Cover image for Who I was supposed to be : short stories
Title:
Who I was supposed to be : short stories
Author:
Perabo, Susan, 1969-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
191 pages ; 23 cm
Language:
English
Contents:
Thick as thieves -- Counting the ways -- The greater grace of Carlisle -- Explaining death to the dog -- Reconstruction -- Who I was supposed to be -- Retirement -- Gravity -- The rocks over Kyburz -- The measure of devotion -- Some say the world.
ISBN:
9780684862330
Format :
Book

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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

Behind every face in "Who I Was Supposed to Be" is a singular quirk to explore, a peculiarity to celebrate. In Susan Perabo's world, nothing can be taken for granted: here, a retired grocer takes up jewel theft in his twilight years; a data processor squanders her inheritance on one of Princess Diana's gowns; a mugging victim feigns amnesia to win back his wife. In the tradition of Lorrie Moore, Susan Perabo's slightly off-center lens looks hard at the banal and the bizarre, and at the human condition, where she finds extraordinary magic within the smallest of gestures. Sharply written and overlaid with a mischievous wit, "Who I Was Supposed to Be" is an unforgettable homage to laughter, love, and wonder.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

A stunning collection of short stories that leapfrogs Perabo over the herd of practitioners out there to the top of the heap. Perabo (among her other accomplishments is being in the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first woman to play NCAA baseball) has a knack for picking out the ordinary desperadoes of society--not unlike Flannery O'Connor--and finding therein a special form of grace. Whether it's an aging father who charmingly practices theft right under the nose of his proper son, or a young working girl who seeks to touch greatness by spending her modest inheritance on a Princess Di gown (then can't bring herself to take advantage of its skyrocketing value after Di's death), or a phony amnesiac who tries to win back his ex-wife with his pretence--these are all situations that one could almost imagine oneself getting into, not to mention getting out of. There is desperation here, but Perabo infuses it with a touching sense of the everyday. Keep an eye on her--her next stop just might be the Literary Hall of Fame! --Allen Weakland


Publisher's Weekly Review

Beset by the infelicities of modern-day dysfunctionalism, the characters in these 11 unfaltering stories imagine radical, often desperate, but never easy answers for the questions wracking their ordinary, anxious lives. Perabo leavens the pervasive dysphoria of these tales with humor and an abiding faith in human resilience, relieving the tragic with the whimsical and regarding the hopeless with a shrug. The first story, "Thick as Thieves," centers around an accomplished, declining film star in a flashy but soulless Hollywood milieu, who copes with his 80-year-old fatherÄpractically a strangerÄwho's intent on burglarizing the posh neighbors. A bungled heist sends the father home a diminished kleptomaniac, but not before his son concedes the allure of the performance. Other selections explore the heartbreaking, even seductive escape of financial fantasies: a widow who spends $900 a week on lottery tickets; a nearly insolvent couple who blow their modest inheritance on a dress once belonging to Princess Diana. In other stories, losers and winners keep changing places. One man, recently divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage, is mugged on Christmas Eve and feigns amnesia to win back his ex-wife; a junior high boy watches his father get savagely beaten by four men; two pubescent best friends kill a school bully and end up losing each other. Perabo deftly narrates from the perspectives of different genders and ages, and she speaks with intimacy, authenticity and authority whether telling the tale of a woman whose baby has just died, relaying the awkward conversation in a small-town Gamblers Anonymous meeting or presenting parents and children, grown or growing, in all their complicated humanity. Her limber, multivalenced voice heartily sustains this debut collection suffused with vivid, sharp dialogue and solid, satisfying characters. Agent, Elyse Cheney. