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Anthony Caplan

Anthony Caplan

Henniker, New Hampshire

A former journalist who has worked on three continents, Anthony Caplan lives in New Hampshire with his family, a small flock of sheep and several dozen carefully tended apple trees.

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About the author

I am the author of The Jonah Trilogy, a science fiction saga. Savior, the first book of the trilogy, was an Amazon number one best seller in 2013. The Victor's Heritage, the second book of the trilogy, was a finalist in The Drunken Druid Literary Award in 2015. Before writing The Jonah Trilogy, I published several other novels in literary fiction and one fictionalized memoir with my own imprint, Hope Mountain Press. I studied creative writing at Yale University with John Hersey and Francine Du Plessix Grey.

I was born in Caracas, Venezuela of American parents, and worked for several years as a journalist in Mexico, Central America and Venezuela.

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Yet Today

School's out for summer ... and bumbling everyman Gillum Kaosky heads for the exits. Poised somewhere between neediness and nothingness, Kaosky sets out on the road to fix his soul.

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Literary Fiction Contemporary Romance
70,000 words
100% complete
3 publishers interested

Synopsis

Gillum Kaosky has been married for twenty odd years and has three children with his wife Sibyl. They have raised their family on what was a former dairy farm in central New Hampshire. Kaosky works as a Spanish teacher, but this summer has decided to explore career options as a translator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Wire-tapping the Dominican drug smuggling rings of Lawrence, Massachusetts, Kaosky's job leads him to question his role in breaking up scared families trying to live a version of the American dream.

Kaosky's mother Elvira, a heavy drinking bridge player, lives with her dog Willy in a retirement community set amid manicured golf courses and a pond. Kaosky visits her regularly, but has not seen his stepfather, Eric Friel, for several weeks, ever since an accidental fall sent him to a convalescent home to rehabilitate from his injuries.

Kaosky and a fellow teacher, Karen, have a working relationship. They depend on each other for emotional and professional support in the snake pit world of Bainbridge High School. A series of texts between the two, discovered by Sibyl during the course of the summer, leads to seismic shifts in Kaosky's marital life.

Kaosky's son Jonah is secretly involved in a hacker community that breaks into the Department of Defense computer network in a sabotage attempt that lands him in jail.

With time running out, Kaosky's list of summer chores keeps getting longer: springing his son from jail, slipping word to the Dominican gang that the DEA is on their case, repairing his relationship with his teenage daughters, visiting his stepfather before he dies, and fixing the hole in his marriage where the doubt leaks in.

Bittersweet and tragicomic, Yet Today is a sharply observed homage to the travails of married life and a testament to the extraordinary quality of every day.

Outline

Chapter Outline - Yet Today

  1. Reconciliation or Not -- After a faculty meeting, Kaosky stops in to see his mother Elvira. At dinner, the family argues. Kaosky and Sibyl discuss a summer visit to her brother on Cape Cod and Kaosky's plan to take a summer job with the DEA.
  2. Gagnon -- Kaosky has a second interview with an agent, Gagnon, at the Derryfield police station.
  3. It's Not About You 5K -- He and Sibyl make love and discuss their relationship and family.
  4. Faster and Faster -- Jonah relays some of the anxieties he and his college friends are feeling about the future.
  5. Harder and Harder -- Kaosky argues with his children and cleans his gun in the barn while they go for a walk in the woods with Sibyl. He follows them into the woods and experiences an intense bout of alienation.
  6. Heavier and Heavier -- On the last day of the school year, Kaosky attends a faculty swimming pool party. Karen confesses she is unhappy in her marriage.
  7. Acid Ocean -- Kaosky begins work as a wiretapper for the DEA. They travel down to the Cape to visit Sibyl's brother on the 4th of July.
  8. All the Agents -- Kaosky immerses himself in the work. Sibyl has discovered texts between Kaosky and Karen. With his marriage on the rocks, Kaosky visits his stepfather.
  9. Tangerine Hike -- Kaosky and family go for a hike. Sibyl seems to have greater clout in their relationship now.
  10. We Believe -- Kaosky drives down to Lawrence, trying to make contact with the crime family.
  11. Into This House We're Born -- They learn that Jonah has been arrested. Kaosky drives to Providence to find him.
  12. Feed the Beast -- Kaosky locates Jonah at an intake facility.
  13. The Necessity Defense -- At the hearing Jonah is released on personal recognizance. He tells Kaosky he is going out to California instead of college in the fall.
  14. Where the Cricket Sings -- They all attend the funeral for Kaosky's stepfather.
  15. Glass Half Full -- Kaosky goes back to work teaching. He takes his daughters for a ride to get a new dog.
  16. Epilogue -- The crime family has been busted, with their arrests reported in the news.

Audience

Yet Today is a work of literary fiction about a contemporary American marriage. It has a romance component in that it deals with a marriage that is struggling with how to keep the love alive. 

The audience for romance novels is the largest growing market for fiction. There may also be an untapped market for literary fiction that deals with marriage from a male perspective.

Promotion

I have 3, 600 social media followers with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. My email contact list of reviewers and bloggers runs into the several hundreds. I am a member of the New Hampshire Writer's Project, a platform with hundreds of fellow members. I plan on leveraging all of these for reviews, speaking engagements, readings and workshops around the launch of this book, as well as holding readings at local bookstores, libraries and other venues in my area as I've done in the past. 

Competition

My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley, 2018 - A novel of domestic life with some social commentary, from the perspective of coastal liberals.

Who is Rich by Mathew Klam, 2017 - A satire of the moneyed classes. 

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta, 2017 -- A novel about female identity and changing social mores. 

The Locals by Jonathan Dee, 2017 -- A small town turns topsy turvy when a hedge fund billionaire takes over

My book mainly deals with a different demographic, middle class and working class rural New England, juxtaposed with the Dominican criminal subculture of urban New England, although it shares some of the sensibility and preoccupations of these other books.

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Yet Today

© 2018

 Anthony Caplan

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” William Butler Yeats

“The married man, being a true conqueror, has not killed time, but has saved it and preserved it in eternity.” Soren Kierkegaard

One

 Reconciliation or Not  

Nobody knew, and he would not try to imagine why the documentation of hours would require two online forms. One, the PD5, could apparently calculate totals automatically, but you needed to set it up correctly. The problem was that neither Carter, the technology guy, nor Demestre had explained to them how to set it up. Karen shrugged and shook her head sadly. Nobody else even reacted. Bob Anderson, the part-time Latin teacher, had zoned out, dropping his forehead onto his fingers as they lay on the plastic student desktop. Louisa Dahl, the twenty-something French teacher, looked at Karen with wide-eyed enthusiasm at this bit of realia slash crisis. Karen, as the department head, was hoping they could now blame this absurdity on the administration in its fervor for updating curricula and professional development practice. Kaosky looked at their faces as he gauged the moment. Just another bit of grit in the sandpaper of the department meeting, he thought. It would soon pass, taking an imperceptible amount of soul with it. He chose to let his mind drift, float away on a tide of regret and worry, dock it at the feet of Jesus, who somehow remained above the fray, as if He was somebody who could have foreseen the banality of the way things ended in a whimper.

By the time he got out, there were few kids left in the parking lot -- a straggling bunch of middle schoolers from some special program waiting for the late bus. They stared at him from the grassy bank on the side of the playing field. An object of faint curiosity, fear and derision, Kaosky felt his gravitas like a scourge on this spring day. There were geese circling the fields, honking at them from a pure wilderness, a state of grace that was like his youth, something now unattainable and yet prized, like an ode, or a urn.

Karen bolted from the side door, avoiding the front of the building and the office. She hurried to her car and glared at him, apparently angry that he had beat her out of there. He smiled and waved.

“Next year it’s you,” she screamed across the lot at him.

“What?” he yelled back. But she had already climbed in her Prius hatchback and started it in one swift, if inefficient and overly reliant on the swing of elbows motion.

His car, the late model Kia Spectra, had the battered back plastic fender still hanging like a banner of Live Free or Die pride, where he’d hit on a late morning in the school parking lot, backing up to a bank of cruddy snow after the first ice-storm of the season. He felt the heat radiating off the dust-laden dashboard now, six months later. It burnt his lungs and lifted the few hairs remaining on his head. He took a deep breath and melted a little into the seat. He put on the sunglasses and lowered the window on the driver’s side with a touch of the button. Then he started the car. Self-consciously, he felt the elbow go up on the door, a tic of rebellious posing, and left it there as he cruised towards the exit. He knew it was a trope, the teacher gone over to the bad, and he knew he was not that teacher. But his particular balancing act had always required a certain dipstick of reflection. Yes, it was still there, the flicker of anger and resentment at what it meant to spend a day in the maw of the bureaucratic mangling of youth that passed for public education. It meant he was still alive, still a man, and still hopeful that one day he could look back and say he had survived, had escaped. To what further state he could not say.

The drive was not unpleasant. He had been doing it for a swiftly rushing decade. It gave him a chance to unwind, listen to the radio, let his mind wander. Left to its own devices it tended to float in a reverie of pleasant enough memories and daydreams, as if he had devised a life that was proving useful to the extent that it shielded him from the major cause of pain and awkwardness -- proximity to strangers, with their barely hidden impulses and hungers, their need to hoard the sunlight for their own ends. His was a commute against the flow of traffic, and today, a Friday, there was more than the usual amount of that traffic northbound, denizens of the southern New England states driving large and overloaded Subarus and Suburbans to their campgrounds or lakeside chalets in the forested dreamscapes of New Hampshire and Vermont.

Everyone was in the same boat. Trying desperately to escape the madness while locked in an internal, solipsistic mental loop that told them the madness was about to kill them, targeting them personally for destruction, in the form of an errant eighteen wheeler or terrorist refugee. It was all the same thing. That was the reason Americans were so prone to manipulation by advertising or cheap political slogans, thought Kaosky. A way of life predicated on the tension between the outward mask of grace and the inward lock of paranoia could spiral upwards for a historical time. But now the time had passed. All that was left was the unraveling and the proliferation of useless and cheap messaging. Kaosky slammed the Spectra into the passing lane and pushed its two-liter engine to the outer limits of what the gearing could bear.

