map Brad’s House

by Steven Coughlin

Published in Issue No. 181 ~ June, 2012

Photo by: Raquel Fialho

 

Brad was not wearing clothes. His arms still had the lingering shade of a summer tan. I could see his back and buttocks, the outline of his bald head. He was taller than me, certainly more broad. This was the only time I saw him naked.

He stood in the kitchen, the small globe of refrigerator light illuminated Brad’s chest. I was wearing his brown Carhartt coat and slippers. Brad held a gallon jug to his lips. When he finished drinking he raised the back of his hand to his mouth.

After Brad left the kitchen, walked through the dining room–I had retreated to the darkness behind the dining room table–and up to his bedroom, I went over to the refrigerator, pulled out the water, and took a swig for myself.

My nocturnal visits had started a few weeks prior. At first I only chanced to sit in the driver‘s seat of Brad’s truck. I opened his driver’s side door and sat on the leather cushion, the steering wheel chilled to my touch. There was an evergreen scent. In the small backseat I could see his daughter’s car seat, a picture book next to it.

After a few nights of sitting I put the key in and turned the ignition. The truck idled softly like warm air blowing through a vent. I backed out of the driveway, rolled the windows down, and felt cold waves of autumn rush over me. Brad’s sunglasses were in the passenger’s seat and I put them on. It was hard to see but the streets were mostly empty, a parked car here and there.

Haydenville was located by the Ohio River. The town’s main industry was a mill that converted fiber board into paper. The smoke stacks from the plant released sulfur which drifted through the streets emitting an odor of rotten eggs. Most of the Haydenville men made their living at the plant–that’s where Brad worked. They all wore brown coats and walked around in steel toe boots.

I drove past a dollar store and entered the twenty-four hour Wendy’s drive thru. When I pulled Brad’s truck back into the driveway it was almost three in the morning. I had only driven a little over a mile, the gas gauge had not dropped at all, but it felt like I had traveled much further. I took a hamburger out of the bag and turned on a country station located in Fayettesburg, its music drifting over miles of cornfields to the antennae of Brad’s truck. A Kenny Rogers songs was on. I imagined Brad in the morning climbing into his truck wondering where the faint scent of French fries had come from. I delighted in the thrill of taking on his life. I played the music just loud enough that if it were still August, and Brad’s bedroom window open, he might have been able to hear me.

It was the last week of September. I saw them across a field at Beaver Creek Park sitting on a blanket–Brad’s wife Stacie was feeding their daughter Jenna apple slices. Brad was leaning back wearing his sunglasses.

I had moved to Haydenville only a month before to work in the office of Haydenville Paper. I had worked at the company’s main office out west where the company had another plant but felt the need for a transfer. In eight years nothing had taken root.

I recognized Brad immediately as one of the many employees I saw entering and leaving the plant–the cubicle I worked in was on the second floor and it had a window that looked out on the plant’s main entrance. I spent much of my time watching the men come and go–I considered how they walked, how they stood.

As I watched Brad from across the park, I noticed his keys fall from the pocket of his brown Carhartt coat when he stood up. They remained unclaimed on the grass as Brad folded the blanket and helped Stacie put Jenna in the stroller. By the time I retrieved his keys they had left. They were walking on the sidewalk and I was about thirty yards behind. A car passed and Brad waved. I matched my pace to his.

Brad’s hair had receded to the top of his head and he kept the stubble shaved close. I watched as he placed his open palm against Stacie’s back as she pushed the stroller.

He had a slight limp in his left leg which I imagined to be the result of a sporting injury. I could see him in high school lining up on defense, his football team in green and gold. In the stands fans would have worn gloves and jackets on a cold October night. Brad would have known his knee was not right but still he played–slamming his body hard into other bodies. Maybe Stacie was there, his high school sweetheart in a knitted orange scarf. Perhaps she was the first to notice something was wrong.

After a half-mile they turned right onto Grove Terrace. Their white house stood upon a small incline. It was an old Victorian. Stacie wheeled the stroller up the driveway between her car and Brad’s truck. When they got to the front door she reached into her purse and took out her set of keys, he had not even reached for his own. They were speaking as the door closed but I had fallen so far behind their words were indistinct as elevator music.

After five nights of sitting in Brad’s truck, I let myself in. I was concerned an alarm would sound, but the door opened without consequence.

