With uncanny insight and deadpan humor, the twelve stories in Pete Duval's debut collection feature night shift workers, lapsed Catholics, bullies, and smalltime thieves struggling with their jobs, their religion, and their families. Duval records in a fresh, off-kilter voice the desperate measures, heated confrontations, and moments of grace that occur in working-class communities. Throughout the collection, Duval explores his characters with compassion and candor and an eye for the surprising moment.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.39(d)|
About the Author
JAY PARINI is a poet, novelist, and biographer who teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. His books of poetry include House of Days and The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems . Among his eight novels are The Passages of H.M., Benjamin's Crossing, and The Last Station, which was made into an Academy Award–nominated film starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. He has written biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, and William Faulkner, and numerous works of nonfiction, including Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America.
Read an Excerpt
By midafternoon Roy and Maysle Potts were crossing from Illinois into Missouri. The Impala’s tires buzzed the gridwork of a bridge spanning wide ﬁelds of alfalfa. New Orleans, Roy was thinking, New Orleans, New Orleans. The rhythm of the words kept time with the thup of the expansion joints as the big convertible rocked and bridge girders sent shadows stuttering over him and his wife. “Look,” Roy said, pointing. Sometimes he was amazed at the simplest things. It was something for his notebookthe rows of green shimmering below them like a folding fan laid ﬂat in the sun. But Maysle didn’t look. She was in the last chapter of a mystery novel and thinking about the fact that they’d been on the road for ﬁve hourssince leaving Rockfordand Roy hadn’t stopped talking.
“Look,” he said again. “Cairo, Illinois.
Except it’s Kay-row.” Maysle raised her head for a second. The tight skin of her neck stretched as she peered over the edge of the roadway. She lifted her eyebrows.
“That’s nice, Roy.” With that she dropped her eyes to the book in her lap. Sometimes she had to use the skills she’d learned in her ﬁfteen years as a court stenographerthe ability to listen without really listening. Roy didn’t seem to notice.
He didn’t notice a lot of things. He kept himself entertained well enough.
“That’s some of the best farmland in the world,” he said. He was still pointing. “Right there.”
Roy drove with his belt unbuckled and the button of his shorts undone. His tank top showed through the white-striped Guayabera shirt he wore, which hung loosely over the roll at his waist. The wind slapped what was left of his blond hair against his forehead. He had a pale, hairless face, as though a white ﬂash of light had singed his eyebrows clean. His eyes moved constantly. He squinted and licked his lips. On his last trip to New Orleans, he’d traveled this same route with Kyle Hoyt and Aloysius McDermott, two of his graduate school friends.
They’d come down in Roy’s last semester at the University of Illinois, two years before he’d even met Maysle. The three of them took turns at the wheel, driving all night, stopping only to pee and buy beer and eat the baked potatoes and roasted chicken breasts they’d wrapped in aluminum foil and wedged into the crevices of the engine. They’d measured cooking times by the green mile markers.
A little farther into Missouri, Roy said, “I just wish it was going to be Mardi Gras.” It was the middle of August, as far from Fat Tuesday as you could get.
“No, you don’t,” said Maysle.
Roy blew air through his nose. “Yes, I do.”
“Mardi Gras is hell, Roy.” Sometimes she had to shut him down before he even got going on a topic. She had agreed to drive the fourteen hours to New Orleans, but she at least wanted it to be their trip, not the echo of some time before Roy had even met her.
“How would you know? You’ve never been.”
Maysle folded her ﬁnger in the book and turned her green eyes on him. “Hundreds of drunk people having sex in the street?” She wore a sleeveless yellow blouse, a shade or two lighter than the Impala’s interior. Her short red hair churned in the breeze. “What’s the mystery?”
“Come on, May. Mardi Gras is fun.” But the word funthe empty feeling it left behind in the airseemed to prove Maysle’s point. Was anything fun anymore?
“That was how long ago?” Maysle asked.
“When’s the last time you were there?” Tangled in her words was another question: How long had it been since they’d made love? They both heard it.