An expert was crowing about the demise of Big Oil on Fresh Air. Kaosky could not bear to think and switched it to the ubiquitous country pop radio station: the Wolf, where testosterone laden male voices crooned sexual desperation amid tractor wreckage. He wasn't sure what they were selling: gracelessness, oblivion? This was a better background to his personal inferno, he thought. Actually, he didn’t have it that bad. Not at all. A wife and three beautiful kids, a house with a functional roof over their heads and a view out to the back of Keiser Conservation District. But some day everything would be right. He wouldn’t be making the drives to and from Bainbridge High School, wouldn’t be massaging frail teenage egos so they could pass the Spanish Advanced Placement exam and get into the college of their parents' choice. And even here it could be worse, he knew. He could be selling War Bonds, or even more desperately, working for a tech startup in Somerville like Randi’s kid, Ryan. When he thought about it, the worst thing about the working life was the opportunity costs involved in any particular pursuit, which was strictly a theoretical concept since he could not imagine easily a reality that did not exist -- himself as another person, in another, more satisfying role. But he was sure, like everyone else, like the assholes on the radio, that it existed and that someday he would find it.

At the last second he remembered and exited the highway. His mother had some boxes of clothes for the girls and Jonah. She was old, sharp as a tack still. However, her body was failing, and although they were not particularly close, they were better than they had been in the past, when she had unconsciously, he believed, associated him with his father. They communicated intermittently, and she could stand more visits from him, but today was the day he said he’d come by and get the boxes. She lived in Tanglewood, the intentional community by the lake in East Salisbury.

He slowed down for the flagman. They were digging up the Road ‘Round the Lake and replacing the macadam. The water gloomed a dull pewter behind the giant roller, and the men lounging by the police car changed into their civvies. Turning the radio down on Kenny Chesney singing “Save it for a Rainy Day,” he smiled and lifted his hand off the wheel.

Willy, the terrier, was loose in the driveway. He ambushed the back wheels as Kaosky parked. The dog yipped at his heels until the screen door opened and her voice rang shrilly out of the interior of the low-slung ranch.

“Get back inside, you evil little creature.”

“Hi there. You mean Willy,” he said.

“He won’t come in. He roams the neighborhood. I’m going to have to do something. Can you get him?”

“Come here, Willy.” He grabbed the dog and pulled it by the collar up the steps. Willy whined bitterly. Elvira scooted him in with her foot and held the storm door open long enough for Kaosky to straighten and squeeze in. Kaosky felt the fleshy pulp of her shoulder with some tenderness for what she was going through. She was wearing earrings and had her hair colored in a reddish hue as if to go out, but by the unfocused look in her eyes he knew she had been inside the house, shopping online and drinking white wine. The goblet was still on the side table by the over-large, cream-colored sofas.

“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked. “The boxes are by the back door,” she added before he could answer.

“Yeah, sure,” he said.

“Beer?”

“No, I’ll…” he said.

“Ice coffee.”

“Yeah, okay.”

She went on to a story about her bridge partners. Kaosky quickly inspected the boxes while she spoke, not listening. There were six of them, from different online outlets. One of the bridge partners was a lady who had lived in Estonia during the breakup of the Soviet Union. Kaosky responded with appreciation and wonderment, he hoped.

Elvira was quickly running through her inheritance, the same way she had gotten into trouble after the death of her first husband, "Lightbulb" Kaosky.

“What’s in them?” he interrupted.

“What?”

“The boxes.”

She held out for him a large glass of cold, black coffee she had filled with ice cubes from the tray in the bottom door of the deluxe refrigerator. Ten fingers with ruby red, artificial nails and bluish gemstones like spacers among them clutched the Napa highball.

“Thank you.”

“Just odds and ends, some tee shirts for the summer. There’s a blazer you and Jonah can fight over.”

“A blazer?”

“Yes, neither of you own a decent blazer. Now there obviously are occasions in a man’s life...”

“Occasions? Like what.”

“Like a decent meal in a club, genius.”

“You still imagine I’m working on Wall Street and living on Park Avenue. This is not that universe, Mom.”

“Well, how about Jonah? He…”

“Jonah? In college? Are you kidding? His idea of dressing up is putting on a tee shirt with a more moderate, non-political slogan.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. Just show it to him when he comes home. By the way, when is that?”

“Next couple of weeks. I think,” said Kaosky, distanced once again, thoughts pounding in his head, letting the adolescent rage melt away with a little mindfulness. The itinerant quality of life was beginning to clarify on him.

“Sit down. You look a bit peaked,” said Elvira.

“A bit peaked? Since when do you sound like Martha Stewart?” snorted Kaosky, trying unsuccessfully to put a gentler sound in his voice. Elvira laughed.

“Is she still in jail?” she asked.

“No. There’s no justice for the wicked.”

“No, there isn’t. It’s not that universe,” said Elvira.

They sat on the sofas. The iced coffee brought to mind the comforts of summer. There was time still to make things right. Kaosky thought it came down to the gifts of women to make life worth living. He needed to be less hard on his mother.

“Tell me about work. Almost done with the year?” asked Elvira.

“Almost. It can’t come soon enough,” said Kaosky. Where to begin with how he felt about work? But Elvira was already off on a rant of her own, something about the new lack of morals in the American family and the impending apocalyptic demise. She was sounding more and more like her father, whom she had once rebelled against with her marriage to Lightbulb. This Kaosky, the elder, had fathered the protagonist in his own drama -- Gillum Kaosky -- and his three younger sisters, Randi, Mandi and Margot. Someday he would have to write a book in which he would detail the exciting multi-cultural romp, the cities they had lived in around the world in escape from the Internal Revenue Service that had been his and his sisters’ childhoods. Of course, you couldn’t count against them, Lightbulb and Elvira, the drinking and the physical violence perpetrated by both sides against each other. That was part of the territory of the past, adding just another layer of complexity to the cool sophistication and American exceptionalism that was fast disappearing from the larger world, if it had ever existed in the rural precincts in which they now found themselves. It would really be a fascinating study, he thought.

“You have your father’s ears,” said Elvira. “Your sisters all missed out on them. They have them laid back. But I just noticed yours. Like two handles on a pot. Just like Lightbulb. Did you know that he was once offered a job in the movies?”

“No, I didn’t know that,” said Kaosky, lying. He had heard the story a dozen times. But it was her way of reconnecting with the world, to bring up their ties to the still vital past. In many ways it was increasingly more alive, as the present pressed down with greater weight on their fragile skulls.

“Oh, yes. We were in Barcelona. You know the Catalans, they love their outdoor gatherings. I could never really be bothered with all that. I needed my sleep, but Lightbulb was a great one for the carousing in the plazas.”

“I know. The movies,” he brought her back.

“Oh yes. Well, he was consulting for Deloitte and they called him in and it was John Huston who called him up and said he wanted to cast him for a role. Your father refused, but it made the rounds. Everywhere we went that summer people knew him as the American who had turned down the great John Huston.”

“I think it's on his tombstone.”

“Don’t be cruel.”

“Not cruel. Just slightly irreverent.”

“He doesn’t have a tombstone.”

“True.”

“Never wanted one.”

The past and its pleasures were well-known, but not so well-known was the bubble that formed in front of his eye and took over his mind. That could be frightening if he believed for a second it would not pass. There was no real solution except holding his breath. Sometime ago it had not gone away and Elvira had had to bring him in to be fixed. Setting a course for the future, he decided, had to do with closing off opportunities for the bubble to form in his mind. Even a temporary reprieve from duty was enough for it. It seemed to be a question of pressurization. If he had been of an academic bent he might have studied it and found a satisfactory answer. As it was, his contribution to society was much more mundane.

“Dear, don’t you think you should gather up the boxes so that you can more easily…?”

“Yes. That’s a good idea.”

He carried the boxes and slung them one by one in the back seat. It would all be sorted out eventually.

Jonah had owned a globe with a soundtrack and a pointer. He’d found it in the swap shop of the town’s transfer station one day going in with Kaosky, and immediately had begun to play even though the batteries didn’t work. Kaosky had replaced the batteries on the way home that muddy afternoon, stopping at the Rite Aid on Route 202 at the Birmingham exchange. The people in there were amazing examples of the stagnant generations since the exodus to Ohio, the hanging triceps like hams on the old women and astonishing variations of the Donegal side chops on the old men. He’d felt a great sense of accomplishment after changing the batteries. The soundtrack had kicked in with Jonah sitting alone in the back seat still redolent of coffee grounds and stale cheese. It beeped and asked him to find Zimbabwe or the capital of the Garden State. Hours of pleasure with the globe and the pointer and sound track ensued over the next few years. Kaosky had devised a game of his own of memory. He heard the beep and would name a place in his mind and think of a memory associated with that place. That way he played silently along with Jonah, and the two were involved in parallel pursuits that were not obvious to each other. “Find that time you and Randi played in Asturias with the cat turds located by the drain holes in the back wall … Find that time you camped in the Pine Barrens by the highway … Find the lights of Phoenix in that clearing in the scrub … in Baja where you fasted and ate the peyote buds ... on 15th St. in exchange for the Joni Mitchell records.”

Jonah became the Derryfield Community School geography champ starting in the fourth grade and continuing through his seventh grade year, when he’d discovered that skateboarding made him more popular with the kids in town. He’d spent entire summers at the school park and then down by the rope swing, which had been the best part of his education and something he’d written about on his college applications and something neither of his parents could have prepared him for -- a totally fortuitous period of time in his development for which Kaosky was grateful.

