Wayne.” Hoyt was wondering if there would be words, or just a lunge or a kick, when heavy machine gun fire split the air.
“What the fuck?” Wayne said. Both men dived for cover behind some plastic shrubs and now looked at each other--open mouthed and inches apart--as if an explanation was due.
The machine gun dumped a few round into a station wagon at the edge of the station drive and a woman screamed. When the ringing in their ears subsided, Hoyt and Wayne could hear her sniveling; she had her back to the rear wheel of the car, on the side that faced away from the station. Wayne stuck his head up, squinting. He cupped a hand around his mouth and hollered. “Hey, junior, what the hell are you doing in there?”
Junior, the station attendant, called out from behind the machine gun, which was mounted on a bolted-down desk in the station office just behind an open sliding glass window.
“Got people trying to get off without paying again,” Junior said. “Self serve don’t mean free.”
“Listen,” Hoyt called out, “why don’t you just let us get on to work?”
“Stay put. I need witnesses when the sheriff gets here.”
“But we didn’t see a damn thing,” Wayne yelled.
After a minute Junior said, “Well, how do I know that?”
The woman peeked around at Hoyt and Wayne. Her tall hairdo had shifted to one side and her mascara was smeared. She smiled at them, then put her hand to her chest, horrified.
“My baby!” she cried. “I’m going to die here apart from my baby!”
Hoyt and Wayne glanced quickly in all directions.
“Where? Where’s your baby?” Hoyt asked.
“Oh, she’s not here,” the woman laughed, “she’s in Lubbock with her grandparents. I got a picture here--see?” The woman held up an open wallet, but it was too far away for the two men to make anything out.
Everybody looked around when the sheriff’s big Plymouth Fury eased off of the highway and cruised up slowly onto the station drive. The sheriff sat in the car for a few moments, fooling with some papers on a clipboard. The car’s air-conditioner compressor clicked on, increasing the engine idle, which dropped back to normal when clicked off. Finally, the sheriff picked up his hat, stepped out of the car, and adjusted his trousers at the crotch.
“That’s the one over there, Clovis,” Junior called out to the sheriff. “Over behind that station wagon. Twelve dollars and eighty cents unleaded.”
The sheriff nodded, put on his hat and strolled over to the woman, who got up when she saw Hoyt and Wayne stand and dust themselves off.
The woman introduced herself and explained that she had so many things on her mind that she had just forgotten to pay. She pointed at Hoyt and Wayne and said they could vouch for that, and they said yes, they could. The sheriff dumped the woman’s purse out on the hood of her car and looked through everything. Finally he said, “Well, you pay Junior his money and we’ll let it go this time.”
Hoyt and Wayne used the station telephone to call in sick, then both headed over to Dub’s lounge. They had to wait in the parking lot for two hours before the place opened, and while they waited they found that they shared several kinds of experience and opinions. Both men had seen action in the Marines, and both ranked football above baseball and basketball. Hoyt had once seen a freight train hit a meat truck at a railroad crossing, and Wayne had seen a load of tractor tires shift on the back of a semi and break loose on the highway. The longest roller had made it across a bridge and all the way into the next county.
After a few beers, Hoyt and Wayne played a few games of eight-ball, then had a few more beers. In the gloom of the lounge they grew quiet. They pondered the fact that you could just never predict what was going to happen soon enough to see it coming.
Soon the afternoon crowd began to filter in. Among them were some men from the air-conditioning and refrigeration shop where Wayne worked. One of the men saw Wayne and said, “Feeling better, Wayne? Those menstrual cramps’ll get you every time.”
Wayne looked at Hoyt and grinned.
Without a word, both went into action.
