He doesn’t speak as he hands the paper to his wife. She reads the story silently, then says, “It’s sad.”
“Sounds like he had it coming.”
She only nods, distracted by the sound of their son’s feet pattering on the wood floor upstairs.
“At least they took down all the police tape.”
She puts her index finger to her lips. Be quiet, she tells him with her eyes, do not discuss this in front of the child.
Later they prepare to go out for lunch, a Sunday ritual, looking for shoes and putting up toys and transferring freshly washed sheets to the dryer. Francis, reading in the living room as he waits for his family, hears voices on the street outside. He peers out the window and through the misting rain at two women, one white and one black, standing in the yard across the street. They are distraught, disconsolate. Grievers of a dead young man. The inhabitants of the house, the man and woman from the night before, the obese video game addict, stand lined up on the porch watching their grief impassively like a silent chorus.
The boy and his mother come into the living room. “We’re ready, Dad,” the child says brightly.
“I think we should wait a few more minutes.” He points with his eyes out the window. The women are now on the sidewalk, consoling one another, less than ten feet away from Francis’s parked car.
His wife perceives the situation. “Come on, honey,” she says to the boy. “Let’s pick up your room a little more before we go.”
The boy accepts this deception as he accepts all random adult behavior, with benign good will. Five minutes later the women are gone, the muted neighbors returned inside their home, the street once more empty. “Come on,” Francis calls up the stairs where the woman and child are still at work. “I’m ready to eat.” The boy, ecstatic to be done with his chore, runs down the stairs to his waiting father.
V: Delia’s Gone
When was the last time I saw Delia? It was at that bar, Three Fifteen. Remember? Down by the railroad tracks across from the Cheerwine Building. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in months, since I moved out of her apartment, but I ran into her earlier that day at the JCPenney. I ducked in for some new socks and there she was, working in the men’s section. She looked good in her polyester pants and bright blue blouse, hair grown long, falling down around her shoulders, a little lipstick on her lips, a little makeup on her face. That was the thing about Delia, she could blow you away when she tried.
I was headed down to Three Fifteen later that night anyway and thought I’d just mention it, see if she wanted to come along. By then I’d forgotten why I was so mad at her anyway. She gave me that look like she was sizing me up, black eyes smoldering. Said she had some other plans but she might drop by.
Well, I tried not to think about it. Three Fifteen was dead that night, just the regular drunks pretending they weren’t alone. I was shooting pool with a guy named Jones but neither one of us gave a damn. We were just wasting time.
Then Delia walks in with Cooney Houston. She was wearing a mini-skirt and black leather boots, leather jacket over a tight t-shirt. She put a charge in that place, I can tell you that. She put a charge in me.
I’d heard she’d been running around with Cooney, but sure didn’t think she’d invite him along on our date. She pranced over to my table and said “Hi Jeremiah” like it was all just a big coincidence, me and her and Cooney. Cooney didn’t say anything.
They got their own table and she was prancing around it, shaking her ass at every fool in the place. But it seemed like she was shaking it at me. Delia sure could drive me crazy. Maybe that was love, and I was just too foolish to recognize it. Maybe it was something else. I still don’t know. But I could tell she was putting old Cooney on edge, too. He wouldn’t get himself a drink, just kind of slumped there against the wall watching Delia put on her show.
Here’s the thing. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to make me jealous of Cooney, or Cooney jealous of me. I thought about that question for years and finally came up with the answer. Want to know? She was just creating jealousy, building it like a carpenter builds a house or a baker bakes a cake. Didn’t matter which way, long as she was at the center of it, riding it like an electric charge. Finally I got so mad I just threw my cue down on the table and walked out of the bar. Didn’t even pay my tab. Never went back there again. She’d ruined it for me, like she ruined so many things.