The car pulled off the dirt road into the sparsely graveled drive. He turned the motor off and listened to the ensuing silence. The hardwood trees were lit by the glow of the setting sun on the opposite horizon. Full of new leaf, they mysteriously swayed together in gusts of high-pressure wind. The first swallows of the season, already nesting, swooped around the edge of the barn and below the maple at the side of the drive. The lights were on in the kitchen, and he heard female voices, his two daughters and Sibyl, just a couple of words, as if they had been waiting silently for the moment when he arrived and now were noting the indicated event. He trudged stiff-legged up the steps and opened the door.

“Hi there,” said Kaosky.

“Hi,” said Sibyl, from the kitchen. She was sitting at the table with Gabriella and Hope, drinking tea.

“I’ve got some boxes,” said Kaosky. “There’s more in the car.”

He brought the rest of them up the steps one at a time and dropped them in the dining room. Gabriella, Hope and Sibyl opened the boxes and went through them, putting the clothes in piles on the dining room table. Most of it was unusable, either the wrong size or inappropriate style. But some things were good, one pair of shorts that might fit at some point when Gabriella had grown, perhaps next summer, and a sweater that Hope might try in the fall. The blazer would hang in Jonah’s room until he could have a look at it.

“How was your day?” asked Sibyl.

“Well, it’s done,” said Kaosky.

“That’s true,” said Sibyl. She was resigned to his sense of loss. It would pass, like most things. She was the daughter of an insurance salesman from Great Barrington, Massachusetts who did not believe that words were a decent salve on the stings and bruises of the day. She fell in the middle, like Kaosky, neither fish nor fowl. They kept company through the years despite their failures or their successes, most of which, on both sides, seemed to be not of their own making.

The girls went up to their rooms, carrying the piles of clothes.

“We’re accumulating so much junk,” noted Sibyl, as they left for upstairs.

“I know,” said Kaosky. It was a fault that his lineage was so crooked, reamed through with decadence and dependent on self-medication. Not like Sibyl’s. Solid, middle-class, Puritanical, like the proverbial city on the hill, unassailable, she had appeared in his life and reached out a guiding hand to the huddled masses, and he, although not biting the hand, was constantly chafing at the implied placement on his sloping, working class shoulders.

“And we can’t get the money back because there are no receipts.”

“I'll just take the stuff we don’t want back to Elvira.”

“No, you can’t do that. That would just be an insult to her,” said Sibyl, sensible as usual about human frailty.

She rose and turned towards the kitchen. Dinner was rice with a fricassee vegetable dish and kimchi tofu. Kaosky mixed a salad and set the plates on the kitchen table. When the girls came down, he went into the bathroom and washed his hands and came back to the kitchen. Hope and Gabriella were serving themselves from the stovetop. Sibyl turned off the radio on the counter by the refrigerator, which had been playing the market news from NPR, something about a tech summit with President Trump.

“Thanks, Mom, said Gabriella dutifully. They sat at the table. Sibyl held out her hands and they all spread out their own. Hope had lately been rebelling by not actually taking anybody’s hand at this moment around the table at dinner every night. Although she was not churchgoing, Sibyl insisted on saying grace. She turned to her husband across the table.

“Will you say something tonight, Gillum?” she asked.

Kaosky raised his eyes to meet hers. Their blue had a steely glimmer. Her fire was contagious. He found the words.

“Bless us tonight and the food we are about to eat. Let’s try not to dwell on the past too much. Just enjoy ourselves and we can do that. Amen,” he said. Kaosky let go of Gabriella’s hand on his left and felt Hope’s brush his on its way to her lap. He picked up the fork and dug in. He was hungry.

“Did you send the email to…?” Sibyl asked Hope a question. Kaosky did not hear the end of it. He couldn’t hear Hope's response either. Some rushed words. And then Sibyl said something else to Hope he could not hear. They were purposely keeping their voices low, mumbling. He swallowed his food, stopped the fork in mid-flight and listened. He looked at Gabriella. She would not meet his eyes. He looked at Sibyl, but she was locked in a glaring contest with Hope.  He put the fork down on the plate.

“What's the point? It doesn’t really matter at this point,” said Hope, sounding adult and mature in her voice suddenly, as if she knew Kaosky would tune in at that moment.

“What’s the point of what?” asked Kaosky. Nobody answered him.

“Gabriella. Can you tell me please what’s going on?” he asked. Gabriella, as the youngest, was still in some way liable to him. Once they reached teenage status, they stopped responding to a father’s entreaties. But Gabby didn’t answer either.

“It’s nothing,” said Sibyl.

Now he needed to know. Dinner could wait. He glared at his family.

“Looks like somebody here is hiding something,” he said.

“Dad. It’s none of your business, but I made a date with Mrs. Cheever to see her after classes for some extra help in math. I didn’t go because I went with Bailey and her friends to the store for ice cream.”

“She needs to send an email to apologize,” said Sibyl.

“I will,” said Hope.

"Sounds good. Get the help you need. Send emails. Always send emails," said Kaosky. Hope glared at him.

With the point of order taken care of, Kaosky could now eat. He proceeded to shovel the food down for a few bites.

“I saw Willy this afternoon. He’s had some adventures in the neighborhood,” he said, patting his lips with a napkin and swallowing.

“Oh, God,” said Hope, flinging her fork across the table.

“What the hell?” said Kaosky.

“I don’t want to hear about stupid Willy. This food sucks,” said Hope, pushing back from the table. She stood and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Kaosky dumbfounded and sad.

“What did I say?” he asked.

“Don’t worry,” said Sibyl. “Finish your food.”

She looked at Gabriella.

“There’s mango ice cream,” said Sibyl. “I went into Concord today,” she said, explaining to Kaosky.

“That sounds alright to me,” said Kaosky. “I’ll go get Hope and tell her,” he added.

“No, let her be. She doesn’t want to be around us right now. Besides, she already had her ice cream.”

“What is going on with her?” he asked.

“Just, stuff. It’s not important,” said Sibyl, getting up and going over to the cupboard for the ice cream dishes.

“Well, that’s not right. I want to know what’s going on here.”

“Dad,” said Gabriella. “Just let it be.”

“The two of you,” said Kaosky.

After the ice cream, Kaosky went outside and wandered in the back yard, inspecting the roses he had planted last year. They needed weeding. It was better to get things done early in the flowerbed before the weeds took over. Sibyl came out and joined him, looking over his shoulder as he kneeled in the grass.

“What do you see?” asked Sibyl, her eyes crinkled with concern.

“Crabgrass,” he said. “My father used to go crazy trying to get this stuff out the year we had the house in Glen Falls.”

“I don't know why. Grass is grass,” she said.

Kaosky stood up. He looked Sibyl in the eyes, gauging her mood. Could it be that she actually loved him?

“What do you want to do this summer?” he asked.

“Well, you’re working, right? I don’t know if we’ll have a lot of time for anything.”

He'd forgotten that he needed to go for the interview that week for the security clearance. He’d applied for a linguist position with the Drug Enforcement Agency. The extra money would come in handy with Jonah in college and Hope just a few years away.

“Yeah. We can still make a camping trip together, either right at the beginning or later in August.”

“Well, Billy has the family on Fourth of July weekend. We can’t skip that,” said Sibyl.

Billy was her brother who lived on the Cape alone since the death of his wife.

“I thought he had the back operation,” said Kaosky.

“He did. But he wouldn’t skip Fourth of July, I don’t think.”

“Probably not. Probably we pick up the slack and make sure the extension gets cleaned and the fires get put out.”

“And the fires get built.”

“Well, we always do that anyway,” said Kaosky. They always piled the firewood in the trailer for the trip to the Cape and Billy’s house.

Gabriella came out the back door and walked over to the swing set Kaosky had built with Jonah the previous summer. It stood in a triangular A-frame and swayed more the higher Gabby swung. It was based on a design Jonah had come up with and was supposed to be able to handle two adults. It had needed some extra stability, so Kaosky had tied down the sloping legs with large ground screws before the ground had frozen. He watched Gabriella swing, in wider and wider arcs, the frame shuddering with her exertions.

“Swing harder, Gabby,” he said.

“No, don’t,” said Sibyl. “I don’t think it’s safe,” she added to him.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Two

 Gagnon

The rain was coming down. He didn’t feel like going out. The reminder on the computer screen came up, a subtle notification in the top corner that he was due at the police station in twenty minutes. Was it even real? The rain was real. It had been raining for days. The roads around Hemlock Hill had been flooded out in the direction of the highway. You could still get into town, though there were warning signs that the beaver dam by the Rhubarb Farm development was about to be overtopped. The town highway department had put up orange cones at the side of the road there where it went around the wetland. Wouldn’t it be better to cancel, he wondered?

The driveway had large ruts in it where the gravel had washed away. That was another thing he’d have to take care of, get the trailer on the car and drive to the town depot and shovel in a load of the sand and clinker to fill the damage as soon as school was out in a few weeks. But tonight was the interview with Gagnon. It was too late to cancel, he realized reluctantly. Kaosky forced himself to get moving after dinner instead of hanging out on the computer checking his social media accounts, wastelands of narcissism and echo chamber musings.

The car had a slight hiss to the sound of the pistons whirring. Kaosky sat and listened. With 160,000 miles on it, some of the parts were on their last legs. He’d left the window down a crack. The seat back was all wet. Kaosky liked the feel of the rain on the side of his face and his arm. This was better. This was real. He rolled up the window, thinking of Gagnon and the interview. It was the second. The first had been on the phone. He had no police records except for traffic violations. Gagnon said the second was merely a formality. He was coming from somewhere out on the Seacoast. Kaosky had no idea what he would look like, but pictured an old man in a trench coat by his crackly voice and thick Boston accent.