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(originally published in Chiron Review)
Thank you Lord for not letting me get tortured like those other poor sons-of-bitches back in the war. And thank you for not letting me go hungry, all except for that one time, well, that one time spread over a few months, which even so wasn’t as bad as those around us had it since we had the hams that we didn’t let on to anybody that we had. Lord, thank you for putting me in church bus number two, since bus one is the one that went through the rail and over the cliff on the way to the revival up in Arkansas. Thank you Jesus for letting me get the drop on the Mexican that was stealing my pickup--there wouldn’t be pistols if there wasn’t a right time to use them. I didn’t stand in judgment, I just sent him along to you for you to decide on. Thank you for keeping us all for the most part out of jail and prison. Thank you for the power tools. Lord, thank you for the job with the good company and the disability check. Thank you for keeping us free from storm-like disasters--I mean “free from” as to say pretty much even up, what with the insurance settlement for the hail damage and the one burglarization that didn’t turn out to be near such a bad thing as we first thought. Thank you for the way you took care of the situation with Kathie about to leave me for the bull rider. The way you had that bull stomp him in the one place that made him no good to her nor her to him--well, I couldn’t have come up with a better plan myself. I mean, of course I couldn’t, but you know what I mean to say is it was a miracle, never had any trouble like that from Kathie again. Thank you Lord for keeping murder, rape, and accidental death away, all except for Bobby who drowned in the river. I don’t know why he didn’t listen better when I told him about suck-holes you can drop off into in shallow water that will take you under without even a chance to holler. I don’t know why it was him went under instead of any of those other kids--all of them in the same river. And Lord, I also have questions. Pastor Shank, who is from Luziana and not Texas, as you know, says that most questions fall into the doubt category and are reason to be ashamed. But all I want to know is: Should I leave the retirement account just like it is, or should I go in on that mutual fund thing Ed has been telling me about? Also, what’s going to work best for me this deer season-the .30/30 or the 12 gauge with the rifled slugs? Well, thank you again, Lord, and I’ll be talking to you again real soon. Amen.
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(originally published in The Quarterly)
I had the Pontiac jacked up in the street in front of the house, changing out the front wheel-bearings, when I saw these two guys coming my way down the sidewalk. The one in front was carrying a big stick that looked to me like a piece of a tree limb with a knob on the end of it, and the other one had a brick.
Let me back up a minute and just say one thing. I love Krissy, but she says I think too much about the wrong things and not enough about what matters. I think Krissy is full of shit--I think she’s the one with the problems. But there is no telling her that. Anyway, like I was about to say, something happened a couple of days ago that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s like trying to run from something that’s chasing you in a dream.
It was late Sunday afternoon-right about the time when you get hit with the feeling of a weekend ending before it really got started, and another week about to start with the same motions to go through. I usually try to get busy doing something around the house when a feeling like this comes. Takes my mind off it. Like I said, I had the car jacked up and I was trying to get the inside bearing to slide all the way over the hub shaft. I had grease up to my elbows and I was about to take a hammer to it. But I told myself--calm down, take a deep breath, and just sit for a minute. It was cool out. The ground was cold where I was sitting, and yellow leaves from the hackberry tree kept drifting down and hiding my tools. And that’s when I saw these two guys. They were Mexican boys, I think. They were walking about fifty feet apart. The one bringing up the rear--the one with the brick--I could see was skinny and had bad skin, and the one in front was shorter and stockier and walked with his head half-turned to the side so he could keep an eye on the guy behind him. They kept such an even pace they hardly seemed to move--it was more like the neighborhood was moving past them, half-disappearing, you might say.
Listen, all kinds of people come through here since there’s so many rent properties all around--Krissy never lets me forget that it was my idea to get a real bargain on a house here. She says things like: “I might have known that you would carry me across the threshold of a house just emptied by white flight.” Krissy is always using her vocabulary on me. But what really caught my attention about these two boys was their expressions. They looked almost calm, but it was like a fierce kind of calm. It looked to me like the only thing they were seeing was each other. They didn’t even look at me when they passed.