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter Three "The Greater Grace of Carlisle" My mother, beside herself with loss, spent thirty-five thousand dollars on lottery tickets in nine months. It was Mr. Jenkins from next door, the official neighborhood bearer of bad news, who finally called to tell me. "You know I don't like to tattle..." he began. He ended with: "We thought you should know." I thanked him. I had thanked him as a teenager when he peeled my cat off the road and brought her limp body to our front door. Funny, the things you wind up thanking people for. My stepfather Walt had died the previous January, after almost two years of battling stomach cancer. Through it all, my mother was the poster child for well-adjusted spouses of the terminally ill. For twenty-one months, her good will and sound judgment bordered on the psychotic. And after he died -- after he finally, finally died -- she seemed fine. Well, not exactly fine, but up to speed for a grieving widow. She wept as she packed away his flannel shirts, even had a session of grief therapy with the minister at their Methodist church. And then she seemed to go on with her life. I stayed with her for two weeks and then returned to my own crumbling world, a thousand miles away. As I bitched my way through a separation and second divorce in Arizona, my mother was going crazy in Illinois, trying desperately to win the lottery. "We've discussed it," Mr. Jenkins said. I didn't ask who the "we" was, probably him and his tropical fish. "We think you should probably come for a visit." At the time, I was doing temp work in Phoenix. I was also doing temp life. I had moved there only a year before with my ex-husband; what friends I had made were the wives and girlfriends of the men at his office, women I had not had time to bond with profoundly enough to warrant the inevitable awkwardness of postdivorce friendship. I had suffered through this period before, with another husband in another state, so I knew what to expect: the occasional pity call, an offer for a lunch date that never materialized, empty well-wishing that was worse than no wishing at all. "I'll be there," I told Mr. Jenkins. And so I returned to my childhood home of Carlisle, Illinois, population thirty-five hundred morons. My mother didn't admit anything for two days. I was afraid to spring it on her, wary of pointing fingers at my mother, who (like the good fourth-grade teacher she had been for thirty-two years) always told me that when you point a finger at somebody you've got three fingers pointing back at yourself. I didn't want any more fingers pointed at me for the rest of my life, so I tried the subtle approach. Day one: "Where's your car?" "I didn't need it any longer. I sold it." "Don't you ever drive anywhere?" "I can walk to the market, you know. I'm not feeble." Night one: "You still have that stock?" "The market is shaky. Besides, that was Walt's game." Day two: "Where's Grandma's silver?" "I don't know. Somewhere in the attic." "I sure love that silver." "Really? I always thought it was ugly." Night two: "You still have that teacher's pension coming, don't you?" She put down her glass of wine. "Chatty Chatty Kathy," she said, raising her eyebrows. "I'm beginning to think you have an ulterior motive." "I just want to make sure you're financially sound," I said. "Don't you read magazines? All these eighty-five-year-olds end up working the drive-thru window at McDonald's because they've squandered their money." "I won't be working at McDonald's," she said. "I was just -- " "It's sad," she said. "I thought we were fairly close. I'd expect this type of sneaky behavior from your brothers, but not you. Next thing you'll be following me to the market." "Why would I want to follow you to the market?" She smiled slyly. "What time is it?" I looked at my watch. "Don't tell me," she said. She closed her eyes and held up her left hand as if testing the breeze in the dining room. "It's six forty-five, isn't it?" I was impressed. "How'd you know?" "I've developed a sixth sense. You know what happens in twelve minutes?" "What?" She rose from her chair. "We get rich." She dropped her napkin on the table and drifted off into the living room. A moment later I joined her. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the television, a six-inch stack of lottery tickets in front of her. "How many?" I asked. "Hm?" she said. "Three hundred." I sunk down on the couch. "You spend three hundred dollars a day on lottery tickets?" "Don't be stupid. They only draw three times a week." "Nine hundred dollars a week." "Nine hundred dollars will be like nine cents in about five minutes." I sat back and crossed my legs. Following a brief trumpet fanfare, the lottery man came on the TV, wearing a suit and tie and a hairpiece of questionable quality. A scantily clad Illinois farm girl with hair down to her butt was pulling ping-pong balls out of a chute. The numbers were announced. My mother scribbled them down on a sheet of paper, then began going through her tickets. "Gimme half," I said. "I'll help." "Not a chance," she said. So I sat there and watched her go through her tickets. It took twenty minutes. She