Remodeling, fiction by Sheldon Compton

A weak rain fell and set­tled across Route 6 like a worn out bed sheet so that oil and grease left from the occa­sion­al car and sev­er­al short-bed coal trucks rose back to the sur­face of the black­top. The road would stay slick with the reborn oil until the rain picked up and washed it away. Until then, most of the vehi­cles slowed down, tak­ing it easy through the horse­shoe curve that hugged past Peace­ful Murphy’s truck garage.

Most dri­vers, the ones lean­ing into the steer­ing wheels of their cars and mini-vans, slowed down to a crawl through the curve. They knew the old oil mixed with the first sprin­kles of new rain was worse than black ice. So they drove like it was mid­night in Decem­ber. The short-beds blew past Murphy’s loud and hard, spray­ing bits of coal the size of quar­ters from beneath loose tarps. Paid by the load, these dri­vers with call names like Spi­der, Grape Ape and Wild Bill didn’t care if the road ahead was coat­ed in napalm.

When a rogue chunk of coal bounced across Route 6 and skipped to land at the tip of Hank Clayton’s boot, he picked it up and tossed it at a stray dog hud­dled near the edge of the garage.

Hank! That any­way to treat a dog?”

It was his grand­dad­dy, Burl, cross­ing Route 6 from his house atop the hill on Beau­ty Street, a short walk to the truck garage and adja­cent build­ing, which he owned.

Hank threw his hand up, for­mal­ly, apolo­get­i­cal­ly, and Burl waved him over to where he stood like a totem pole of flan­nel and kha­ki in front of the brick-bro­ken build­ing.

Check­ing the garage for Mur­phy or dri­vers and mechan­ics and find­ing it emp­ty, Hank crossed the bram­ble thick­ets that sep­a­rat­ed Murphy’s and his granddaddy’s build­ing by less than ten feet. When he made it over, Burl didn’t move his gaze from the sag­ging top of the build­ing.

We’ll need to start on the roof first,” Burl said and then looked to Hank. He adjust­ed his sus­penders. “Gonna remod­el this build­ing. It’s about time, and I need your help. Par­tic­u­lar­ly on the roof.”

Hank shield­ed his eyes from the sun with the back of his hand and stud­ied the roof. The build­ing was two sto­ries and even from the ground he could see boards peek­ing up from the edge like drift­wood, split and black­ened, soft as sponge.

I’m work­ing over here for Mur­phy now, grand­dad­dy,” Hank said, and motioned to the garage.

What? With that bunch? That’s just tin­kerin. What’s Peace­ful got you doin?”

Spray­ing down trucks and doing some repairs and so forth,” Hank answered.

Doin some repairs, you say?” Burl went to the side of the build­ing and placed his hand there, like a ner­vous father check­ing to see if his new­born was still breath­ing. “I shoul­da taught you weldin,” he said after a time.

Well, all the same, I don’t mind to help, but it’ll have to be on my days off,” Hank said. “I’m just work­ing three days a week right now.”

That gives us three oth­er days to man­age with, then,” Burl said.

Four,” Hank cor­rect­ed.

Three. We don’t work Sun­days.”

***

Like always, the rum­bling crunch and hitch of his neighbor’s car grind­ing to start woke Hank at just after 7:00 a.m. Since rent­ing the place more than a year ago, he had yet to use an alarm clock. Just went back to sleep on days off and got out of bed with the sound of the gut­ted car engine for days when there was work. Today there was work. Sog­gy boards to be pulled up and replaced and God only knew what else.

He went to the kitchen in the bare­ly light of morn­ing and poured a cup of cof­fee from half a pot left from yes­ter­day. A microwave would be nice, he thought, gulp­ing down the cold cof­fee quick­ly and clean­ing out the cup at the sink. But then he should have just made a new pot, but grand­dad­dy would be wait­ing at the build­ing soon and he was a ten minute dri­ve away.

Skip­ping a show­er Hank dipped his head under the sink instead, wet­ting down the rat nests that had twirled into his hair dur­ing sleep. He tow­eled off with a dish rag and combed hur­ried­ly with his fin­gers, think­ing of the lad­der, dou­ble extend­ed to the roof, a dread set­tling into his stom­ach.