And then, ever so slightly, something changed. It was a hesitation in the step of the boy in the back, and then suddenly he went into a kind of skip-run like an athlete setting up for a go at the high jump; while at the same time the stocky boy began to run--fast for his size--while the guy behind him, with all his strength, was throwing the brick at him. I held my breath. I could see the brick sail. But the timing of everything was such that the brick fell just about three feet short, bounced on the sidewalk almost up to the runner’s heels, and then skittered off onto somebody’s lawn. Right away the boy in front slowed down to a walk, and the boy in back went just fast enough to retrieve his brick and take up his position again. So far as I could hear, there was never a word said the whole time. I sat looking after them for a long time, and before they turned the corner, way down at the end of the street, I saw the kid in back get in three more tries with the brick. But the kid in front always saw it coming and always managed to be two, three steps ahead.
Finally I looked up at Krissy-she was on the porch watering her leggy begonias-and I said, “Krissy, did you see that?” “See what?” she said. Krissy never looks up when she says that. So I asked her didn’t she think it was time for her to go in and fry the potatoes. But she just gives me this look like she gets when she finds a big horn worm working over one of her tomato plants, so I knew I’d better just back off a little.
I got back to work, and after a while I get the brake drum back on, and the wheel, and I give it a few spins. I listen to the snick and glide of the bearings (I know I should have bought the kind that come in a box packed in grease), and every once in a while I look up and down the street. You see, I keep expecting to see these kids come around the block again. I couldn’t figure what was so strange about what they were doing-I mean, after all, last week I saw a kid must’ve been about nine racing down the street pulling a little red wagon with a console TV on it. But there was something about this new thing that reminded me of something. I don’t know what it all reminded me of, but it seemed to be a lot of things. I’m not making any sense, but you know what I mean. Anyway, it gets dark and I go in, but all evening long I keep thinking about what I’d seen. Lord knows, I couldn’t explain it to Krissy. She was still mad at her mother, who’d called earlier and said I told you you couldn’t grow dill in a hanging basket. Every time Krissy’s mother calls I just say, “Hello, Mrs. Malroota, let me get Krissy for you.” That woman has a real bulbous attitude.
I watched the news for a while. But it seemed crazier than ever-no sense to it, just lots of things being flashed on the screen. Well, so Krissy and I go to bed, and we hadn’t been in there more than fifteen minutes or so when I hear something skitter outside. I jump up and look out through the blinds, but it must have just been a dry leaf scratching across the pavement. The moon was full and bright enough to make shadows, but there was nothing there that I could see. It gave me the shivers to think of those two boys out there walking around like two kids in an old black-and-white movie, chasing and running, chasing and running, like some machine. That’s when Krissy all of a sudden says to me in the dark, “What the hell are you doing still up?” I didn’t say anything. So after a minute she goes through this violent flop-turnover and clamps a pillow over her head.
I know if I’d said anything it would have been a fight.
I looked out again at all those shapes without color. The streets were empty. But I know they’re still at it. I know there is no stopping them until something happens.
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(originally published in The Madison Review)
Virgil was embarrassed for the pair of shoes that lay at the edge of the ditch, and he pretended not to see them for a moment--pitching an aluminum can into his sack and scanning the weeds for others. Finally he paused and rubbed the white bristles on his chin, which stood out against his black skin like the hairs on an old dog’s muzzle. It was a cold morning, with ice clouds so high and wispy the blue of the sky seemed to turn and leave them motionless. Virgil adjusted the fold-down ear warmers on his brown vinyl hat, then faced the shoes directly.
“It’s not your fault,” he said.
“I know, I know--you waiting for what you was made for. You empty. You out here--like somebody leadeth you to lie down by still waters.”
Then Virgil backed off a little, not wanting to be pushy. He stood and looked around at the new subdivision of brick houses he was skirting as he followed the road beside weedy creek bottoms. But he was only looking indirectly, rubbing his neck the whole time. It was a neighborhood of lawns that had been rolled out like carpets, with new cars in driveways, boats in sideyards. And it didn’t do, Virgil knew, to look like you were looking too closely at anything in particular.
Virgil looked back at the shoes and squatted near them, plucking at tufts of dried grass.
Made of the finest and heaviest leather. No scuffs--and shining like they had just been spit on and rag-popped.
Their perfect condition struck Virgil as a bad sign.