The rain was pelting down by the time he reached the police station on the Brentbury Road at the other side of Derryfield. In the parking lot, he found himself behind a white SUV. It was also circling, looking for a decent place to park amid the puddles and the film of water flowing across the cracked paving. After driving slowly around once, he pulled into a spot on the back edge of the lot. He got out and locked the car with the key fob as he skipped across the puddles. Out of the corner of his eye, in the twilight and the rain he saw a man, the driver of the white SUV, ducking under the porch roof at the front door of the station. Three cruisers were parked randomly in the six reserved spots at the front of the building. Kaosky swung open the thick, weatherproofed door. The man who’d just gone in was at the window. He turned and offered a thin smile.

“Gillum?”

“Yes.”

“Greg Gagnon. How you doin’?”

“Good, thanks.”

“Supah. We got the conference room, isn’t that right, Eileen?”

“That’s right. All yours,” smiled the dispatcher behind the plate glass.

The man smiled, a little less warmly this time, as he held the inner security door open for Kaosky.

“A little wet out there, huh?”

“Yes, it’s been a whole lot of rain. I can’t believe we could still be in a drought,” said Kaosky amiably.

“That was last year. Making up for it now,” said Gagnon, with a wry pull on his cheek muscle.

“Mother Nature,” said Kaosky, as if that explained things. They were messing with her so much she might have been justified in over-reacting, but he quieted these thoughts for the sake of Gagnon, who looked, with his close cropped, Marine Corps, grey-headed buzz cut, foul weather pea coat and well-pressed slacks, like someone who didn’t need loose editorializing on the subject of climate change.

“Right on time. That’s good,” said Gagnon, checking his smart phone.

“Here we are,” he added at the end of the hall, Kaosky close behind him, watching his back and shoulders. He was a compact, wiry old man. Kaosky expected he was packing a gun. The conference room was a narrow chamber, large enough for a desk and a chair on either side of it and not much else. Gagnon removed his coat, revealing the shoulder holster and the black pistol tucked high in it under his arm. He sat down with a thin black recorder set on the table. He checked the signal and then moved it closer to the middle of the table. Kaosky sat down opposite, after taking off his windbreaker and hanging it on the back of the metal chair.

“This is going to be recorded. Do you mind?”

“No. No problem,” said Kaosky, feeling a skip of a heartbeat.

“That’s good. It's just easier for me to go back and hear everything later with more time. After our last conversation, I said I would have a few more questions for you, remember?”

“Yes.”

“Did you bring the papers I asked for?”

“Yes, I got that,” said Kaosky. He stood again and took out the passport and folded birth certificate from the inside windbreaker pocket.

“Here you go,” he said, handing them carefully across the table as he sat again. Gagnon seemed almost distracted, as if he had some agenda, something on his mind. He took the passport and birth certificate and placed them in a portfolio case he unzipped and zipped back up.

“I’ll mail these back to you as soon as we’re done. Should be a couple of days at the most,” he said.

Kaosky remembered how Gagnon had acted on the phone, pretty laid back, making jokes between questions. Now he seemed more serious. Kaosky wondered if they were being observed and looked quickly around the room. There could easily be a porthole or a camera, he thought. But then again, why would anyone be watching?

“This position you're applying for is the linguist position, is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“How did you hear of it?”

“I told you already, I saw an ad in Craigslist.”

“From the contractor.”

“That’s right.”

‘Spanish language linguist.”

“That’s correct.”

“And you are what? A teacher?”

“Yes, high school. Spanish teacher,” said Kaosky, trying not to be exasperated with the repeated, basic questions. He guessed Gagnon was setting things down on tape for some kind of record.

“How long have you been doing that?”

“Ten years or so.”

“And before that.”

“Before that I was a journalist.”

“Where were you working?”

“I worked for a paper in Vermont. The Valley Record. Woodstock, Vermont.”

“How do you go from that to teaching Spanish?”

“I told you. I had problems with the paper.” Kaosky didn’t like going over this painful period.

"Go on."

“This was a small, family owned newspaper, and they didn’t want me covering Bernie Sanders. He was coming to White River to talk at a veteran’s home. I was on weekend duty and I insisted on going anyway. I wrote the story, and then I went to the Montpelier Academy awards night and got a story there. On Monday I was told I had missed the English prize and the news about the retirement of an English teacher, a well-loved English teacher. I was told I shouldn’t have covered the Bernie Sanders press conference.”

“And then what happened.”

“I resigned. My wife and I were living at the Green Mountain School in Lyndonville, where she was teaching Spanish.”

“She was teaching Spanish.”

“That is correct.”

“She’s a Spanish teacher, too. You're both Spanish teachers. How is that? A coincidence?”

“No. She was a Spanish major. Middlebury. Anyway. She hasn’t worked as a teacher in a number of years. She got pregnant a few months after I resigned from the Valley Record with our second child, Hope, and decided she wanted to stay home and care for Hope and Jonah.”

“So. You at that point were unemployed?”

“Yes. Well, I was making chairs.”

“Chairs.”

“Yeah, I’d actually sold a couple of chairs I'd made, but she wanted me to see if could get a teaching job. She wanted to stay at the boarding school. She liked it there. So I went and talked to the headmaster. Bob Eustace. I told him I needed a job. He said they needed a Spanish teacher. And that is how I got into teaching. Pretty neat, huh?”

Gagnon did not look impressed. He was taking notes in a yellow legal pad. Kaosky felt some apprehension. But that was probably what Gagnon intended.

“You say you grew up in Argentina.”

“That’s right.”

“What years did you live in Argentina?”

“From 1968 to 1972."

"And then?"

 "Then we lived in Europe for a time. 1976. The summer of the bicentennial. Tall ships in Philadelphia. We moved back to New York for a short time before we headed to Glen Falls, Montana. My father wanted to be a cowboy. We bought a small ranch. Then he died a year or so after that. My mother moved us back East and we lived in New Rochelle. New York.”

“Are you in contact with any people still in Argentina?”

“No. Not any more. We had a maid. Maria. We wrote letters for a while to her. But then they stopped.”

“Are you in contact with any people still with Argentinean government or military connections.”

“No.”

“Any Argentinean contacts who may have had ties to the Argentinean government.”

“No, almost certainly not. Except for maybe Ernesto Montemayor. He was a reporter I knew. Worked for the Burlington paper. His father was a shrink. They were from Argentina originally, I believe. He was a big soccer fan, as you can imagine. Rooted for the New York team in the NASL that was the precursor to the MSL, the Cosmos, I believe?”

Gagnon scribbled furiously. Kaosky liked it when Gagnon scribbled away. It made him feel like he’d said something important and memorable, as if his life mattered in the scale of things.

“And Europe. Where in Europe did you spend time?”

“Well, you mean as a child?”

Gagnon looked up and removed his glasses.

“We need all periods of overseas travel and abode. Ties of allegiance to foreign interests. Where did you live in Europe as a child. Start with that.”

“Well, Spain. There was Barcelona. Then Zakynthos. Then we moved to West Cork. Lived there for awhile.”

“Years.”

“Like I said. 1972 to 1976.”

“Zakyn…”

“Zakynthos.”

“Spell it please.” Kaosky spelled it for him. He tried to sound patient and forbearing. Let Gagnon know the effort he was making to stay engaged in this exercise, which would probably end badly.

He felt suddenly that he was wasting his time. And he didn’t even really need the job. They would be okay without it. He could paint houses with John Patenaude, who lived down the hill on the same road and always could use a hand around town in the summers. He was not too old to do that kind of work.

“Where the fuck is Zakynthos?”

“It’s off Greece,” said Kaosky quickly, nonplussed.

“Greece. Any ties to Greek government or officials of Greece.”

“Not that I’m aware of, no.”

“And there, where was the other?”

“West Cork?”

“Where is that?”

“Part of Ireland.”

“Any ties…?”

“On Facebook. I mean, a couple of people on Facebook from West Cork. You know, they post a lot of memes about the rain and the summer not arriving.”

Gagnon scribbled for a while and then stopped. He did not look up.

“Your father’s business. What was the source of his income during these years you were traveling around and about Europe and Argentina?”

Kaosky coughed to clear his throat.

“He had clients. He was a consultant. Financial and taxes, customs regulations. Import export, I guess. I don’t really know. He was one of these guys. He never really talked much. But he would go off for a few days. I remember one client he talked about, Manuel Guzman. He bought and sold stuff. Big stuff. Like cargo ships. But we were always scraping by. You’d be surprised. My mother was not very good at that kind of life. She always wanted better for us.”

“Did your father? Did he ever swear allegiance to any entities or foreign interests?”

“My father? You’d have to ask him. I couldn’t vouch for that.”

Gagnon looked hard at him. This was going very badly.

“Where is he residing?”

“He’s dead. We scattered the ashes. Made a road trip. My mother and three sisters and I.”

Gagnon didn’t care about where they’d scattered the ashes. But they’d climbed to the top of Cardigan Mountain and found one rock that poked out to the northwest. The wind had picked up and there had been hawks flying in the distance. The ashes had been surprisingly clunky coming out of the metal box they’d given Elvira and mostly scattered at their feet. Randi had cried a little and Elvira had hugged her for a second or two after they’d climbed down from the rock to try to make her feel better. That was their father Lightbulb now part of everything. But he looked at Gagnon and thought again of how much Gagnon didn’t care.

“What year was his death?”

“1979.”

“And there, so he wanted to be a cowboy. He moves back to Montana. Did you have any contacts in Montana with any militia groups, say? Anything like that?”

“No, nothing like that. Look, I went to a boarding school in those years. And like I said, it didn’t work out there for us. We moved back East after he died.”

“Boarding school. What was it called?”

“Bolton Hall. Springfield, Connecticut. Bounded on the west by the New York State line.”

“What was that like?”

“Okay,” said Kaosky.

“Pretty fancy.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Society types. Debutantes.”

“Yeah, there were.”

“Any experiences with sexual abuse?”

“I was pretty out of touch. I was what could have been called a nerd. Just socially pretty inept. So, no. No sex of any kind, really. Much less abuse. Maybe neglect.”