scanned each one and set it off to her right, beside her on the floor. She didn't speak, made no noises of defeat. When she had scanned the last ticket (twice, I noticed) she picked up the pile and stood up and left me sitting there on the couch. I followed her into the kitchen. She threw the tickets away and started washing the dishes. "Well?" I said. "Well what?" "You didn't win." She turned off the water, turned to me. "No," she said. "I just didn't win today. On Wednesday I'll have three hundred more chances." "I don't think this is very healthy," I said. "Neither is smoking," she said. "I don't smoke." "I didn't say that you did. But millions of people do. And millions of people drive their cars too fast and millions of people clog their veins with cholesterol and none of those people are healthy either." "Mother..." I said. "Don't you 'Mother' me." "How much money do you have left?" "Enough." I laughed. "Enough for what?" She turned back to the dishes. "Enough to buy you a plane ticket back to Phoenix." The next morning when I went out for the mail, Mr. Jenkins was next door mowing his lawn on his riding mower. His lawn was no larger than your average suburban lawn, but he had owned this riding mower for as long as I could remember and mowed his lawn at least twice a week. While I stood at the mailbox he waved me over and cut the engine. He wiped sweat from his brow, although it was cool out, September, and I wondered how somebody could get sweaty riding around on a little tractor. "How's Hildy?" he asked. "You get her to stop buying those tickets?" "Not yet," I said. He took my arm. "You know whatcha do?" he said. "Across town, there's this church. They got anonymous groups there for everything, got people all over this area coming in to get fixed. They got your standard Triple A, then they got anonymous shoppers, anonymous dopers, anonymous homosexuals, anonymous spouses." He leaned into me. "They even got that anonymous necrophiliacs." "Nymphomaniacs?" I ventured. "The sex junkies," he said. "Whatever you call them. And they got one for gamblers, like Hildy. You should take her down there, Kathy, see if they can set her straight." "I'm not sure that's necessary," I said. He shrugged. "She's your family." He reached to start the mower, but then stopped. "Heard you got divorced again," he said. He landed on the "again" like he had run over a dog with his lawnmower. "Yes," I said. "You're a good girl, Kathy," he said. "Why don't the boys see that?" "I don't know, Mr. Jenkins," I said. In junior high school my best friend Melinda Marietta used to say, "You can't get your period in Carlisle without half the town knowing about it." Pretty close to the truth. Out for my daily walk that afternoon, I felt the eyes of the people on our block settle on me from porches and bay windows, and I imagined they all knew that my mother was spending her teacher's pension (more importantly, their tax dollars after all) on lottery tickets. I ignored them as best I could, walked down the ragged sidewalks, past the old post office, and found myself on Locust Street. Before I knew it -- yes, idiot Mr. Jenkins had gotten to me -- I was standing in front of a fading brick building, one of two hundred just like it in the historic district, with a white sign on the front that said the greater grace of carlisle. It didn't really look like a church, although the glass doors were propped open and I could hear what sounded like a choir singing from the basement. I took a few steps in and looked around. There was an office, and the door was open, so I peeked in and saw a heavy man in jeans and a turtleneck sweater sitting at a desk reading a magazine. "Hello?" I said. He looked up from his magazine, smiled. "What can I do for you?" "I heard you have groups here," I said. "I was looking for something for a friend, something about gambling?" He motioned me to a chair. I sat down and he folded his hands on the desk in front of him. "First," he said. "Let me tell you. We are all gamblers, and we are all anonymous. There's no need to be ashamed." "It's not me," I said. "It's my mother." "Ah-hah?" he said, intrigued. "Your mother...I see. What's her addiction?" "She buys lottery tickets." He slammed his fist down on the desk. "Goddamn lottery," he shouted. "Goddamn helps-the-schools-helps-the-elderly-helps-the-highways lottery." "This a common problem?" He breathed a heavy sigh. "Problem, no. Epidemic, yes," he said. "Does your mother know you're here?" "God no," I said. "She doesn't think she has a problem. Or an epidemic." "They never do," he said wistfully. He stared off over my head for a moment, frowning at the concept of addiction as if it were hovering in the doorway. "You'll have to get her to come to group," he finally said. "We meet every