He’d nev­er said a word of it aloud, but the build­ing was pret­ty much a shit hole. At one time, there was a cou­ple nice apart­ments upstairs and one down­stairs, and a bar­ber shop beside that. But that had been years and his grand­dad­dy had bought it after all that was gone. What­ev­er plans he had, they were put on the shelf a long time ago. That was until yes­ter­day.

Burl was there before Hank pulled in and work start­ed right away. It was just after 7:30 a.m. When a light driz­zle start­ed just as they had the lad­der posi­tioned along­side the build­ing, Hank secret­ly began to won­der if he might get a lit­tle mon­ey for help­ing. Some pay could go a long way in cov­er­ing the rent and util­i­ties and oth­er debts he thought about less specif­i­cal­ly, the ones that nagged him espe­cial­ly hard. Then the driz­zle lift­ed off, back into the clouds, which moved away in a slow bulk across the ridge and dis­si­pat­ed like a swarm of col­or­less wasps.

The build­ing was a ship­wreck raised to the sur­face just off Route 6 and left alone, no trea­sure to speak of, no fine dis­cov­er­ies. From the roof, Hank could see into to what was once the top floor bed­rooms, spy­glassed through holes that looked as if they might have been the result of boul­ders falling from the near­by heav­ens of John Attic Ridge. There were more than ten of these bust­ed out sec­tions, the roof an opened mouth­ful of wood­en cav­i­ties. And the rot inside was that much worse.

Hank low­ered him­self steadi­ly through one of the holes dur­ing a break, mind­ful of rusty nails and count­less oth­er objects left in dan­ger­ous shards from the con­stant, push­ing weight of weath­er and wind. Below was a bleached out dress­er and he test­ed it with first one foot then the oth­er until he was posi­tioned solid­ly. He did the same with the floor of the old apart­ment until he was stand­ing in a kalei­do­scope of light from the out­side world dis­tilled through thou­sands of hid­den cracks in the filmed over win­dows and plas­ter-curled walls.

Peo­ple had cer­tain­ly lived here. Fam­i­lies. In an area that served as a kitchen there were four chairs that seemed blown about the room. Two tilt­ed against a far wall and the oth­ers sat upright but on oppo­site sides of the room. There were dish­es in a can­cer­ous sink.

Every­where the floors were trap-door weak. Hank gazed up at the hole through which he had left the unfil­tered sun­light behind as he made his way down a hall­way run­ning the length of the apart­ment. Not more than five steps in, he moved with cau­tion through a door­way lead­ing to what was once a bed­room. Claus­tro­pho­bic in size, it was a child’s bed­room, he fig­ured. A rec­tan­gle of clean­er hard­wood sug­gest­ed a place where a bed might have once been. In the cor­ner he found odd toys, action fig­ures, arms twist­ed and gnawed from where rats had rushed through and test­ed the items for food.

Hank stood for too long exam­in­ing the toys. For a crazy moment he wished he might just stay in the room, sleep nights on the clean rec­tan­gle, the neg­a­tive expo­sure his place of rest. At dawn he would arrange the toys in the room and sit qui­et­ly in the kitchen while the morn­ing opened up the light show through the cracks in the walls.

Hank! Let’s get back at it!”

The sound of his granddaddy’s voice ring­ing out from above, the shuf­fle of his boots over­head, mut­ed but insis­tent, pulled him back­wards from the bed­room. He went up through the bro­ken sec­tion of roof and spent the next cou­ple of hours for­get­ting the toys and kitchen chairs.

At lunch, they drove to the IGA for hot dogs with chili made from fresh ham­burg­er and slop­py joe sauce. By din­ner, Hank thought his grand­dad­dy looked tired and fin­ished, and with about an hour of day­light left, he called it a day. The lad­der was retract­ed and tied to the back of the Dat­sun truck.

Of the thir­ty or so squares need­ed to repair the roof, they had stripped about four and replaced just two rot­ted boards. The work with his grand­dad­dy had been uncus­tom­ary in its slow­ness, easy-going and a sur­prise to Hank. With the extra time and a decent well of ener­gy left, he decid­ed to dri­ve straight to Jim­my Cole’s pok­er game on Thomp­son Fork Road.

***

He had stowed away twen­ty dol­lars for the buy-in and took the bill out of his shirt pock­et as soon as he walked in the door to Jimmy’s tool shop, a rick­ety struc­ture orig­i­nal­ly envi­sioned as a two-door garage which even­tu­al­ly became the pok­er room and gen­er­al hide­away. He was greet­ed by famil­iars when he placed his twen­ty on the table in the cen­ter of the room.

