by Tom Sheehan
Prez Walters had not seen his old teammate Duke Glinner for nearly thirty years. In that time he heard about him only in random and roundabout ways, nothing steady at all in the communication. Only minor notes about Duke’s unsettled existence, his crude life, came to him.
If today he had met Duke on the streets of Wayfield, he wouldn’t recognize him. But that’s where Duke had mostly abided, on the streets, his days and nights at odd push and pull, between liquid taste and deep discomfort, between much burlap and little silk. That life, it seemed, had been on the downside of everything once dreamed about in their younger years. Now new word had come; Duke hospitalized, hurting, his existence more of inert shambles, perhaps closing down its long stand. It was a life many pals had thought would have ended much earlier.
The nun receptionist pointed Prez Walters down the antiseptic hallway of St. Margaret’s Hospital. The slight enunciated crackle of starched cowlings seemed coming to him from an imponderable distance. His steps echoed like cap pistol shots on the tile floor. They hurried behind him trying to overtake him, scurrying. The sounds multiplied against the corridor surfaces, the fire doors, the routed tiles of the floor. Time yielding itself for observation, a page turning. He tried to remember who had said that. No face came to him; he could not find it. Searching did not bring faces out, he realized; they came of their own accord.
Old faces made themselves special.
What else is trying to catch up? he asked himself, hearing other whispers, soft voices, asides along the way. I could be walking through the halls of the past. The plaster walls were clean, square, with good edges. Instantly and purposely he admired the journeyman’s eyes in the work, knowing it was a minute ruse to divert himself. Images of all sorts continued to flood him, faces, shapes, gestures, and a host of voices and the arsenal of identifications that grow on people, which stay with them forever. An itch touched one forearm. Almost at once an old injury spoke to him in one knee. The color of that oft-elusive game also came back from the distance. The fiery trees of October. The natural bowl of the field. The wooden stands. The crowd noise. The band. The cheerleader who cried when he was injured, her tears broadcast to him by others, who provided night’s moisture in the back seat of an old Chevie. This day, he wondered how much of his past would he not want spilled from its old crucible. Secrecy is not an art with me, he avowed; never has been.
Making this trip, now making this move, he could not believe what he was up to. Fifty miles away, a hundred miles away, he had known things forgotten for years, knew them crowding him anew. The pine trees dwarfed him, their scrabble on the sides of the hills, in and out of gullies and ravines as though fire had chased them. And new cut hay was liquid atop his mind. Taste for the open field came loping alongside the car.
What drove his feet this way, steered them, brought him here, he did not know. Was this encounter real? Was any of it to be real? He could not imagine how the past could be caught up this way, dragged out from wherever, yet it was there at hand. The disbelief itself was close to vegetative; he could smell it, taste it, and feel the awareness. The ripples of energy at his backside were not to be ignored, nor the cavernous emptiness ballooning in his body, almost electrical in nature.
The dull edges of memories, now sharpening their blades, worked on Prez with similar treatment. Life for him, although different in the long stretch, had also moved with shadows and clouds, and he expected little more in the old hometown he had not visited for a long time. Duke, he thought, would prove to be no different than many people he had met in that stretch, lonely from the word go and not able to fight it, finding life too demanding or too shabby at times to contemplate.
The first thing coming to mind when he thought of Duke’s life were the secret notes Duke used to get in school. He’d find them in his locker, small missives of salutation, quickly noted gifts from an admirer of sorts. There’d be an envelope with the handwritten and too cute message on it: A Dinner for Glinner. Inside there’d be a memorandum to one of the restaurants in the area saying the bearer was entitled to two dinners, cost no object, for bearer and companion. It went on once a week for two years of high school and Duke the football-scoring champ both years in the Valley League. Once he was also the state scoring champ, the year they won the sectional title. It was, as Prez would describe it to friends, the forerunner of the gift certificate.
Nobody ever found out who the mysterious benefactor was. Then, just at the start of the summer when their junior year was finished, a new Ford convertible was left in front of Duke’s house with his name on the same kind of envelope with the same obviously altered handwriting. The title of the black convertible with the off-white top was in the envelope. Duke, in front of the little bungalow where he lived with his widowed mother, looked in the envelope for gas money.