Gagnon did not respond.

“College years?”

“All over the place. I’ll be honest. I’m not a scholar by inclination. I need to learn by doing. It ... it was difficult for me to make it through.”

“Where were you and what years?”

“Associate's degree. Seattle Community College. Two year program in Communications.”

“Any student organizations. Protest movements?”

“No. I worked in a bookstore and frequented the Pike Place Market. I drank a lot of herbal teas.”

Gagnon took off his glasses again and looked at him.

“You don’t look like a herbal tea drinker,” he said.

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” answered Kaosky. He was rewarded with a slow, unforced smile. So that was it. That would be awesome, thought Kaosky. No need to outright lie. The truth was those first few months in Seattle, mostly homeless, sleeping in his car, he’d been penniless until he started driving for the city’s Yellow Cab fleet. It was the only job he could get without a home address or any money to attend a seminar or buy a uniform. He was quick enough to learn the streets and make decent money at it. But he was also drawn to the camaraderie of the damned, slugging on the cheapest rotgut he could find after he was done with a shift, and sometimes he’d end up falling asleep on the ground and not even know where he’d been and just have a vague recollection of someone telling a story about logging the old growth or a drunken, black-haired woman telling him about the atrocities committed in his name across the vast expanse of Turtle Island.

“Religion?” Either Gagnon could read his mind or he was extremely lucky. Kaosky could not tell.

“Why? Does the government need to know that? Isn't there still separation in this country between church and state?”

“This is a security clearance interview,” said Gagnon. “The more you can tell us, the more we can verify that you’re not involved in any kind of cult.”

“Well, I’m not. I’m a Catholic.” Kaosky somewhat lied. Elvira had baptized all her children herself in the bathtub at some point. Kaosky vaguely remembered the ceremony. She had always claimed it was a valid consecration under some Papal ordinance about emergency situations. But Kaosky had checked. It was not. The marriage to Lightbulb, a non-believing, non-practicing Jew, did not count as an emergency, according to Father Malcolm, the priest at St. Monica's in Derryfield. For a time Kaosky, Sibyl and the kids had attended St. Monica's as a young family and had befriended Father Malcolm.

Gagnon nodded and studied him carefully for a second.

“The last thing I need are your references. Did you bring those?”

“Yes, I have,” said Kaosky dragging another piece of paper from his pocket.

“Do you want me to read them to you or just…?”

“Let me see that,” said Gagnon, taking the piece of paper, reaching across the table.

There were three names. James Carter, the principal of Bainbridge High School, Judy Rosoff, a neighbor in Derryfield who operated a farm stand at the Derryfield Farmer’s Market on Tuesday afternoons in the summer and worked as a landscaper, and Eric Friel, Elvira's second husband, who was at the Woodbury Convalescent Home in Thornhill, Vermont in a wheelchair, unable to haul himself to his feet for the last several months.

“The last name is a family member, actually. Stepfather. My mother remarried several years ago. He was an accountant with Steinberg Goodman, one of the partners in Tampa, Florida.”

“That’s okay. You have names and telephone numbers I can see here.” Gagnon smiled.

“Yes.”

Kaosky watched as Gagnon turned off and put the recorder back in the portfolio case along with the legal pad. That last smile had been unusual for Gagnon, a sign he was relaxing his professional demeanor ahead of time. That could be good or bad, he guessed, but it meant things had been partially or entirely decided.

“So, Gillum. We should have an answer for you one way or the other very soon.”

“That’s good,” said Kaosky.

Gagnon stopped what he was doing and turned his focus back on Kaosky. The recorder was off and back in the case. They were done, right? 

“So many things we don’t have any control over. You ever wonder how it is people think they control their own lives?” asked Gagnon. He wasn’t making any sign of getting up. Kaosky had time. He leaned back in the chair.

“Yeah, I agree. I think there’s more we don’t know,” said Kaosky.

“You know, in the old days, the astrologers and the astronomers were on the same page. People like Kepler, Copernicus. They ground their own lenses. Hand made. They were discovering the night sky, but it was all driven by the belief they had. It was all connected. The hierarchy. Know what I’m saying? We’ve gotten away from that.”

“I think so. That’s right,” said Kaosky.

“It’s our job. Those of us in the know, so to speak, to reconnect those dots. You’re a teacher. You must see that every day. Kids have too many choices. We all do. Journalists, sometimes there’s an ideology that puts transparency above all else. Transparency is not always what’s good for people. You have to weigh the good against the so-called democratic values. You follow me?”

“Well, democracy, at least the way it's practiced in the West, is not necessarily a universal value. We just might think it is. Then again, even George Bush thought it was. There’s been a consensus,” said Kaosky.

Swallowing hard, he thought it was all off the record any way. Gagnon looked displeased, though. As if he wasn’t convinced yet by Kaosky’s responses.

“Look around you, today I mean. What do you see?” asked Gagnon.

“Well, problems, right?”

“It all looks good. Well-tended. Even the inner cities. Have you been down to Lawrence lately? The bad guys living in these nice houses. Garage with two bays. They shop at Market Basket. Drive Volvos.”

“Yeah, well.”

“But underneath the surface, amigo. That’s what. The rot is thorough and very much underway. How does rot work? Do you know? I don’t think so. The osmosis involved. The way it calls out to the matter in its midst. Do you catch my drift?”

“Yeah, I think so,” said Kaosky, not really thinking, trying to follow the emotional content of Gagnon’s words more than the logic.

“Be careful. Mend your fences. Good habits will serve you well, wall you off from danger. Everything you will do and see on this job in the confines of the Department of Justice will be confidential. You understand that.”

“Of course,” said Kaosky, feeling a warm draft as if a door had opened somewhere. But they were still sitting in the conference room. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. He wanted to get going now. He felt that Gagnon was testing him to see if he would lose his cool. His hands gripped the sides of his chair as if he was about to rise. Kaosky realized that he should stay where he was until Gagnon had given the sign that the interview was truly over. He dropped his hands.

“Not even your wife. Do you understand? The motor that will carry you through the tough times is your own certitude. Do you have that interior gyroscope. That’s what we’re looking for. At every level. That’s what we ask.”

“Okay.”

Gagnon finally rose, put his coat on and picked up the case. Kaosky pushed his chair back as he got up. The room seemed small with both of them standing. Gagnon was saying something else, something important, but he was no longer listening.

Outside, the rain had picked up in intensity. It was dark, and no cars were in the spaces in front of the building. The only lights were the security lights hung on the outside wall, sentinels of a higher purpose that was no longer burning bright as it once had across the wasteland. Gagnon nodded his head once more in his direction. Kaosky registered one more look at his back and head tucking into the slant of the rain.

At home, the girls were up in their rooms. Sibyl was filling up her cup with tea.

“Do you want some?” she asked.

“No, I’m not big on herbal teas. You know that.”

“How’d it go?” she asked.

“Fine. It seemed like he was happy with my answers. I’ll know soon.”

“Tell me again why you want this job?”

“It’s extra money. We might need it with Hope applying to college in a couple of years. She’s not likely to get as good a deal as Jonah.”

Sibyl nodded. She was not quite happy with the prospect, though. Something did not seem right. There were seams, possible places where misfortune could creep in. For Sibyl, whenever a shift was undertaken in the order of things, there was danger. They were doing all right. Hope could accommodate to their circumstances as all their kids had always been expected to do.  It wasn’t that she was putting a damper or seeking to undermine, just that she was examining the possible sources of error and asking him to aid her in the endeavor.

“What exactly will you be doing?” she asked.

“I don’t really know yet,” he answered.

“Well, you'll find out.”

“Yes, I will. If I get it.”

“Just hope it turns out better than the family cow,” she added. She had the cup in both hands and turned to the kitchen window. There was a slight draft of wind coming in. It was open an inch or two, no more. It was still raining.

The family cow was shorthand for Kaosky’s foolish experiments and misdirections in their shared life. She had been a Jersey that had lived for a short, tragic time behind the house under a contrived hoop structure of bent plastic tubes covered with a tarp. She had never provided much in the way of milk, but she had gotten loose and wandered briskly several times down the road in the direction of the highway, to the great delight of the neighbors in the campground down by Lower Pond.

“Hopefully,” said Kaosky. “Do you think it’s been on the whole a good thing to have this house?”

“It’s hard to maintain,” said Sibyl. “But I’ve grown attached, I guess.”

“Well, you’ve done a good job making it your own.”

“I’ve had to, Gillum.”

“I know.”

“Everyone has had to. In some ways it’s a good thing. I wonder, though, about Jonah. The things he posts on Facebook. He should be more discreet. He has a lot of anger, it would seem.”

“He really doesn’t,” said Kaosky.

“I know that and you know that,” said Sibyl.

“But the world doesn’t,” said Kaosky, finishing her thought. “You think it’s from growing up in this house here?”

“Well, it’s different. Not like the kids he’s seeing around him now, I‘m sure. For the most part.”

“He’ll be alright,” said Kaosky.

“I do worry about him. He’ll be home next week. I’ll clean up his room. Open the windows. Air it out.”

“Yes,” said Kaosky. He was relieved that she had come up with a solution to her concerns. He liked it when the ship righted itself with just a minimal effort, a shifting of the weight.

The rain had stopped. Kaosky stepped out on the porch and looked at the dark, drooping branches of the maple tree. He couldn’t see the field below the house that had filled with the first flush of grass, now bowled over by the water, nor beyond to the edge of forest, the state land where the coyotes howled at night. While the world turned, it was a safe bet they would get through the night. He would sleep, get up refreshed for work the next day and pull at the harness, trust again that it was yoked to the stars. What had Gagnon said about the stars? He could not remember any more.