I waited by the door sill for my eyes to adjust. It was now October and I could feel the kiss of the house’s warm air. I made out a pair of work boots, a couple pairs of sneakers, and a coat rack filled with coats. In front of me were stairs to the second floor. The bottom floor was a square–to my right was the dining room and to my left the living room. Through the dining room was the kitchen, and off the kitchen, heading back to the living room, was a hallway and bathroom.

A piece of unopened mail provided their names: Brad and Stacey Wilcox. On the dinning room table was a mug with Alaska written on its bottom half and a polar bear walking across the letters. A Home and Garden magazine abandoned beside it. In the kitchen was a hanging plant above the sink–its leaves dark green. There were several dried dishes in the dish rack.

On the refrigerator was an assortment of family pictures. One was a photograph of Stacie and Brad standing in front of a sandstone arch. She was wearing a yellow tank top. I had not much considered Stacie when I saw her at the park but in that picture, in their kitchen lit by moonlight, I could make out her brown hair which reached to her shoulders, her smooth skin and petite frame. She was a real beauty–the kind of woman any man would like to marry. And there was Brad’s arm wrapped around her waist, steadying her against him–not even the coolest breeze could bother him.

Beside this photograph was an invitation to their daughter’s birthday party which had passed at the end of July. She was wearing a yellow dress, had a big smile, and at the bottom of the invitation it read Jenna Turns Two!

I wandered into their bathroom and noticed two different brands of perfume on the sink; in their bathroom closet were several bath towels; in the vanity was a little tin case of lip balm, hand lotion, whitening floss, and a zip lock bag filled with seven condoms. I opened the lip balm and saw a single fingertip indentation. I inhaled its scent and then slid the small tin case into my pocket.

It was after three in the morning when I got back to my apartment. I undressed, climbed into bed, and drifted into sleep.

“I didn’t know you had a kid. What’s her name?”

“Jenna.”

In the month since I transferred to Haydenville, I had only had a handful of conversations. I was as nondescript as a painting of flowers in a doctor’s office. People would come and ask a payroll question, would inquire when commission checks would arrive, but my cubicle was mostly something not to notice. There were only twelve of us in the office and the manager still hadn’t called me by my name. But here was Wallace looking at the picture I had taken off Brad’s refrigerator.

“How old?” he asked.

“Couple years, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Twenty-six months.”

“Fella, you’ve been holding out.” Wallace’s smile was lopsided. It made me think of a drunk passed out against a wall–half his upper lip tilted up while the rest looked like a flat EKG. He was overweight and had a thick black mustache. And unlike Brad who kept his receding hair close–who looked, perhaps, better with less hair–Wallace, with the few strands he had left, tried to comb over the chasm of his baldness. I had no intention of including him in the life I was building in Haydenville.

“You’ve probably got a wife, too.” He raised his eyebrows.

“Sure,” I said.

Wallace laughed, “My gosh, you’re quite the mystery. You don’t talk all day but come to find out you’ve got this whole life going on. Really, we should have you two over. Susan keeps saying we don’t socialize enough. It could be a sort of ‘Welcome to Haydenville’ sort of thing.”

“We’re busy,” I said.

“When?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll talk to the wife and get back to you,” he said.

I folded my hands on my desk.

“Damn cute,” Wallace said, pointing toward Jenna’s picture.

I didn’t say anything as he walked away.

I started wearing Brad’s slippers which I suspected he seldom wore. Each night they were forgotten by the coat rack. I opened their front hall closet and took out his Carhartt coat. There was a receipt for a pack of cigarettes and a can of green beans in the pocket. Some nights, while bundled in his coat, I would stand on their front porch and pretend I was him smoking. I’d form with my lips a small donut hole and raise my slightly parted fingers which cradled an invisible cigarette. After pulling my fingers away I’d exhale a cloud of autumn cold.

I usually waited until after one before walking from my apartment to their house. Haydenville was small enough that it only took about twenty minutes. The walk was my favorite part of the evening. Nothing could compete with the anticipation, the fear and thrill of what might happen. It had even gotten to the point where I no longer noticed Haydenville’s sulfur scent.

Brad and Stacie were always in bed when I arrived–lights off. Each time I put the key in to enter their house, I wondered if they had changed the locks. But it never happened. Haydenville was the type of town people moved to to feel safe. After a while I suspected Brad wasn’t concerned about his keys. He probably just assumed they had been misplaced and most likely used another pair.