That’s the way things happened to Duke, and on this visit by Prez an old friend brought them together again. The friend was Bob Terrell, who had been the janitor at the school for years beyond memory. Now, like an old jalopy rusting from its last ride, he was parked in a side room of his son’s house, living out his last days.
Prez and Duke had been teammates so long in the past neither one would be able to remember games won or lost, never mind the scores if such manifesto was demanded. Rather, there stayed the image of the other at his own particular act of impact or acceleration. Once there was the time, thinking themselves closer than battlefield comrades, when they moved on into the world and were soon lost to each other. Fortune and misfortune, as it happens, deepened that foreseeable break, Dupres "Prez" Walters riding riches onto one side of oblivion, Albert "Duke" Glinner, never needing much start, into the other side of the same place.
Their paths, as seen, were about to cross again.
Wayfield was a small town at the edge of the Catskills, hung on a good river, and abundantly blessed with good working stock. The young of the city had energy, and dreams, and worked industriously for dreams’ ends. Some of the young men loved the combat of football, head-knocking, leather-helmet stuff before those buckled hats became the plastic weapons they are today. Duke Glinner, from the earliest playground moves, could run faster than any two boys, and Prez, though from the richest family in town, a banker’s son, was a head-knocker of the first order, a blocking back in the old single wing formation, one of the last bastions of Knute Rockne’s pretty little dance routines. They grew, twisted as a pair of vines, into each other’s young lives, dependent on one another, Prez knocking down tacklers for Duke, Duke scoring often.
The papers called them "The Gold Dust Twins."
Parting, though, bid that moniker adieu.
Prez, from Stanton Heights, in a scenic view parking area on the side of that hill, a wayward and fluctuating kind of hunger and yearning propelling him from a distance to this place, looked down on Wayfield at the foot of the hill, hanging on the edge of the river, blending in with the twist of geography and contours. A long study of the community carried self-evident evidence of its people: the rocks, the cliffs, the dramatic shot of outcroppings had formed its citizens, bade them stand in place in the face of time. So many were abiders, hanging by, life a cut path for them from the early impact of reason. Once, he remembered, Hank Henry, a tall and lanky end with a little acne, had made the final pronouncement: “I’ll get married, get a mortgage, get some children, pay the mortgage off, and be free to die. Just like my old man.” There wasn’t much else to look at, or for.
Not much had changed, Prez thought as he stood on Stanton Heights, and corrected himself to admit everything had changed. He was fifty-five years old, tanned and wealthy looking, hair in a crew-cut so long borne that he looked like a retired colonel of Rangers or an airborne vet come back for a peek. At a shade over six feet, his frame carried well, his eyes deeply impressive and chin a willing one at first glance, he seemed formidable, yet doubt marked his face. Staring down at the center of the community, he kept wondering what had brought him here. Riches had come upon his riches to his hand, though tragedy had not stayed away from him; both of his wives had suffered early and terrible deaths, and his one son, Archie, now off on another archeological dig, a long one, was set for life, but the old blocking back knew he was hounded.
Sharp memories invaded him: noise in the huddle almost too much to bear in the big game of the year when Duke snapped at them and said, “Prez, you get the linebacker on the 42 Power and I’m outta here,” staring down every body in the huddle. Clearly Prez could see that full image… Duke slamming inside the tackle right behind him just as he popped the linebacker and felt Duke bounce off his backside and light out for the end zone fifty-yards away. It had happened so many times that way, Duke seeing weakness on the other side and strength on this side, and calling the play as if he had choreographed the whole stunt in a dream.
“I don’t have a clue in hell who it is, Prez, and I ain’t going to spoil none of it. Man likes to see touchdowns, give away free dinners for two, well, hell, might as well be me.” Duke had leaned closer to him and whispered, “Besides, there’s not another tailback in fifty miles can do it, Prez, don’t have you blocking for him.”
“Nobody ever said anything to you, Duke, give the secret away? No clues? No small idea?”
“Look at it this way, Prez, why’d I want to spoil it? No sense in that. Curiosity versus the cat. Ride the donkey while you can my mom says, and she’s as pretty as she is smart. Foxed that old realtor, she did, into giving her the house practically for nothing.”