Three

It's Not About You 5K

There was a smell of mold coming from the corner of the room behind him. That was the place the girls from the afternoon section of Spanish Two had dropped the bottle of Sprite on Wednesday and exploded it. It was an accident. It was for the Cinco de Mayo party. They were pretty mortified, mostly because they had only that one bottle of soda to go on during the YouTube video Kaosky showed. He’d sopped up what he could with Kleenex in the dark while the video played, an English girl explaining with Spanish subtitles about Napoleon and the Mexican cavalry on the plains of Puebla, going through a couple of boxes, while a couple of the boys got permission to run to the bathroom down the hall by the main office because the one closest to the classroom was locked. They’d come back with huge amounts of paper towels, but by then the Sprite was mostly soaked into the carpet tiles.

The video was wrapping up, the students were chattering unrestrainedly. Not good, and all the boys could do was flourish the paper towels by his desk and pound each other, until Kaosky had sent them back to their seats to fill in their worksheets as best they could. The demonstration of anger had served to quiet them, but in their faces Kaosky could see the strain of boredom pushing through. After all, what did they care about the French army, toy soldiers arranged in rows and marching across a map? How would this affect their grade, one of them asked? Not at all, but Kaosky lied in the moment, said there would be a quiz. Kaosky saw it as an exercise in the civilizing power of historical trivia that fell under his domain.

The Cinco de Mayo party was what they wanted: festivity, fun, release from the demands of an absurd world with an absurd occasion that had no basis in any kind of reality. Who wouldn’t? But someday, Kaosky told himself, maybe someday, some of these kids would be at a gathering, adults now, changed drastically, at a barbecue, a cocktail party, a bachelorette’s farewell, and they would confidently let slip the details of this piece of North American history, and it would serve them and the country well in that second’s social intercourse. Such was the stuff of a legacy Kaosky could claim and the entire reason why he preferred smelling the mold this morning more than being on a car lot in Bedford or say a brokerage in the Manchester Mills, smelling other chemical residues of more insidious processes.

A spray can of Lysol disinfectant sat in the back of the toilet in the teacher’s lounge, he remembered in a burst of creative insight. He checked his belt and shoes to make sure everything was buckled and tied and slipped out into the hall. It was still early, about twenty minutes to go before classes started. Reggie Tirrel, an aide who’d worked for the school district in many capacities going back many years, was already in position at the desk by the side door and greeting a straggling incoming student population with the hearty salutation of a bygone era.

“Top of the morn’, me buckos,” he shouted at two pale, obese children of indeterminate gender. Upstairs, two elderly women conversed in a doorway at the juncture of the stairwell and the main hall. Kaosky was not sure where the doorway led, possibly one of the many rooms for special care and remedial situations that an increasingly large percentage of the students fell under. Kaosky nodded in their direction in case they noticed him, which they did not.

At the copy machine, Al Franklin, the new math teacher, was holding court. A man with a surprising resemblance to his near namesake Al Franken, with a booming voice, Kaosky heard him before he saw him and knew he would be sprawled across the machine, blocking access to the door of the unisex bathroom. Consequently he veered for the phone by the window at the end of the room as if he had a call to make. He picked up the phone and pretended to dial. Three teachers waiting to make copies paused in their conversation to listen.

“Hello, Mr. Swift. Is Mr. Swift in?” asked Kaosky, faking a conversation. “Can you tell him this is Gillum Kaosky calling about the swimming pool install? Thanks. Okay. Tell him he can call me later. He has my number. Thanks.”

He hung up. There was no bar now to his path to the restroom. Franklin and his cronies were gone. In the restroom, he checked his reflection in the mirror, surprised at the aged, wizened face staring back at him with its worry lines and straggling hairs that refused to set the right way on the scalp. Lysol can safely in hand, he retreated back down the stairs.

There were already packs of students roaming the halls. He studied them, interested in some factor of their demeanor he could never pin down. They barely seemed to notice him. He was like the paint on the walls. Something unchanging until it did, and then you would not remember what had been there before. He liked slipping through the crowds, a fish in a stream, camouflaged against recognition, a part of the current. Or a better metaphor: just a regular at the bus station, someone hawking a particular brand of inoffensive merchandise as you watched through the window and waited for your departure to your favorite destination -- the future.

He squirted the Lysol a couple of times in the corner. The building had a problem with ventilation. It had been built on the cheap without a regard to the proper flow of air, and therefore Lysol was used as a stopgap that failed to cover up the stench of sewage. Sometimes it spread down the halls despite the best efforts of modern chemistry. A thorn in Kaosky’s side was when students would enter his class complaining about the odor, as if it sprung from him somehow. Worth a couple more squirts in the air at the front of the room.

The first period class came in all together. They’d been waiting outside the door. Kaosky pretended to go up and be writing something on the board, the Lysol can still dangling in his left hand. The bell rang. He turned and smiled his crackpot smile as if he had some secret knowledge that would get them through any rough patches.

“Buenos días,” he said. Nobody responded. It was another day in the neighborhood.

The first period class were mostly still asleep, unmoved by Kaosky’s efforts at participatory exercises. They just wanted to be left alone and have it all go away until later. Kaosky used it as a warm up, going through the motions as if they were actually emotionally present to him. Most of them got it anyway. The second period class, a conversationally oriented Spanish Four, with a smattering of selections from the short stories of the magical realist boom and a snap review of major grammatical topics, were seniors, more mature, larger specimens. Even when they slouched or moved their ball caps around sideways, they did so knowingly, with an ironic sense. They had the beginnings of an appreciation for the ridiculousness of everyone’s situation, the way that would not change, ever, for anyone. The finer points of Spanish grammar were the spices in a cake recipe that maybe you recognized or maybe you didn’t. It wouldn’t be a deal breaker either way. They got that, Kaosky sensed, that morning. By then they were checking their homework with the future perfect. It went well, down the line with military precision. This was going to be okay, thought Kaosky, anticipating the satisfaction of a job well done.

At the end of the second period, Makenzy Catto was one of the last to leave. She’d been quieter than usual. She smiled when Kaosky asked about her living situation. The Catto house had been rendered uninhabitable after a particularly bad winter storm had ripped off a large section of the old roof, and her family had had to move in with cousins in White River Junction.

“Habra resuelto pronto,” she said, proving he hadn’t wasted his time with her. Little things made his day, scraps of reconcilable material, the kids who paid attention despite all the distractions in their lives.

“That’s good,” he said.

“Very good,” said Makenzy, still smiling. She picked up her books.

“Take care now, Mak. Hasta luego.”

“Usted tambien.”

He moved down the halls during the third period, passing by the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. He needed to keep moving to still all the voices in his head, the emotional content of intimate contacts with fellow human beings that were not intimates. Then he settled for a time in the computer lab where he could check emails and think about what he needed to do to keep the keel on an even plane going forward.

There was something from James Carter:

Hello Gillum,

It has come to my attention (you know how that works), that you have not             been responding to some emails from the parents of HB (2020) regarding his             feelings in your class. Please come see me when you can.

James Carter

Principal, Bainbridge High School

“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers…” Garth Brooks

That was it. All it took to shake one’s faith in one’s essential, rock-solid placement in the middle class was a little email like that from a Garth Brooks quoting school principal who had been in charge of the institutional well-being of this place for less than a year.

He pushed open the door to the front office. The secretaries were in a group in the back of the room with Hunter McDibbell, who smiled and looked at Kaosky as if he could appreciate the scenario. McDibbell was a tall, skinny sophomore in work boots and tattooed forearms and neck. He regularly cut classes by sitting in the parking lot in his monster-wheeled truck. When he saw anyone approach, he would loudly peel out, leaving a track of black rubber in his wake. The three older women who worked as secretaries in the office were treating him with matronly affection as they helped him to have a seat and wait for the assistant principal Demestre to show up from the cafeteria.

“Is James in?” asked Kaosky, to nobody in particular, as the three secretaries all turned to see what he wanted.

Just then, the door to the principal's office opened and the principal walked out. James Carter waved his head in disbelief at the sight of McDibbell surrounded by the secretaries.

“Hunter, Hunter, Hunter,” he said. Kaosky found that he too was shaking his head in unconscious mimicry.

“But first. Gillum, come in,” said Carter, stepping back and feeling for the door behind, as he smiled at Kaosky.

“Oh, awesome,” said Kaosky.

“You wait there,” said Carter threateningly to McDibbell.

Kaosky followed the principal into his office and closed the door behind him. Carter was already behind his desk and taking a seat, placing on a pair of reading glasses to add authority to his demeanor. He was surprisingly quick for a large man, thought Kaosky.

“I got a call from Haddock Brichini’s dad, I think it was. Albert Brichini, Gillum.”

“I know. I can explain that. We’ve been in contact for a while. I’ve just been holding off on answering his last one.”

“He's concerned, Gillum.”

“I know.”

“And I gotta tell you, he’s not the first. You gotta figure out what’s going on. A lot of the kids are saying it’s too tough.”

“Well, it’s an AP class. It’s supposed to be.”

“And you’re making yourself available for extra help?”

“Of course. Every day.”

“Maybe if you just made it out to Haddock’s baseball games. He’s got quite an arm, Gillum.”

“I've heard.”

“He’s being scouted by some D1 schools.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah. He needs to get his grades up, though.”

“I understand.”

“See what you can do with giving him an extra hand. And answer your goddamn emails. I don’t want to get any more calls like that.”

“Of course. I totally agree. I was going to have a talk with Haddock today and then get back to his dad based on that.”

“Good. I’m just trying to ease in here. I don't like to be a hard ass, Gillum.”

“No, of course you don’t. Nobody does.”

“Okay. Everything else going well for you this year?”

“Oh yeah. Everything else is great.” Kaosky smiled.

“Try to make it out to some baseball games. It will help with everything. You know, it’s just one of those things. I know you're not from here, but the people in town here. They love their sports.”

“I get it,” said Kaosky.