Besides wearing Brad’s things I also committed minor acts of sabotage. If I found a bill made out in his name on the kitchen table I’d read it and then throw it away. If they left their computer on in the living room, and Brad’s email page was open, I would read his unread messages and then delete them.

At the end of each visit I made sure to take one of his possessions. I decorated my apartment with them. I shaved with one of Brad’s disposable razors and applied cologne with his travel size bottle of Calvin Klein.

The sixth time I let myself in I chanced to finally climb the stairs. The second story had three rooms. At the end of the hallway, door shut, was Brad and Stacie’s bedroom. To my left, door open, was Jenna’s room. The room to the right was a playroom. Inside were several toys: a little pink shopping cart carrying a stuffed frog, a toy cash register whose drawer was open and filled with yellow coins, and a small white house with a plastic family inside.

I walked to the end of the hall. I placed my ear against Brad’s door. There was the sound of sleep, someone breathing.

There are several reasons why I raised my hand to knock. I wanted Brad to get out of bed and sit with me in the dining room. I wanted to explain to him that it wasn’t just that I desired the things he had–a beautiful house, a loving wife and daughter. I also wanted to know the details of his life–who he voted for in the last election, what his favorite sports teams were, how many women he had slept with. I wanted to collect his intimate secrets like dollars in a bank. But the fear of what would happen, of losing access to the one thing I cared about in Haydenville, was enough to keep me from knocking.

There was a picture of a tree Jenna had colored in on their dining room table. Its trunk painted with scribbles of yellow and pink. I imagined Brad and Stacie watching Jenna color it in. I took the drawing before leaving their house. I climbed into bed and placed it on my chest. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths.

The office cleared out around five but I was free to stay late. The first time the security guard saw me after ten he seemed surprised. I told him I got my best work done burning the midnight oil. Soon we became friendly–a couple times we engaged in conversation that lasted at least five minutes.

When alone I often went through coworkers’ desks but seldom found anything of interest. Wallace kept in one of his drawers a picture of his wife holding their kid. She was not half as attractive as Stacey–she had the face of a mule, long and dull, and her teeth were stained coffee-yellow. No wonder Wallace kept the picture hidden away.

I liked to read over Brad’s paperwork and medical history while eating a microwave dinner. He had missed only five days in the seven years he had worked at Haydenville Paper. He was a shift supervisor and earned about ten thousand dollars more than the men who worked under him. Brad suffered from a heart arrhythmia and had to take a drug called Dofetilide to keep it under control. He also had a history of lung disease and diabetes in his family. Nowhere in his file was there a mention of his slight limp or what had caused it.

I started spending my lunch breaks by the plant entrance. I wanted to orchestrate a meeting with Brad, our first conversation–nothing big, just words floating like a raft on a river. I was thinking the best subject would be trucks. I already knew what he drove and wanted to let it slip that I thought of it as an impressive make and model. Certainly he’d find that a pleasant subject to discuss. Maybe things would go so well he would consider inviting me to dinner. I had even bought a pack of cigarettes in case he came out for a quick break and found himself short.

The night before had been intense. Over the weeks, it was now toward the end of October, there had been a few close calls: Brad had come downstairs for a swig of water and Stacie had made three trips to the bathroom, but I always managed to safely retreat to the shadows of the dining room; once Jenna woke crying in the night and I waited downstairs while Stacie walked her back to sleep in the hallway above.

But the night before had been different. I had begun the routine of checking on Jenna. Her stuffed penguin would come loose in her sleep and I considered it my responsibility to wrap her arm back around it. Jenna was a deep sleeper and her body was always at a crooked angle. There was a small nightlight that lit the bottom of her crib. I enjoyed watching Jenna’s exhalations. I reflected on what it might be like if she were my daughter. Before leaving I would kiss her forehead.

I had not heard their bedroom door open but recognized footsteps in the hall. I only had time to back into the closet across from the crib. My hiding spot was useless. With just the small glow from the nightlight, if Stacie had looked over she would have seen me crouching in the closet–a lurking figure in the dim nightlight glow.

But Stacie simply looked down at her daughter. She brushed her fingers against Jenna. The movement so small only someone close as me could have appreciated it. After Stacie left the room I found myself overwhelmed with desire for the life Brad had. I walked over to Jenna and gently shook her shoulder. Jenna’s eyes groggily opened and closed again, she turned her head to the side. “It’s okay,” I whispered. “You’re okay.” Five minutes later I walked downstairs and out their front door. I decided to keep wearing Brad‘s brown Carhartt coat. When I left I imagined all those times Brad left for work. I could see Stacie holding Jenna, the two of them waving goodbye–both their faces bright and gentle.