“Nineteen seventy-seven.” A Winnebago inched by on their left, shedding a wind that nudged the Impala toward the breakdown lane. Roy was still unsure of the car’s handlingthe hood was impossibly long. “It was fun, May.” Two young boys waved at Roy from the Winnebago’s rear window. He lifted two ﬁngers off the wheel.
“People puking into each other’s shoes,” she said. He clamped his lips down on a smile. She’d remembered his stories.
“You’ve never been.” He glanced down at the needle of the big speedometer. He was doing seventy-ﬁve. “At least I’ve been, so don’t tell me it’s not fun.”
“And how old were you, Royal?”
He looked over at her. “Twenty-four.”
“Twenty-four.” She lowered her head to the book again. Roy hated when she did that, when she called up a tone of voice that could end a conversation the way you snap off an icicle. All their discussions seemed to end thatway, if not with a cold snap, then with a slack and empty feeling that nothing was ever talked out between them, nothing ever settled. Their discussions about money never changed the way they spent it. Didn’t they still live in the same apartment in New Bedford, Massachusetts, that they’d rented for thirteen years?
And about kids, the ffffact that there weren’t anywhat had come of those tentative discussions? It wasn’t a topic Roy liked to think about. Maysle had turned forty-one the month before.
The Impala belonged to Maysle’s newest brother-in-law, Wayne. It was a mint-condition, powder blue, 1971 eight-cylinder convertible with a spotless chrome grill, long bench seats still wrapped in manufacturer’s plastic, and a trunk so big Roy imagined you could ﬁt his Escort into itdisassembled, of course. They had driven that Escort out from Massachusetts to visit Maysle’s family in Illinois for the wedding.
Roy had never thought of himself as much of a gear head or a car guyhell, he taught English at a Catholic high schoolbut he’d almost wet his pants when Wayne rumbled up in the Impala. It was the same model as the car Roy had driven to New Orleans eighteen years earlier. The sun seemed to melt down the curve of the hood. With his hands in his pockets, he asked Wayne if he could take it for a “short jaunt” up Rural Route 10 and back. Maysle rolled her eyes and leveled at Roy a look he tried to ignore. He and Wayne had barely been introduced, and Roy wanted to take off in the man’s car? “Sure,” Wayne said, though his grimace said something else. He was a tax attorney. He collected vintage automobiles, kept them in a brick warehouse in downtown Rockford. He threw Roy the keys. “Knock yourself out.” Watching Roy pull away, Maysle wanted to apologize. He’s like a child sometimes, she almost said.
But what came out of her mouth was, “I wouldn’t worry, Wayne. He’ll bring it back in one piece.
He’s very careful.” “No problem,” said Wayne.
In some things, Maysle knew, Roy could be too careful.
There was that time they’d been out to visit her parents for Christmas seven years earlier. One night, in the bathroom, she’d heard her father through the bedroom wall. “Are they ever going to have kids? It’s like they’re goddamn roommates.” Maysle climbed back into bed with Roy and woke him, his eyes snapping open when she reached up under his boxers and cupped his balls in her cold palm. He climbed on top of her, and it was so forbidden and kinky with her parents only a few yards away. There were no more condoms in his shaving case, and he just would not let himself go inside her without one.
“Come on,” she whispered, grinding her hips against his the way she knew he loved it. But he held on. How could he be that carefulwith her, his wife? What the hell was he thinking about? She’d been just as unsure about having kids as Roy had, but she had always thought at some point they’d just let go and leave it to chance. Isn’t that what married people did? And now it was too late. When she’d begun to skip her periods, she’d seen a doctor. It started earlier for some women. But she hadn’t told Roy yet. She didn’t know how to tell him.