The Duke had been a handsome kid, six feet of speed and power, blue eyes the girls loved, could walk the walk like a cock, but produced also. Big-time college stuff, for sure.
“Just the curiosity part of it, Duke. That’d drive me nutty wondering who.”
“Well, I confess I thought about it a time or two, not pushing it you know, just thinking about it. Brought it all down to getting the notes into my locker. Nobody ever seen leaving them there, sliding them through the air vent. Nobody. Not ever once. Thought a bit about that but didn’t push what I came up with.”
“Who’s that, Duke? One of the teachers?”
“Hell no, they wouldn’t get there no earlier than they had to. I always thought it had to be Bob Terrell, the janitor. Was the only one in there before dawn, stoking the furnace, warming things up.” Duke had raised his eyebrows, “and dropping notes in my locker outta site of everybody ‘cause there was no one there.” Then Duke Glinner had put out his hand and said, “This is our secret, Prez, now till the day we die. We don’t put anything on Bob Terrell. And we don’t mess with my good fortune.” All these years later Prez finally heard the stress Duke had given “my good fortune.”
Prez reflected on his own life as sat on the side of the hill. His father dead in a car accident his second year at Dartmouth, his mother of cancer when she was not even forty years old. Both his wives had felt the hammer early in their lives, and in their marriages; Paula in British Columbia from an avalanche, buried forever or until the eternal thaw, Marion to the sharks off the coast of Australia, nothing but redness left on the water. So hard had he prayed for Archie that he had prayed him practically out of his life, Archie forevermore off on those yearlong digs that gave him such energy, such a rush of animation, appearing reborn, a new self about the world. Archie could stand off there by himself; he had to.
Now this unwanted call had come; Duke hauled into the hospital from his night’s bed on an open grate of the school, sucking up the exhaust, catching the brunt of the Montreal Express as it whistled down the valley. Duke no longer fast enough to stay ahead of the damage being inflicted upon his body. Duke no longer calling the plays. Prez could see his eyes across the huddle, the way a dream might be buried back there or the way he might see the next play and how it would develop, his legs itchy, his teeth hardly grinding at all, his nostrils flared but little, Duke at the helm.
“Glad I could get you, Prez,” Dave Wardler had said on the phone, his voice not a bit recognizable as the running guard he had paired up with on a thousand missions, solid and propitious Dave now a lieutenant on the police department. “Seeing you and Duke were so close back then. Near froze to death last night or the night before. Found him at the school, in the back where the smokers used to sneak off to. Like he never left school at all. I swear, Prez, like he never left school at all. Nobody knows what happened to him, so screwed up all his life, booze, fights, you name it and you’ll find it. But he’s hurting and I thought it only fair to let you know. One of the younger guys remembered his name and told me. We got him into St. Margaret’s Hospital down the valley, madder than hell he is but not able to do much about it. Just cursing his head off, the nuns and nurses if they haven’t heard it all before, are sure getting it now. You planning to come up here?”
“I’ll be there, Dave. Thanks for calling. How’s Daisy? Long time since I’ve seen her.”
“Plump and happy and a grandmother now. Come by when you get a chance. She’d love to see you. We’re in her parents’ old place.”
At least Dave had ridden the road the right way, Prez thought, then had a picture of Duke straight out on the heated grate back of the school, the wind his comforter, the grating his bed. For the moment he was pleased that he had little tears left in his pot. A lot earlier he had surmised you only get so many of them, and then you get dried up. Sadness, like drought, drawing on you all the way; shabby, burlap without the silk.
Earlier, down off the hill, wandering strangely about known places of the town, feeling corners becoming familiar in his approach, character of bricks in walls still in place for thirty or more years, finding his feet on sterling paths once as intimate as the back of his hand, he had found his way to old Bob Terrell, living in a son’s house, a small blister of an in-law apartment hanging against a dark gray gambrel with no dormers.
Now there’s a change, Prez said under his breath, as the old janitor answered his knock at the door. Bob Terrell was scarred by life, a cane immediate in hand, one eye appearing closed forever with a savage scar leaping down from its brow and disappearing at chin line, dentures if there were any off in a cup. Behind him, bustling, a breath of sweet warm air, stove fed, woodsy, came at Prez, and he could see the flames in a glass-fronted cast iron stove. On the porch, piled like corrugations, drawing his attention, a stack of logs neat as baker’s bread loaves, as brown. Prez picked up four splits and cradled them in one arm as if in offering.
