Read Debris Online

Authors: Kevin Hardcastle

Debris (7 page)

BOOK: Debris
4.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“What the fuck you mean, ‘any better'?”

“It won't make it any better for him.”

Paul got out of the car and stood there with the door open. He stared up at the building and then looked west toward the seemingly endless waters. He swore and shut the door and leaned down so he could see in through the open window on the driver's side. Matthew kept looking at him, but he didn't say anything else. Paul nodded. He slapped the edge of the window with his palm and then stood up and walked around the car and started up the stone entryway steps.

“Tell him I'm waiting out in the car,” Matthew said.

“Okay,” Paul said, but he didn't look back.

When he came back down the steps a few minutes later Matthew was sitting in the back seat. Paul was carrying a small suitcase with their father right behind him at his shoulder. He had gone nearly all grey, though his hair still grew thick. His dark eyes were the same as Paul's, as were his small ears and slender nose and the shape of his chin as well as the narrow shoulders, the wiry arms and legs. If he weren't so much shorter than Paul the future would have seemed utterly foretold. Matthew got out of the car and looked at Paul as he went by to put the suitcase in the trunk.

“Hey Dad.”

“Hello son.”

Matthew smiled crooked and went over to put his arms around him, the man's chin pushing against his shoulder. His father seemed not to know what to do at first, but soon enough those aged, familiar arms rose and held fast and then he was patting his son's back with his worn-out hands.

 

 

They drove with the sun sinking
into the Jack pine forest to the west. Paul was still behind the wheel. Matthew sat in the back seat and he could see his father's eyes in the passenger-side mirror and he had never seen their reflection in that mirror before. The three of them had never been in a car at once without their father as the driver. The old man stared out of his window at the fading day and must have seen something there because he sat very still for a long time. When they asked him about the hospital or about his health at all he only gave them a few words back and after he replied he would look away again and seemed to be thinking too long about what he'd said. He appeared eerily calm until he turned to answer another question from Paul and saw the swollen knuckles on his son's right hand.

“What the hell is that?” he said.

Paul shifted in his seat, lifting his hand off the wheel like he might hide it somewhere. There were lies circling about in his head and he glanced up to the rear-view mirror at Matthew for just a second.

“It's nothing.”

“Who did you hit? Why did you hit them?”

As he said it he reached out and took Paul's hand in his and examined it close, his own scarred and misshapen fingers going over the damage with great care. Faint red stained into the ridged skin over the knuckle ­joints. Paul didn't say anything.

“The man needed to be hit,” Matthew said from the back seat.

“Matthew,” their father said sharply and Matthew went quiet. The man didn't even have to turn around. He looked over at his eldest son and his eyes were wide and full of concern and other things that Paul had never seen there before and couldn't identify. He let go of Paul's hand and shifted back into his seat properly, but he kept his eyes on his son.

“I couldn't help it, Dad,” Paul said. “I didn't even think about it.”

“Did they hit you first?”

“No.”

“What did they do to you?”

Paul ran the injured hand through his hair, then scratched at the back of his neck. After a few seconds he took the wheel again with it.

“They said something about you,” he said.

Paul tried to keep his eyes on the road but his father kept studying him. The old man put one of his heavy hands over his mouth and then took it away and bit at his malformed nails. Soon he stopped and looked at his hand and then lay it flat on the windowledge. He stared at it for very long time before he spoke again.

“You can't do that, Paul,” he said. “Unless you are in real trouble you can't do it. And never because of me. Someone shits on my name it doesn't make me happy, but I won't have you risk coming to any harm over me, not you or your brother.”

In the rear-view mirror Paul saw Matthew rubbing at his chin with his palm. Saw him snort and let out a heavy breath. Paul watched the road and kept quiet. He nodded.

“Paul,” his father said. “You promise me that.”

He stared at him until Paul looked back.

“Okay.”

Paul turned to the road ahead and his father watched after him. Then he reached up and put his hand on his son's neck and squeezed a little. When he let go he did so with some hesitation. Everybody in that car knew that they had heard a promise that would never be kept.

They were all quiet for a long time until Matthew spoke up.

“Dad,” he said. “Do you want to stop? You haven't eaten anything.”

“If you want to get something then sure, we can stop wherever.”

“We're okay, Dad,” he said. “It's up to you.”

Their father turned and looked at Matthew for a second and then at Paul.

“If you two are okay I'd rather just keep heading for home.”