Alone now out on the nameless farm roads, Roy jammed his sneaker to the Impala’s ﬂoor panel. The gravel ﬂew, and pigs and chickens scrambled pell-mell back from barbed-wire fences. “Lordy,” Roy kept saying. “Oh, m’ lordy.” The dashboard was a dream, all buffed stainless steel and substantial. He kept snapping the radio on and off, the knobs sparkling in the afternoon light. He jacked up the brakes and skidded to a stop in the sand near an irrigation ditch. He lowered the roof and looked around. He got out of the car and shut the door and tucked in his shirt. Then he walked backward across the road, measuring his steps as he went. He stood for a moment, admiring the automobile from this short distance. He looked left and then right. “Go!” he said, and he ran, his belly jiggling, and jumped over the door into the front seat. He slammed the transmission into gear. The wheels wrapped themselves in gray clouds of burnt rubber as the car ﬁshtailed. The tires caught the asphalt with a screech. “Lordy, lordy.”
Two hours later, at the end of his in-laws’ long driveway, he hitched up his pants while the engine ticked itself cool. The sun had gone down, but the sky was still light. I’m forty-two years old, he thought. Jesus Christ, what the hell have I been up to for twenty years? And right there he made up his mind: Maysle will just have to deal with it. It’ll be good for us. He ignored the little belch of shame that burned at the top of his throat. What the hell do I ever ask of her? Then he turned and walked into the kitchen, where Maysle and her parents and sisters and nephews and Wayne sat around the table eating large fatty sandwiches. When Maysle saw his face, she knew exactly what was in his mind. His mouth had that toothless, puckered look.
She wondered what it would do when she told him the news.
Wayne stretched a smile. “Here he is,” he said. Maysle’s sister Mavis, Wayne’s ﬁancée, had one arm around his neck. She was feeding him a dill pickle spear with the other. “Where the hell have you been?”
Roy stood in the doorway, trying to look as serious as he could. He’d hooked his thumbs in his belt loopshe didn’t know exactly why. He waited for everyone to stop talking. Then he said, “I want to buy it.”
“Sorry, it’s not for sale,” Wayne said.
“I want to buy it, Wayne. I want to drive that car from here to New Orleans.” Maysle’s mother laughed, her freckled hands screening a mouthful of food. “I’m serious, Wayne. What’ll you take for it?”
“You don’t want it, believe me,” said Wayne. “It’s a nutbreaker to keep up and running.”
“What’ll you take?”
“Royal.” Maysle’s eyes were hard and round. “Have we talked about New Orleans?”
That tone, Roy thought. But he was way out ahead of her. Yes, they had talked about New Orleans. Many times over the years.
“What’ll you take, Wayne? Name it.”
Wayne shook his head as though he’d caught a whiff of something rank. He let out a long breath. His future in-laws were watching him. Mavis stopped twisting his hair around her pinky. “How long are you going to be gone?”
“A week.” Roy’s scalp itched with longing.
“Roy,” Maysle said. “We have a car.”
Roy tried to match the hardness of her gaze. “You want to drive into New Orleans in a damn Ford Escort?” He turned back to Wayne.
“Tell you what,” Wayne said. “You can rent it from me.” At that the small children in the room sent up a little cheer for Uncle Roy, then fell to the linoleum, squealing and writhing on their heels and elbows.
“All right.” Roy was grinning foolishly.
“It’ll be here when you get back from Saint Croix.”
After sloping away from the Mississippi River, Interstate 57 straightened into a corridor of factories and industrial parks.
Maysle ﬁnished her novel. She’d been sitting on her calves. She held the book shut in her two hands for a moment and looked out her side of the car. Smoke jetted from stacks that gleamed in the afternoon sunlight like organ pipes, some of them tufted with ﬂames. She put the novel in the back seat.
“Good book?” Roy asked. He’d been quiet for a while. Somewhere along this stretch eighteen years ago Kyle Hoyt had asked him to take over at the wheel.
“Let’s switch without stopping,”
Kyle Hoyt said. Aloysius McDermott wheezed a laugh, his face gathering up around his nosebut they’d done it.
They’d bumped and slid and tumbled as the headlights raked across four empty lanes. A few minutes later Roy was driving, and Kyle Hoyt lay in the back seat. They hadn’t been below sixty miles per hour.
Maysle nodded. “Yeah, not bad. But these plots get a little old.”
“Any, ah, sexy stuff in there?”
Maysle looked at him sideways. “A little, Roy.”
