BROCK FOR BROGLIO
“Hurry the Hell up.”
Dick knew that he was too old for anyone to invite him to fight, and hid behind this shield while flinging any foul insult he pleased. He took joy in it, far above the meek brand of cowardice he was forced to exhibit in his youth. Having the added comfort of knowing that no matter the situation or chain of events, his daughter would side with him over her melancholy husband meant he made no effort to restrain his malevolent whims.
“Dad-dy!” The most potent defense she would ever offer.
“I would have done it if I’d known he was going to make an afternoon of it.” Dick explained. “I loaded the bags into the car myself in half the time.”
Remembering “That’s just the way he is”, the explanation Kari had given for why it was acceptable that he be berated by his father-in-law, and why any response in kind was strictly forbidden, Evan struggled with the seventy-pound bag of grass seed while smiling. It was the fifth he had carried.
“This seems like a lot of seed for so small a yard, Dick.” Evan said. “Are you sure you didn’t buy too much?”
“I didn’t know the son of a bitch was a landscaping expert.” Dick said to Kari with false surprise. She smiled and rolled her eyes. “It’s important to get good coverage.” He said to Evan, annoyed. “Otherwise it comes up thin, and I have to do it over again.”
Once in the kitchen, Evan used a napkin to dry his forehead.
“Did you know Evan here was a landscaping expert, Madge?” Dick asked, hoping his wife would join in the fun.
“Save your sarcasm for when you tell your mother you love her.” Madge had many decade’s more experience in using her shield, and did so with relaxed proficiency. “I told you Dick, you aren’t seeding the lawn.”
Dick had no intention of seeding their half-acre. He only bought the seed, and waited impatiently while the sixteen-year-old girl working at the lawn and garden loaded it into his car, in anticipation of Evan’s visit.
“Is there anything I can do to help, Madge?” Evan offered, to which Dick scoffed. He was certain that any man who didn’t adhere to 1930’s gender roles was sure to have homosexual leanings, and could think of no greater character deficiency than this.
“No, Dear.” She was tapping a shaker of something over a steaming pot. “You two go and watch television and I’ll tell you when it’s ready.”
Before following his father-in-law, Evan glanced at his wife and remembered how far he had leaned to reach her when they first started, putting him off balance their entire relationship. From the moment she had finally accepted his countless offers of dinner, he was instantly at a disadvantage. The negotiations that followed regarding how life together would go went badly for him as a result.
The two men sat silently in front of the television, Evan relaxing his efforts to be kind since Kari was not observing. Dick kept the volume too low to understand so that it would not disturb his reading of the newspaper.
Evan nearly sprang to his feet when he heard what he initially took as an ambulance’s siren, or a series of train whistles exploding from the kitchen, but slouched back into his chair after realizing it was only more of his squealing in-laws arriving for dinner. Their family frequency was damaging to human ears, so Evan did not begrudge the fourteen-year-old retriever for struggling to her feet with a whimper, abandoning him to find solace in the most distant part of the house.
“Dick. Evan.” Madge called. “Everyone is here.”
“God damn it.” Dick muttered, climbing out of his recliner.
When they entered the kitchen they found three additional women, each with a generation’s length between them and the next, and two men. The older of the two men, Simon, smiled politely as he stood at the entry observing the women speaking simultaneously in an explosion of trivial conversation. His polite smile faded when Dick approached, greeting him. The younger of the two men, cousin Sarah’s husband Randall, stood with his arm around Kari’s waist doing his best to make her smile.
“Evan!” Aunt Linda squealed. She hugged him violently. “Do you like pecan or pumpkin pie best? I couldn’t remember.”
He thought it strange that she claimed to have forgotten, as no such conversation had ever been had.
“I like them both.”
“Well, I started to make pumpkin pie last night,” Linda explained. “But then I was sure Madge would make that. So, I decided to make pecan, but then I wondered if Madge expected me to make pumpkin. If she expected me to make pumpkin like I did last year, she might make pecan, then all we would have is pecan. Do you remember last year? Both of us made pumpkin pie. We had five pumpkin pies! So, I tried calling Madge last night, but the line was busy. I asked Simon what he thought I should make, and he said to make both just to be safe.” She quieted to a whisper and said, “But if I did that Madge might think I was stepping on her toes.” And returning to her natural volume, “So, I just decided to make cherry pie. Do you like cherry pie, Evan?”
“Oh, good. You’ll have to try some and tell me what you think. It’s a new recipe.”
Simon loathed Dick, who counted Simon as his protégé of sorts, being seven years his senior. He imagined that Simon must look to him for a pure example of proper masculinity, and did his best to provide just that.
“Did you kill any deer this year?” Dick asked.
“I don’t hunt deer.” Simon answered, already showing signs of exhaustion. “I’ve never hunted deer. I’ve never hunted anything. The idea of killing animals doesn’t arouse me, so when I get hungry I just go to the kitchen.”
“Oh, you should come out with me sometime.” Dick suggested. “I got a buck last year. Next year I may drive to Colorado. They have good hunting in Colorado. You should come along and I’ll teach you how.”