“Sure,” Matthew said. “Let's just keep on going. Paul's been driving a long time.”

“That's what I figured.”

 

*

 

The car turned onto the county
road in the near dark. There were stars in the sky already and just a shred of the moon and in the dusk there were birds flying in tandem and others perched on the power lines in small groups and a few standing alone. From far down the road they could see the old familiar shape of the wooden farmhouse, the shadows of their clothes rising and drifting out from the metal skeleton of the rotary clothesline in the yard. The breeze that moved them had come in from the north and it played in the trees and when the car crept up to a stop sign they could hear crickets singing in the charred thickets of tall grass and off in the fields the distant sound of a dog barking. They went on through the crossing toward two lights burning, one in the front porch, another in the kitchen.

Matthew slumped against the open window. He hadn't seen his mother in over a year. He stared into the half-light blindly. Inside the house she would be watching their arrival through the window, standing over the sink in her nightgown with a cold bottle of beer on the counter beside her. Their dinner would be on plates in the oven, warming there while she worried about them coming in so late and about the drive that was now over. She would be wondering if they had eaten already while she waited, her appetite lost to nervousness. They would come in and she would fuss about them and say something about them being late and then she would hug their father very hard and Paul and Matthew even harder, as if they had been locked away with him. She might not expect them to eat, but she would lay out their supper and make them sit down at the table, the four of them together. She would take her place last, having waited with the phantoms and the dark corners and the pictures of their long-gone relatives, the part that was missing returned to her and their house made home again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BANDITS

 

 

T
he day I turned eighteen we
drank a keg of beer between the five of us and let out over the frozen bay in our sleds. Pa on the lead machine with a pump shotgun strapped to the seat, the barrel fitted with a full-choke. His two younger brothers trailing, whooping and swerving wild on the ice over six inches of snow that fell since early evening. My cousin Ronnie coasted wide on his older sled. He had turned twenty-one in the Hillcrest pen. Ronnie was twenty-five now and he was like my brother. Even more so because Pa would thump him silly on the front lawn when he mouthed off or otherwise goaded the big man enough to warrant some violence.

There was a storm coming from the north and you could see the black clouds rolling even against the lesser black of the moonlit sky. Thunder from the heavens and did it ever fucking boom. Next came bolts of white-blue lightning. Smell of electric all over. The snow came down heavy. It looked to me like the end of the world. We passed between two fishing huts and crossed to the other side of the bay, close to the big houses and cottages planted there. Most of them were empty for the season. They were summer homes for people from the city or second houses for the richest in town. Pa throttled down and so did we all. Crept up rumbling aside a fine cedarwood house with great bay windows, boathouse half as big as our actual house.

Pa turned and untethered the shotgun. Loaded it with double-aught buck and racked a round. He let fly like a marauder on horseback and blasted out two of the front windows. Loaded up again and pulled. Spitfire leapt from the barrel and siding from the west corner of the house blew out in a cloud of jagged timber. Pa gunned it and took off, shotgun held high over his head. He had pocketed his gloves to shoot, and from close by I could see the meatclub that he called his right hand, fingers around the scattergun stock, dark blue ridges of scar tissue and maroon gunk at his skin-split knuckles.

 

 

At four in the morning we were
back at the house, the living room and kitchen in ruin. Pa kept it clean for the most part. It surprised the hell out of people when they came by, expecting a certain measure of filth and disarray. He'd not ever moved any of ma's knick-knacks, pictures, the crosses up on the wall. All were polished and pretty. I didn't have no mother because she died of a brain aneurysm in the middle of the public library, checking out books about eastern rattlesnakes for me for school. I was fourteen. You couldn't set a beer bottle on the coffee table without a coaster or Pa would smash you upside the head with those hamhock mitts of his. You couldn't until the weekend, or a night like this one. And then the place went fairly direct to the boundaries of manmade chaos. By the end of that night there were two of Pa's brothers passed out in our living room. Funhouse versions of my Pa. Uncle Dan on a short couch, his long tree-trunk legs hooked over the end. Uncle Dougie in a chair that extended out with a footrest, spider limbs stretched long, littlest finger of his right hand but a stump. Me and Ronnie were still up, pickled as could be. Pa sat heavy on his armchair with a bottle of rye in his lap.

“I didn' know you'ld get lightin'n a snowstore,” Ronnie said.

“Well you know it now, eh dipshit? Or you better 'cause you just seen it.”