“Anything you’d want to share?”
“Well, a couple of people do it in an attic.”
“Wow,” he said. “The nasty in an attic.”
“You’ve never heard of the nasty?” “Never.”
“It seems to be a big part of my students’ vocabulary.” “Really.”
“Yeah. Fifteen, and they’re already well acquainted with the nasty.”
Maysle tried the word out. Roy laughed.
“A good name for it, huh?” he said.
She looked at him blankly. Did he already know? She should have hated him, but she didn’t. She loved him. Or was it something closer to sympathy at that moment?
“What do you think?” he asked. “The nasty. Doing the nasty.
She laughed, but she was feeling a little woozy. It had been coming for a long time. She made up her mind. He had to know. “Roy, we need to talk about something.”
The car moved halfway into the next lane as he made a pantomime of looking for someone in the back seat.
“It’s just us here, May,” he said, facing forward.
“It’s always been just us.
What’s on your mind?”
“Wait,” he said. “You going to answer my question ﬁrst?”
“The nasty, May. About doing the nasty.”
“What about it?”
“I think the kids have it downtheir name for it.” He was feeling his way along the contours of somethingwhat, he didn’t exactly know. “Do you like that name?”
“It’s never been nasty between us, Roy.”
After a pause, he said, “I’ve never thought so, either.”
For a mile or two, Maysle didn’t say anything.
“So you want to talk,” he said. “Where do we start? Can we start with the question of the year?”
“See, this is the whole pointwe can never get down to it.”
“What?” she said. “Why haven’t we had sex in a year?”
He gave the horn a blast. “Now we’re talking turkey. I knew this trip would be good for us.”
They drove on for a while with the sound of the wind whistling past the side mirrors.
“I have to use a restroom, Roy.”
“Yeah, me too.”
The highway had curved back toward the Mississippi River, cutting through ﬁelds of corn and soybean. They passed two more exits before Roy veered the car down an off-ramp and onto a long strip of Best Westerns, Taco Bells, and car dealerships.
In the tighter traSc, the Impala handled like a sled.
Roy backed into the corner of a McDonald’s parking lot and shut off the ignition, the wheels straddling the yellow line between spaces. “You go ﬁrst,” he said. His voice had softened. “I don’t want to leave the car alone.” She smiled and reached over to touch his face.
“I love you, Roy,” she said. He nipped feebly at her ﬁngers.
As she walked to the restaurant, he sat with the door open, his legs straight out, watching his wife.
Just beneath her navy blue culottes, the hollows of her knees looked sinewy and dry in the afternoon light. She had such spidery forearms, so fragile. Roy reached under his seat and pulled out a small green notebook with a pen jammed into the wire binding.
For years he’d kept a running list of notes and observations, though he wasn’t exactly sure why anymore. Someday he’d need them. That much he knew. Five years before, he’d published a short story in a little Midwestern college magazine. If he could only face his material squarely, he knew he could write something as good againhe just needed some material to face.
So he took notes. He rarely read them over, surprised as he always was at how stupid they could sound days and weeks later.
Sometimes he crossed out a line in a rush of embarrassment, though he knew that no one, not even Maysle, would ever read them.
He pulled off the elastic band and ﬂipped through the sheets, looking for the ﬁrst clean page. He read: Greyhound with clipped tail. Lemon sunlight on the Dress Barn.
Boy walking with limp. Seventeen years olda shivering blade after rain.
He paused over that onethat was Katya Johansson. Besides teaching English at the high school, Roy coached winter track, girls and boys. He would hover at the doorway to the girls’ locker room, using a tongue depressor to pick clumps of sod out of the cleats of the tight track shoes he wore, and waiting for Katya to emerge in her plaid skirt and button-down Oxford shirt after her shower.
When she passed in front of a window, sometimes he could make out the silhouette of her breasts and stomach.
A few pages further on, there was a list of names he’d found in phone books or overheard in conversationfor ﬁctional charactersand a diagram for a bookcase he’d never made.