Kaosky’s views on sports worshiping America were varied. On the one hand, he understood the fever as a yearning for the relevance that association with mythos entailed. Everyone wanted to be a part of the bright spark that lightened up the night sky. Fireworks, fireflies, stars, and teenaged pitchers with ninety mile an hour fastballs, slinging as if there were no tomorrow -- they all pulled at heartstrings that humans probably shared with all creatures and even possibly the inanimate materials that made up the stuff of the universe itself, thought Kaosky, walking back down the hall with hands clasped conventionally behind his back, as the bell rung for fourth period. He’d even fallen prey. For a time, Jonah had been a soccer playing phenom on the Derryfield town team, able to out run and out kick other boys, and Kaosky had basked in the glow of special attraction that youth sports success brought in its wake. At the same time, he felt it was a disease, an addiction that covered several orders of failure in the spirit of the people that eventually would chew up and spit out all that were sucked into its spiraling vortex. That was how he felt about the Brichini child. He probably had an okay arm, but nowhere near the type of ability that would guarantee a path to the big tent. In the meantime, Kaosky was being expected to enable the sloppy sort of academic habits the child had probably inherited, a disregard for rigor and academic standards that opened the door to social dysfunction on a monumental scale.

The fourth period class was the Starship Enterprise of his day. They were milling about the place as if it were real estate, sitting on each other’s desks and chatting about the drama club’s recent show and exchange programs in East Africa in the summer. Kaosky angled through the desks, slipping sideways to take up a position at the front of the class where he could survey the faces. They seemed bright-eyed, unperturbed by the chaos of the outside world or the social tensions of their high school. They floated above life, teenaged high fliers. Except for Brichini and Jacob Sweeney, two jocks who sat in the back of the class with Mike Mueller and made jokes with references to rap artists and viral videos that were lost on Kaosky, they were by and large capable and motivated. Mueller and Sweeney worked enough to get by, but Brichini struggled to keep up in the class. He had really wanted Brichini to drop out of the class at the beginning of the year. But the AP credit looked good for college. The choice was made to offer remedial help whenever it was necessary, which was constantly. The hour went by effortlessly, a reading of poems by Antonio Machado and Pablo Neruda as they related to the path taken by Ernesto Guevara de la Serna up the spine of South America. They had watched excerpts from the movie the previous week. Now they were in the process of researching the Cuban Revolution. Kaosky was hoping that in their presentations they would tie together the themes of predestination and determinism and the way the arc of history could be caught by an adventurous band and bent to their will. The class had been infected by the youthful idealism as portrayed in the movie by Gael Garcia Bernal, especially in the scene where Che swims across the dark waters of the Amazon to join the lepers on his birthday, a bit of Hollywood dramatization.

“Y que harian ustedes si tuvieran la oportunidad?” asked Kaosky, going around the room. They mostly recognized the verb changes, except for Brichini and Mueller. One of the first students to answer, a girl on the swimming team, answered brightly and wisely with something about helping with la pobreza, one of their recent vocabulary words. This was then echoed with minor variations around the room. Then he had them ask each other similar questions with regard to a personal journey they would go on if they could. It was yeoman’s work, thought Kaosky. They were cynics at heart who knew the game was rigged. Just like him at their age. At least they were sharpening their communication skills, he thought. Where it would lead them was anybody’s guess. Hopefully they would avoid the deadening, life-energy wasting swamps of bureaucratic oversight and assessment, the tangles of jargon and complexity and seemingly endless need to quantify experience that seemed to lie over the world. In any case, he wished them well and affectionately watched them depart before lifting himself wearily from behind the desk in search of lunch. Damn, he’d forgotten to stop Haddock and remind him to finish the last paper he had a zero on. Oh, well. He’d have to email the father with something that promised the hope of stardom.

He paused in the safety of the doorframe as the flush of students waded by. Over their heads, he saw Franklin disappear up the stairs with a tray from the lunchroom. He wished he could have seen what was on the tray but swiftly decided to head out to the parking lot through the side door instead of swim down the hall to get to the cafeteria. The drive to the sandwich shop would take ten minutes, but it would give him some time to decompress. He could finish the sandwich on the drive back and do some copying for the afternoon classes. However, his plan was waylaid when Karen hissed at him from her doorway.

Two ninth grade girls from her Spanish One class sat at desks and ate brownies distastefully, as if it was a chore, breaking pieces off and staring at each other’s bits before they went into their mouths. Karen stood by the smart board and played with the remote, doing something.

“Are you going out?” she asked.

“Yeah. What do you need?”

“Honesty.”

“Besides that. Food related.”

She looked his way with a smirk. The girls behind her lowered their heads and whispered.

“You could get me an egg wrap and two peanut butter bars.”

“Egg wrap and two peanut butter bars. Got it.”

”And a large Mountain Dew.”

Karen followed him outside into the parking lot.

“How’s it going?” she asked.

“Oh, subpar. I just had a chewing out from Carter about Haddock. Apparently he’s not happy. It might affect his throwing arm.”

“Gotta keep the boys happy, Gillum. You know the drill. Don’t go on me, dude. I need you.”

“You know what, though? I’m not feeling it today.”

“I know. Go get some food. Don’t forget. Egg wrap, two peanut butter bars and large Mountain Dew. I’m on a diet.”

“Got it.”

“I’ve got some interesting dirt on Carter.”

“James Carter?”

“That James Carter, yeah. Oh, and don’t get me started on the Brichini clan saga. That could take us years to unwind.”

“Geez. We need to talk.”

“Yes, go get some food now, and see me this afternoon.”

Karen was an interesting phenomenon in his working life, Kaosky reflected. She had basically recruited him as a support system from the very beginning when she’d been on the hiring committee that had interviewed him for the position. She’d identified a kindred floundering spirit behind the mask of professional advancement in him. This insight and subsequent generosity of her mentoring through his early years made her an indispensable, yet maddening ally in the Bainbridge snake pit. She was one of the most popular, long-lived teachers in the school, in a second marriage with the winningest basketball coach in the history of Bainbridge, Don Donnelly. She knew the town, she knew all the major and minor characters, and she had no enemies, unlike Kaosky on all counts.

That afternoon, when all the classes were done and he was finished grading a set of AP tests from the previous week, moving the pile of papers on his desk around imperceptibly, he went down the hall and peered in the window on the door to Karen’s room. Donnelly was in there with his fat ass on one of the desks, swinging his legs, laughing at what were surely juvenile, bad jokes about sex. He got his cues from the current crop of political satirists that he admired. He favored loud, abrasive language but without the concise commentary. He could also hear Franklin in there. Kaosky swung the door open and walked in.

“Excuse me. It’s rather loud in here.”

“Oh, get off your high horse, you fucktard,” said Donnelly. Franklin laughed a braying laugh like a horse. Kaosky smiled at the expected uproar. Donnelly was dressed in a flower patterned, not quite Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops. He displayed the sartorial sense of a particular type of student, with a limited budget, influenced by television shows from the nineteen seventies set in California. He could get away with this because he worked from home selling sports equipment, pieces of machinery that promised to retrieve your shots or give you a higher vertical lift.

“Why doesn’t somebody shoot you and put you out of your misery,” said Kaosky.

“Woah,” said Karen. “That seems a touch rough.”

Franklin roared a huge laugh.

“Hey, I don’t mean half of what I say,” said Kaosky.

“And the half that you do mean is half-assed,” said Franklin, giggling at his own joke.

Kaosky had no choice but to endure this, as he was now fully inside the room. He sat at one of the desks.

“Another day in paradise?” said Donnelly, referencing Kaosky’s beaten down slouch.

“Yeah, you know. Here’s the thing. We’re public employees, but the public doesn’t know what it wants. Just tell me when the administration decides to defend us and do its job instead of caving into every call that comes in.”

“I know,” said Donnelly. “What you guys do is crazy. And you get no respect and no support. It all comes down on you.”

“Shit rolls down hill,” said Franklin.

“And it stains everything it touches,” said Kaosky, running with the metaphor.

“Oh, gross,” said Karen.

This was his support group. Without them he would be a quivering bag of resentment and paranoia. He was so momentarily grateful for the shared company that he forgot why he’d come in there in the first place. At some point, Karen was packing up her stuff, and she and Donnelly announced they had to get Donnelly to an appointment with the doctor to have his eyes looked at, and they only had one car, as Donnelly’s truck was in the garage having its tires rotated.

“Yeah, I‘ve got to get going,” said Franklin. “My twins are at their Grandma’s. She’s got the cabin in Cranberry set up now. I’m supposed to meet them up there and bring them home.”

“Where’s your damn wife?” asked Donnelly.

“She’s doing her course.”

“Away in college. Getting her nursing degree, right?” said Karen.

“That’s right,” said Franklin.

Such good, worthy people with fully authentic lives, thought Kaosky with gratitude. It was practically like being a member of an endangered species.

They all walked across the parking lot at the same time, Franklin fanning out towards his white Mazda 5 coupe with the racing stripe, and Kaosky walking alongside Karen and Don to where they had the beater, Karen’s faded blue Corolla parked two cars down from him.

“He’s going to be all right, isn’t he,” said Don, referring to Franklin.

“Better than all right,” said Karen.

Kaosky walked on, heading to his car.

“Good night, you guys,” he called.

“Gillum,” called Karen. “You never heard.”

Kaosky reversed course and walked back to the driver’s side of the Corolla where Karen stood by the door. Don was already getting in his side.

“You were going to say?” said Kaosky.

“There’s a rumor going around, don’t ask me who started it, that Carter’s resume, you know, the Medal of Honor in Iraq and what have you, outstanding military service, etc.”

“Yeah?”

“There are questions being asked. That’s all I can say. Keep your ears open.”

“Wow. Okay.”

That was all he could say.

The forest along the road was greening up, hardwoods filling out their canopies with quivering blades of new life, shifting in harmonious waves in a stiff breeze. There was supposed to be a storm that night. Kaosky could see more signs of life along Blaisdell Pond. A few summer camps had put out docks in the black water with the sun half down behind the hills. It hadn’t been more than a few weeks since the ice had finally gone out, and here were green canoes and aluminum fishing skiffs on the sand of the community beach, ready to go all in on summer.

