Two Stories — Andrew Morgan
Doctor Tukes, Off the Clock
But that’s all blather. I can’t even remember how old I was. Can’t remember my teacher at the time, my closest friend, or whether that summer I played T-ball, “minor league” (where the coach pitches), “major league” (where I pitched, “hard” and under the pretense of “wild”) or even later still when there was but rocks and glass and a gameless kind of running. I can’t remember whether we’d yet crossed from printing to cursive, which I do remember took place in third grade which was the same year that Susan Crandle, prancing across the gymnasium as she was lunch-hour-prone to do, tripped—“it must’ve been her laces”—and broke her nose right there on the free-throw line and wailed a gurgled wail and dripped a splatter which even years later when me and Teddy Lagere snuck in after hours for some one-on-one, even then, and that must’ve been at least ninth grade ’cause Teddy didn’t transfer back till I’d started shaving and that was on a rainy night at some point in the summer before high-school (having started not so much ’cause I needed to but ’cause I wanted to and why not I had just enough money for a razor and other needs for a razor and so what with birds and stones and whatnot there I tremored, determined, eye to mirrored eye beneath the single swinging light of the basement bathroom which hissed as its arc’s apex occasionally synched with the random rain’s drip making it down past what sealant there was between the trapdoored porch and the alcoved chunk of mirror Timor, my sitter’s younger brother, and I snatched from his Auntie’s when she was away at her praying; there, without cream which I hadn’t the money for and without method which I hadn’t the traditional intactness of family to provide, bringing a blade to bare not for the first time [but near the first time] with purpose) but even then, Teddy and I at least a year deep in friendship and not for the first time (or near the first time) sweating in the gymnasium’s half-dark, tested our athleticism a little too vigorously, and limbs tangling, ended up both face down on the floor at that same line where even then, after who-knows-how-much sweeping and waxing, a shadowed hint of crimson haze still remained somehow clear-as-day apparent and I said “Look: it’s Crandle’s randle” and that took us funny and we laughed and clutched one another unsurely in what I remember thinking would’ve resembled, in collective contour and especially so from above, a more cursive styling than that of standard print. I can’t remember if I’d yet to lose a tooth or already had those I grind while not remembering this or if this was somewhere in between the two when Allie Alters called me “notch face” and I swung at her all clumsy like ’cause she was pretty but she swung back, not one bit clumsy, and doubled the gap which had inspired the namecalling. I can’t remember if my sister had yet begun her womanly or when that actually was as she at least twice prematurely claimed her adulthood ’cause her friends at least twice beat her to it. I can’t remember my nose-ornament status or that of my nipple(s), my hairstyle or its color, my lunchbox, parent of custody, or even my handedness for sometime ’round then I switched dominance left to right as I was still but the beginning of a golfer and it was still, then, a righty and only the wealthiest of lefty’s (and I was certainly not, not by far, the former of the later) sport. I can’t remember if The Falcon’s training wheels were on or yet off or even if this was before or after The Falcon was traded for a Mickey Mantle rookie card Bubba’s daddy found in the wall when the plumbing blew out in the winter and he had to half-ash fix it himself because Little Lil was only two and was small and cold and sick and Bubba’s ma was havin’ none of that or so Bubba said when he handed me the sticky envelope with Mantle inside and I, clutching its stick and suddenly remorse-fearingly uncertain about my choice’s wiseness, knee-jerk spun and kicked The Falcon over straight at Bubba’s feet and stood silent as its handlebar gouged his shins and Bubba dropped and cried and said “mah mah mah” over and over like he said Lil did when she kicked off her covers and frostbited her toes ’cause of the blow out and it being winter and all. I can’t remember if I loved Dora or Nina or Carl or Otto. Can’t remember if it was before the glasses or after the glasses with the contacts or during the glasses just before the contacts when Rudy kept thieving my lenses for convexing the sun onto flies. I can’t remember the decision, its ease; how it was void of malice, of cruelty, how there was even a taste of the generous. Can’t remember the red gloss on the pavement, the reflection of the streetlight like a bubble-gum bubble somehow rippling as if notifying us all of an earthquake we had yet to register. Can’t remember Willie—compelled against the nature of safety, compelled by the nature of fearing not fitting-in—sticking the tip of his left thumb first-knuckle-deep into the center of that bubble and then rigidly freezing, eyes focusless, as if he had instead inserted that thumb’s filed-point-of-a-nail straight on into an electric outlet. I can’t remember pushing Willie back, can’t remember jumping into the midst of that gloss, can’t remember sweeping my feet left and right like miniature snowplows gale-caught and hauled straight on across a thicker-than-water lake, can’t remember the splatter along Willie’s arm and along his shoulder and across his neck, thickening as it climbed until curling off with a clearly-cursive-not-print flourish to form a toothless clown smile just beneath the bobbing nose of his Adams apple which was itself bobbing beneath the I’ll-never-smile-again clenched-in-horrorness of his lips. I can’t remember Willie’s eyes the instant his pupils exploded away any hint of the pulse-blue his mumma called her “cloudless frontier”; can’t remember the drip of snot from his left nostril or how it revolted me that he wouldn’t wipe it away, couldn’t wipe it away; can’t remember the woodpeckering tap that kept increasing in volume until there was a thunderclapping crack and a wail from Willie as he unfroze and thrusting both hands into his mouth removed what seemed to be fistfuls of shattered teeth. I can’t remember my mother weeks later driving white-knuckled with her left hand at ten and the right ticking down to three and then to her lap and the sound of a bottle and up again to her mouth, toss toss gulp gulp, polly want a num num and then ticking back down to three and her for some reason not responding as I ask again and again why Willie don’t want to come over and play. And I wish I could remember the day nearly a month after that when Willie showed up unexpected at the front door and still all just gums and bandages rang the bell with his red gauzed left stub of a thumb and I peeked from behind the curtain of the window beside the door and seeing it was Willie got very still and kinda lost focus with my vision and then with my body entire and felt all of a sudden like I was sitting in a bath and tasted the steam deep in my throat and heard the sound of fingers on doorknobs and the bobbing rubber of miniature animals afloat and the creak of hinges and the rippling water and its warmth on my thighs but why only my thighs? and with that hiccup of confusion coming back to myself at the door, so close to and yet separate from Willie and it feeling proper and like something expected and I began to (gently and then with a little more force) allow an inkling of hope to buzz deep behind my eye only to see it swiftly peter away startled bird-like as I realized the dampness as wholely real and bodily and wrong just wrong and I wailed and Willie ran and my mother turned up the volume on the radio either so she didn’t hear me or so I didn’t hear her practiced twitching and the gulp gulp of the pellets down her gullet and polly-want-a-numb-numb numbness for a long, long time. But that’s what I’m saying. All blather from far and long ago and not very interesting at all to poor oublietted Dr. Walter Reinhold Pence, my colleague (and so much brighter than the others), whose interest, at the moment (but not for the first time), is bloodshot-and-non-blinking-eye lasered in on beggary and how its potential to elicit the ultimate of mercy might be somehow realized through force-forgetting the camouflage of why I’m making him repeat the polly numb numb thing and focusing instead on the singed fingers of the melting mannequin and why I painted its eyes in the endless tones of a cloudless frontier.
