So, posting is slow these days. Work is unchanged i.e. if I saw it coming towards me down a dark alley, I’d cast about for the nearest heavy object that might suffice to bash its skull in. And would do so with a sick, drooling grin on my face.
New writing continues apace regardless, but apace means damn slow, so in the second of what I think will be an ongoing series (at least for as long as I’m lacking in latest-and-greatest), here’s another old story of mine.
If “The Maid” was the last real piece of fiction I wrote before the Dry Years, then “If We Had a Yard” was the first…it’s easily the oldest story that I can go back and read and not want to get blisteringly drunk afterwards. Or if I do, it’s not from the shame of discovering the awkwardness that comes from huge desire, huge talent…and little acutal skill. IWHAY is the first time I felt like the story that was in me actually made it to the page, at least mostly.
Enough fanfare…though I will pause to remind you that it, like all the New-to-you stories I post here, are included in the collection The Messy Divorce of Faith and Belief; buy one and know that you’ll have given my beautiful, waif-like daughter at least one fleeting moment of happiness (in other words, help subsidize our trip to Disneyland for her birthday).
From way back in 1996, an oldie-but-goodie, a platter that matters…
If We Had A Yard
There’s a yard below—I see it, sitting here at my desk. It sees me too, but still, I feel invisible, like I’m the usual twenty or thirty floors up instead of just on the second. The story I’m supposed to be writing sits, and waits—and its patience is infuriating—while I look out my window, and see.
There’s a yard below—kids are playing in it, but only two. The first—eleven years old, all angles and joints still grinding the rough edges off against each other—has a plastic hockey stick and a plastic hockey net and a bunch of plastic hockey pucks and (I have one word for you) is hitting the third with the first into the second, over and over and over again. The asphalt underneath is rough, and the sss—crAPE! of every shot echoes between our two small buildings until it’s all that I hear, and my poor, humble, clear window sings of it.
There’s a yard below—and the second kid is the older brother of the first. They don’t look much alike, but that doesn’t mean much anymore. The family dog is there too (named So-Co after dad’s favorite alcoholic comfort) and he’s found a purpose to his domesticated life. Every time little bro takes a shot, So-Co leaps after it, snatching the puck in mid-rebound with a loud (plastic) click as his jaw snaps shut. But whom does he retrieve the pucks to? Older brother, of course, and when the meager supply of practice pucks runs dry, life happens.
There’s a yard below—and I can hear them as clearly as though the words and voices are my own.
“. . .Oh. You mean these?”
“. . .And?”
“Toss ‘em over here.”
“You’re the one up and moving ‘n shit. . .”
“. . .Hold on.”
“Possession. . .is. . .nine-tenths of the law.”
“What’re you gonna’ give me for ‘em?”
“This fucking stick through your fucking head.”
From the open window behind them comes a voice, old and masculine, drunk and preaching, Dad,
“WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE!”
They’re silent for a while, then just quieter. There wasn’t any intimidation in little bro’s threat, but the older brother doesn’t seem to want to spend the effort to keep his game going. The pucks are returned to their rightful owner, and then back into the net, and here comes So-Co, and so on. But before little bro can run dry a second time, an increasingly loud, deep, rhythmic thumping draws close enough to be noticeable, recognizable. A white car with windows tinted nearly opaque; small, with equally small and pretentious tires. The bass track to another rap song has my window shaking in terror. Little bro knows how his brother’s friends drive; he does not walk—he runs to the relative safety of inside, well down the hallway. The car screeches to a stop less than a foot away from the family’s minivan, a door whooshes open (and the volume briefly trebles, and my window goes into seizures), and the firstborn is in and gone, without a trace.
There’s a yard below—I see little bro leaning in the doorway, plastic hockey stick dangling loosely in his hand. He sees his brother, cruising through his city, doing. . .something. Something important, maybe, or at least better than hitting plastic hockey pucks into a plastic hockey net with a plastic hockey stick. Dad yells at him that he doesn’t care which side he’s on, just shut the fucking door.
There’s a yard below—it’s an alley, really, concrete and cinder-block walls and the occasional bricked-off patch of dirt. But kids need a yard to play in, and you make do with what you have. Things grow busy for a while, as the other tenants come home, parking their cars and treading listlessly up stairs and down hallways. And night falls, quietly, without fanfare or debate.