“Mercy, you do carry on with your selfs,” he said to the shoes. “You somebody’s marryin’ and buryin’ shoes. You been run out from under by some bad goins-on.”
Virgil imagined vague figures moving in darkness--burglars climbing out of windows, adulterers almost caught and running naked with clothes in hand, until something made them think they needed to run faster, lighten the load.
A boat-tailed grackle flapped over so close Virgil could see the circles around its black eyes, the part-opened beak. And the stillness, the quiet in which he had mused was suddenly loud with the sounds of the waking world. A school bus rumbled and squeaked past him, and across the way an electric garage door began to rise. There was no question about it now: he knew he couldn’t get hooked up with those perfect shoes, knew he couldn’t afford to risk even the close look he had already given them.
Virgil stood quickly, kicked at a matted collection of garbage for a moment, then moved down the road a hundred feet or so before resuming his search for cans. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had been included in something he wanted no part of. He moved a bit further down and looked about, but the pall that hung over him would not dissolve, in spite of the fierce yellow brightening of the arriving day. His mood made him feel the chill of the air more acutely, though he had set out and collected on many days colder than this. Just tired, he told himself. Just ready for home-where the dog would be waiting, banging its tail against the clapboard wall. Where a few sticks would make the stove glow, and coffee with milk and sugar would warm his hands.
Out of the corner of his eye Virgil noticed that three boys--probably headed for school--had crossed the road back the way he had come. One picked up a great clod of dirt and pitched it into the muddy ditch, while his companions jumped back, hands remaining in the pockets of their jackets.
“Cut it out, shithead!” one of the boys shouted.
Faintly, Virgil heard the laughter of the others. He picked up the pace of his search, not going for cans he would have to dig for or empty of brown water. When he glanced back the boys had stopped. They were looking down, waving two other boys over from across the road for a look.
Virgil looked ahead at the railroad bridge that crossed the road, the tracks his path home. He made for the steep incline of the bridge base he would have to climb to reach the tracks. When he reached it and started to climb he looked back: they were still huddled around the shoes. They were pointing at him. Only when he reached the top, where he had to pause and catch his breath, only when he was pinned against the sky like a rag did the shouting begin.
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Issue From the Grotto of the Street Hermit Saint
(originally published in New Growth: Contemporary Short Stories by Texas Writers)
Every night she sat until morning in the high storeroom of Grace Mercy Church, working at the job she had made for herself.
The minister allowed this, and she was beholden to him, so she worked by candlelight to save electricity.
And to save candles she used only one at a time, affixing it at ladder height to a chain that dropped from a distant ceiling.
Its light wavered, like light reflected from water, above dusty stacks of folding chairs and a boxed nativity scene, above the
massive desk of carved wood where she sewed the tiny clothes for the dolls she sold. A vast space lay before her where she might have
spread her work, but she chose instead to lean over the thin-bottomed drawer she pulled out--almost to its falling point--from the desk’s ornate front.
So dim was the light, a ghostly visitor floating above would have hardly been able to tell what task the old woman had taken up. For it was not so much
by sight but by feel that her work took shape: in darkness there was a close pinching of the thumbs, a pleating of some thick brocade, and the stab
and glide of thread as coarse as fishline. The pleating went round and round, as the woman’s thick, yellow thumbnail pressed, folded and pierced, pressed,
folded and pierced, until her back straightened a bit and light caught the pink plastic of the little doll, its bare arms raised above its featureless bust in a
somnolent benediction, its legs glued at pointed toes to a little lacquer stand, and, in between, the brown ballerina dress with its tight spiral of pleats.
The doll she held was one of a countless number, and the slight pause she allowed herself at its completion was one of habit. But this time, for no reason,
the pause was longer. For a moment she looked at the doll’s pink, waxy flesh, the flashings from the hot mold still untrimmed. And although it was still dark outside,
the old woman looked up through the window at her side and imagined how it would look in a few hours--a frame of gray stone reflecting only the blue of the sky,
the emptiest of blues, maybe dashed once by a white-brown pigeon, but then reformed whole. What color was that blue, she asked herself, covering her mouth with three fingers.
