UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
ZACHARY AMENDT

Stockyards

               Easter Sunday. Ours is a revival town, renowned for its citrus, intersected by the old Camino Real. Seldom, rare are the rushes of joy. Today I resume what I had given up months ago: my mistress and sleeping in. She is not making herself up any more, she has shut herself in. Instead she is thinking of the palm trees, the throw of the sea ... of her husband, imprisoned on the rails.

               The holidays without him. The shopping for one, standing in grocery lines alone. Life is holding poses, difficult ones, and looking every so often at the clocks on the wall. Whereas twice a day, weekdays, everything I love is in my backseat, in pigtails and arguing loudly about whose seatbelt buckle is whose.

               "It's been a fast month, thank God. Quicker than February." She rubs her eyes. "It feels fleeting."

               "That's daylight savings for you," I suggest.

               She offers me a pull from the bottle, its label worn off. It's early. I'm allergic to the polyester in her carpet. She's laying on my chest, going through her coin purse. Her last cigarette in my lips. I'm working a leg into my jeans, bleached at the cuffs.

               "Gerrard's I think is closed," she says. "The liquor store should be open." Her palm is open and full of silver. "The one on the corner. Marlboros. The long ones."

               "You have any aspirin? My head's a carousel."

               "No, I don't like pills."

               I peer into the bathroom. "None in the cabinet?"

               "They cure you, yes. But they won't make you well." She rises and runs into the kitchen, the tea kettle purring. "Long ones, don't forget."

               Into a pint glass she pours herself scalding water the taste of rose hips, lavender. I watch her at the stove, at the table ... her legs are unshaved. She has an LP for every mood. The last of the Carolyns.

               "Well," she says. "Get going."

               I drive a rather ugly car, a Corsair. I drive it like a prince. Gerrard's, it turns out, is open. It's a cash only establishment. All the clerks are in green aprons. I size up my purchase on the conveyor. Bayer, tobacco. Six lagers. We're addicted to stupors. Apparently, she has smoked since she was thirteen. She sells cosmetics and is most contemplative combing her hair. On her coffee table she is replicating the castle Xanadu out of Pabst cans.

               Last night I broiled us chicken. Corn cobs wrapped in tin foil. Our severance dinner. Later we emptied a jug of wine, splashed it into plastic chalices, into an hours-long talk on life. How dissatisfied we were, in life, in love, our thwarted efforts to change, reform. The perils of straight-arrow living.

               There's a kid on our block, I say, he can't be much older than the girls -- he throws the ball fifty yards, perfect spirals. Of course they already love him.

               "You never wanted children," I ask.

               "Look at yours."

               "The divorce wasn't my fault," I say. "They're good kids. They'll turn out okay."

               "But why put them through that," the childless Carolyn says. "They need more of a mother figure, and I mean not just on the weekends."

               "She's a tart."

               "Wait until they start menstruating. You'll see. What terrible years."

               "Not so bad, in retrospect."

               "Not if you're Johnny Unitas at ten years old."

               Her stomach's a riot. We've eaten nothing all day. Canned food in the cupboards, cereals. Hideous wallpapering behind the cabinets. The electric opener I can't seem to figure out. She is pacing the floor, stepping over laundry, smoking. The shirts she sleeps in go well below her waist. Her mattress is on the floor next to a stack of romance novels. We eat and sleep the afternoon away. Five hours, six. Several times I whisper her name, but she doesn't wake.

               I feel like royalty, days like today. Gleeful. Spring is catching on. Her box spring is in the backyard with the foxtails and dandelions. Stacked on the porch, old furniture she intends to paint. The sprinklers are broken. I crank open the window, I open it wide ... a compost pile is smoldering next door. Somewhere a rotary phone is ringing. Carolyn's.

               "Jerry's in Bakersfield," she says, coolly. "Says he'll be home Tuesday."

               The dreadful good news. Her husband's no friend of mine. Peasant. We'll spend the rest of our lifetimes shopping at Gerrard's, waving hello from the ends of the aisles.

               The blue of dusk. We're on her porch. The mosquitoes are bothersome. I situate myself in the only lawn chair intact, explaining why the tankers I drive are more flammable empty than full. "It's the fumes," I say, while she stems a handful of poppies into the empty Gallo jug, tabulating its redemption value.

Zachary Amendt is 23 & new to Brooklyn, a native of Southern California. After college (University of California, Davis), he worked as a bureau chief for City News Service, Inc., the nation's largest regional news wire service. Last year he authored a short novel, Onset of Trembling, which is awaiting publication in the bottom shelf of his writing desk.







2007 Underground Voices