Fiction ยท 11/16/2011

Excerpts from Historic District

Customs

Naked, they lay in bed staring at the ceiling, as if it were a camera. Talking to it, laughing, high from adrenaline and sex, the smell of them. The fire alarms were quiet now, and the only sound was the hiss of the wind, the motion of a car on the street stories below.

Though her name was Eve, he called her Renaissance, only because that’s what she was teaching at the college. Renaissance Lit, and she played her instruments in costume for her students, replaying what it was like then.

She laughed and called him Lunatic, remembering his head between her legs when the sirens started, how she’d screamed and said he was alarming.

Mmm, he’d said, kissing her thighs then.

It was a joke they’d had. Seemed every time they had sex, the alarms were going. After a couple times, they said it must be them, their heat like fire. They’d laugh, amused at the height of them.

Now with the quiet, she leaned and kissed his shoulder. He kissed her head and said he had to get home to Willow, his Irish Setter, a five-year-old he starting running with after he’d put some pounds on. It was a time Eve didn’t know him. But she knew he also had to get home to his wife. It wouldn’t take long for him to get there — they lived in the same building — sometimes Eve saw the wife in the mailroom, or in the basement doing laundry, in her sneakers and her hair wet.

He worked for Customs. Eve wasn’t sure exactly what he did, but she’d seen him at the border. That’s where she met him, on her way to Canada with her visiting girlfriends. When he’d asked for her number, where she lived, he said he lived in her apartment.

It was a big apartment, with floors and units and sections. Three separate elevators and one common ground.

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Pathology

Back in his apartment, Paul tried to steady his hands as he thought about the girl on the elevator in her outfit. She smelled like sweat. Her skin looked damp. He wasn’t sure where she lived, but he’d seen her maybe once on the ground floor, doing her laundry. She looked like a woman he’d met once at the airport, who later over margaritas told him she was startled by the size of him. Haha, he’d said. He knew he was big. Though that woman had a toddler, he’d soon discovered she was tiny pretty much everywhere.

His article still waited, his research on pollutants. He hadn’t had a job in his field for years. He took his computer to his desk and opened the document, seeing nothing but a cursor.

Even his foot shook. To steady it he closed the blinds, undid himself, and went online to the site he hadn’t visited in over a day now. He signed on with his screenname. He searched. He found. He called himself master.

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Smoke

Shirley stepped on the scale, then heard a shot, reminding her of jet planes at an air show. The crash and bang, parts breaking and then falling. Smoke. She was sitting far off on a lawn chair. She imagined people in the stands, scrambling. She’d been with the church group, on the lawn, where they had services sometimes when it was nice out.

Now she was praying on the scale — she’d been praying for the numbers, watching them grow higher, sucking in her breath and thinking about her skinny doctor telling her she needed to lose, that her test numbers weren’t good either: cholesterol and glucose and something else she couldn’t remember the name of. Blood pressure. Her stomach growled, she thought about the rice-a-roni, the muffins she’d made for the choir director’s funeral, how she’d made one batch for that, and kept one for herself, meaning to freeze them for later.

But now she stepped off the scale and looked outside to find the source of commotion. She prayed to God she hoped no one was dead unless of course He willed it. She saw an ambulance, a uniformed guy like a cop on a stretcher, and another guy on one behind him. She thought of the methadone clinic the next street over, seeing all the people wait there, with their dark hair and skin and missing teeth, speaking in their gritty low voices.

She thought of the buttercup fields of her childhood. Her mother, big like her, who was dead now. The way her father bounced her on his lap in a gallop.

He’d do that for a while, then he’d say he was done, she could go now.

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Crutches

Kirk lifted the receiver, and before dialing from his cordless, he looked at the numbers in his book, under D for daughter. His daughter’s name was Rain, though she was born in a snowstorm.

Now Rain lived in some other state like California. Or Florida or Texas. Or maybe it was Georgia.

He pressed each digit with his thumb, trying to steady his hands since they shook from medication. He remembered when Greg came in to open up the lock box, giving him his assortment of pills like candy. Kirk didn’t even ask what each was for anymore. Greg had said his hands might shake for a while, and he might wake with night sweats. Kirk didn’t feel the sweat, but the taste of copper in his mouth left him rinsing with Scope when he went to use the bathroom, which had also grown constant. But he no longer heard the voices, at least not as much — and though the voice that Kirk called Chip wasn’t laughing in his head much, he missed the child’s voice that told him he was special. “Good boy,” the child had said — the child was a girl, sweet like the angel he imagined from the heaven he wasn’t sure he deserved, knowing he was sinful — his father had always told him he was bad, beating him when he laughed out loud at another voice named Earl who was always telling him his dad was a joker. Kirk hadn’t told anyone then about Earl or Chip or about the angel, and now he only told the psychiatrist, and even then he kept some of that to himself, thinking these voices were his friends, maybe, no matter the nuisance. When they were gone, like now, he was out of his axis. Everyone else had left: his wife was no longer his wife, his parents were dead, his sister didn’t call, and his daughter was off doing important things in healthcare. Once a month the pastor came to deliver tapes of sermons, and he’d stay for a while, praying with Kirk for salvation, and then there was Greg and a lady named Pearl who either came in to give him medication, or to take him to the grocer, or to the doctor, or the bank, helping Kirk deposit his checks that appeared monthly out of nowhere, with their government logo and their typeset like a god saying he neither did nor didn’t deserve it, like waking up each day looking out the same window with the almost the same weather, the same view of the same blond boy crying with his truck by the dumpster.

Kirk sat in his green rocker, one of the few things he’d inherited from his father, who died from a disease of the stomach. Kirk steadied the receiver, hearing the ring, waiting for Rain. He remembered a picture of her as a newborn on his lap along with the stuffed panda from Belgium his father had shipped from there when going to talk about Jesus. His dad had always been going off to places like Germany and France, first flying to Chicago.

Kirk heard a beep and Rain’s recorded voice saying she was busy. She said to have a nice day and leave a message. Her voice seemed springy, like her step before she’d fallen from the ladder on her way to feed the heifers, before the surgeries, the crutches, the years of rehab.

“Oh,” said Kirk when prompted. He breathed a few times and tried to get the words out.

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Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections Pretty and Oh Baby. She is an associate professor of English at Buffalo State College.