It was the blue of a popsicle she was given once. She smiled faintly. What flavor was it? Coconut? No, no-it couldn’t have been that. She waved the thought away.
But an idleness had crept into her work, like the first light of false dawn. The old woman picked up a little comb and rasped it through the doll’s auburn nylon hair.
With wandering attention she noticed that the comb handle had whorls etched on it, like those on a tortoise’s back, whorls like so many threads turned in upon themselves in falling
circles--like a song caught in a room--each cell alone among many and bound by a sadness, like having to pick up without a word and move to another city, another kind of weather.
She set the comb down amid an emptiness that only a mildly spiteful idleness can assuage, as if she felt some doleful watcher was appraising her actions, but she didn’t care. She poked
at the bits of lace and the sheerest scraps of nylon fabric that lay in the bottom of the drawer. She joined them lazily with a tweezing of her horny nails gone suddenly delicate with a gently
effort, and took a stitch here and there with the thread of her own gray hair and the needle with the smallest eye. She toyed with filaments almost lost in the dust and grain of the wood beneath
the feet of the ballerina doll. She worked, not knowing what she made, and finally not trying to know.
When gray-blue light filled the back of the room, she rose in the slow stages her back allowed and walked to the window and looked out. The night lights about the city were weak. After a while
she looked down at the bit of fluff in her hand, vaguely puzzled by it, and amused. It was shaped like the little bell of a petticoat, with diaphanous waves fluttering down from its center. And the gray
threads that held it sparkled like ocean spume.
The old woman turned the crank on the jalousie window. It resisted, leaded with soot and grit, but finally gave and opened, allowing a damp wash of morning air to spill in. She felt the fabric flutter in her hand.
She put her arm out as far as it would go, and with two fingers--released. For an instant she thought it would simply drop with as little resistance as any scrap that falls. But it took the blue air and billowed--it sank
and rose again, fluttering like a shining medusa with all the ailing lights of the city compounded and scintillating within it, and it drifted outward, but not down, and finally was lost from sight.
She rubbed her hands together and then cranked the window shut, vaguely embarrassed by her deed, but not willing to think about it long enough to admit it-long enough to be reminded again of foolishness,
and work gone to the wind.
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The Farmer's Widow
(originally published in Asylum Annual)
When the marker had been pounded in with a black stone she looked up at ice clouds--thin wisps at the upper edge of blue--and without speaking turned and began to move into the house she had lived in for more than fifty years. Age slowed her, and she pulled the farm in close. The fields returned to an older order, with its blowzy milkweed and johnson grass. The kitchen garden narrowed and slipped into a ring around the rotting house, so the old woman had little distance to walk for cucumbers and tomatoes, for okra and summer squash. Finally it was a farm of window boxes and barrels, where strawberries bloomed and fruited and potatoes bulged.
The roof sagged, and when a hail storm brought down half the house the widow moved into a single room at the back corner. For drinking water she set out pots beneath roof leaks, and the laden limbs of a pear tree leaned in toward the house. The briars of a running rose crept through the windows and began to occupy the room, arching over the widow’s bed from one window to the next, growing over months and years until her world was a leafy bower. The widow was by now thin and humped, but she kept a space clear for the chair she had made from a little box, where she sat and sipped her rosehip tea. She looked so like a startled fledgling, with her tufts of downy hair, the birds began to feed her, and befriended field mice huddled close to warm her on cold nights.
Then one day, when the house was little more than a thicket of pomegranate and rose briar, there came a sound, the sound of a wagon-its traces giving up muted tintinabulations--and a voice, calling out to anybody in the house. When the widow heard it she fell into a quandary. For she knew that by the time she made her way out the speaker would probably be gone. But she had to try, she resolved, and she set about preparing for the journey. She would have to lose weight in order to fit through some tight places in the vine tunnels and board heaps, so she didn’t pack much food--just a few beads from blackberries and some mint leaves. She combed her hair with the sharp tines of her fingers and looked into a little shard of mirror. But her sight was so bad she couldn’t tell how much of what she saw was simple memory.
