Downtown Handsome

Downtown Handsome… it’s filling out now, thank God. Things are coming into focus: the browns and the grays and the soft umber hues of Texas Street. I need to see it better. I don’t want to die without seeing it more clearly. I don’t know why it’s important. I’m bleeding and I’m hearing things I don’t want to hear, so I need to see that street, the downtown. It needs to be real, though it probably doesn’t matter anymore. Continue reading Downtown Handsome

A piece of Pi

We sat in Skelton Park. It was my favorite place to go in Handsome. A couple of park benches, dogwood trees, a fountain. Families sometimes picnicked there, and the children ran around and made noise. Arlene said she liked children, but did not want obligate herself to one. She was too impatient, she said. She did not want to rearrange herself in abidance to others. Continue reading A piece of Pi

Crazy banker

I don’t know what I expected to see in the shed. A workbench, maybe, with all the tools lined up in alphabetical order; a coil of garden hose, a freshly hosed-off lawnmower. I knew there was something darker inside, so only part of me was surprised when I saw a dead man sprawled across the wood plank floor. Continue reading Crazy banker

The place

The place has gone to hell, Dad, he said. But it’s bigger than I remembered.

Almost twelve acres, I said.

He let out a low whistle.

I waited for a few minutes, and said:

This is the place.

His eyes looked strange, like he was trying to remember something important.

I know this place, he said, and collapsed almost directly on top of the old used-up grave site. Continue reading The place

The apartment

Why are you here?

I hear the trunk of a car slam down, and then the shuffle of hard-soled shoes on gravel.

It is a bare apartment, a place I have never been.

The walls are bland, a kind of soap-sudsy white. There are no pictures hanging on the walls. The floors are polished and smell lemony. The place is impeccably clean, but empty. No, not empty; there’s a gun rack fastened to the wall above the fireplace mantel. The rack holds a Mossberg 510, and it’s coated with oily dust. It hasn’t been handled in years.

It’s a small apartment, and the smell of fresh paint and turpentine fills the rooms. The windows are large and closed shut. This place, wherever it is, is brand new. No one has ever lived here.

Floor-to-ceiling windows look out over Texas Street, showing a dull, antiseptic skyline. The windows are the main feature of the living room, offering an aerial view of downtown Handsome. The main street is intricately drawn, like an unfinished Currier & Ives. There’s loneliness here, an emptiness that stretches the length of the main street, a terrible abandonment. Handsome is dead, and I am its only ghost.

I can hear distant rumble. Not quite thunder: the sound of a groaning engine. Then I see the source: an old pickup truck approaching from the east. It’s an old Dodge, a ’31. It hitches up the road, chassis vibrating like a washing machine. It was black when new, but now it’s the color of rusty rainwater, the hood stained with deep splashes of raw metal.

It’s my father’s Dodge.

I don’t remember his truck being this badly out of shape, but years and years have passed since the last time I saw it. Even the imagination gathers rust.

In the imprecise light of the day, I can see the shape of a man inside the cab. He’s looking at both sides of the street, glancing only occasionally at the road in front of him. I know that gesture; it’s the same one Archie Dollar made when he was working out the logistics for a job. But this man – my father? – had a more restless nature.

The shape of the driver is little more than a silhouette; featureless and obscure. It could be anyone. But a boy remembers his father. The hunch of his shoulders, the restless curiosity, the way he grips the steering wheel as if it would get away from him; his shy, distracted smile, the lost look in his eyes. Of course, I can’t see those details, but I can, if I look hard enough, if I pulled away all the shadows. The Dodge rumbles past the Handsome Apartments and slowly rounds the corner of Elm Street. I shouldn’t be able to see the full length of Texas Street, but I can. The engine noise slowly faces into nothing and the street is empty again.


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The first hour was the easiest, if that’s the proper word. I closed my mind off to the reason why I was digging. I wasn’t exactly daydreaming, but I was thinking about the things that I understood, or thought I did.

I thought about opening the bar, same as usual, in a few hours. I knew I would be hurting, and my eyes would be tired and bruised-looking, and the regulars would tease me about being on a bender. But I would serve them drinks, one at a time, and wash glasses, one at a time, and listen to the same old tired stories, one at a time. This night would not fade from my mind, not for a long time, and probably not ever, but I wanted it to be a dark hallway I’d only have to walk in my dreams. Continue reading Digging

Chewing the fat

Heard the sirens. Woke me up, even though I sleep light. Thought the whole town was on fire. The wife slept through the whole thing.

I thought I heard some commotion. I was in The Handsome.

Don’t know why anyone would spend good money in that place. I heard it’s gone to hell. Continue reading Chewing the fat

The wonder of the town

Next to the empty apartments is Nobles Department Store. There’s a 4th of July display in the front window, but it’s been up for the past three years. Ever since Gregory left for college, old man Noble hasn’t found anyone willing to rework the theme. And so it’s become a permanent fixture, like the barrels of plastic toys in the basement (four for a dollar) and the out-of-fashion knit sweaters in the third aisle. They still sell mustache wax behind the counter, and diaper pins by the dozen. It’s an old-fashioned Five-and-Dime, with little change in the inventory. The American flag in the window still has 48 stars, but no one has ever complained, or probably even noticed. Continue reading The wonder of the town


There is a small portable television set in my room I haven’t turned on since I moved here. It’s there to fill the space. The screen collects dust and glows at night when the moon peeks through the blinds. I don’t turn it on because there is nothing worth watching. Who needs programs about cops-and-robbers or doctors? I know all about them. I don’t want to watch the news because it doesn’t affect me, or I it. The screen casts reflections. The reflections are sometimes comforting. I get to see my life in two dimensions. Continue reading Television