“Gaddam, boy, the only one ever to do that’d be Prez Walters. Only ever had manners I remember. That you, Prez, gaddam blocking back. Old school king shit. That gaddam you, Prez? You hear about the Duke, the shit he’s been in? C’min, boy, and bring the offery with you.” With a vague off-balance twist he about-faced and went back into the room; the room hanging on his son’s house sat like a glove around a bed against one wall, a sink and a two-burner countertop stove and cabinets on another, the black cast iron stove, eyed like a god, porting directly through the ceiling, a couple of chairs including a deep-set Morris, a TV on a small stand, a single shelf with half a dozen books, a whole lifetime scrounged down into four tight walls. It did not really look oppressive. Prez thought it to be a statement from the stove, outside the wind still whirling its Montreal breath.
Prez placed his offering into a circular iron ring beside the stove. Heat danced from the stove in unseen waves. “It’s me, Bob, come to see you and the Duke. It’s been a haul and a half, I’d say, for all of us.”
“No gaddam pity, Prez. I’d been there and done it had the chance, and did much to make it so. Old and camf’table the way the boy wants it and bothers me none long as I’m warm. Putting the coal away all those years give me a need for the heat now I’m beat up.”
“What happened to Duke, Bob? I mean his whole life just screwed up. I keep thinking it was all the free stuff he got when we were playing ball, tearing up the valley league. God, he was a deer.”
“You mean the dinners and the car and stuff? ‘Pears everybody knew about ‘em.” Bob’s bad eye had still not opened, and the scar, long as a bayonet thought Prez, had become redder as he sat beside the stove in the worn Morris chair, accepting his heavy rear with ease, his cane swinging on the chair wing in a slowing rhythm.
“We talked about that a bit, Duke and me. I thought it was arranged through the intercession of a teacher, slipping those notes into his locker, but Duke had other ideas; he didn’t want me to rock the boat and ruin his hand-outs.”
Bob Terrell’s scar was redder and the bad eye still closed, as he said, “What kinda ideas Duke and you put on the wheel, Prez? I allus thought you were too busy getting’ on that kind of stuff. You was different than all ‘em, pay no mind to locker room horseshit and rumors and stuff. I never heard you once toss a word upon any soul, girl or otherwise.” The good eye was steady on Prez and he could feel it, as if an interrogation lamp beamed on him.
“Duke had an idea you were the only one who could have handled all that secret stuff about the envelopes, about Dinner for Glinner, all that secrecy. We all knew you were here before dawn every day. None of the teachers did that, didn’t do what you did, Bob. They must still talk about how you never took a day off, none that I can remember, and never spoke a word about anything or anybody. I guess we have a mutual respect there.”
“My word was sure my bond, Prez, never broke it to the man all the while he was alive and not even after he died. Never said word one, not to a soul. But I sure wondered all those years and did some sly figurin’ on my own account about the whole sitiation, just to keep my thinkin' straight and simple as a shot glass.” Old Bob’s one eye was still like a searchlight, focused on Prez. “Never woulda guessed in a hunnert years, the man coverin’ tracks, doin’ good outta somethin’ bad. He’s long gone now.” The bonds of promise appeared to be loosening and Prez suddenly began to feel a sense of insight moving on the situation.
“I’m going off to see Duke now, Bob, visiting hours about to open. Anything I might say to him for you? I heard from Dave Wardler that he might be in the hospital for a lengthy stay if he gets through the next day or two.”
“He that bad, Prez? God, I’ve seen him all these years walkin’ stupid drunk at all hours, sleepin’ in the police station as a cold night favor, someone’s cellar I hear now and then, in the back of Smitty’s boathouse down there on the river, in any car in a hunnert driveways. Shit sure thought he’d be dead the next day a hunnert times. Should have no liver left, that man.” He reached and grabbed his cane and twirled it like a baton in his hands, the one eye following the black rubber tip like it was the moon on its dark side. “I kept my word a long time sayin’ nothin’. Maybe things is different now, expect to get squared off, putting the horse on the right cart.” An animate leverage came on his face, perhaps the confessional face, a believing face, heightened by the bayonet-sized scar, now as red as if it had its own beating heart.