Ronnie made a sour face and his head lolled. Dad leaned out of his seat and got hold of Ronnie by the shirt collar.

“I hear any of this gets back to your mother and I'll beat the living shit out of you.”

“I never talk at her 'bout anythin'.”

Pa slapped him lightly across the cheek.

“Good,” he said. “Lord knows that woman's been through enough. We gotta look after her.”

 

 

Monday morning the cops
came by. Two cruisers rolled up the drive and parked. Constables took their time getting out. I was up eating cold fried chicken at the table and set it down to watch them think about how they were gonna come at the house. One of the cops wasn't Ronnie's age yet and he had his thumb on the clasp of his gun holster. An older cop from the first car turned and saw him. This was a man we knew, tall and thick and beer-bellied, gone grey a long time ago. He stared the young cop down. The young cop didn't seem to know what he was doing.

“You wanna get your fuckin' hand off that pistol,” the big cop told him.

So he did.

The big cop pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and middle finger, rubbed his eyes. He walked slow to the front steps. Hitch in his step where he'd taken buckshot to the knee as a younger man. The fresh cop followed. I could see the other two start to prowl around either side of the house.

“Don't go far,” the big cop said. “I'm tellin' yous.”

They came back.

The cop all but filled the doorframe, rapped his knuckles hard against the naked wood of our screen door.

“That you, Charlie?” he said.

“Yep,” I said.

“Is your dad around?”

“Who's askin'?”

The cop took off his cap, scratched at his scalp.

“Just get him for me, will ya?”

I went down the hall and opened the door to the garage. Hollered for my Pa over some sixties metal he was blasting, the even-louder whine of an industrial drill. I flicked the lights on and off and the high-pitched drill-screech wound lower. The stereo shut off. Pa came out from behind the stripped-out frame of an old Mercury coupe and walked over, all six-foot three inches and two hundred and forty pounds of him. He had brick dust in his beard and all over his shirtfront.

“One day you do that shit I'm gonna drill something I ain't meant to drill. And you'll be all the sorer for it.”

“Fuckin' cops are here.”

He stared at me, took up a rag and wrung his hands. He nodded. Came up the shortsteps and into the house. We were eye to eye when he put his huge mitts on either of my shoulders and guided me outta the way. I had his height but by God he was the stronger man by far and I couldn't catch up quick enough.

The cop waited at the end of the porch, leaning heavy against the deck rail. He heard us coming and said something to the other cops. Pa opened the screen door and stood there.

“Francis,” he said.

“Rick,” the cop said. “Long time.”

“Not long enough. What's up?”

They stared at each other. I could see the big cop started to smirk a little.

“Somebody shot up the chief's lakehouse. Banged holes in the place with double-aught buck. Probably lit it up from the ice.”

“Did they?”

“You know anybody that might do somethin' like that?”

“I know all kinds of people that might.”

Later on we were on the way over
to Ronnie's place. His mom, my aunt Colette, was fixing us some dinner. We walked the broken-up tarmac of our road, tall firs on either side, pine needles all over the fringe where we trod. It had gone awful fucking cold all of a sudden and I hadn't worn the coat for it. Pa stepped long over the drainage ditch at the roadside and started down a trail through the woods, snow in there flattened by sled runs.

“We shoulda drove,” I said. “It's fuckin' freezin' out here.”

“It's two minutes away by the path,” he said. “Quit your bitchin'.”

He had a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of wine in either hand, paper bags crushed and creased over the glass by his bare fingers. The cold didn't seem to bother him ever.

“The cops gonna be a problem?” I asked him. “Them that came by?”

“Nope.”

“I went to school with the one of them, the pretty boy, flat-top fucker by the cruiser. He was in his last year when I was in my first. Thinks he's fuckin' God's gift.”

“Uh huh.”

“I was just gonna tell old Francis at the door to fuck off. Thought that's what you might say, too.”

My Pa slowed but he didn't stop. Through breaks in the wood I could see the yellow porch light from my aunt's house. A dog started barking. Clatter of its chain as it tried to get clear of the yard. We turned off the main trail and walked a narrow line toward the place.

“Don't be stupid, son,” Pa said.

“How's that?”

“I known that man for near forty years. Since you weren't even a notion. He ain't out there to be a cowboy. He's reliable. Reliable in what he won't do when he's got nothin' on you and reliable in what he will do if he does.”

“He just looks like some other cop to me.”