And this sent her into another quandary. How did she know she hadn’t just remembered the voice she now sought? She thought how odd it would be to undertake a great journey, just in order to walk into her own voice. But she set out anyway--listening in the way a thicket listens at dusk, when birds make little flights without sound.
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(originally published in The Quarterly)
“You don’t have to sing to know what birds are for.” That’s what Mama said, but she’s dead now.
I’ve got others:
“Dark thoughts live in the fire.”
“All that’s comely might have wently.”
That last one was from when she had already gone to live in the home.
She told me once, “Doug, you need to tie a string to what you’re about to forget and reel it back in.”
I wish it was that easy--especially since I’m not young anymore myself. I remember our old address, and it’s been torn down.
There’s no reeling that one back in. It had wood floors and high ceilings. I was about three once and sick in bed.
I looked up at a window--a square of blue sky--and when I went to sleep, I dreamed only about that blue square.
Some things stay with you.
My wife, Joyce, says that a woman at her work’s husband drove home from work and kept driving until he ran out of gas and had to
call somebody to come get him. He didn’t even know where he was. They tried to say it was some kind of brain problem, but we all
knew it was nerves--I mean, my God, the man teaches at a public school.
Now Joyce has started looking at me funny, just because I’ve taken to writing a diary. She said she never heard of anybody starting a diary
by going back fifty years and trying to catch up. But I just think things ought to be complete, and I have a system. I have a notebook for each year,
and when I remember something, I simply find the right notebook and write it down. Now, what’s strange about that?
I do have two problems, though. I realized the other day that, long before I get all these other notebooks filled, I will have started recording good finds
from the past in this year’s diary. And since I’ll have to say something now about what I remember from then, I’ll start to have two entries for everything.
This is just asking for confusion.
My other problem has to do with something almost philosophical. I was flipping through one of the notebooks I’d just made an entry in the other day--just
fanning the pages real fast without reading anything--and I noticed that a bunch of white pages would flip by, and then a short group of darker pages with writing,
then more white, and long or short dark, and more white, and so on and so forth. Now, I wonder: Could this be some kind of bar code? A bar code of life?
I scanned through all the notebooks, and it sure looks like one. But I’m still waiting for what it all means to rise up in my mind.
I really don’t have anybody to talk to about this. Every time I present an idea of this magnitude to Joyce, she starts to giggle. Now, Mama would have had
something insightful to add.
I just know I’m on to something big.
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Everything and More
(originally published in Pearl)
Bob’s wife, Dora, had been gone for two days before he noticed she had left her cat. It was a black and orange tabby named Poughkeepsie.
“Out, vile jelly,” Bob said, holding the door open. It was his way of making fun of Dora, who was always coming up with cockamamie phrases like that.
But the cat held its position a few feet away, looking first at Bob, then out the door, and then back at Bob. Only the tip of its tail moved. Then it blinked a couple of times, slowly, and shimmied off toward the kitchen.
Bob remained at the door for a moment with his head inclined, the expression of weary patience on his face a lie. When he finally headed back toward the kitchen he tried to make his steps sound even and natural, so as not to alert the cat to his purpose. Poughkeepsie was on to him, though; the animal slipped into the utility room and disappeared behind the washer. Bob grabbed a broom and poked around with it, splaying the bristles, but the built-in linen cabinets above the appliances prevented a direct angle of attack. On his hands and knees Bob bellowed curses at the cat, then sat in complete silence for a few minutes, listening. Soon a regular lapping sound began. The cat was grooming itself.
Bob exploded upward, sweeping cans and bottles off a shelf until he found what he wanted--an aerosol can of wasp and hornet killer. He shook the can so hard his jowls quivered, then thrust it out at arm’s length and squeezed off a full two-second blast behind the washer. Choking on the fumes, Bob grabbed a towel to hold over his nose. He waited, listening.
