Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Those Afternoons: An Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from my short story "Those Afternoons":

The letter was stashed between a repair manual for the 1968-1976 Dodge Duster and another for the 1986-1987 Ford Taurus which leaned against one another on a shelf over his workbench. Harrison knew it was there as he walked out the side door of this house towards the garage. He had known it was there while he sat at the table eating grapefruit with his wife earlier that morning. He had known it was there the night before when he lay next to his wife in bed. He knew it was there since he put it there yesterday.

The letter came in the mail on Saturday. Harrison was working in his garage, sitting on a stool, trying to fix the fast idle cam on a carburetor when the mailman passed. He was glad to quit struggling with the thing and get the mail. He was in his late forties but already his hands felt blunted and shaky and looked perpetually swollen, calloused and dirty. Too much of his life had been spent underneath hoods trying to loosen rusted bolts that hid out of sight and nearly out of reach. His hands and back paid the price for that labor.

The telephone bill, the utility bill, two credit card applications, a new JC Whitney catalog and the letter. He recognized the handwriting immediately. Thirty years hadn’t changed it much since he’d first seen it, the words to “Rebel Rebel” written on the cover of a spiral notebook. But he hadn’t heard from Randy in many years. It wasn’t just the author of the letter, though, that made him hide it. It was the local return address.

Instead of walking the mail straight inside and using it as an excuse to have a Dr. Pepper and check the news from his recliner, he went back to his garage, a detached one-car unit that still had the old door that swung up flat in one piece, without the aid of an opener, the same garage where he’d worked with his father and his own son after that. He slid the letter between the soiled books without opening it.

Sunday morning he had patiently spooned bits of his grapefruit into his mouth while he looked over the classifieds, looking as he had for years for cars in need of repair that were going cheap, cars that he might turn around for a profit after a couple months’ worth of weekends spent working on them. And the whole while he could think about nothing but the letter, about what could have precipitated it, about what Randy could have to say to him now, after all this time.

Of the letter he said not a thing to his wife. She sat across from him, clipping coupons for her trip to the grocery that would follow church. Grace believed that going to church made her a better person. Not that God would look kindly on her, but the sermons and hymns served as a reminder of how to live a decent and moral life. Harrison had long ago wormed his way out of this duty, after his son, Jake, became too old for Sunday school. He was awkward in social situations and all the hand-shaking and niceties didn’t suit him. Grace seemed grateful for the ease of going alone, and Harrison was glad to have the house to himself, if only for a few hours. Usually he spent that time as he would have had she been home: in the garage.

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