Sure Shot Clay­ton,” Jim­my said as Hank pulled up a chair. Hank’s dad had shot a man in the kneecap dur­ing a pok­er game once when the deed to somebody’s house was fold­ed into a large pot in a no-lim­it hand. Since all these men had known his dad, Hank had inher­it­ed the name Sure Shot right off, the first night he played in the game.

Who’s win­ning?” Hank said, count­ing chips out in four denom­i­na­tions of green, black, red and blue from a sil­ver case on what would have been a fine, met­al work­bench. He had noticed Peace­ful Mur­phy sit­ting in, but left it alone in his thoughts. This was pok­er. Not work.

Thing’s already start­ed,” Jim­my said.

Okay if I take a hit on how­ev­er many blinds and jump in?” Hank asked.

Jim­my looked at the oth­ers and they agreed by offer­ing a silent dis­re­gard to the ques­tion. Mur­phy snort­ed light­ly into the air.

The game usu­al­ly went far into the morn­ing with a tour­na­ment style Jim­my imple­ment­ed after becom­ing a huge fan of the World Series of Pok­er on tele­vi­sion a few months back. Before that it was straight mon­ey games and dealer’s choice. Now it was tour­na­ments with timed blind increas­es and pay­outs to first and sec­ond place. And always no-lim­it hold ’em.

This game’s the Cadil­lac of pok­er, boys,” Jim­my said, a cig­a­rette hang­ing from his lip like some enor­mous­ly long tooth bust­ed loose but hang­ing on. He had just pulled in his third straight pot.

Lucky tonight, Jim.”

Still stack­ing his chips even, Hank could tell it was Murphy’s voice offer­ing Jim­my com­ment. Jim­my was one of Murphy’s dri­vers. The tone, sar­cas­tic and accusato­ry, irked Hank, and he found him­self wish­ing he would have went on home. This might not be work, but it was Mur­phy, and he couldn’t afford to toss away twen­ty dol­lars just for get­ting rat­tled at the table.

When Hank turned to the table with his chips bal­anced in both hands he saw Jim­my had already fold­ed his buy-in with the rest, a wound tight roll of bills on a unvar­nished table inch­es, always inch­es, from his elbow. He was in the game now whether he want­ed to be or not.

Drove by today and saw you and Burl on that old roof,” Mur­phy said as soon as Hank was in his seat.

Hank didn’t say much, just agreed, and the game went on in a ruf­fling of worn out cards and the clack­ing of clay chips. Jim­my was get­ting the best of it, but Hank had built a small stack, pick­ing his spots and lay­ing low.

When Mur­phy spoke to him again, it wasn’t about the game, no attempt to rat­tle him from his con­ser­v­a­tive, grind-it-out approach. But what Mur­phy said rat­tled him all the same.

Tell Burl I’ll give him ten thou­sand for that buildin,” Mur­phy said in a bored voice, the voice he used when doing busi­ness. “As is. Not ten or twen­ty months from now after you all fin­ish pid­dlin with it.”

It was Murphy’s deal and when Hank didn’t answer he stopped the rain­bow move­ment of cards, placed the deck in his left hand and looked direct­ly at Hank.

Hank had hoped to let the com­ment go, just idle talk he had no real stake in. Murphy’s con­tin­ued stare told him that was not to be the case.

It’s not mine to nego­ti­ate,” Hank said.

Mur­phy snort­ed again, resumed shuf­fling. “Who can talk to Burl about any­thing these days?”

Four hands lat­er, Hank bust­ed out and drove home think­ing of how he should have checked kings on the riv­er instead of push­ing against a pos­si­ble flush, think­ing of how to men­tion ten thou­sand dol­lars to his grand­dad­dy.

***

Alzheimer’s. Or Old Timer’s, as the old timers called it. Ear­ly onset, in his granddaddy’s case, but get­ting worse. And fast.

On the roof the next morn­ing, Hank worked and thought of what it must feel like to lose mem­o­ries. He imag­ined it would be bet­ter in some ways. But with his grand­dad­dy, it only seemed to be recent mem­o­ries that were gone. He remem­bered every­thing about his dis­tant past, his days weld­ing to build tip­ples or fix­ing machin­ery on con­tract at this mine or that mine. It was the dai­ly things that were slip­ping. Men­tion­ing Murphy’s offer was a dai­ly thing, and Hank won­dered how it would be han­dled. He decid­ed to men­tion Murphy’s pro­pos­al as they loaded into the Dat­sun, eat­ing their hot­dogs as they went.