A few months later I heard Freightliner was transferring Cooney to Shelby, and I guess he asked Delia to come with him. They got married and had two kids. Delia got fat and mean, just like her sister. At least that’s what Cooney told me when I ran into him a few years ago. Said she got to talking about Jesus all the time and making him feel so guilty for his sinful ways he couldn’t take it no more. They got divorced and, according to him, she married the preacher at some fundamentalist church. Far as I know, she’s still down there, helping him preach the gospel of her vengeful lord.
I guess I always figured that was pretty much what would happen. I guess I count myself lucky in some ways.
Here’s the thing I always remember about Delia. It was back after we first got together, when we used to talk about all the places we wanted to go. We’d talk about moving to Paris or Spain. Sometimes Australia. You know, crazy ass places like that. But we were young, and the talk was real. We liked to dream together.
One time she got invited to use her cousin’s cabin in Maine. Her cousin had married a plumber, and they moved up north chasing work. Guess he must’ve done pretty good because he had a nice cabin way back in the woods.
I wasn’t working and Delia didn’t care so we just hopped in my car, like leaving for Maine or Paris or Spain at a moment’s notice was something we’d always be able to do. Didn’t take long to get there either. Just two days, not as long as you’d think for a place so far away.
The cabin was way back in the woods. Maybe there was a Walmart a few miles away, but you wouldn’t know it, not the way we went, along mountain roads where all you ever saw was logging trucks and forest. We finally got there at the end of that second day. Like I said, the place was real nice, a log cabin with a big fireplace and a porch that looked out over the mountains. In the back of the house was a big meadow that somebody must’ve kept mowed.
There wasn’t much to do there except make love and cook out on the grill. I’d a been happy just reading on that porch, but Delia wasn’t much of a reader, so we went exploring down through the woods, found us a creek where Delia sunned herself in her tangerine bikini and I tried to catch trout with a bait reel and a can of corn.
In the top of a closet we found a toy that was like a Frisbee, except it was hollow in the middle, like a flat, plastic doughnut. You threw it kind of like a Frisbee, but if you got it right, it would fly forever, as far as that meadow was long.
Delia and I got pretty good throwing that Frisbee. We got so we could throw it just right, with a little lift and loft, so you’d have to run and run under it, judge it just right so you would be under it when it finally floated back to the ground. There was something thrilling about that toy, I tell you. A feeling of accomplishment and joy when it finally floated down and landed softly into your outstretched hand, how you could just run and run, your eyes peeled upward at it, soaring against that clear blue Maine sky, knowing that if you just kept running, it would eventually come back to you.
I remember us in that meadow, running and laughing and just as happy as we could be. That’s what I like to think about when I think about Delia. I wonder if she ever thinks about that meadow, too.
But Delia’s gone now. Hey bartender, how about another round for me and my old friend? Yes sir, Delia’s gone.
Epilogue: Frankie’s Gun
They return on the red clay farm road to where Francis parked. The boy is weary and ill-tempered. “Forty-one,” he says. “Forty-two.” They walk in silence for a few moments, then hear two more gunshots cracking. “Forty-three. Forty-four.”
“You don’t need to count every one.” The shooting began as they reached the bottom, where the river met the land. The shots are loud but not close, across the river, out of range, yet the sound distresses the boy.
“Let’s go,” the boy complained as the shots continued. “I’m scared.”
Francis assured him they were not in danger but the boy would not be consoled. “What are they shooting at?”
“Just shooting. Probably target practice.”
Now the child trudges wearily back toward the truck, keeping count of each shot, the toy gun hanging loosely from his hand. Several times Francis chastises him for letting the barrel drag the ground.
At the truck they are both frustrated; the shooting has spoiled the fun of their imaginary hunt. “Put the gun in the back,” Francis commands, then adds, “Carefully.”
The boy lays the weapon down emphatically in the bed of the truck, as if he is glad to be through with it, as if the gunfire and the fields and the birds are part of some distasteful alien landscape to which he hopes never to return, as if he is done with the violence of this world.