I did not sleep that night. My mind was a calculator adding thoughts upon thoughts. When I stood by the plant entrance during my lunch break my mind was so lost in these considerations I failed to notice four men walk out. Brad was the only one not wearing a coat. I was no more than five feet away. His face shaved smooth. I made eye contact and reached for my pack of cigarettes.

“Hey,” a voice said–“Hey there.”

I tried to ignore it.

“Got a light?” I asked, moving toward Brad.

But the voice continued. It came closer: “Buddy, you eat yet?”

Wallace was waddling toward me. I tried to wave him away.

“Didn’t know you smoke,” he said.

I was tired and frustrated that this blubbering fool was ruining my chance with Brad. “No,” I said. I walked toward Wallace and bumped my shoulder into his. “No,” I said again. More men had walked out the entrance door–“No!” “No!” I looked at Wallace, his thick lower lip and foolish mustache. I turned toward all of those men, their befuddled expressions. I looked toward Brad, his head angled a little to the side. I offered him a smile, put my hands in his coat’s pockets, and walked away.

“You can’t keep this up forever,” Wallace said. He was eating funnel cake. His high-pitched laugh made it sound like he was drunk on sugar.

After I apologized for what had happened, Wallace brushed it off, said everyone has a bad day, and invited my family to go with his to the Haydenville autumn fair. I couldn’t force myself to say no.

“Are you trying to hide them from us?” He was referring to the excuse I had offered as to why I showed up alone. I said Jenna had come down with a slight fever and my wife suggested I go without them. I promised him that my wife was extremely disappointed.

“Not to worry,” Wallace said.

After meeting Wallace’s wife Susan I realized the picture he had of her at work was a bit of a misrepresentation. She wasn’t beautiful but attractive enough–she had short black hair, was tall and slim. Her skin was maybe too fair and her face too thin. Still, it made no sense that she would be with him. Certainly she could have done better than Wallace. Their son, however, fit the bill. Only eight months old, he was already obese. If anyone, even his parents, approached from the front of his carriage he’d begin to cry. I could see him in sixth grade sitting on the grass while all the other children played kickball. His name, Bob, reflected his father’s lack of imagination.

Susan carried the conversation. She said how nice it was to get out of the house. She joked that it was rare to have a conversation with someone whose diaper she did not have to change. She looked over at Wallace. “That includes you,” she said. I gave a polite laugh and thought how her joke was almost funny.

Susan mentioned a pig race taking place by the grandstand at seven and Wallace said that that sounded like a fine idea. We stopped for a few minutes to watch a dueling chainsaw competition–two men were sculpting bears out of wood. A bluegrass band played in the music tent and a giant ear of corn on stilts danced along. Wallace clapped to help the ear of corn keep rhythm–his forearms swinging wide as the arc of a rotating lawn sprinkler.

It was cold enough that Susan wore purple mittens. Occasionally she reached out and touched Wallace’s arm. I began to want Susan to touch me like that. I positioned myself closer as we walked. Wallace said he knew we would hit it off.

We visited the 4H stalls and then walked over to the game booths. Wallace tried three or four times to shoot out a paper star with a BB gun. He said he wanted to win his little Bobby a stuffed bear. While waiting for him I bought two caramel apples–one for Susan, one for myself.

I began to reconsider my stance on Wallace–maybe there was something about his life I could enjoy. It was still early enough in our friendship that, if worded delicately, I could come clean. Perhaps we would all laugh over our mix-up of me not actually having a wife and daughter next week over dinner. Nothing fancy, a little sausage lasagna Susan could whip up.

After failing with the BB gun Wallace tried his luck fishing out a plastic fish from a small pool. This time he was more successful winning a keychain in the shape of Ohio. Bob started to cry when Wallace dangled it in front of the carriage.

Across from us was the Barnyard Clown–a game of twelve squirt guns pointing at twelve clown faces. Contestants sat on a stool and fired water into the mouth of their corresponding clown six feet away as a balloon on the clown’s head filled with water.

“That kid looks like yours,” Wallace said.

Jenna was about ten feet from us, resting on Stacie’s shoulder, almost asleep. Brad, wearing an old green jacket, was sitting on one of the stools listening to the game attendant, a man in a red and white striped suit jacket.