Why would I want to do that? No sale,” Burl said, and point­ed to a drop of chili on the seat between Hank’s knees. “Looks like that hot­dog run straight through you.”

Hank wiped away the chili with the back of his sleeve. “That’s a good amount of mon­ey for a build­ing that’s in bad shape,” he said. “You’ll spend more fix­ing it than Murphy’s offer­ing to give.”

I weld­ed the gas line all across this ridge, all the way into Fis­ch­er Coun­ty,” was the only response. “I even stayed in Fis­ch­er Coun­ty, a town called Viper, through the week for more than a month. Came home on the week­ends.”

The moment had passed. Until they arrived back at the build­ing, the present moment was for his grand­dad­dy what Hank imag­ined must have been a light sand­storm across a mem­o­rized land­scape, like a room stirred in dust. A kalei­do­scope where objects once sacred were left behind to be fought over by ver­min.

***

The phone rang before he made it to the couch that evening. It was Ang­ie. Her voice seemed dis­tant and thick in the receiv­er. In the back­ground, the muf­fled sound of drum­ming music told him she was some­where with a live band. It was Sat­ur­day night and she was ask­ing about child sup­port.

I’m behind. I know that,” Hank said tired­ly, reclin­ing onto the couch and clos­ing his eyes. “Tomorrow’s Sun­day. Mur­phy pays Mon­day. I’ll send it to you then.”

Behind closed eye­lids Pearl played in the front yard, washed out images almost gone in his mind except her smile and the way she held onto the han­dle­bars so tight her knuck­les were white as clean chips of porce­lain. Her smile was his hap­pi­ness, her fear the knot in his stom­ach. Behind closed eye­lids he held gen­tly to the small of her back, the tiny mus­cles tight­ened there, mov­ing across the bumpy ter­rain of the over­grown yard, all brav­ery and joy. And then her laugh­ter, soak­ing the out­side world in beau­ty and pur­pose. Life in fad­ing images, a scrap­book in his mind sharp at the edges with the shrap­nel of his slow-beat­ing heart, images fad­ing not from over­ex­po­sure to light, but from a dark so deep it glowed in places like the trans­par­ent skin of crea­tures that would nev­er see a morn­ing unfold, nev­er feel a breeze across a sum­mer yard, the clenched embrace of anoth­er liv­ing thing more impor­tant than their own buried exis­tence.

You there, Hank?” Ang­ie asked, the drum­ming beat loud­er as he fig­ured she was mak­ing her way back to the entrance of the bar.

I’m here,” he said.

Just send the mon­ey to Mom’s address.”

He opened his eyes in the dark. “When can I see Pearl again?”

When you get some gro­ceries,” she said, and pushed a dial tone through his ear.

***

Mur­phy didn’t speak of his offer the next day at work. He was gone for most of the day. In and then out, but most­ly out. Hank went about his busi­ness as usu­al, but noticed his granddaddy’s build­ing more than before. No longer was it some­thing his eye passed over. It loomed against the valley’s ridge line as jagged, still, as the bushy tree­tops in the back­drop. His grand­dad­dy nev­er won­dered down from Beau­ty Street and so the build­ing sat undis­turbed and mute.

Hank let his thoughts wan­der dur­ing work about the build­ing. He rekin­dled the image of the kitchen in his mind, remod­el­ing it there with the Formi­ca table top and only two chairs near the mid­dle of the room just off from the sink, now a fine, shiny white with a sil­ver-fin­ished faucet and knobs . One for him­self and one for Pearl. As met­al clanked in first one tone then anoth­er, as air pres­sure released and the sharp bark­ing of the met­al and high hiss­ing of the air mixed with oth­er sounds emit­ting from the truck garage, Hank moved on to the bed­room.

Pink would burst loose here, onto the walls and then, a shade dark­er, along the crown­ing and trim. The clean rec­tan­gle was cov­ered again with Pearl’s canopied day bed and pic­tures and designs adorned the walls, flow­ers and but­ter­flies, clowns and kit­tens. But most of all Hank placed toys through­out the room. Stuffed ani­mals and porce­lain tea sets, dolls of all sizes, a van­i­ty with a tiny chair for pre­tend preen­ing, stacks of sto­ry books and more stacks of col­or­ing books, an entire cor­ner of the room devot­ed to these books, com­plete with a dan­de­lion-col­ored book­shelf. The room would always smell of fresh­ly washed hair, the aro­ma of a bub­ble bath per­pet­u­al­ly lin­ger­ing, an unseen mist­ing of new­ness.