After a while he heard an intermittent crunching sound. It was the cat eating dry food from a self-dispensing bowl in the kitchen.
The dusky feline had slipped out of the utility room while Bob was groping for the bug killer.
Lying on the couch with a damp washcloth covering his face, Bob wondered how Dora could have failed to bring home more
aspirin the last time she went out for groceries. The insecticide had given him a terrific headache, but there was nobody he could send
to fetch the pills he needed.
The living room was quiet except for a faintly rhythmic sawing sound. Bob lifted a corner of his cloth and saw that Poughkeepsie was
stretched out atop the back of the couch near his feet. He was surprised to find the sound of its purring so soothing. Though Bob had
always detested people who spoke to animals, his poor condition seemed to warrant a moment of levity. He began to speak, telling the
cat of all the torments he had suffered--of the sorry state of the world and of who was responsible for it--and through it all the cat purred.
He spoke of the high cost of insurance and of unappreciated innovations he had personally brought to the financial printing industry. And
finally, he reached the subject of Dora and her ungrateful absence. Bob flung his washcloth away and abruptly stood up. Poughkeepsie
leaped nimbly down, retreated a few feet, and waited, watching. “Look at this,” Bob said, offering the big-screen stereo TV for the cat’s
inspection like a game show host directing all eyes to the prize. “And this,” he said, sweeping an open palm toward the brown leather
couch and yellow plaid ottoman he had selected as a surprise. “Not to mention this,” he added, pointing out the china hutch, a mere
one-third of which he had appropriated for gun storage. Poughkeepsie, nonplused, set out for other parts of the house. Bob pitched a
pillow at the animal to speed it on its way.
Later, Bob got down on his hands and knees and made kissing noises, pleading for the cat to come back. He made promises. In the kitchen
he set a bowl of milk on the floor, then poured it down the sink and replaced it with half-and-half. He thumbed the olives out of several slices
of olive loaf and dropped the meat into the cat’s bowl. Then he sat down at the kitchen table to wait.
Bob was nearing an angry despair when Poughkeepsie startled him. Hidden in the open, less than eight feet away the whole time, the cat jumped
down from the top of the refrigerator onto the stove, and then to the floor. As the cat ate, Bob spoke to it in soothing tones.
“You like that bologna?” he asked. “There’s more where that came from.”
When the cat finished eating it sauntered over and gave Bob’s leg a glancing rub. Bob was reaching down slowly, hoping to pet the animal for the
first time, when he heard the front door being unlocked.
“Here kitty-kitty-kitty,” Dora called out, holding the door open for the cat.
Bob leaped up and ran to position himself at the passageway that connected the dining room to the living room, hoping to head off Poughkeepsie’s
escape. But even though he reached the passageway first, he was astonished to see the cat nevertheless streak through the living room, headed for the
front door. The beast had slipped through the wire curtains of the flow-through fireplace, leaving a trail of ashy prints all the way to the porch. Bob
reached the entry way just in time to see his wife’s leg and the cat’s tail ascend and disappear behind a closing car door.
He stepped out into the lawn and picked up a newspaper, nonchalantly unfolding it as the car backed into the street.
“She’ll be back,” Bob muttered, shaking the paper straight. “She can’t leave all this.”
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Lisa Grunwald interviewing Gordon Lish in Esquire magazine:
What's the Fantasy?
GL: "Daryl Scroggins from Dallas, Texas. Never heard of this fellow. No letter. No nothing. With a name like that would suggest anything but the kind of text that was on the page, which was a joy to receive. I got a letter off to him straightaway saying 'Send me everything you've ever written, I simply adore you, I adore you.' That's the ideal. Ideally he'll have twenty stories of that kind, and I'll publish a collection. And then what? Then, you would say, I'll wear him out, wear him out, so that Daryl Scroggins ends up being published by some other house? Is that the ideal case? Yes, maybe. But I hope not. I would clearly hope that Daryl Scroggins would reach down, pick the carpet up, put it in his pocket, and walk away with the whole thing."