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A Bright Soothing Noise

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The title refers to the sound that fire makes, promising not only warmth and light but also violence and destruction. Brown’s greatest hero is Frank O’Connor, and like O’Connor’s his stories uncover the final bleakness of a national life but in the same moment glow with its promise of love and life and belonging. “This highly entertaining collection of stories has the scenic intensity and quality of Tennessee Williams’s one-act plays. Meet a varied cast of characters in strange settings, and enjoy their provocative and witty company.”—Josip Novakovich, author of April Fool’s Day: A Novel

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A Deeper Color

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A Deeper Color

I

found one of the old benches and set the bag down. I took everything out: a plastic lime, an empty Sprite bottle, the Beefeater and two cans of Schweppes. I poured it all into the empty bottle and squeezed in the last of the lime before I sent the lime tumbling down the steps into the sand. I shook the drink with both hands and sat for a minute more, looking out at the big black Atlantic. I raised the bottle and toasted the boardwalk, the crime lights and the balmy air. Everything seemed familiar, as if

I had stepped sideways from one life into another. I wished only for someone to talk to, anyone really, someone who might hear me if I made a little oration when I raised my reinvigorated Sprite in the burnt-yellow luminescence. I had a couple more swallows before I cursed the city. Go to goddamn hell! I shouted. I put the bottle down between my feet and threw my arms wide. If only for one lonely moment, it was great to be back.

Back in the car, I felt even better. I hit the gas and the Corolla fishtailed for fifty yards. What I needed now was speed. The ocean air had opened my lungs and the Sprite opened my soul.

 

A DEEPER COLOR

ePub

A Deeper Color

I found one of the old benches and set the bag down. I took everything out: a plastic lime, an empty Sprite bottle, the Beefeater and two cans of Schweppes. I poured it all into the empty bottle and squeezed in the last of the lime before I sent the lime tumbling down the steps into the sand. I shook the drink with both hands and sat for a minute more, looking out at the big black Atlantic. I raised the bottle and toasted the boardwalk, the crime lights and the balmy air. Everything seemed familiar, as if I had stepped sideways from one life into another. I wished only for someone to talk to, anyone really, someone who might hear me if I made a little oration when I raised my reinvigorated Sprite in the burnt-yellow luminescence. I had a couple more swallows before I cursed the city. Go to goddamn hell! I shouted. I put the bottle down between my feet and threw my arms wide. If only for one lonely moment, it was great to be back.

 

The Slaughterhouse

PDF

The Slaughterhouse

A

fter Dad got promoted to VP for accounting, he said even less to Mom and me. Now and then, if he’d had a third Dewar’s after work, he would make pronouncements from the head of the table in his bright white shirt and striped tie. Once, he passed me the carrots and pointed to my brother,

Sam. He said that for a man to be happy, he had to work with his hands.

Dad was a Protestant, like everyone else on our street. Mom claimed she was related to Spinoza. Mostly the Jews stayed several blocks east, although, by 1969 in Queens, that hardly mattered.

Who trusted anybody? After the nightly news, our dinners only became sufferable when Mom learned to shut her mouth. Sam, who was almost old enough for the draft, sided with Dad. One wrong word from any of us as we passed the lamb or the ribs and the silence came down like a metaphysical meat cleaver.

I kept away as much as possible. After classes I went straight to Holland Park where a few girls from Saint Theresa Ávila, the

Catholic high school, hung out by the courts. Jimmy Brosnan always arrived before me with his basketballs, a flask of Christian

 

THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE

ePub

The Slaughterhouse

After Dad got promoted to VP for accounting, he said even less to Mom and me. Now and then, if he’d had a third Dewar’s after work, he would make pronouncements from the head of the table in his bright white shirt and striped tie. Once, he passed me the carrots and pointed to my brother, Sam. He said that for a man to be happy, he had to work with his hands.