Wednesday, in the basement." He smiled at the voices rising from the floor. "That's our choir." "It's not singers anonymous?" He didn't smile. "Wednesday," he said. "Tomorrow night, seven o'clock. It's an intimate group. You may come if you wish, the first time, if necessary." "You mean if I have to drag her?" "We don't drag," he said sincerely. "We nudge." "Who runs the group?" "I do," he said. He extended his hand across the desk. "I'm Brother James." I didn't ask whose brother he was. I had enough brothers, four of them, all in their forties and far away with wives and kids whose names I usually couldn't remember. To them, all of them, Carlisle, Illinois, was like a disease; it had infected my mother and they were damned if it was going to get them too. I understood how they felt. The most famous people from our town were Eddie Wills, who got a football scholarship to the University of Illinois, sat on the Fighting Illini bench for four years, and returned to open a shoe store downtown, and Bud Porter, who stepped on a land mine in Vietnam and for twenty-five years had sat every day at the table at the Sheetz drinking cherry Slurpees and letting kids touch his fiberglass leg. The sign when you entered Carlisle read, home of the 3a cross country district champs, 1984 -- go bees! My mother was in her vegetable garden. It's small, but prosperous, supplying most of the neighborhood with tomatoes and green peppers for the majority of the summer. She was wearing jeans and a White Sox sweatshirt, some ragged gardening gloves with faded strawberries, and a big splintering straw hat. This was the kind of image that humiliated me as a child. Now, standing at the kitchen window, I found it comforting. "Turn on the hose!" she shouted at me. I went out back and turned the rusty knob, then joined her beside her tomato plants, which were withering, already preparing themselves for the first frost, their timely deaths. "Long walk," she said. I sat down on the soft earth beside her, twisted some grass around my finger. "Did you go down to the park?" she asked. "Those ducks are -- " "You've got a problem," I said. She adjusted her hat. "Just one?" "Haha." "All right, what's my problem?" "You're going to be broke in a year. You're going to lose this house, Mother." "Not if I win." "You're not going to win," I said. "You are never going to win." She set down her spade, brushed some hair from her forehead with the back of her hand. "What makes you so sure?" "I'm just sure." "That's a lousy answer. I wouldn't accept that from fourth graders, so I'm certainly not going to accept it from you." "Okay, then," I said. "What makes you so sure you will win?" "God told me." This gave me pause. Then I thought: This is my mother; things can only get so weird. "Tell me you're kidding," I said. "Of course I'm kidding. What kind of lunatic do you think I am?" "Listen," I said. "There's this church down on Locust, this -- " "I know all about it," she interrupted. "Mr. Jenkins keeps leaving their literature in my mailbox. I see him sneaking out there after he thinks I've gone to bed." "Go for me," I said. "Just one time, just tomorrow night. Go for me." "I can't tomorrow. There's a drawing." "So you can tape it and watch it when we get home," I said. "Look at it this way -- you can live in blissful denial for an extra two hours." She smiled wistfully, and a gust of wind knocked her hat to the ground. When Brother James said the group was intimate, he wasn't kidding. There were only three people there when we arrived, besides the Brother. My mother took one look at them sitting around the little conference table in the basement and turned back toward the stairs. I blocked her exit and she entered the room with a flourish, as if she were entering a cocktail party. "Hello all," she said cheerily. "Come in, come in," Brother James said, waving us to join. The members of the group introduced themselves. Rick, definitely a corn farmer, was there with his tense wife. It was his first time too. Then there was a tall and lanky guy, Andy. He was unshaven and wore a ripped army jacket, looked like he had made a wrong turn on the way to the homeless shelter. Farmer Rick, it turned out, had a card problem. He had played a friendly game of poker with some friends once a week for twenty years, so friendly, in fact, that he had lost all of his wife's savings to his friends. "And Andy?" Brother James said. "I'm your run-of-the-mill equestrian addict," Andy said. "Forgive me," the farmer's wife said, her cheeks reddening. "We're new at this. Is that like LSD?" Brother James sighed. "Andy bets money on horses," he said. "And Hildegard?" "Hildy, please," my mother said, flushing. "Hildy?" "I enjoy buying a few lottery tickets," she said. I snorted, and she shot me a look. "What's