Then, not completely scratched out: English department meeting FridayRobert’s Rules of Ogre. He slid down in the seat and wrote: seventeen years olda soft place behind the knees. He wondered how squarely Maysle could face his material. The heat from the blacktop rose in waves that blurred a Ponderosa Steakhouse sign across the street. He told himself he would take a lot of notes in New Orleans.
When Maysle walked out through the glass doors, he snapped the elastic band back in place and slid the notebook under his seat. He stepped out of the car and buttoned his shorts. They touched hands as they passed each other, and he walked into the cool air of the restaurant. Roy had always had trouble peeing in public places, so he was glad to have the men’s restroom to himself. In the past, whenever someone pushed through the door behind him, he would feel all naked and vulnerable and lean in against the urinal. His prostate would seem to seize up like a blood pressure cuff, and no matter how long he stood there, wagging his pecker by a pinch of loose skin, nothing happened. Then he’d have to pretend to ﬁnish off, squaring his shoulders and shamming a little post-piss shake before zipping up and walking back out to the car to suffer until the next stop. He could hold it in so long it sometimes scared him. On his last trip to New Orleans he’d driven for hours with his bladder swollen and his hand in his crotch before he asked Kyle Hoyt and Aloysius McDermott to pull over on a Mississippi interstate so he could run up into the scrub pines.
Out in the car, Maysle leaned back in the seat and looked up at the light post they’d parked under.
She didn’t want to ruin New Orleans for Roy. She didn’t want him to feel the way she felt. This must be the way some women were about getting pregnant, she thoughtscared what the words would ﬁnally do to their lives. But in her case, instead of there being one thing more to talk about, there’d be one thing less.
Roy walked over to the car. Leaning on her door, he asked Maysle if she were hungry. He felt good, his bladder light and empty. “Not really,” she said.
“Well, I’m going to get a little something,” he said. She watched him walk around the car and get in. He turned the key and revved the engine.
“You’re going to use the drive-through?”
“You were just inside the restaurant.”
He pulled away from the curb, the wheel turning sluggishly under his hands. His mouth had that toothless, puckered look again.
“That’s dumb, Roy.”
“What? I just want to see the face on the window cashier when I pull up in this car.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she said.
“Let’s just go in and eat if you’re hungry.”
“You don’t like the way I’ve been driving? You don’t think I can handle this bus?” He patted the side of the door.
“Like threading a needle, baby,” he said. He squeezed her knee. “Not a problem.”
He circled the parking lot so he could enter the drivethrough lane straight on, but even then the big nose of the Impala wouldn’t make the turn. “Easy,” he said.
“No problem.” He threw the car into reverse, eased back, and tried again. This time he made the ﬁrst turn of the lane, and they pulled up to the menu board. “See?” Maysle couldn’t help smiling. He asked for a large order of french fries and edged the car forward. But at the second corner the left front tire jumped the curb and rolled over a line of red tulips.
“Oh, God, Royal,” said Maysle. When the driver behind them gave a blast on his horn, Roy felt the dryness of his tongue. He crept the corner of the bumper forward, and the front end came down with a horriﬁc scrape that seemed to register somewhere behind his testicles. He patted Maysle’s knee. His hand was shaking.
“No sweat, May.”
A Little League baseball team had gathered behind the tinted glass of the restaurant. They were laughing and pounding the window with the heels of their hands. Up ahead, the cashier leaned out the side of the building with her headset and microphone on. “Back it, back it,” she was saying.
They could hear her over the intercom. “Don’t come any farther, sir. Back it.” But there was no backing out of the lane now. Roy knew he’d come too far. He tapped the pedal, testing the edge of the curb against the back tire. There was some resistance. Then he gave it a little gas, and the car surged up on the curb again and forward into the brick pillar of the drive-through portico. “The goddamn lane’s just too narrow,” Roy said.
“That’s right, Roy.”
He shifted into neutral and let the engine idle. He couldn’t open his door far enough to get out.
They were wedged in.
Then he remembered it was a convertible and stood up on the seat, his hands on his hips. The driver behind him leaned on the horn again. Roy sat on the backrest and pretended to ponder the situation, but his mind was beyond reason. He slid down and shut the door. He shifted into drive. “What are you doing?” The window cashier’s voice was loud enough to hear without the microphone now. “Stop.”
