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May 13, 2024 Fiction


Fred Morfit

Art photo

We scuttled in through the back door, out of the glaring summer heat, bare feet welcoming the cool linoleum of the kitchen floor. Chattering like a pair of squirrels we rifled the pantry, pulling the essentials from the shelves. Peanut butter, grape jelly, white bread. We never got white bread at our house. Soft, wool white, each piece as uniform as the next. So soft it dissolved like a cloud in your mouth. The hard part was getting the peanut butter to spread without completely mangling the slice. There were casualties, but we prevailed and, sandwiches in hand, Larry turned and gestured towards the living room and the patio door on the far side, “Outside.” He said.

The entry to the living room stood open but the room beyond was all shadow. We paused in the doorway, waiting for our senses to discover the room one piece at a time. My nose spoke first. Cigarette smoke, spicy, freshly exhaled and right beneath it the acrid funk that only years of smoke can produce. It penetrated every surface. A tiny, radium blue light winked from a bookshelf on the far side. The amplifier. There was music, soft and low under everything like a carpet. Sinatra, crooning heartbreak about life in the wee small hours. We shuffled across the beaten knap of the carpet towards a narrow gash of light that marked where the drapes ended at the patio door. “Hi boys, how’s it going?” came a murmur in the gloom. It was Art. It was always Art. If you saw him in daylight you would see a large handsome man, square jawed and salt and peppered, stretched out on a blue Naughahyde chair with his feet on a matching ottoman. A Kool cigarette glowed between his fingers and a collection of Schlitz cans grew on the floor beside him. But it wasn’t daylight, at least not in here. It was cocktail lounge twilight with a bright July afternoon raging outside.

Word was that Art and Larry’s mother had been college sweethearts before the war. Homecoming King and Queen at some big college in the Midwest. He was heir to a meatpacking fortune and by all accounts they were on the road to glory. Then the war came and, like the All American boy he was, he went off to serve. Four years later, when it was over, he stepped off the bridge of his destroyer escort and into this room where he dropped anchor in the blue easy chair. He was hardly ever seen anywhere else. Not at the community pool where his boys excelled in the swimming meets or the neighborhood cocktail parties or the PTA meetings. He didn’t drive. The only place you saw Art outside that chair was when he walked the two blocks to the drugstore to lay in more supplies: a carton of Kools and couple of sixers of Schlitz.

We slipped through the slit in the curtains and into the searing white afternoon. We ran to the trampoline and, sliding under it, sat in its shade while we ate our sandwiches. Cicadas buzzed in the trees around us. Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower growled and someone’s sprinklers hissed and spit against the heat. Then we were on the tramp, jumping to see who could go the highest. The horizon rose and fell with each jump, houses down the street alternately lurching into view over the fence then dropping out of sight. At the apex of a jump I looked down the street and saw Art, sauntering off towards the drugstore. Like stop motion photography he got a little smaller with each jump. Heat waves rose up from the street to consume him. First the ankles, then the knees. Before long only his head remained, drifting away in the shimmering afternoon.