a few?" Brother James asked. I opened my mouth but he raised a hand to shush me. "Three hundred each drawing," my mother said. "But I have plenty of money, I can afford it. And I'm not addicted." "See?" Farmer Rick said to his wife. "See? What'd I tell you?" My mother, sensing an ally, turned to him and smiled. "You're not addicted either?" "Oh, that's not what I meant," he said. "No, I was just telling her earlier that it could be worse, that I could be buying lottery tickets." My mother paused. Then she said, "This from a poker player." "Well now," Brother James said, grasping his hands together. "Looks like it's time for our first lesson. We work as a team. A team. We're here to support each other, not cut each other down." "But it's much more interesting that way, Brother James," Andy piped in. Brother James grimaced. "Andy's been with us for quite a while," he said. "He's seen a lot of people cured, haven't you Andy?" Andy shrugged. "Sure. Then most of them start turning up on Mondays." "What's Mondays?" the farmer's wife asked hopefully. "AA," Andy said. Brother James forced a chuckle. Andy smiled. He had incredibly straight teeth. He caught me looking at him and winked in my direction. My mother sighed. After the group was over, Andy cornered me outside the door. "I'm heading over to the track," he said. "You want to come?" "No thanks," I said. "What track?" "Kathy..." my mother said. "We need to get home." "Fairmount Park," Andy said. He stretched his long arms over his head, yawned. "That's three hours from here," I said. "My lucky track this month," he said. "Wanna come? Great nachos." "I hate nachos," I said. He shrugged. "Suit yourself, daughter of lottery addict." "I'm not an addict," my mother said. This time, I refused to watch the drawing with her. I sat on my old bed in my old room flipping through an old People magazine. Princess Diana was on the cover, smiling with baby William, having no idea she would end up bulimic and divorced and dead. My mother appeared in the doorway, holding a single ticket in the air. "What?" I asked. I had an instant -- a tiny and surprisingly beautiful moment -- where I believed that she had actually won. "Four numbers," she said. "Four numbers. I'm getting closer, Kathy." I threw the magazine on my lap. "You're not getting closer. Luck is not something you can get closer at. Did I dream it, or were you not once a teacher, a fairly sensible person?" "How can you sit with those people for two hours and come away thinking I have a problem? They're obviously far worse off than I am." "Mother, addiction is not measured by degrees." "Oh my God," she said. "You're becoming one of them. You left your life in Phoenix for this?" Then, sitting there in my old bed in my old room with my old mother, I felt myself start to crack. It crept in my toes and up my thighs and through my stomach and past my heart and into my head and -- much to my humiliation -- I felt my eyes well up with tears. It wasn't that I had left anything behind in Phoenix that got to me; it was that I hadn't left anything behind in Phoenix. You should not be thirty-five years old and be able to leave your home behind with a day's notice. There should be people to call, troubles to iron out, explanations to give. But there had been none of that. I didn't even get a newspaper. "Oh, honey," my mother said, coming to my bed. "I didn't mean it. You're nothing like them, really." "I can't believe I'm back in this town," I said. "I can't believe I'm back in this shitty town and it's exactly the same as when I left and I'm exactly the same as when I left." "No you're not," she said, petting my cheek. "You're all grown up." I swatted her hand away. "What exactly has changed? I'm a two-time loser, Mother. Just ask Mr. Jenkins or anybody else in the neighborhood." "I'm a two-time loser too," she said. "Yeah, but one of your husbands died, so it doesn't really count. You're like a two-time loser with an asterisk. You didn't blow it twice." "Maybe I did," she said. "How do you know? Maybe I was blowing it with Walt and he died before we could go through with the divorce." I wiped my nose, amazed. "Is that true?" "Well no," she said. "But it could be. All I'm saying is there are always circumstances, honey. It's never as simple as it sounds. Who cares what people think?" "You don't care that people think you're crazy?" "I care that my daughter thinks I'm crazy. That's why I went tonight. But no, it makes no difference to me what other people think." "Then you're crazy," I said. "Maybe so," she said. She stood up, waved the nearly successful lottery ticket above my bed. "But when I'm rich everyone will say I'm merely eccentric." The next day I was lying on the couch watching TV when my mother stuck her head into the living