Marie to Eleanor, Resenting Her Elasticness
…or like a flower on a footstool with a soft summer breeze coming in from the porch where your grandmother’s casket is sitting half-opened in the sun and you’re whistling to yourself some stage tune your sister had a record of because her post high schools dream-year boyfriend thought he was a singer and not a rock star singer but an on-the-stage-some-day-singing-and-dancing-in-a-rustic-costume-while-people-in-suits-that-cost-half-as-much-as-the-set-stare-down-the-dresses-of-their-dates/wives-and-wonder-why-art-has-to-be-so-boring-and-why-it-isn’t-easier-to-stare-down-the-dresses-of-their-dates/wives singer and you wonder if your whistling would sound more inappropriate to your sister or to your grandmother but you know the answer to that because there was nothing that was ever fully appropriate in your grandmother’s book and your sister could give a shit because that boyfriend did become a singer and when he did he gave your sister a son he found in the alley outside the off-broadway theatre that burned down after the third night’s performance of his second play which, unlike the first, had some real moving parts and the role fit his voice if not like a sock does a foot than like a necklace does a neck and for once he felt positive about his choices and there was this son in the alley and he thought of your sister and how she played records and encouraged him and said to himself “I think she would be a good mom” and he took the child and gave it to her and the real parents, who apparently were just ripping a joint around the corner, were not happy to not find their child when returning and said some things to some people that were not quite true because they didn’t want to give all the details about the joint and such because that would have been bad news for the dad who wasn’t supposed to do that ‘cause of his heart and the fact that he was just up for new life insurance and he needed that because he was planning to off himself in a way that was not able to be recognized as self-offing so that the mother and the child could live a life a little less cold and empty, that and the fact that they didn’t want to be the parents who went around the corner to burn a joint and lost their child because no one really does and certainly not Claude and Marie who already had enough judgment upon them as both their parents had expected so much more of each and had told them so often and still did and would until one night Claude’s mother looks at Marie’s dad and says “I bet they lost that baby ’cause they went around the corner to smoke a joint” and Marie’s dad doesn’t respond right away but begins to think then and there that he’ll take Claude’s mother to a play sometime, just him and her, and during the play he will look down her dress and think about art and the grandchild it took from them and he’ll whisper something about Monet or Mozart which he’ll have researched beforehand and she’ll stare at him and half-smile and he’d half-smile back and a little later their hands would brush gently against one another and they’d both wonder what-if and then they’d correct themselves, readjust their posture and soon after leave early because of something they both would agree to find pressing and on the cab ride home Marie’s dad would tell a joke about when Marie was four and Claude’s mom would find it crass and there would be an extended silence no one would be able to do anything about and it would be forever between them and in the end too much so for Claude and Marie and Claude’s dad and Marie’s mom to ever think it was not something a little more than it was and everyone would eventually pull back and think about how much this isn’t what it should be and count the ways in which they were clearly the least at fault and so when he finally responds with “I bet you fuck non-Claude’s dad men all the time, what’s a fucking joint and a lost baby to you” it’s not because of what she said but because of what she would have done to him had he done to her what he wanted to do to her and the irony would be that she would think that his saying of this was actually an attempt to open up an opportunity for him to accomplish the same thing he had wanted to do and she wasn’t put out but tired by the whole thing and she half-smiled that response and Marie’s dad half-smiled his own smile and they would be no more lonely and not alone than they were before this exchange and they would both in their mind’s thank the other for that a little too often and a little too much until that thanks inevitably bent toward a resentment that would be forever between them and in the end too much so for Claude and Marie and Claude’s dad and Marie’s mom to ever think it was not something a little more than it was and everyone would eventually pull back and think about how much this isn’t what it should be and count the ways in which they were clearly the least at fault and having assumed custodial duties of their son your sister was far too busy to hear whistling and if she did her inappropriate radar was so-to-a-different-frequency tuned that she jumped not like the moon in the fog, but more like the feeling of the moon in the fog, like a whisper you’re chasing down a hallway in a nightmare you know to be nightmare, but not yet consciously enough to facilitate caution to an extent which eventually asks for everyone to just pull back a bit and think about how much this isn’t what it should be…