Susan fell to the background of my thoughts, her complexion dismissed as pasty. Wallace returned once again to the status of stooge.

“Just one win,” the attendant explained, “and get yourself a stuffed alligator. Two triumphs for this giant panda bear.”

I handed Susan my caramel apple. I walked over and sat on the stool right next to Brad. About five or six other people, mostly men, were finding spots.

“You can do it,” Susan called. She clapped her purple mittens together.

I never had a doubt. From the moment the bell rang and water shot out I knew I would win. I looked at the clown straight in front of me–lips bright as a ripe strawberry, eyes blue as a cold river. I realized how important it was to beat Brad, for me to have something he wanted. Yes, the game was silly, all these grown men hunched over small squirt guns in the late autumn cold, but I needed to win as much as anything. I wanted to show off for Stacie, for her to see that a guy like me could function in the world, could succeed against other men–even her husband. Brad’s balloon was only half-full by the time mine was ready to burst.

“Great job,” Wallace called, giving me a thumbs up with his fat thumb.

Aaron accidentally brushed his leg against my hand when he stood up. It was the only time we touched.

The attendant handed me the stuffed alligator. He said I could trade it in for something bigger if I won another round.

I looked at Brad walking away. His limp was only slight. If you looked fast you never would have noticed. But it was there–everywhere he walked. I was disappointed in him. Brad didn’t even put up much of a fight. I had moved to Haydenville to find what had eluded me. It now occurred to me that what I got was an obsession with a man who wasn‘t even that special. There was nothing that distinguished him: like all the other men of Haydenville Brad got up at six, punched his time card by seven; he smoked cigarettes and had a mortgage; in the summer Brad probably played in a Sunday softball league; he dressed in the same clothes and drove the same truck. And he had this limp.

“Brad,” I called. He and Stacie turned around. I could see him looking at me trying to place my face, wanting to know how I knew his name. It was clear he couldn’t quite remember me as the man from just a few days before. “I work in the office,” I said.

Brad smiled. “Hey there,” he said.

“Try another round?”

Brad shook his head: “Think I’m done.”

“Come on,” I said. “Stacie, please, help me out.” She turned her gaze from him to me. In the carnival lights Stacie’s face was white as powdered sugar. I could hear the carousel’s organ as I looked at her. I imagined the two of us slow dancing at a high school dance–my hands placed on the back of the girl all the other guys wanted.

“It‘s on me,” I said. I gestured toward the seat next to me.

He couldn’t compete with me. I had such power in the moment, such knowledge that he lacked, that Brad had no idea how to act.

He walked over and sat back down. We waited for more people to join. I handed the game attendant money for both of us. I reached into my pocket for the little tin case of lip balm I had taken the first time I entered Brad’s house. I dipped my finger in and put a bit on my lips.

“Where’s your Carhartt?” I asked.

He looked at me. His brown eyes were clueless.

I pointed toward his old jacket: “It’s a cold night not to be wearing your Carhartt. Did you misplace it? Maybe it’s at the park.”

He watched as I zipped up his brown coat. On the bottom of one of the cuffs was a small white paint stain–I made sure he caught a glimpse of it as I raised my hand. “I never leave home without this on,” I said. He continued to stare when the game started. He never bothered to fire his squirt gun.

The balloon on top of my clown’s head filled quicker than the first time. I heard the attendant call me a real talent. I listened for Stacie’s voice cheering but could only make out Susan and Wallace. They both sounded foolish when they called out my name. I was embarrassed they knew me.

After the attendant awarded me the giant panda I walked over to Susan. She tried to hand me back my caramel apple but I walked right past her.

“Give it to him,” I said, pointing at Wallace. She lost her smile. Her lips parted like there was a question she wanted to ask.

I made it a few feet further before turning around. Brad was standing next to Stacie–he was pointing at me.

I called to him: “It‘s got to be somewhere. Your coat, I mean.”

“Hey,” Stacie said. Jenna’s little head was safely on her shoulder, not aware of anything. Stacie was wearing a grey coat with white fur trim. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

I held up the giant panda for a moment. “Just keep looking, your Carhartt’s got to be somewhere.”

Brad supervised over twenty men. He told them when to go on break, he gave each of them an annual evaluation. But here, with someone like me, Brad was silent.

“See you later,” I said. I walked toward the bright lights of the Ferris wheel. Susan called for me to slow down but I kept going. I wanted nothing to do with her or Wallace.