“I don’t have any interest in it, Dick. For thirty-two years you’ve been asking, and for thirty-two years I’ve been telling you that I haven’t got any interest in it. You keep asking though, like a chronic hemorrhoid flaring up each fall, you ask.”
Dick kept smiling, pretending to hear what Simon was telling him as he waited to speak.
“Madge says I should invite Evan. Says it would be a good chance for us to get to know each other. I don’t want to know Evan. I can’t imagine riding with him all the way to Colorado. You think you might be interested in going to Colorado? I wouldn’t mind showing you the ropes if you did come along.”
“It must take a good deal of courage, hunting herbivores from a distance while they graze.” Simon observed. “How do you cope with the fear Dick?”
“Oh, you just have to know how to handle yourself is all. Don’t fly apart when it’s time to keep a steady hand. Really, they’re more afraid of us than we are of them.”
“Is that so? Have you ever hunted in Colorado?” Simon inquired. “I’ve heard it’s a fine place for hunting.”
“It is.” Dick confirmed. “I’ve thought about going there myself. Would you like to go together sometime?”
“I would love to.” Simon answered. “But I’m afraid I could never get the time off from work. You should invite Evan to join you.”
“Yeah.” Dick was noticeably disappointed. “Madge thinks so too. So what have you been up to lately?”
“Nothing much since I retired last year.” Simon answered. “Linda and I are just spending as much time with the grandkids as Sarah will allow.”
Simon looked at Randall at the edge of the kitchen, whose arm was still around Kari’s waist. He looked at his daughter, who was watching Randall’s arm around Kari’s waist, pretending not to notice.
“You know who would love to go hunting with you?” Simon teased.
“Who’s that?” Dick asked. “You aren’t going to say Evan are you?”
“Randall. I think he even has a map with Colorado on it. You should go and ask him about it.”
Dick went to investigate Simon’s claims, and Kari slipped away to join her mother, grandmother, and cousin. No honest mention was ever made among the cousins regarding Randall’s obvious attraction to Kari, as it was among the many situations which fell under the family’s “Redefining and Denial Policy”, which had been adopted by some ancestor forgotten by time and passed on for the purpose of maintaining the appearance of happy family relations. Kari in fact took the extra precaution of not admitting she recognized any problem at all when Evan mentioned it in private. She did not want to contribute to it being made true by admitting that she knew it was.
“How have you been.” Sarah asked, beginning the process.
“I’m well.” Kari answered. “How are the twins?”
“They’re staying with Randall’s parents this weekend. They still aren’t feeling well, and I didn’t want them to make the trip.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“What about you and Evan? Any babies on the way?”
“No. I doubt that we will ever have children.”
“Afraid it will get in the way of your career?”
“No. Evan has chryptorchidism.” Kari explained. “His testicles never descended properly.”
“You shouldn’t discuss testicles during the holidays, Kari.” Madge scolded.
“She’s right, Darling.” Grandmother agreed, always helpful in matters of etiquette. “It isn’t in keeping with the spirit of things. It is unfortunate though. Men are so particular about their testicles.”
“Could we stop saying testicles?” Sarah requested. “I don’t think he would appreciate us discussing it.”
“You’re right.” Kari shook her head. “He’s very self-conscious about it.”
“Life gives each of us our burdens to bear.” Grandmother said wisely, in a cadence that suggested she might be quoting something, or someone important.
“Let’s not talk about it anymore.” Sarah suggested. “Do you think you might adopt someday?”
“Maybe.” Kari said, cutely crinkling her nose with indecision. “Evan wants to, but I wonder if he really does or if it’s just that he thinks I do.”
“Don’t you want kids?” Sarah asked.
“Sometimes I do, but then other times I don’t.” Kari answered, her nose crinkled again.
“I feel the same way.” Madge agreed.
“Well, so long as the two of you are happy.” Sarah offered.
Kari watched Sarah with polite patience, waiting for the statement to be completed.
“Uh huh.” She urged.
“What?” Grandmother asked, curious as well.
“So long as the two of you are happy, everything will be alright.” Sarah specified.
After Dick’s reverent prayer of gratitude, the table came alive with clanging dishes and empty, smiling chatter.
“What sort of pie did you prefer again, Evan?” Linda inquired.
“What kind did you make?” Dick interrupted.
“Well, I was telling Evan about it before.” Linda started. “I wasn’t sure what Madge was making...”
Evan patiently listened to the story being retold as he ate. He was late arriving at the table, and Randall had already taken the seat next to Kari, forcing him to sit between Dick and Aunt Linda, the only seat remaining.
“Oh, these are great biscuits.” Sarah complimented. “Don’t you like the biscuits, Daddy?”
“Yes, I’ve always liked biscuits.” Simon revealed.
“They are wonderful, Mom.” Kari joined in.
“They’re too dry.” Madge’s proud smile betrayed her attempt at modesty.
“Evan,” Kari called to her husband at the opposite end of the table. “You should try a biscuit.”
He didn’t hear his wife, because his mind was occupied with arithmetic. The average American man could expect seventy-nine years of life, he had read in a magazine. His own age was twenty-eight, so that with two each year, he would be expected to endure 102 more of these dinners before a pardon was granted.
