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Chapter Thirty-Seven

Gregory Schwipps Indiana University Press ePub

Frank knew he needed to check on Ethel, but he was still worked up, so instead he drove around and examined his fields. He’d been as worthless as tits on a boar since the meeting and he would’ve admitted that to anybody. Driving aimlessly on either the three-wheeler or in this truck and just waiting for the water to rise. He felt as helpless and oblivious as an old box turtle, scratching across a barren and dry riverbed, wall of water descending just upstream. And the shame of it was now his wife needed him around more, but he was so fed up if he stopped moving he’d just break whatever got near his hands. Goddamn Ollie and his trailer. It looked like a pigsty in there: nasty clothes piled, a smell so sour he wondered if the septic tank hadn’t backed up. If Ollie’s mother had seen how he lived it would’ve about killed her. Actually, she probably would’ve set about cleaning it. Oh, he’d gone somewhere, that was evident enough, but wherever he’d gone wouldn’t keep him. So Frank could at least go home and deliver the good news: their son was back where he started, living in his own mess like a simple.

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Chapter One

Gregory Schwipps Indiana University Press ePub

The two old men slept on the bank of the dirty flooded river, and from above they would’ve appeared as dead men—corpses washed ashore and left to rot in the coming sun. The river, swollen and thick in the predawn light, looked capable of carrying bodies along with its load of sticks, spinning logs and bottles. Here and there floated a child’s ball, a doll’s head. The men were not yet dead, but the morning’s heat hadn’t arrived to revive them from their jagged sleep. In a small depression in the sand between their prone forms smoke crept from a chunk of wood. Both men lay partially covered by sleeping bags, and they reposed with pieces of clothing knotted under their heads. They slept as men who had spent many nights on riverbanks. They slept on the sand that the river had carried for miles and for centuries and they slept on the earth as if they belonged to it.

Even in his sleep Frank was aware of his spine. He opened his eyes and his back woke up with him, and its pain yawned and grew. Above him was the soft gray light of early morning. His backbone felt as cold and dead as a lead pipe, like rigor mortis had set in and fused the vertebrae together. The pain hadn’t been a dream. Waking up to it was like feeling the first cold splashes of rain from a storm that had been thundering just over the ridge for hours—a confirmation.

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Chapter Fourteen

Gregory Schwipps Indiana University Press ePub

Ollie turned left at Peterson’s Market and drove toward her house. Was it really smart, coming out here without calling first? He wondered about that. On one hand, no one liked being surprised in her own home. On the other hand, he’d showered after work, thrown on a clean shirt and two splashes of cologne. It seemed like a waste of a shower if he turned back now, and what if she was just sitting around, thinking about him? She had kissed him, unprovoked. Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing, to suddenly appear as if her thoughts alone had conjured him?

He decided to drive by her house first. If it looked busy he’d go home and call, not mentioning that he’d been out driving past her mailbox. If it appeared calm maybe they could all go get something to eat. He hated to revisit the Dairy Queen, but driving to the next closest restaurant would take over forty minutes, round trip.

Her house would be coming up just beyond this cornfield, and he slowed to look it over. He glanced down her driveway, back to where she parked her Omni under the trees. But there were two vehicles parked there! Mouth open, he looked at the road and then back, quickly. Sure enough—a big Ford pickup with a construction bed, an orange water cooler in a rack on the side.

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Chapter Thirty-Nine

Gregory Schwipps Indiana University Press ePub

Ethel heard them first. She hadn’t started frying the chicken yet, but she’d chopped up the potatoes, onions and eggs for the potato salad. There hadn’t been much on the table at noontime, and she wanted to make up for it with dinner. He was still in the living room, moping, where he’d been the last day and a half. There was no reason to celebrate but two half-hearted meals in a row would only make it worse. She heard something out by the road, and then that animal of his ran to the window in the living room and shook the house with his full-blown big dog bark. You didn’t hear it very often, thank God. It was amazing how much the pup had grown, and when he barked in earnest it was like having a wolf in the house. It was too much, but she’d given up on teaching either of them any sense.

She laid the knife aside and walked into the living room. He was already at the window.

“I heard something,” she said. So the dog wouldn’t get credit for everything.

He ignored her. He was staring out past the trees to the end of the long driveway.

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Chapter Twenty

Gregory Schwipps Indiana University Press ePub

The ringing phone woke him up Saturday afternoon but he came to with a smile on his face. Ollie wasn’t a religious man but he’d thanked God so many times last night he half expected to hear His booming voice on the other line saying, “Glad you liked her, my favorite son.” He tugged himself free of the tangle of sheets and slid along the wall toward the phone, which rang on, patiently. Maybe it wasn’t God at all but the Devil, fussy like some collection agent, telling him he owed his soul for last night. Whatever. Now that he’d met her, it was like the difference between living in a house without electricity and one with. She lived so close—why hadn’t he found her sooner? He’d ask whichever omnipotent being was calling.

“Don’t tell me you’re still asleep,” she said.

“Summer!”

“Who’d you think it was?”

“It seemed like it coulda been anyone.” He sat heavily on a stool at the kitchen bar and put his face in his hand.

“Nice, sucker. Just how many girls call your house?”

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