Beyond the Ferris wheel was the parking lot and as I made my way to it I considered my actions over the last couple of months. It seemed like I could make sense of everything I had done. All of the time I invested with Brad, my intimate understanding of his life, all of the little details that made Brad who he was, had turned him into a puppet on my string. Men are always competing against each other, searching for ways to distinguish themselves from the others. Finally, if only for a short time, I found myself with the advantage. I enjoyed my victory all the way home.

I waited in my apartment until one in the morning packing all of my clothes into a suitcase, gathering what few things I needed from the bathroom. I figured I had until the next morning before Brad inquired as to who I was at work. I was not going to allow myself to be embarrassed for what I had done. I drove to the office at the Haydenville plant. I opened the locked office door and then the security guard walked in.

“Forgot a few papers,” I said.

“It’s a little late,” he said.

“Just can’t sleep,“ I said.

I reached into my drawer and pulled out Brad’s file. I made sure to take the picture of Jenna that was on my desk. The security guard kept his eyes on me the entire time.

It was a little before two when I pulled my car in front of Brad’s house.

After entering I walked slowly around the bottom floor to see if Brad had grown suspicious enough to keep a vigil on the couch, but the downstairs was empty. It amazed me how little resistance Brad offered whenever I chanced a new transgression. Perhaps he had yet to realize everything I had taken. Maybe he and Stacie had only noticed a few things missing here and there, nothing adding up to much. For all I knew Brad only thought of me as the guy wearing his Carhartt–that he had forgotten it at work and I had simply kept it for myself. Regardless, I had brought in a trash bag all I had collected of Brad’s. I returned everything.

I went into the bathroom and put back in the vanity his travel size cologne and razor, the small tin case of lip balm; I returned the one condom of his I had taken out of the zip lock bag; there was a pair of work gloves I placed on the second step of the stairs; there were a couple issues of Nascar Illustrated that I put back in a pile of Nascar Illustrateds in the living room; in a kitchen drawer I returned an old rusted bottle opener that I figured had not been used for some time; on the refrigerator I found the exact same magnet and hung Jenna’s birthday invitation in the exact same spot. Also in the trash bag was the stuffed panda I had won at the fair. I took it out and walked upstairs.

Once again Brad and Stacie’s door was closed. I placed my hand on the knob and turned slowly. I opened the door a crack and peered in. Their room was a bit lighter than the hallway and I could see both of them sleeping. Stacie was on the far end of the bed curled up, facing away. Brad was flat on his back. Stacie was covered under heaps of blankets while Brad’s upper body was exposed. He was wearing a t-shirt and in the darkness it looked like a shadow covering him. I wondered what it would be like to be married to a beautiful wife, to wake up in the middle of the night and roll over and wrap my arm around Stacie. I stood there for a few minutes but lacked the courage to enter.

I closed their door and visited Jenna’s room. I looked at her tiny body–her lips light grey in the glow of the nightlight. Jenna’s hair was covering her cheek. Her arm was loosely wrapped around her stuffed penguin. I slid it from her and placed it on the floor. I wrapped my hand around her tiny hand. She twitched a bit. I wanted her to wake up, for her to reach out to me as she would for Brad or Stacie if she had a bad dream. I wondered what it would be like to carry her down the stairs–for Stacie to be there waiting and for the three of us to drive off together in the darkness to a life Brad could never have provided.

In the corner of the room was a rocking chair. I picked it up and placed it in front of Jenna’s crib, no more than a foot away. I placed the giant stuffed panda bear on it. I thought of Jenna waking in the morning staring right into its charcoal eyes. I bent over and kissed her forehead, her breath was stale and sweet.

I walked back down the stairs. When I got to the bottom floor I opened the front hall closet. I took off Brad’s Carhartt coat and hung it up. Before leaving I returned his set of keys to his coat pocket. The house remained silent as I closed the front door behind me.

My car was cold when I started it back up. I pulled slowly away from Brad’s house and drove through the quiet streets of Haydenville–past the post office and police station, a liquor store and a small supermarket. I drove by the sleeping smokestacks of Haydenville Paper. On the outskirts of town the cornfields began and the road ran straight for miles. The moon was not out and everything was dark beyond the reach of my headlights. In the passenger’s seat I placed Brad’s file. I turned the radio on and turned to the country station out of Fayettesburg. I listened until the music faded to static.

  • cw101

    An evocative, disturbing, and strangely compelling story.