Dad was a Protestant, like everyone else on our street. Mom claimed she was related to Spinoza. Mostly the Jews stayed several blocks east, although, by 1969 in Queens, that hardly mattered. Who trusted anybody? After the nightly news, our dinners only became sufferable when Mom learned to shut her mouth. Sam, who was almost old enough for the draft, sided with Dad. One wrong word from any of us as we passed the lamb or the ribs and the silence came down like a metaphysical meat cleaver.

I kept away as much as possible. After classes I went straight to Holland Park where a few girls from Saint Theresa Ávila, the Catholic high school, hung out by the courts. Jimmy Brosnan always arrived before me with his basketballs, a flask of Christian Brothers brandy and a Marlboro box crammed with joints he sold for a dollar each. Those girls liked to get a little juiced and sometimes Jimmy and I invited two or three of them under the trees in back of the fence. Noreen Dobbins, with the long wavy hair and the freckles, stopped me once as I pressed her against the chain-link and asked me about Sam—Samuel Frydman Kane, as she called him—with a coy smile. I told her to forget him, he was a loser.

 

SINCE IT’S YOU

ePub

Since It’s You

I might have married Charlemagne, if he weren’t so black. If he weren’t as old as my own dead father would have been. I’d been waiting tables at the Circle Hill seven days a week for two years already—at twenty-three it was my whole life—and I had depended too much on him. He had more authority than anyone I knew, and I relied more on him for some things than anyone else, like the way he wrapped himself in a big white apron after he fired up his grill in the morning and never took it off till quitting time. This way we all knew that when the apron came off, it was time to lock up. We all were careful to respect the manager, a nervous college kid named Raymond, but Charlemagne knew when it was time. When that apron came off, nothing Raymond nor any of the others said mattered: the kitchen and diningroom were clean and it was time to go.

He was a head taller than Raymond, two heads taller than me. He was as slender as a shortstop but not so limber anymore— sometimes on Sunday mornings when he came in, the kitchen was cold and he limped about in his apron till he warmed up. He kept to himself that first hour in a manner I never understood. I watched him as I came and went from the diningroom, how he ignored us as the grill heated up; he stared at the headlines for a long time before he licked his thumb and began moving his fingers through his newspapers. Sometimes a queasy desire arose in me, from somewhere near my stomach—sometimes his hands and head seemed all wrong to me, all a touch too big for his slender frame, and for that I wanted him and despised him too, because I wanted him perfect. His hair was pure white around his ears, almost fake in its beauty, since the rest of his hair was like his skin, blacker than the night behind the stars.

 

Since It's You

PDF

Since It’s You

I

might have married Charlemagne, if he weren’t so black. If he weren’t as old as my own dead father would have been. I’d been waiting tables at the Circle Hill seven days a week for two years already—at twenty-three it was my whole life—and I had depended too much on him. He had more authority than anyone I knew, and I relied more on him for some things than anyone else, like the way he wrapped himself in a big white apron after he fired up his grill in the morning and never took it off till quitting time. This way we all knew that when the apron came off, it was time to lock up. We all were careful to respect the manager, a nervous college kid named Raymond, but Charlemagne knew when it was time. When that apron came off, nothing Raymond nor any of the others said mattered: the kitchen and diningroom were clean and it was time to go.

He was a head taller than Raymond, two heads taller than me. He was as slender as a shortstop but not so limber anymore— sometimes on Sunday mornings when he came in, the kitchen was cold and he limped about in his apron till he warmed up. He kept to himself that first hour in a manner I never understood. I watched him as I came and went from the diningroom, how he ignored us as the grill heated up; he stared at the headlines for a long time before he licked his thumb and began moving his

 

The Lie

PDF

The Lie

W

hen I came down, Granpa’s door was barely open. A blade of candlelight from inside crossed the floor and the livingroom couch. Mom whispered orders. Someone prayed. When I peeked in, Mom’s hand touched the bed and her other was on Granpa’s chest. In the candlelight his mask was too thin, too much like his face. His chin had fallen. Someone closed his eyes.

