to 5

    on the 5ives



When morning came he rose late with the notion of sowing a small vegetable garden by the side of the house. Still sleepy, he found himself standing on the front porch in his robe, black coffee in one hand, rusty hoe in the other, staring up at the summer sky. There was some noise from inside the house-the wife and the boy. The sun was high and hot; the rest of the sky was blank. The sun seemed to hover with intention. No one else seemed to notice. There was no one else, he realized. The neighborhood was silent. The bright light flattened the houses into panels.
     By the corner of the house, just under the shrubs, lay a brown grocery bag. It looked like it had been thrown there, or dropped. He looked up, then back down at the grocery bag. Inside were pornographic magazines, maybe twenty or thirty. He'd never seen anything like it. The women and their body parts looked like a puzzle of black O's and splitting V's. As he flipped through pages he noticed other characters, an emerging alphabet. He had a shed in the back where he tinkered with small engines and such. He taped a few of the magazine pages in a row above the shelf of paint and paint thinner, trying to read the words.

Toward evening he sat in the back and watched the boy push little cars around the deck. The cars had no drivers. That was supposed to be you in there. He shivered. It was too late in the year to be sitting outside like this. The dull sun reached feelers of light through the treetops behind the shed. The shade was cold, a solid thing that clung. The boy noticed it, too. He guided a Trans Am toward a spinout in a pocket of shadow and stopped, watched the sinking sun.
    "Dad?" he said. "Why are the days shorter in winter?"
    "The sky is smaller in winter. Takes the sun less time to cross."
    They stared into the sky. The boy resumed his spinout and sped away from the shadows. He made little sounds. The car was out of control. He looked up.
    "I thought the sun was bigger," he said, smiling. It looked like somebody else's smile.
    "No. The sky is bigger in summer. The heat makes it expand."
     The boy stared at the father. The father stared at the sky. The sun crept beneath the trees.

The mother always took the boy grocery shopping to help with loading and unloading. For his help he was allowed to pick out something, and he always picked Spaghetti-O's. They shopped at night to avoid the rush. Tonight had been busy, though, the first warm night of the year. Spring-feverish people strolled vigorously in and out. The store manager had kept the automatic doors open to let breeze in, and there was a full moon. After unloading, the boy microwaved his Spaghetti-O's and sat in the bay window with the bowl in his lap. The mother sat beside him, gazing out the window at the night sky. Everything was quietly revealed in silvery light.
    "Where's your father?" she said.
    The boy had a mouthful of pasta. He sucked the sauce away and spit the O's into his spoon. "Shed," he said.
    The mother turned her head to the bowl in his lap. "Why do you do that?" she asked. "With your Spaghetti-O's." Her face was pale and she stared like a moon.
    The boy shrugged. The mother turned back to the window. The noodles looked different without the surrounding sauce, flabby and plain. The sauce outside was the filling. The outside was everything. Spoonful by spoonful he ate sauce and rejected noodles, until he had a bowlful of pale empty O's. He looked at what he'd done.


the last words