Prez had questions popping up his backside and held them off as long as he could. “How did you get that scar, Bob?”
“It was him done it, Prez, old Duke hisself, drunk as a hillbilly on Tennessee shine one night, out in the back of the school. I come down to check on somethin’, maybe noise, and he lights inta me with a bottle. Near killed me, had the cops there, in the hospital myself near a couple a weeks. Your father, it was just before he died, you still at college, Duke like to have been drunk two years already, momma kicked him outta the house, your daddy came down and held everythin’ down quiet and easy.”
“My father had respect for Duke the way he could run up my tail in high school. Must have had a real soft spot for Duke the way he made every block of mine count for something good, good yardage, first downs, long runs for touchdowns. Could run like a deer, old Duke.”
The black moon was still spinning in old Bob Terrell’s hands, one eye still closed and the other on fire, matching the redness of the livid scar. The Morris chair creaked under him as he shifted weight, pushed himself to one side, sized up argument.
The whole world came right side up for the moment. “Hell, Prez, it wasn’t none of that,” Bob Terrell said, his butt sitting square and still. The eye, though, the good eye, was leaping out of the past, filled with unknown images, his voice as suddenly somber as deep church bells. It was an announcement held back from all of time, and the set line of his mouth showed deep concern at what he was about to say. A change had come cross the old man, body language making a statement, an inner power taking over in a hidden way. At once it was both subtle and dramatic. Prez could feel it in the room the way a shadow might filter in, stealing light, taking hold of a small section of slanting rays. “Prez, your daddy was Duke’s daddy too. No one in life I ever told that to. Not till now, so help me God. Was me all the time slippin’ them notes in his locker. I even parked that new Ford in front of his house that night, wantin’ it for myself so bad I could taste it.” The black moon of the cane tip had stopped rotating, old Bob Terrell’s long secret spilled from his mouth.
Sunlight spilled its slanting blocks through the hospital windows and made angles on the painted walls, and his fingers knew the heat on the walls. A shimmer rose from the surface of a small table where the reception area ended and the corridor started. One of the few trees on the hospital grounds drove its shadow ahead of him in the corridor where a slight change in temperature was noticeable. He thought of the shadows and the clouds that sailed on through his days and was not sure of what he was going to say to Duke, and how he would make those words come out of his mouth. The receptionist had pointed to a door halfway down the hall, Number fourteen she had said and turned away.
Since he had left old Bob his mind had filled with the options at hand, how the conversation would be initiated. “I have to tell you, Duke, that we’re brothers.” “There’s something you should know, Duke.” “While I was here in town I thought I’d drop in and say hello. It’s been a long while, Duke.” The options expanded, took up room in his mind.
None of them gelled clearly, as a host of images beset him again. The angular shadows in the hall did it, he thought, being there again as they often were, and then thought once more of Paula as he had every day since she had died, so elegant there on that white crest, waving back at him, promising it to be her last run for the day, the mountains of British Columbia like a huge pile of bricks behind her silhouette. Once she had said, in the quiet after loving him heedlessly, “There is no one like us, not in all the world.” Her graces slammed against him, how she could mount the mountain or him with never a thought of ineptness or embarrassment infringing on motions, no pause at measurement or consequence; Paula, so slim at the waist, thighs like his, yet ethereal. The image brought the tide-like tumble of snow down behind her, the silent roar not heard until long minutes later, his Paula being swallowed up by everything she loved. Every damn thing in the world she loved eating her up. The image came like a train out of his past, driving down on him, roaring in the tunnel of the shadowed corridor.
Then in a test of balance, or perhaps forced acceptance, as he openly thought sometimes, came the new picture of his father. He saw him slipping into the back door of Duke’s house set in the abrupt triangle between the railroad tracks and a small woodworking company, as plain as a bug under a microscope. Day after day, night after night he might have crossed that threshold. How had he dared to do it? Obviously caught up by the charms of Duke’s mother or another hunger, leaving his own wife at home, and in time his son. Prez vaguely remembered her red lips, and how he had once sensed the fullness of her breasts working against a purple dress.