“That's because you got shit for brains yet.”

“Hey.”

“They send cops all like your GI Joe high school buddy and somebody might get shot.”

“But not your pal, Francis?”

“He's already been shot. Most men don't get to say that.”

He wouldn't talk to me no more after that. We cleared the woods and went through the side yard and that tethered-up mutt came flying at us. Pa stopped it with a look and an outstretched hand, one sausage finger pointing at it from around the whiskey bottle. When we got up on the step he knocked and backhanded the other bottle into my guts. Looked over his shoulder at me.

“Guests bring a fuckin' offerin',” he said. “Make yourself useful.”

Near daybreak I woke up with a hangover and a wicked case of dry-mouth. Headache stirring behind my ears. My jeans were still on and I was shivering under my one blanket, the others all piled up on the floor. I went to the bathroom to piss, stepping light on the cold bathroom tiles. Then I walked down to the kitchen for some water and Aspirin. When I passed my Pa's room the door was open, the bed made. The old bastard wasn't anywhere to be found.

When I woke up the second time morning was almost spent. I could smell fried-up bacon and coffee at brew. Pa was at the kitchen table with the radio on. He had a platter in front of him with toast crumbs and traces of egg yellow on it. They were playing out the end of a shitty country tune. He turned the volume up.

“There any breakfast for me?” I said.

“There is if you make it. Now quiet down.”

The local weatherman told the forecast in his bumpkin rasp. We'd hit minus thirty overnight and it was gonna stay cold through the week. Snow to follow heavy starting early Thursday evening. Pa clapped his hands loud.

“Get yourself a good'un, kid, and eat up. We all got work to do.”

 

 

We left out from the house
at midnight Thursday. All five of us on our sleds. The two best of them, my Pa's machine and the one his brother Dan rode, they were fitted up with custom tow trailers. Not much more than rude metal boxes with old sled skis welded to the bottom. There were blankets piled up in each and tarpaulin pinned there by rig winch-straps. Pa went first across the ice, led by a good distance and told us stay back a-ways. His rig was the heaviest, and were he to go through, he didn't want us following him down in the deep.

At a point Pa signalled and his youngest brother, Doug, gunned it and took off. He passed the lead sled and kept on until his reflectors were small and then lost to the black. We were all dressed in heavy snow gear, facemasks under our visored helmets. The wind found its way through by nooks and crannies. Cold enough to shrink your sack and make you turn around. Nobody thought on it and if they did they would never have said so. We crossed the ice single file and gapped a good ways between. I couldn't see shit and didn't have a clue where we were at, but Pa did. He knew where the shoreline sat before his headlights showed it. He slowed up and so did we. His sled climbed up a rise and the trailer skittered behind. One by one we left the ice and started down a tree-bound sled trail. They were woods like ours but not all the way, being that we'd driven clear into the next township.

The liquor store sat in a clearing beside the single-­lane highway. We came at it from the other side, not a house or traveller met on the way. Pa led us slow to the edge of the site backlot and there we let the sleds idle. The store was really three trailers joined longways, rested on top of three-foot-tall concrete supports. One rectangular floodlight shone pale from a fixture atop the middle section. It snowed steady now and the highway lanes beyond were rotten with white, but the plough hadn't passed in hours by the looks of it. Pa whistled loud by his thumb and forefinger. Not two seconds later a flashlight sparked from beside the trailer. Twice more. Pa took his sled down the grade into the clearing, pulled up on the forest side of the trailer. Uncle Dougie came out from the shadow and went over to talk to the big man. After a couple of seconds Pa waved us down. He got up from the sled and unlatched part of the tow trailer tarp and reached in. Came out with a portable acetylene torch rig, cylinders fixed inside a metal bracket, the hoses and torch nozzle pinned to the side of it. I walked over and took it. He went back under the tarp.

My Uncle Dan had gone out to watch the road, flashlight in hand. Ronnie was working the winch-straps loose and clearing the tarp from Dan's sled tow.

BOOK: Debris
4.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Message from a Mistress by Niobia Bryant
Deadly in High Heels by Gemma Halliday
Scarlett White by Chloe Smith
This Round I'm Yours by Marian Tee, The Passionate Proofreader, Clarise Tan
The Principal's Office by Jasmine Haynes
The Selkie Enchantress by Sophie Moss
Frozen Heart of Fire by Julie Kavanagh
Till We Meet Again by Sylvia Crim-Brown