Hope was on the computer in the dining room. She barely noticed him. She still had her lacrosse gear on.

“How was practice?” asked Kaosky.

“Boring,” said Hope, not looking up from the computer.

“Where’s Mom?”

“She’s on a walk with Gabriella. There’s food there.”

“What is it?”

“Some stuff.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Kaosky served himself a plate of what looked like a vegetarian curry with some millet cakes and a salad of mixed greens from the bowl on the table. Sibyl’s work in the garden had not yet begun to result in fresh greens of their own, but there were some radishes already present in the salad. Kaosky listened to Hope tapping on the keyboard as he sat at the kitchen table and ate. It was a mystery how to break through to his daughter, but what he’d learned as a result of Jonah’s teenage years was not to rush to judgment. Just careful listening was sometimes the best thing to do.

“Why was practice boring?” he shouted through to the dining room, disregarding his own good advice. Sometimes he wished they’d torn out the interior when they’d first bought the derelict farmhouse. But instead they had decided to scrape off the Woodrow Wilson era wallpaper and carefully patch the horsehair plaster room by room.

“You know. Same old drills. Nothing new.”

“Do you want me to come to your game tomorrow?”

“If you want.”

“Yeah, okay.  Might do that.”

There was nothing he would enjoy more, thought Kaosky. He got a vicarious thrill just thinking about it.

“I’m not getting a lot of playing time.”

“That’s okay.”

“Just warning you. And you don’t know a lot of the people.”

“You mean the parents?” asked Kaosky.

“Yeah.”

“I know a few.”

“I hate it when I come up to you at the end of a game and you're standing at the end of the field. Can you please try and chat with some other people out there?"

“It's okay to have loser parents, you know.”

Another reason to appreciate the middle child. Hope’s honesty always took him by surprise, overturning defenses he didn’t even know he had. She believed in candor. It would serve her well as a coping mechanism. As a tow-headed toddler, she was always falling, stumbling over her own tentative feet, the most ungraceful of the three children. In that staunchly corkscrew way of the mysterious, she’d ended up falling in love with sports, with a knack for shifty, dodging moves and an unselfish, intelligent game that made everyone on the team look good. He hoped her coaches appreciated her.

“You want to hear this?” asked Hope.

“What?” asked Kaosky, putting his plate in the sink.

Hope put some music from her Spotify feed on the Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen. It was Mozart’s Sonata Number 16 in C Major, he could read over her shoulder.

“You getting into classical music?”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t know that.”

She flipped back to the homework.

“What is that?”

“A blog response to George Orwell.”

“Oh. Good book. Orwell knew what we were up against. Look at us now. We blew right by 1984.”

He went out on the porch as the music played; the piano’s brilliant, lilting notes served as an appropriate accompaniment. It was evening, but the lengthening days provided a long stretch of nether light, accentuating the present. With the night at bay there was an illusion of grace, but everyone knew what was coming, thought Kaosky -- lights out. And so, with that reminder came an urgency to seek a way, an escape route away from oblivion, from forgetting.

Sibyl and Gabriella appeared from behind the maple trees along the road, their voices announcing their coming. They sounded so similar, like two fluttering birds, he thought.

“Hey,” he shouted. “How was the walk?”

Neither of them answered. They both kept walking and talking in voices so soft he couldn’t catch what they were saying.

“It was good,” said Sibyl finally, when she could look up and look him in the eyes.

“Look at the swallows,” said Kaosky.

“They have a nest in the extension again. I left the window open for them,” said Sibyl.

“Any black flies?” asked Kaosky.

“Not yet,” said Sibyl.

“Dad. Jeff and Donna have a new dog. It’s a puppy. It’s so cute. Can we get a dog?” asked Gabriella.

Jeff and Donna were new people who had moved into a new house, a modest but well-built cape cut into the woods down the road. They were both older, empty nesters from Massachusetts.

“No, we’re not getting a dog,” cut in Sibyl.

Gabriella made a sad face in Kaosky’s direction.

“Why not? She’s willing to take care of it, right Gabby?”

“I am not having a dog. We have chickens. The dog will eat the chickens. Why does everyone want to just… ?” Sibyl was getting red in the face.

“Mom, it’s okay,” said Gabriella.

“Dogs are an immense nuisance,” said Sibyl. “Gillum, they eat your shoes, they poop everywhere.”

“They eat chickens,” said Kaosky. “It’s true.”

“Oh, but they’re so cute, and I want one,” said Gabriella. “But it’s okay, Mom. I understand how you feel.”

“Look, if you want a dog get a dog. But just know that I will not be complicit in the destruction of our happiness. I will not feed it or take it for walks or clean up after it in any way.”

Sibyl’s edict put a strain on the rest of them. Gabriella invited Kaosky to join them later in the living room for a round of board games. He was on the computer, checking his Facebook feed, which had blown up with all sorts of posts about the latest theories on Trump’s presidential fiascos.

They played a trivia game. By the time the girls decided they’d had enough they were rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter about something one of them had said.

Sibyl was brushing her teeth, and Kaosky went back on the computer for a last look at the news and check of his emails. The emails were nothing but spam plus a couple of bulletins and announcements from a beginning and apprentice farmers group he had joined years ago when he was thinking of buying a tractor and maybe raising some pigs for their own use. He’d gone ahead with the pig idea. It was one of his many projects. He hadn’t been willing to take out a loan for a tractor, but he soon had regretted the choice in favor of pigs. They had made up a fence out of strands of 14-gauge wire, a converter box and a car battery, but the pigs had been impossible to contain. Kaosky had vivid, traumatic memories of chasing them back up Dodge Hill Road with a golf club, a three wood in his hand, raised overhead. If pressed, he would admit he had whacked them once or twice.

The pigs, about 300 pounds each, had needed to be slaughtered, as they were scaring the neighbors along Dodge Hill Road when they got out almost every day, despite his artful work with wire, futile attempts to recharge the battery, and uphill charges with the not-so-gentlemanly club. Somehow, Ryan Jones had got wind of his need, and he’d showed up drunk one afternoon with a pistol, a snub-nosed .38 caliber gun. He’d been almost crying as he loaded it. Jones worked in the winter for the town’s road crews. He lived higher up, on the Hemlock Hill loop on an old farm that his father had left him. He was an older man, in his late fifties.

“I can do this for you if you don’t … or whatevah. It’s hard, man,” he’d said, handing the gun over to Kaosky. But Kaosky had insisted. This was his own doing and he would sort it out. The pigs had known what was coming. They shared the same emotions as humans, including fear and admiration. He’d climbed over the old doors and crates that at the end had made up their fence. The pigs had screamed their outrage at him. He’d shot them off balance, aiming between their eyes. They went down fighting for breath to protest the violation of their innocence.

Jones had helped him carry them into the barn, clutching at his chest, the heart that had almost given out on him up the last part of the hill. He had a bottle that he’d shared, something he’d gotten from the truck. Kaosky had drunk a large part of it, but it had no dampening effect on the buzzing in his ears from the pistol shots, the six it had taken to put the two pigs down.

“Are you coming to bed?” Sibyl was staring at him, concerned that he was spending so much time on the computer these days.

“Yeah, I’ll be right up,” he said.

Jones had fought in Vietnam. He had a disability pension. His son Billy was lost in Afghanistan. The town had an annual day in his honor with a 5K Fun Run in early June. Kaosky used to do the Billy Jones 5K with Jonah, but then he’d hurt his knee one year and never gone back to it. He used to see Jones sometimes in the late summer when they’d go for a drive and go around the loop. He still hayed the fields in his father’s old tractor, shirtless, sunburnt, proud to bear the losses on his inheritance.

“Maybe I should try to get back in shape this summer. Go for runs with Hope,” said Kaosky, pulling the sheet up over him, still thinking of Ryan Jones and the 5K in honor of his fallen, heroic son.

“Whatever you say, Gillum,” said Sibyl, rolling over towards him.

“What, you don’t think I mean it?”

“Let’s just say it’s a lofty idea, dear,” said Sibyl.

He reached out and pulled her towards him by the waist. She stroked his arms. He kissed Sibyl and pulled up her nightgown. Her warm legs, the smell of her skin and feel of her fingers on his back made him want her. They made love, and Kaosky held off as long as he could. Afterwards, they lay in the dark, with the moonlight coming and casting shadows through the window. A night owl sounded a plaintive baritone in the maples along the road, and coyotes howled in the woods down above the swamp where they had their burrows.

“Do you feel better about things?” asked Sibyl.

“Yes.”

“Is there anything wrong?”

“No,” laughed Kaosky. He rolled over and sat up on his side of the bed.             “Should there be?”

“No,” said Sibyl. But she said it in a way that made him feel a little less than sure of himself. He reached out across the bed again, instead of heading to the bathroom.

“Are you okay with this?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean us, the family.”

“I wish we didn’t argue. We shout all the time. I wish we were nicer,” said Sibyl.

“I think we’re pretty nice to each other most of the time. Do you really think that, Sibyl?”

“You asked for my opinion.”

“Yes, but do you really think that?”

“I do. We could be nicer, show more care for each other.”

“Look, I know sometimes we shout. We’re thin-skinned. That’s the way my family was. It’s genetic.”

“No it’s not. It’s totally learned. It’s modeling. We need to just be nicer. Think nicer thoughts.”

“So you’re saying I’m not nice enough.”

“It’s not about you, Gillum. It’s not always about you.”

Kaosky sighed and headed downstairs to the bathroom, trying to avoid the step with the creak in it in the dark. As usual, he failed.


  • Update #2 - Happy 2019! Jan. 2, 2019

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  • Peter Kroon
    on Dec. 24, 2018, 3:06 p.m.

    Tony, I admire your perseverance and hope that your book gets read by a wide audience.