“Eat a damn biscuit.” Dick dropped a biscuit into Evan’s mashed potatoes.
“Save room for pie.” Aunt Linda reminded.
“Oh, Hell.” Madge said, snapping her fingers. “I knew I would forget something. I haven’t got any whipped cream for the pies.”
“I’ll get some.” Evan said, bolting from the kitchen.
“What a nice boy,” Grandmother congratulated Kari.
The retriever must have summoned what youth she could, because the sound of Evan’s jingling car keys was followed by the crashing of an overturned lamp on the second floor, and a patter of paws growing rapidly nearer until she fell into the room, fixing her nose an inch from the doorknob with tortured anticipation of her liberation.
As the car carried them away from the house, relief showered over both animals on-board. Evan smiled, and the retriever’s tongue flopped freely, catching the wind from the open window.
Evan decided which end of the vacant grocery store most likely held whipped cream, and began his search at the other. Slowly scanning the diaper aisle, he heard a voice that seized his senses’ focus. It was familiar to him, and when he heard the feminine voice laugh, he was certain who it was.
Celia had been his first in every category but marriage. He remembered few particulars about his high school education, except what he learned from her, and of her. Being his introduction to the female form, she had inadvertently become his standard of what the female form was meant to be. He did not classify the differences he found in others as variety, as some men might, but imperfections that he nobly ignored out of a mature understanding that these things were ultimately unimportant.
As he approached her, he mindfully took the stance he used when checking himself in the mirror before going to work each morning. He felt this posture best
accentuated his better features. The trouble was that this stance required the lungs to be filled nearly to capacity, causing him to speak in short bursting sentences.
“Hello Celia.” He greeted.
She turned, looking at him blankly for a moment as she ran through candidates of who he might be, before smiling.
She hugged him, and he was relieved that the feel of her had gone unchanged in the decade he was away from her.
“You work here?” Evan asked, noticing the green apron she wore.
“Yes. Part-time. I moved back to help with Dad after he got sick.”
She didn’t offer any details about what sick meant, so he decided not to press her on it. He could offer nothing that would comfort her, and didn’t consider his curiosity important enough to cause her the discomfort explaining would cause.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Your parents moved away after we graduated didn’t they?”
“Yeah, I’m here visiting Kari’s family.”
“So it’s true.” Celia smiled. “The two of you did marry?”
Evan had left Celia to pursue Kari their senior year. Kari had seemed mysterious to him then. She smiled at him without letting him know if the smile was meant for him. She leaned forward without guarding the neck of her blouse when he had the proper vantage, without letting him know if she realized it. Once together, she allowed his hands to venture where they pleased, only over the fabric of her clothing, while she talked of engagement rings. After he proposed, his hands granted access beyond the outer layer of clothing, while she talked of their wedding. After they took their vows, she would do nothing more than lie flatly on her back and complain that he was pulling her hair with his elbows.
“Yes. Nine years next month.” Evan admitted. “Did you ever marry?” He asked, seeing her left hand was unadorned.
“Twice.” She said with a laugh. “The first only lasted a day, so I’m not sure that it should count. The second lasted five years though.” She offered.
“Any kids?” He asked.
“Nope. We tried, but after awhile I went to the doctor and she said I couldn’t have kids. I think that’s the reason we didn’t make it to year six.” Celia said. Then she smiled, shoving him back a step the way she used to when she thought of a joke. “You should have stuck around. Then I could have gone through life thinking it was your fault.”
“The Barren Bandits.” He laughed. Her comments were never layered the way Kari’s were. A joke was only that.
A call came over the intercom for Celia to report to the stockroom.
“It was good seeing you.” She said.
Celia hugged him again, longer this time. She was the first to pull away, and saw that his face around the eyes was starting to swell some. Evan started to say goodbye, but his voice broke. She smiled kindly, and brushed his hair behind his ear.
“Goodbye, Evan.” She said, and was gone to the stockroom.
As they passed across the lawn, Evan noticed the dog’s brief, optimistic outlook on life had faded, and by the time she passed through the door into the house she was old again. She licked his hand before disappearing to her outpost upstairs.
“They were sold-out.” Evan reported.
“You knocked it out of the park again.” Dick mocked, shaking his head.
Evan retook his seat at the table as everyone was beginning to migrate toward the living room. Randall waited until it was only the two of them in the kitchen before addressing Evan with a confidential tone.
“Sarah told me about your condition.” He informed, glancing toward Evan’s crotch with apologetic understanding. “I want you to know, if there’s anything I can do to help the two of you start a family, all you have to do is ask.”
He stood in waiting for a few moments, as if to see whether Evan might spring up, graciously shaking his hand and calling for Kari to hurry and shower. When Evan did nothing, Randall patted his shoulder and joined the others leaving him to consider the offer.
Evan went back to his mashed potatoes. They had gone cold while he was away.
Adam Whitaker’s work has appeared in Storyteller, Conceit and Bonfire, and his first novel, Unavenged, is now available. His second novel, Fallacy, will be published next year.