I went upstairs and practiced lying stiff, my own eyes and mouth gaping in the dark, and wondered if the silence I heard would go away, if a deeper quiet would come, something Granpa could now hear. I sank backward into my mattress. I felt death like fast water rise and run over my sheets, my pillow, my ears and shoulders, the whole length of me submerged, all but my nose, a lump in the fast surface. I listened until my heart became loud, a meat-faced giant with bloody boots stomping through a village, so I awoke again and practiced not listening. I concentrated on all that was left of me, my open nostrils like two diminishing circles of breath that rose and fell.

 

THE LIE

ePub

The Lie

When I came down, Granpa’s door was barely open. A blade of candlelight from inside crossed the floor and the livingroom couch. Mom whispered orders. Someone prayed. When I peeked in, Mom’s hand touched the bed and her other was on Granpa’s chest. In the candlelight his mask was too thin, too much like his face. His chin had fallen. Someone closed his eyes.

I went upstairs and practiced lying stiff, my own eyes and mouth gaping in the dark, and wondered if the silence I heard would go away, if a deeper quiet would come, something Granpa could now hear. I sank backward into my mattress. I felt death like fast water rise and run over my sheets, my pillow, my ears and shoulders, the whole length of me submerged, all but my nose, a lump in the fast surface. I listened until my heart became loud, a meat-faced giant with bloody boots stomping through a village, so I awoke again and practiced not listening. I concentrated on all that was left of me, my open nostrils like two diminishing circles of breath that rose and fell.

 

THE BLUE CARRIAGE

ePub

The Blue Carriage

Joanie rode the E into Manhattan three Saturdays in a row but found nothing good and no one helpful. On the fourth Saturday, she laid on the bright blood-colored lipstick, lashed her hair into a gleaming bun, put on her pinstripe suit, her paisley neckerchief and her heels. Now when she walked into the stores in midtown, the clerks either scattered or ran towards her. She asked a few sharp questions at Macy’s and a sales manager made three calls and sent her to Albee’s uptown.

At Albee’s the salesman, with a pencil behind his ear and the name Morris embroidered on his apron, was too old and bored to be intimidated by the outfit. She pointed a pencil at him and then at her list of questions, but he had already walked away. He pointed down the aisle: he meant to show her the models that were moving fast.

First was the TrèsChic line from Montreal, which was in his opinion more popular, et cetera, than the rest. One in the window had blue patent-leather mudflaps and a blue parasol printed with white lollipops. The Hans Solo model had Nerf-rocket launchers on either side and was a hot ticket too, he said, with the Upper West Side types. Joanie, who admitted she knew nothing, argued anyway for a more conventional model and color, something blue or yellow or even neutral.

 

The Blue Carriage

PDF

The Blue Carriage

J

oanie rode the E into Manhattan three

Saturdays in a row but found nothing good and no one helpful. On the fourth Saturday, she laid on the bright blood-colored lipstick, lashed her hair into a gleaming bun, put on her pinstripe suit, her paisley neckerchief and her heels. Now when she walked into the stores in midtown, the clerks either scattered or ran towards her. She asked a few sharp questions at Macy’s and a sales manager made three calls and sent her to Albee’s uptown.

At Albee’s the salesman, with a pencil behind his ear and the name Morris embroidered on his apron, was too old and bored to be intimidated by the outfit. She pointed a pencil at him and then at her list of questions, but he had already walked away. He pointed down the aisle: he meant to show her the models that were moving fast.