room. "I don't mean to alarm you," she said. "But your boyfriend's been sitting in the front yard for ten minutes." "Funny," I said, not raising my head from the pillow. "I'm not kidding." She opened the blinds, and I sat up to see out the window. Andy, the pony better, was sitting beside the mailbox. When he saw us looking at him he waved. "What's he doing here?" "I couldn't imagine." "Maybe he's here for you, you know, for a little impromptu group therapy." "I sincerely doubt that," she said. "Now go on out and tell him to stop lazing in the front yard before Mr. Jenkins calls the police." I got up and went warily to the door, opened it and stepped out onto the porch. "Hi there," he called. "Want to go for a stroll?" "A what?" "You know," he said, standing. "A stroll. Like walking, but happier." Well, I decided, I hadn't had my walk today. And I did need to get him off the yard. I closed the front door and joined him in the lawn and he started walking. "What're you up to today?" he asked. "Nothing," I said. "TV." "Sounds fun," he said. I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or not, so I didn't respond. "You're from around here, aren't you?" Andy asked. "How'd you guess? The tattoo on my forehead?" "I remember you," he said. "You were a couple years ahead of me in high school. When'd you graduate? Eighty-two? Eighty-three?" "Something like that," I said. "You played the cello, right?" "I supported the cello," I said. "And I moved the bow. I wouldn't go so far as to say I played it." He grinned. We turned the corner onto Spruce Street, heading toward the Sheetz. "Check this out," he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. "Ninety bucks," he said. "Down to five measly dollars and I nailed the last race. There's some grace for you, huh? Can I buy you a Slurpee?" We were now standing in front of the Sheetz. School had let out, and there were several little Bees buzzing around, smoking cigarettes and flirting. We went into the store. Bud Porter was sitting with his leg propped up in the booth, slurping his Slurpee and reading Mad magazine. "Hey Budster," Andy said. "Hey Andster," Bud Porter said. I let Andy buy me a grape Slurpee and we went and sat down in the booth behind Bud Porter. "Blowing off work for a date, Andy?" Bud asked, not looking up from his magazine. "I got the afternoon off," Andy said. "You have a job?" I asked. Too late I tried to keep the astonishment out of my voice. "Sure," he said. "Whatdya think, I rob banks to support my habit?" "I knew a guy who robbed banks," Bud Porter said behind me. I ignored him. "What do you do?" I asked Andy. "Fix up furniture," he said. "I work with about a dozen secondhand shops in the area, fix up crappy stuff until it looks like something somebody'd want in their house. Makes me enough money to support the old addiction." "You don't seem to have any problem with the old addiction." "Why should I?" he asked. "If you're going to be addicted to something, you may as well be addicted to something that there's some possible payoff for in the end. Sure, I could smoke dope. But what good would that do me? Least this way I have a chance." "A chance for what?" "Winning," he said. "Like your mom. She could be drinking, you know. Or stuffing herself with doughnuts. You should be glad she's only buying lottery tickets. Gambling is the optimist's addiction. It's the only one that makes any sense." "So why do you go to group if you don't care if you're addicted?" "You know what I love about this town?" he asked, skirting my question. "There's always the same number of people. I've been here my whole life and as many people as die or move out get born or move in. That always amazes me. Lots of little towns die, lots of towns boom. Not many towns are consistently thirty-five hundred people." "You like that?" "Good for my business," he said. "Somebody's always getting rid of furniture but somebody's always looking to buy it. And all the stuff along the street on junk pickup, you wonder where it's coming from. Attics. All the attics in this town are full. But they keep being full. I don't exactly understand it; I just ride with it." He took a drink from his Slurpee. "Whada you do? You don't still live here, do you?" "God no," I said. "I live in Phoenix. I'll be going back soon." "I knew a guy from Phoenix," Bud said from behind me. He lowered his magazine when I turned around. "He ate dirt." "Wanna get some air?" Andy asked. I was already standing. Andy said good-bye to Bud and we went back out onto the street. "Old Bud," Andy said, heading back down Spruce. "He's got some stories. What's your story?" "I don't have a story," I said. "Well, I do, but it's dull." "I doubt that." "Why?" He shrugged. "Dunno," he said. "You just seem like someone with a story. You've