She brought me down with a two by four across the back of the knees. My head hit the doorjamb as I fell. Hard headed or not, I think I was a little dazed.
I was lying then on a black and white tile floor in the half dark of that vestibule and looking up at the mouth of a model 17, 9mm Glock semi-automatic, when I first heard that voice.
This is a single word, in common use, but has problematic spelling. When I write stories now I often just resort to familiar forms, like ‘What do you want?’ Rather than be accused of stereotyping or pandering. I was actually thinking about this while I was lying there only half conscious. I had spent the morning at my one room apartment over in Cambridge, writing and dealing with the grammatics—that’s my word for dramatic speech patterns–when Connie McGuire showed up and asked me to do him a favor. That meant he was going to screw with my regular schedule and put me on a job right away. He’s been doing that less lately so I didn’t complain. Just part of the job description. Besides, he’s short on cash because of the economy and I’m on salary anyway, so it doesn’t cost him extra to dump on me. I ran through a few more ‘grammatics’ in my head on the way over to the South End. I had to decide the way to go with the piece I was working on. It made a difference.
I don’t believe in ghosts. Any more than I believe in a tree, or a rock. What the heck does a tree care what I believe in. Why does it matter what you call a stone, unless you’re a geologist or something. I just try to live with things–as is. ‘Take them the way they are, and work on your own self,’ like Daddy said. Like you have to take Uncle Bob. It’s not going to change anything about Uncle Bob if I object to it. He’ll just get more ornery and give Mama a harder time. He’ll just ignore me, same as a rock would. You can’t argue with a stone, and Uncle Bob thinks anybody still under the age of sixteen is as dumb as a rock anyway, so what’s the use.
I’ve been watching this one ghost for a week now. He thinks I don’t see him, if he thinks about me at all. He moves up and down the stairs like he’s carrying something but I can’t see his arms. Maybe he doesn’t have any arms. But he looks busy, like he’s getting something done.
A tar blister, black and shiny, bloomed from the wooden crevice of a joint in the short bridge, close to Aran’s right foot. The glister of sun on the tar caught his eye. Aran shifted his sneaker away. His grandmother would not want the tar in the house.
The bridge, lengths of wood as thick as railroad ties and darkened with creosote, joined the rusted bones of an iron trestle that crossed the wider gully of the creek more than the creek itself–spanning the red gouge and the dark run of clear water, and a lush verge of vine and brush between a corn field and a pasture.
He whispered, “Aw, shoot!” his voice muffled by the dense quiet and his breath smothered by the sun. Everything had changed. Nothing ever stayed the same long enough.
Elbows planted on top of the warmed metal of the side rail, Aran stood in partial collapse at the middle of the bridge, his palms clasped to each cheek as he stared down into the gully and studied the ruin of his plan. A single large rock, black at the center like an eye, stared back at him from the sand. read more…
from BENEDICTIONS, an unfinished novel
This is what I remember.
But someone else could say, “I know that place, and you’ve got the names all wrong.”
I’d have to tell them that they’re mistaken. In any case, I don’t remember them being there.
They might answer, “The doorway was on the left. That woman was a blonde.”
I’d have to remind them that they were standing at a different angle, and the lighting was not as good.
This all happened before mobsters replaced cowboys at the movies, and long before government Indians and stock market brokers took over the business of gambling. I was a nobody then, the same as I am now, only then I was a nobody with promise. The unsecured credit of my youth opened doors which have since been securely locked. Reflecting on that time now, I am aware of the forgotten order of things. We all tend to place remembered matters in a sequence of importance determined by the lives we are presently living, and too easily forget the value we once held so dear. We judge our past selves by the logic of the present, as if we might have foreseen the unfolding of things we could not possibly have known.
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