First was the TrèsChic line from Montreal, which was in his opinion more popular, et cetera, than the rest. One in the window had blue patent-leather mudflaps and a blue parasol printed with white lollipops. The Hans Solo model had Nerf-rocket launchers on either side and was a hot ticket too, he said, with the Upper

 

The Dancer

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The Dancer

L

ittle Jimmy surveyed the mirrors on the ceiling, the spotlights above the runway, the horseshoe shape of the bar. Everything was cleaner and brighter than he imagined. A semicircle of tiny tables, each set with three chairs, zigzagged all the way around the room. He put his arms behind his head and stretched his long legs out between his two extra chairs. When the waitress passed, he pulled his feet in and like a schoolboy raised his hand. He ordered a margarita, then loosened his collar. Little Jimmy was six-four, and though this had been true five years already, it seemed his very bones were a lie. He had been five-three until his last semester of high school, when he was eighteen, so the growth had come too late. Despite his outsized limbs and hands and head and feet, he was still Little Jimmy Rose in his neighborhood in Stapleton, in his mother’s kitchen, and in his heart and soul. He avoided looking up at the mirrors, to see how he dwarfed his table.

When the waitress returned with the drink, he said, “What time do they start?”

 

THE DANCER

ePub

The Dancer

Little Jimmy surveyed the mirrors on the ceiling, the spotlights above the runway, the horseshoe shape of the bar. Everything was cleaner and brighter than he imagined. A semicircle of tiny tables, each set with three chairs, zigzagged all the way around the room. He put his arms behind his head and stretched his long legs out between his two extra chairs. When the waitress passed, he pulled his feet in and like a schoolboy raised his hand. He ordered a margarita, then loosened his collar. Little Jimmy was six-four, and though this had been true five years already, it seemed his very bones were a lie. He had been five-three until his last semester of high school, when he was eighteen, so the growth had come too late. Despite his outsized limbs and hands and head and feet, he was still Little Jimmy Rose in his neighborhood in Stapleton, in his mother’s kitchen, and in his heart and soul. He avoided looking up at the mirrors, to see how he dwarfed his table.

 

Yolanda's Pool

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Yolanda’s Pool

L

ucy surveyed the patio. In the glass doors she saw her reflection in the white swimsuit and wondered if she’d lost her nerve. Her eyes hurt. A cloud, high overhead, weakened the shadow of her little table. Sunlight dappled the water. At the far end of the pool, the branch above Scott swayed, the only hint of a breeze. She checked her watch and felt the sun on her arms.

It was already past lunch. Time to go. She squinted at the water, she leaned back and rested her eyes. She meant to relax, in spite of Yolanda, to indulge in one last sniff of Yolanda’s vodka, but where had she left her sunglasses? Most everything was packed.

She dropped her sandals and put up her feet. She raised the heavy shot glass to her face and swallowed, wincing at the reflected light. Scott, fifteen now, difficult to see over the glare, showed his teeth in a defiant, bewildered smile. She put her drink back on the little table.

Shouting so he would hear, she said, “You ready to go?”

He shouted back, “No!” and again, “No!” It was Sunday and

 

YOLANDA’S POOL

ePub

Yolanda’s Pool

Lucy surveyed the patio. In the glass doors she saw her reflection in the white swimsuit and wondered if she’d lost her nerve. Her eyes hurt. A cloud, high overhead, weakened the shadow of her little table. Sunlight dappled the water. At the far end of the pool, the branch above Scott swayed, the only hint of a breeze. She checked her watch and felt the sun on her arms. It was already past lunch. Time to go. She squinted at the water, she leaned back and rested her eyes. She meant to relax, in spite of Yolanda, to indulge in one last sniff of Yolanda’s vodka, but where had she left her sunglasses? Most everything was packed. She dropped her sandals and put up her feet. She raised the heavy shot glass to her face and swallowed, wincing at the reflected light. Scott, fifteen now, difficult to see over the glare, showed his teeth in a defiant, bewildered smile. She put her drink back on the little table.

Shouting so he would hear, she said, “You ready to go?”

 

The Darkest Hole in the Globe

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The Darkest Hole in the Globe

O

ur lives were similar in some ways. When

Sunny was eighteen, the day she got accepted to Columbia University, her father, in the locker room of Precinct 120, put his service revolver in his mouth and removed the top of his head.