Hank rubbed grease across the knees of his pants and nod­ded to Spi­der as the truck­er crossed the garage on his way to the front office, a shuf­fle and stomp of girth, his buzz cut hair slic­ing through the air before him like thou­sands of tiny razors. He returned quick­ly, swing­ing the con­nect­ing office door just hard enough for the hinges to stretch and give simul­ta­ne­ous pops before relax­ing back into place.

Where’s Mur­phy?”

Not sure,” Hank answered. He pushed a truck tire upright and start­ed wob­ble walk­ing it to a short-bed parked side­ways at the entrance.

God­damit,” Spi­der mut­tered. “Owes me mon­ey. I’ve held off on pay­day like this enough. He’ll have to ask some­body else next time. Just cause I ain’t got kids don’t mean I can always be the one he asks to hold off when things get tight. You tell him if you see him he owes me mon­ey.”

When things get tight? The com­ment sur­prised Hank. He eased the wheel to a stop and propped it against his side and turned to Spi­der.

Mur­phy has mon­ey prob­lems?” Hank asked.

Spi­der laughed at this and rubbed the top of his head. “It’s not exact­ly that kind of sit­u­a­tion, even though I guess it might’ve sound­ed that way. Just tell him. He’ll know just what it is by exact­ly the way it sounds.”

Laugh­ing again, this time more to him­self than out loud, Spi­der start­ed to the back of the truck where he had wedge-parked his own.

What kind of sit­u­a­tion is it, then?” Hank called to Spi­der, but the truck­er was already climb­ing into his cab, cut­ting off an oncom­ing sub­ur­ban as he pulled onto Route 6 and slow-geared away.

Hank rolled the wheel, stand­ing about four feet high between his clutched hands, and leaned it against the parked short-bed. The dri­ver was a man by name of Caudill, but every­body, like every­body else in turn, used their call names instead. Caudill’s call name was Torch. When Hank start­ed on the wheel, Torch appeared from behind a stack of fuel bar­rels and called across the lot.

Let Mack­ey do that, boy,” Torch said. He was wav­ing his hand. “Mur­phy ain’t pay­ing you no mechan­ic wages. Why in hell would you offer em up?” And then to some indis­tinct dis­tance behind him he called out, “Mack­ey! Wheel’s ready!”

Mack­ey, a thin man with a patchy beard who had worked for Mur­phy for more than twen­ty years, in turn appeared from a cor­ner of the garage. Hank saw Mack­ey throw a half-smoked joint into a pile of dis­card­ed met­al fix­ings, rub his eyes and quick­en his pace until it was just him and Hank stand­ing beside the truck.

Mur­phy gone for the day?” It was the first words Mack­ey had spo­ken to him in the three weeks Hank had worked at the garage. Usu­al­ly he just fin­ished his work, motioned his hand for anoth­er part, which Hank was always expect­ed to intu­itive­ly know, and then returned behind the garage. He smoked joints the entire shift and was the only garage employ­ee who could get by with such a thing. The dri­vers, it seemed to Hank, did what­ev­er the hell they want­ed on the road. Bet­ter for track­ing along that napalm and get­ting anoth­er load. “Mur­phy gone for the day?” Mack­ey asked again, this time loud­er, upset at hav­ing to repeat him­self.

I don’t know,” Hank replied. He didn’t like Mackey’s tone. “How am I sup­posed to know?”

Mack­ey stared at him hard for four or five uncom­fort­able sec­onds and then laughed hard and start­ed on the wheel, motion­ing with his hand when this or that was need­ed and Hank com­plied with­out com­ment until Mack­ey final­ly set­tled back and, peer­ing about the lot, took a joint from his shirt pock­et and held it lov­ing­ly beneath the orange flame of an age­less Zip­po lighter.

Hank set­tled beside him, sit­ting direct­ly on the ground even though Mack­ey had made the changed and bust­ed tire his own per­son­al reclin­er.