“Will you shut the hell up?” Roy yelled.
He wrenched the wheel and stutter-stepped the gas pedal, his left sneaker on the brake, and there was a sound like a sob as the front bumper squeezed past the ﬁrst column, taking a brick with it, and edged into the light on the far side of the portico. Roy’s face felt stiff as he got out of the car and walked around to Maysle’s side.
Two ragged grooves ran the length of the Impala, pinching the reﬂection of Roy’s chubby legs to a bright line in the blue metal. The handle to Maysle’s door was gone. The right side rearview mirror lay in the middle of the drive-through lane like a crumpled bird. When the cashier came out of the restaurant, she picked up the mirror and dropped it in the bag with Roy’s order of french fries.
Driving farther south, they didn’t speak for half an hour. An orange sun rode the horizon behind black clumps of trees that seemed to rush out from the highway to the far end of the ﬁelds and back again. The Impala kept fading to the right. If Roy turned the wheel too far in the other direction, he felt a thumping under his palms. Maysle hadn’t noticed, and he wasn’t going to point it out to her. He angled the car into a rest area to put up the roof. Then he got out of the car to look at the damage again. Knowing Maysle’s eyes were on him, he tried to give his step a cheerful little hop. But he knew what was coming. He got back into the car.
“I think we should turn around,” Maysle said, ﬁnally. “As far as I’m concerned, the trip is over.”
“Why?” Roy’s voice sounded too high. He coughed into this ﬁst. “We haven’t even gotten to Memphis.”
“We don’t have a door handle on my side.”
“That’s no big deal, Maysle.”
She looked off into the trees. She knew what might make him turn back. She could feel the words, raw and hot in her throat now.
“When we get to Beale Street, we’ll eat a plate of gumbo,” he said. “You’ll feel better.”
“I don’t like gumbo. Never have.”
“Well, I’ll feel better, then.”
“Roy, let’s go back to Illinois.” Maysle was thinking of her sisters’ kids. She wanted to hear them lisp her name.
“Look, Wayne’s a lawyer, right?” Roy accelerated back onto the highway. “He’s a smart guy. He’ll have insurance.”
“You’re going to be one of his favorites.”
“What do you want me to do? Call the Virgin Islands to tell him we scratched the ﬁnish?”
“Scratched the ﬁnish?” she said.
“That? That’s nothing to a car guy like Wayne.”
On the beltway around Memphis Roy nudged Maysle awake.
They’d been driving for hours. “We’re here,” he said. He pointed to a cluster of tall buildings, the windows a checkerboard of pale blue lights against the night sky. At the bottom of an exit they merged onto another stretch of strip malls and chain restaurants. Rows of overhead traSc signals rocked in the wind. Roy drove into the parking lot of an EconoLodge and looked over at Maysle. “Is this OK?”
“Yeah, but do me a favor, Roy.” When she tried her door, it wouldn’t open. She turned in her seat, braced herself against his arm, and kicked the handle with the heel of her shoe. The door shuddered on its hinge.
“Just don’t try to drive under the breezeway.”
“Not a problem.”
Waiting in the car, Roy noticed a sign in crooked block lettering welcoming participants of the Evinrude Outboard Golf Tournament. He could see Maysle talking to the woman at the desk. She was smiling and nodding, but when she turned to walk out, the smile left her face. “No vacancy,” she said, slamming the door.
“No room at the inn, huh?”
Maysle didn’t say anything.
They drove farther along the strip, stopping at each motel they saw, but every time Maysle went in, she came right back out. “The golf tournament’s loaded them solid.” Her face had tightened. Her voice had begun to rasp.
“We should have called ahead, Roy.”
“Hey, I realize this.”
She turned in her seat and looked him directly in the face.
She was wondering how hard she’d have to hit him to break his nose. “You’re not twenty-four anymore.”
“Right,” he said.
“I’m sure as hell not sleeping in the car.”
