None of the Tremblays smoke, and anyway, Wayne knows they left town early this morning. His father is out for a few beers, won’t be home for awhile. Early stars dot the sky. A shaky bat squeaks. Various moths congregate on the porch screens. A light breeze wafts cigarette smoke down the hill. It smells like fermented licorice, like those strong Canadian cigarettes. Without shoes on, Wayne meanders up the hill toward the Tremblay’s garage.
The garage’s dimensions are that of their old four-door with its doors open, though that jalopy and its gutted engine were hauled away last summer. Wayne hears muted voices inside. He creeps from behind the red Farmall to the garage’s backside, positions his cheek against the plywood to get a better view. His mouth is as dry as the unfinished wood, as dry as the dirt floor, and he can only see the outline of the men’s faces when the lanky one, who is standing, inhales a cigarette. The glow reduces to a small dot and falls to the ground.
“Please, please you’ve got it wrong.”
“You ain’t gonna look at me again, faggot.”
“No, please don’t!”
Wayne doesn’t recognize these voices. He hears a hollow thud, not unlike a sound he hears when splitting wood, then something like a burlap sack of potatoes falling to the ground, and then his own feet striking the blunt gravel. He zeros in on his own jittering porch light, off in the distance about a quarter of a mile.
The old red and white Chevy, looking like a giant Marlboro box in the yard, sits defenseless with the hood up. Wayne pulls out its dipstick, wipes the oil on a red bandana, pushes the stick all the way back in, and then takes it out again. “About three-fourths full, dad.”
“Un-huh … the Tremblays are back,” says his father. They watch the dust swirl behind the blue ’74 Impala until it stops at the top of the hill. “Why was the door locked last night?”
“I just got spooked, that’s all.” Wayne can’t stop hearing, You ain’t gonna look at me again, faggot.
“And now ‘Girl From The North Country’ for all you Cash and Dylan fans out there.” Wayne turns up the dial. He doesn’t like most duets yet finds the voices of these two men comforting — mouths the opening verses, If you’re travelin’ in the north country fair, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline …, as his father pulls the pickup over to the side of the road.
There’s no sign for Baker’s spring. All the locals know that the well water is only good for boiling and cleaning, and this is where you get your drinking water. Wayne leans against the truck’s heavy door until it opens and he jumps down with two empty plastic jugs.
As Wayne leans over the open pool with the gallon jugs, he becomes distracted by a quick succession of taps, sees a rusted wheelbarrow on its side and a red-bellied woodpecker playing it like a drum. He remembers the percussionists rehearsing outside the church, especially the shirtless man — the line of dark hair extending from his navel to mid-abdomen and the hair circling his nipples. Wayne’s fascinated by the bird’s measured tapping, that the pause between the series of them is also measured. He continues to hold the full jugs under the cold water until he hears a succession of erratic honks from the side of the road.
Heat radiates from the parking lot’s blacktop. They walk side by side. His father’s keys and pocket change make that familiar and erratic music which both comforts and irritates Wayne. He hopes that his father buys ground beef for hamburgers instead of Jordan’s hot dogs. His father usually buys the economical five-pound package.
The A&P’s electric door opens and the cashier turns. She looks at him differently, raises an eyebrow. “Dad, I need to use the bathroom.”
Wayne’s met by an overwhelming scent of bleach, notices the cracked urinal and the stall’s walls rusting from the bottom up. The fluorescent light closest to the door hums. The other one, closest to the toilet, is out. Wayne goes inside the stall and lowers his jeans.
On the metallic toilet paper dispenser, also rusting, he notices a lewd drawing in black marker — her legs spread-eagle , her impossible anatomy — and just below, in pencil, a barely legible phone number for blowjobs. He wonders how a woman was able to access the men’s room to write this, until he realizes another possibility. He thinks about the shirtless percussionist, becomes aroused.
Wayne hears the percolator gurgling. It’s Sunday, but the closest thing to church in their house is an episode of Davey and Goliath. Their black and white, at best, receives three channels, and sometimes the picture rolls. Wayne stands up to adjust the rabbit ears capped in aluminum foil as the faint sound of a siren outside becomes louder. His father grabs a full thermos and opens the screen door. Wayne follows him to the porch.
The sound of the police car rests on the hill. The conversing birds are now quiet. “I wonder if the old woman finally did him in.” Wayne doesn’t respond, notices a carpenter ant carrying the remains of a grasshopper toward the maple tree and the rope swing.
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