got that aura about you." "Give me a break," I said. "Your horses have auras?" "Sure do," he said. "I'm just not so great at reading them most of the time." We walked home. How many times had I walked this walk? Grade school, high school, girls beside me, boys beside me, no one beside me. It made me sick to think about; I could have closed my eyes and not missed a step. "So what's in Phoenix?" Andy asked suddenly. "My ex-husband's job," I said. "I can see why you're so anxious to get back," he said. If I'd known him better, I probably would have hit him. "Thanks for letting me buy you a Slurpee," he said. "You're welcome." "Maybe I'll see you around?" "Maybe," I said. But I didn't really think so. My mother was acting weird. Well, weirder. I'd walk into a room and catch her staring out the window. At the dinner table I'd offer her a cup of coffee three times before she'd even hear me. One morning she was in the shower for over an hour, and twice in the middle of the night I heard her above me, rummaging around in the attic. I wondered if she were up there looking for things she could sell. The third time, I got out of bed and went up the attic stairs to find her. She was sitting on an old dining room chair with a needlepoint pillow for a seat cushion. She had a box on her lap and was sifting through it. "Whatcha looking at?" I asked. She looked up, didn't seem surprised that I was standing there. "Just things," she said. "Old Christmas cards, things like that." "How come?" She shrugged. "You're here," she said. "It's too sad for an old woman living alone to get up in the middle of the night to look through things in her attic. Makes it better if there's someone else in the house." She held up a construction paper Santa Claus. "Dear Mommy and Daddy," she read off the back. "Hohoho and I want some Hot Wheels. Love Teddy." She smiled. "He has a Camaro now." "See, he got his Hot Wheels," I said. I rested my hand on an old TV. "Was this Daddy's?" I asked. "One of the things he was going to fix up?" "Your father..." she said. My whole life, this had been my mother's response to any mention of her first husband. "Your father..." and nothing more. What else needed to be said? "You gonna go to that group tomorrow?" I asked. "I might," she said. "You have a message you want me to relay?" "No," I said. "He seems like a nice enough boy. Isn't often someone sits quietly in your front yard and waits to be acknowledged." I was sleepy, and this pissed me off. "What are you saying, Mother? You think I should go on dates to the track with him? Make this gambling thing a real family affair?" She was quiet. She set the box down at her feet. Then she said, "Honey, don't you ever just want to hope for something?" "I think I've hoped enough, thanks," I said. She gazed at the backs of her hands. "You know what Walt used to say about you? He used to say you were the best of the bunch. That girl, he said, is going places." "And here I am," I said. "In the attic in the middle of the night with my depressed mother, rooting through boxes of Christmas cards and petting broken-down TVs. Old Walt was a smart guy. I've really gone places, haven't I?" "When are you leaving?" she asked wearily. The question took me aback. "I don't know." "Well figure it out," she said. "I was wrong about having someone else in the house. It's actually sadder when the other person is you, Kathy. Why don't you just pack your bags and go back to Phoenix? Better yet, why don't you get even farther away? Would that make you happy?" "Good night," I said. "Will you be leaving tomorrow?" "I can't leave tomorrow," I said. "Tomorrow you might win the lottery." But she didn't. While she was at group I watched the drawing without her, went through all her tickets and then left the pile sitting on the floor, wrote "Too Bad" on the top ticket and went upstairs to my room. I lay in the dark and thought about what I would do when I got back to Phoenix. I pictured myself walking into my apartment and opening my mail, checking my answering machine. I saw myself changing into sweatpants and sitting down on the couch and flipping on the television, listening to the Mallorys next door fighting about whose turn it was to take the dog out. I heard my mother come into the house. I thought she would come to my room, say good night, at least make some snide comment about the note I had left for her on her stack of loser tickets. But after the stairs creaked I heard her go into her room, then the sounds of the faucet, the flush of the toilet, the soft din of the TV in her bedroom. Fine, I thought. And I closed my eyes. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a noise. I sat up in bed and heard it again, hail pelting against my window. But it was only mid-September, no time for hail, even in stupid Illinois. I got up and went to the window, opened the blinds. Andy was standing on our front lawn, a handful of pebbles in his hand. He waved. I closed the blinds, stood there motionless for a moment. Then I slipped on a loose sweatshirt and went downstairs, opened the front door. He was sitting in the middle of the lawn, juggling the pebbles. "What's up?" he said. "What time is it?" I asked. "I dunno," he said. "Three-something." I shivered against the cold and he stood up. "Just back from your lucky track?" I asked. He shrugged. "Not so lucky anymore." "Didn't win the last race?" "I didn't even make it to the last race." A light came on in Mr. Jenkins's upstairs. I saw the blinds split, and I took a step back into the darkened doorway. Andy smiled. "You gonna get busted? Think he might call your mom?" "Police is more like it." He shrugged. "No warrants on me," he said. "You want to walk?" "Is the Sheetz open?" "Open all night," he said. "But I'm busted. Wanna go down to the park?" I looked up at Mr. Jenkins's window, could see his shadow against the blinds. He was probably worried Andy was going to mess with his lawn. "Okay," I said. "Let's go." The park was four blocks away, where our street dead-ended. I had played there with my brothers as a child, spent years wading in the pond looking for gold until my oldest brother finally broke the news that I wouldn't find any. "Saw your mom at group tonight," Andy said. "She's gonna be okay, you know? I think she'll stop pretty soon with the tickets. Sometimes people have weird ways of grieving." "I guess," I said, unconvinced. "She cracks me up, though. Spent half the meeting correcting the Brother's grammar." "Why do you keep going?" I asked. He shoved his hands in his pockets, shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "Goodwill, I guess. I take it wherever I can get it, and there's not much at the track." "I'm going back to Phoenix," I said. "Tomorrow probably." He stopped. We were at the entrance of the park. On the banks of the small pond, dozens of ducks slept in groups of two and threes. "How come?" he asked. "My mother's had it with me." "That's too bad," he said. "Yeah?" He started walking again. "I used to run in this park all the time," he said. "Whatdya mean run?" "You know, run. Like walking, but faster. I did cross country in high school. I loved this place. Some of the guys always wanted to run on the track, around and around and around a thousand times. I always thought it was a lot nicer here." "You were a Bee?" He grinned. "I was more than a Bee. I was a District Champ Bee, 1984." "No way," I said. "The sign. On the sign, that's you?" "Me and five other guys, yeah." I shook my head. "You're famous." "Yep," he said. "That's me. Famous Andy of Carlisle. Ran the course in 19:41 thirteen years ago. Unforgettable, huh?" "You still run?" "Once in a while," he said. "At night, sometimes, when I go out the turnstile at the track, I just start sprinting to my car. Never much of a sprinter, but it feels good sometimes, to just turn on the gas." He squatted down on the ground beside the pond. There were two ducks about twenty feet to our left, sound asleep beside each other, their beaks buried in their wings. "Look at those guys," Andy said. "They're probably thankful there's no one pelting bread at them." "I can't believe they're just sitting there," I said. "They usually get scared." "They'll wake up in a minute," he said. "Pick up our scent or something, open their eyes and waddle away." "How do you know?" "I told you. I love this place." I squatted down beside him. "Hey, wanna wager?" he asked. "On what?" "I'll take the one on the right, the one with the brown in his feathers. He wakes up first, you buy me a Slurpee. The other one wakes up, you owe me nothing." "Is that it?" "What do you mean, is that it? A wager's a simple thing, Kathy." "Okay," I said. "You're on." I extended my hand and he took it. I tensed up for a second, almost lost my balance in my squat, and he gripped my fingers to keep me from falling. "No cheating," he whispered. "You gotta stay still, or the bet's off." So we sat there in silence, still holding hands, listening to the distant hum of the highway. There was no moon, and the water in the pond looked black and deep, reflectionless. My duck, the one on the left, fluttered a wing at a passing moth, seemed just on the verge of opening his eyes. I felt Andy's breath catch, and I thought of what my mother had said, about wanting to hope for something. A cool breeze from the west slid through the park; the leaves above us rustled and Andy's duck twitched his feathers in his sleep. "Wake up," I whispered. "Wake up." Copyright © 1999 Susan Perabo. All rights reserved.

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