She inherited the house in Staten Island, which she sold right away to pay for college. Her mother had died of cancer long before. Almost twenty years earlier, when I was eighteen, my first day at boot camp, my father died of a massive infarction during a Columbia Presbyterian MRI. I learned in a note from Mother how he had mastered his claustrophobia over and over through

West Point, Guam, Korea, and Vietnam but the MRI proved too much. They gave me leave for his funeral, but I declined. After that, the heat of the barracks all but ruled out sleep or food for the next few weeks and when the weapons training finally began,

I began to get too anxious and too eager. To cool me off, they put me in the kitchen a while: something I said to the range instructor, the way I handled my rifle, how they had to stop me. I don’t exactly remember what it was.

 

THE DARKEST HOLE IN THE GLOBE

ePub

The Darkest Hole in the Globe

Our lives were similar in some ways. When Sunny was eighteen, the day she got accepted to Columbia University, her father, in the locker room of Precinct 120, put his service revolver in his mouth and removed the top of his head. She inherited the house in Staten Island, which she sold right away to pay for college. Her mother had died of cancer long before. Almost twenty years earlier, when I was eighteen, my first day at boot camp, my father died of a massive infarction during a Columbia Presbyterian MRI. I learned in a note from Mother how he had mastered his claustrophobia over and over through West Point, Guam, Korea, and Vietnam but the MRI proved too much. They gave me leave for his funeral, but I declined. After that, the heat of the barracks all but ruled out sleep or food for the next few weeks and when the weapons training finally began, I began to get too anxious and too eager. To cool me off, they put me in the kitchen a while: something I said to the range instructor, the way I handled my rifle, how they had to stop me. I don’t exactly remember what it was.

 

MY NEW LIFE

ePub

My New Life

Once or twice that week we exchanged glances. On Friday night, at the Proteus, she was watching me. Saturday night, same club, same crowd of locals, she worked her way closer. The same leather jackets and sunglasses at the far end watched me, too. She was a very young woman, a girl even, with a small, pretty face, a large coil of black hair tied over her shoulder with a loose string. Even when she stood near me, she didn’t seem to mind how I admired her air of sophistication, the narrowness of her wrists as she tapped the ashes off her cigarette, the quick quality of her eyes. She nodded perfunctorily when I gave her my barstool.

Sunday morning she passed by as I sat on a bench in the plaza, reading the Herald Tribune. She said, “Good morning” in English and I asked if she would join me. Soon, we had some laughs. Twice she touched my hand.

“How pretty you are!” I said.

“You are staying at Greben’s, no?” she said. “How are the rooms?” I checked down the street: no one. An organ played inside the church. Across the street, the door of the Proteus was open. We went quickly up the stairs to my pension and she admitted right after I closed the door that she was only fifteen. Later she made owl-eyes at my naked chest, my belly, then up and down my legs and covered her face.

 

My New Life

PDF

My New Life

O

nce or twice that week we exchanged glances. On Friday night, at the Proteus, she was watching me.

Saturday night, same club, same crowd of locals, she worked her way closer. The same leather jackets and sunglasses at the far end watched me, too. She was a very young woman, a girl even, with a small, pretty face, a large coil of black hair tied over her shoulder with a loose string. Even when she stood near me, she didn’t seem to mind how I admired her air of sophistication, the narrowness of her wrists as she tapped the ashes off her cigarette, the quick quality of her eyes. She nodded perfunctorily when I gave her my barstool.

Sunday morning she passed by as I sat on a bench in the plaza, reading the Herald Tribune. She said, “Good morning” in

English and I asked if she would join me. Soon, we had some laughs. Twice she touched my hand.

“How pretty you are!” I said.

“You are staying at Greben’s, no?” she said. “How are the rooms?” I checked down the street: no one. An organ played inside the church. Across the street, the door of the Proteus was open.

 

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