On the southwest corner of the Indianola square is an Irish pub, Finnegans. Mel sits alone at the bar when Tim walks in. “What’re you doin’ in here? Wife kick you out on your ass again?” Mel grunts without comment. “Mind if I set down?” “Go fer it.” “Beer, Jules, if you would. How’s it been, Mel?” “Been better.” Mel looks it. Looks like he opened the place, at that.
Julie serves the beer. How Tim’s wife? Snow tomorrow night, looks like. A glance. Yep, Mel’s off it again.
“Say, how’d you do it?” The words slathered in gravy. “Do what, Mel?” “Huh! (Looking away, mumbling) Do what, Mel? he says.” Mel snorts into his beer and swipes a big meaty hand at the mess on his Carhartt. Tim sighs conversationally: “Oh, hell…how’re the kids, Mel?” Mel looks at him. Bloodshot eyes. “How’d you do it?” “Geez…do what, Mel?” “Keep yer plot. Guess I ain’t got a swell enough daddy to…did it myself, best I could. Fuckin’, you know? Did it myself. Best I could.” “We all know that, Mel.” “Sure. I know damn goddamn well what everone thinks they know. Poor ol’ Mel, that’s what.”
A long merciful break. “I got this one. Put it on mine, Jules.” Mel doesn’t say it. Doesn’t have to. His gaze keeps to his own little stretch of the bar. “Get him a beer, Jules.”
He came in late and brushed aside a stack of magazines at the kitchen table, kicked his boots off. He peeled his socks and tossed them on the counter, near the sink. He thumbed the husk, the browned silks. He peeled back the husk and slowly peeled one brittle strand—the silk: the slender fallopian strand, down to the ovary, the lifeblood of the whole thing. He didn’t pluck it.
Corey walks the square, scowling at his hands. The calloused knots, the blisters, the scars. His hands have worked a dozen years, day and night. Graduation around the corner, and he’s going to college. First in his family. Agriculture up in Ames. Alex is moving on—English in Iowa City. Alex with her soft, smooth, lilac-lotion hands. Her long, sunny hair, her lithe, clean, classy form. He spits. Hates his worn jeans, his worn shirt. Hates her new “man.” All clean lines, square angles, starched clothes, Shakespeare quotes and musical tastes he’s never heard of. All make believe. Corey’s set for life. The degree is gravy. None of it means much. He’s got chores, still. He slumps to his truck. An old, practical, useful thing. Loud, clunky. Alex’s little Camry. Her boyfriend’s sleek Audi. Fake money—not owned, not bought, but borrowed. Certainly not earned.
IV. Bedtime Stories
I’ll live forever.
(even after you die?)
Yes, even if I die tomorrow.
(no no but what if you do if you die?)
Then I’ll go to heaven.
(how do you know?)
It says in the Bible.
(what if it’s wrong?)
The Bible can’t be wrong. God told the people who wrote it what to write.
(how do you know?)
It says so in the Bible.
Go to bed.
(I can’t sleep)
(go to bed damnit go to bed)
You know I can’t sleep.
Deep breaths. She took deep breaths. Like she’d been coached by her father, like her father coached her. All through Little League. After Little League, he coached her through school. He coached her through school and after school when it was time for basketball, after school. He coached her from the stands through volleyball, from the dugout with a whistle for baseball, from the sidelines with a clipboard for basketball, coached her through her homework, her school, and all during school and after it, too. He couldn’t coach her through college, neither from the sidelines in college, nor the dugout in college, nor the stands in college, nor over her shoulder at a sturdy old college desk, not anywhere at college. At the end of all the seasons and tests he ever coached her through and the ones he didn’t, he still coached her. She took a deep breath. She gave her name. Shook the man’s hand. She held her chin high. He’d be in touch next week.
“Where are we going?” “The cemetery.” “I hate it there.” “So does your brother.”
They pulled into the lot. The imposing, rust-wrought arch, the skeletal metal letters: Palmyra Cemetery.
“Mom?” “Hmm.” “I wanna join the Army.” “Don’t be an idealist.” “I won’t die. Then you can visit me, instead of Boone, here, and we’ll talk. Boone can’t talk. It’ll be better. What’s an idealist?” “Go to college.” “Fine. I’ll work with Dad.” “Don’t be an idealist.” “If something happens to Dad, I’ll take over the farm, and you’ll have to do what I say.” “What could happen?” “I don’t know. But if it does.” “Go to college.” “I’m going to join the Army first, so I can fight. So I can defend the farm.” “That didn’t work out for your brother.” “It will for me.” “In the meantime, I’ll keep taking you here.” “Why?” “Someday I’ll want to know that I didn’t stop.” “What? Taking me here? You’re being weird, Mom.” “I’m an idealist.” “What’s that mean?” “Get in the car.” “Can we get ice cream?”
Our Des Moines, our East Village, our growing cultural hub, our little bookstore, our organic coffee, our derisive sneer at Dostoyevsky, our belittlement of Derrida, our crucifixion of Lauren Groff, our coffee sleeves made from the recycled paper of Ethiopian infants’ adoption papers, our keen disdain for hipster dipshittery as we defog our faux glasses. Let’s get a drink. I just don’t get you. Roth isn’t a Nobel writer. Bellow. Morrison. And it’s not Portnoy that sinks him. Christ, if anything, I’d consider that a point in his favor. A drink. A drink. Nice goddamn truck. Jesus, isn’t there a noise ordinance against that? Hillbilly fucks—what’d he just fucking say? Did he just yell faggot? Oh fuck you, you goddam redneck fucks! Do us all a favor and drive that fucking thing into the river! Let’s go. It’s not worth it. Our East Village, our Des Moines, our streets, our art, our rich uniqueness. We need a drink. Our two-block walk. Our need for a goddamn mixologist.
Dawn: Seeds and silks.
Noon: Work, fuck, shit, sweat, bleed, eat, sleep.
Gloom: The soil like a new mother, spent and raggedly breathing.
The Violet Hour: The Tiresian yield: all and nothing.
Midnight: [sigh] Seeds and silks.
—Why did the chicken move to the Midwest?
The students have no clue.
—He couldn’t get tenure at Syracuse.
A wry smile. Suffering laughter.
“It’s not that bad here,” she said. She smoothed the pleats of her skirt with a nervous palm. She loathed the smell of his cigarette.
Danny Judge’s short fiction has appeared in many literary journals, including theEEEL, Portland Review, AZURE, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, and Lunch Ticket. He is the founding editor of The Indianola Review, a quarterly print journal, and lives in Iowa with his wife and son.