Why would Spi­der think Mur­phy is hav­ing mon­ey prob­lems?” Hank final­ly asked. He wait­ed patient­ly, watch­ing Mack­ey take a long drag on the joint, hold it for so long when he exhaled there was noth­ing in the air but air.

The hell you talkin bout?” Mack­ey said breath­less­ly.

Spi­der said he was tired of wait­ing on his pay­check. Said Mur­phy shouldn’t always stick him short when the mon­ey was tight,” Hank said.

Mack­ey laughed hard again, rais­ing his legs into the air and wig­gling his filthy boots, the tongues flap­ping with­out the ben­e­fit of laces.

What?”

What, shit,” Mack­ey said. “I for­get you’re green, what a month into the job? I guess I for­get because of your Papaw and all. Burl could weld and do elec­tric like nobody.” He stopped and took anoth­er long drag and then said again, “Like. Nobody.”

Just as he was expect­ed to know instinc­tive­ly what tool or part Mack­ey might need next, Hank felt that some­thing was com­ing, a fur­ther expla­na­tion. He wait­ed for the harm­less old burnout to fin­ish. But there was a long silence and Hank stared even­ly at Mack­ey, watched him take a last draw from the joint and crush it care­ful­ly under­foot. The old mechan­ic looked first at Hank and then around the lot again. Still nobody around.

This might be some infor­ma­tion use­ful to you, now that I think of it,” Mack­ey said after the long pause. “Old Spidey’s woman, Char­lene, she’s a whore. You might get in a lick or two for the right price. I’ve had a shot or two when times were, you know, rough, like you got.”

Hank stood up, dust­ing off the back of his pants, feel­ing met­al shav­ings peel into the palms of his hands. The met­al shav­ings might have slipped beneath his very skin and made him invis­i­ble. The thought of pulling good tim­ing Mack­ey off his rub­ber reclin­er and knock­ing him around some passed through his mind, a fleet­ing fan­ta­sy, a day­dream, the place he’d been most of the day any­way. Instead he lazi­ly shook his head and start­ed back to the face of the garage.

Bull­shit,” he said, rest­ing him­self now in the dank­ness of the garage.

Mack­ey smiled and grabbed a vari­ety of tools, turn­ing back to the wheel for a beat or two and then turned back to Hank.

Don’t believe me? Call her up then, green­horn. Number’s in the book under Michael and Char­lene Hall. That’s Spider’s real name. Michael.”

***

Dusk set­tled across the house slow­ly and Hank watched it fall across the kitchen and then the couch and then the liv­ing room floor until he sat in near total dark­ness. He was sat­is­fied to see the dark­ness over­take the room. The room, the dor­mant items with­in the room, brought pain like he’d nev­er felt. A blue and pink trimmed toy playpen for dolls, Pearl’s dolls, in the cor­ner, now obscured by the dying dusk, was an open nerve in the day­light. In the day­light he watched over and over again Pearl lean­ing care­ful­ly over the edge and plac­ing her dolls in, tuck­ing them so gen­tly and then pulling them out again to feed and fuss over them, rock them in her skin­ny, moth­er­ly arms, smil­ing at her gen­tle­ness and care.

Ten thou­sand dol­lars would bring Pearl back.

Ang­ie would take the mon­ey and let him have Pearl. She didn’t want her any­way, and her par­ents were tired and old and couldn’t care for a child. They’d be hap­py to see either of par­ents take her in. Ang­ie would go for it. Ten thou­sand dol­lars would be the shin­ing light of God across this dying room of dusk and pain. Ten thou­sand dol­lars would be his sal­va­tion.

Draped across the couch, Hank rubbed his fore­head, hop­ing it wasn’t the pain and hurt mak­ing him think crazy. He looked again, squint­ing now through the full dark­ness to make out the toy playpen across the room. All of Pearl’s toys were still in their place since the last time she came, more than a month ago. A stuffed ani­mal, a dog she had named Spot­ty, a toy purse and a pair of princess slip­pers, a pur­ple plas­tic micro­phone left dead across the cof­fee table. He picked up the phone and, instead of turn­ing on a light, flicked his lighter, brought a cig­a­rette to life and then flipped open the phone book. He found Murphy’s num­ber and dialed quick­ly. He focused on the open nerves, dri­ving him for­ward in the dark.

Shel­don Lee Comp­ton sur­vives in Ken­tucky.  His work has appeared in Emprise Review, >kill author, Fried Chick­en and Cof­fee, Metazen and else­where.

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