He fought off that memorial challenge and, as he had done so often in life, enlisted his own pain to relieve another pain. Came quickly out of the shadows … Marion’s frantic strokes that almost brought her out of the Pacific water, the great swimmer she was. He had loved her in her turn, having been driven to athletic women; Paula so slim, so skilled, so graceful; then Marion, best of the best, unparalleled in the pool or the wide Pacific, stroker of strokers he mouthed in memory, until the shark had come alongside her, the day closing down from its near-perfect beauty, the sun half way to bed as the horizon scissored it. There was a major triangulation that took place, one that he’d always remember; the half sun, the flash of Marion’s arms, the black blade of a fin knifing beside her. Eventually the scream had stopped in his mouth as the commingling flare of sunset and blood spread its dark rainbow across the water.
Prez Walters, about to meet his brother for the first time, squeezed his eyes tightly to discharge Marion from his mind. The red sunset atop the wide Pacific leaped away as the door opened. The trade-off came; the eyes of the young nurse looking at him, sad, urgent, unable to frame words, told another chapter of his life. He knew he’d remember Duke’s eyes across the huddle, only when he needed them.
Bio : Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His books are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, 2008, Press 53; A Collection of Friends and From the Quickening, 2009, Pocol Press; three novels have been published. He has18 Pushcart nominations, appeared in Dzanc Best of the Web 2009, nominated for 2010 and 2011 and has 250 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine. His newest book, Korean Echoes, was issued in September of 2011 from Milspeak Publishers and has been nominated for The Distinguished Book Awards of The Society of Military History. One novel is in the hands of a literary agent, and 7 collections of short stories are scheduled for publication as eBooks in 2012.
It’s In The Details
by Richard D. Hartwell
I believe in the profoundly insignificant, in the extenuating circumstances of details. We all pass through life, however briefly or long lived, like casual passengers on a slowly sculled craft, each of us dragging a hand trailing in the water, and the vees of our intrusions spread ever outward, infinitely, intersecting one another, building and compounding from ripples to wavelets to breakers of meaning washing up on some distant shore for others to comprehend our lives. We live by the details, not by the generalities; although we seem to be judged by the generalities without regard to those profound insignificances that created our direction.
I love and live in the world of just this moment, not of the next, nor of the hour just past, but of just this hour. The magic of life is in the moment, not in the generalization, nor in the afterglow. If I can enter each passing moment with no expectations, then I can pass on to the next moment with no illusions; for it is only unfulfilled expectations that create conflict and cacophony.
I have long kept a fragment of a poem by Jerry Tivey: “But I know too, an incomplete sentence / Is still an abundant thought.” Perhaps, too, an incomplete life still carries with it the abundance of recollection and a magnificence of collateral meanings. In Greek, eranos is a meal to which each person contributes her or his share, sort of a Platonic symposium of gastronomic delights, or a shared buffet. That being the case, our buffet, to which we have all been invited, must be altered in some measure by those who cannot attend and therefore do not contribute. However, it is not diminished, not lessened, for even their absence affects the arrangement at the table.
There is a wonderful response to the question, “How do I get there from here?” “Well, it all depends on what map you use!” This applies equally well to decisions in life: roads less traveled, or the boulevards of the masses. If lost, you must stop and ask yourself: “Am I on the right page?” Do I understand the scale?” “Do I know the meaning of the symbols?” and the big question, “Is it the destination or the journey which governs my choices at each intersection?” Thus are we back again to the momentous meaning of the moment.
I feel like a philosopher spinning my own thread of meaning, weaving my own life one row at a time. Sometimes I can back out of my flaws if I spot them soon enough. Other times I must merely press them flat and mash them into the weave as best I can. It is a rare homespun that is without flaws. This is a fact by which we should learn to not judge the quality of fabric of another nor the skill of the weaver by comparison to ourselves.
Bio: Rick Hartwell is a retired language arts middle school teacher living in Southern California with his wife of thirty-five years (poor soul; her, not him), their disabled daughter, one of their sons and his ex-wife and their two children, and eleven cats. Yes, eleven! When not writing he wishes he were still pushing plywood in Coquille, Oregon.