They got back on the interstate and headed west across the Mississippi River into Arkansas. The woman at the Holiday Inn had told Maysle they would have an easier time ﬁnding a room in West Memphis. Roy leaned forward as he drove, his eyes squinting over the steering wheel.
Maysle wedged herself into the far corner of the long seat.
She was watching the yellow lines. She and Roy seemed to move down a tunnel carved out of the night by their headlights, the beams crisscrossed by moths and gnats. It was almost an hour before they saw another cluster of motels and gas stations. In the parking lot of a shabby Ramada Inn, Maysle slammed the door especially hard and stamped her way to the entrance. If it weren’t for her, she was thinking, where the hell would Roy be? Didn’t he need her more than she needed him?
Roy watched her walk to the vestibule, her arms around her ribs. The farther away she got, the harder it was to tell she was his wife. What would happen if I just left her here and drove off?
The bottom of his lungs seemed to clutch at the thought of it.
He imagined living by himself in New Orleans. In the French Quarter, in a small second-ﬂoor room with a balcony and those wrought-iron railings. They needed English teachers everywhere, didn’t they? He shook his head briskly and rubbed his burning eyes. He didn’t know how much farther he could drive.
On the other side of a chainlink fence, six or seven teenage kids chased each around the pool in wet tuxedos and satin dresses, their bare feet slapping the concrete. There was an explosion of water and then laughter. Maysle walked quickly out of the foyer and over to the car. She dangled a room key in front of him. “All they had was a room for smokers,” she said. “I made an executive decision.”
“Fine with me.”
Nighthawks screeched above the orange buzz of the parking lot lights as Roy popped the trunk. He carried the luggage up the cement steps, the shouts and laughter from the pool echoing off the walls. When he opened the door, he saw himself and Maysle silhouetted in the mirror at the back of the room. The air smelled of soggy cigars.
He snapped on the lights. There were cigarette burns in the olive carpeting. “Oh, Christ,” he said.
“I don’t care.” Maysle staggered over and fell onto the bed.
Still in her clothes, she toed her sneakers off and wormed herself underneath the bedspread.
“Are you going to sleep like that?”
“Yes, sir. I sure as hell am.”
“I’m not.” Roy took off his shorts and unbuttoned the whitestriped Cuban shirt. In his boxers and tank top, he brushed his teeth at the mirror. After rinsing his mouth, he stood back and looked at how wide his hips had gotten.
Goddamn. He clasped his hands behind him and straightened his elbows as far as he could. I’ve got no chest anymore. Then he went over and parted the curtain. The light played in chops on the surface of the pool.
A tall boy wearing only a dinner jacket and briefs sat with his arms around two girls in their ruined dresses. They were slapping at his hands and laughing. Roy would have taken some notes on what he saw, but his notebook was still under the seat of the Impala.
Lying on her side, Maysle thought of how the doctor had told her the news. She’d known what he was going to say, but it was different with the words ﬁnally out there in the brightness of the examination room. It was very different. Now she was weaving in and out of sleep. Tomorrow, she thought. You’re going to have to know tomorrow, Roy. I’m sorry.
We’re heading back to Rockford in the morning.
Roy sat in the chair next to the bed. He thought he heard something on the other side of the wall.
He got up and pressed his ear to a patch of wallpaper above the television. Was that a woman panting in the next room? It sounded like someone making love in there. He listened until his neck cramped up. It was all part of his research and observation, he told himself. He just didn’t have his notebook handy. He had to get his materials down, didn’t he?
He pulled back the covers of the bed and got in gently, one leg at a time. Maysle was sleeping between the sheets and the spread. He nestled his stomach up to her, his knees at the warm backs of hers. New Orleans, Roy was thinking. If we drive all day tomorrow, we can make it by nightfall.
Copyright © 2004 by Pete Duval.
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Jay Parini xi Impala 1 Wheatback 18 Midnight Mass 26 Welcome Wagon 40 Bakery 44 Fun with Mammals 85 Spectator Sport 94 Cellular 102 Rear View 115 Scissors 121 Something Like Shame 132 Pious Objects 141