Editor’s Note: These three stories by Barry Peters were finalists for the Show Us Your Short-Shorts Editors’ Prize.
It was my first trip home in seven years. I visited my family and then went looking for high school friends. I hadn’t talked to any since going to college and becoming an accountant halfway across the country.
At the park where we used to hang out I saw Andy O’Connor. He had the same long face and spaghetti-blonde hair. He was on the playground with his two younger sisters. They were grown now, skinny women probably nineteen and twenty. I couldn’t remember their names.
Hey, Andy said, as if we saw each other every day.
The sisters twirled on the swings. They looked drunk. It was the middle of the afternoon.
What a day, one of them said over and over, her red face tilted toward the sun. The other one started singing. It was nonsense.
Andy didn’t drink with us in high school. One time his father came to basketball practice and shot at an open hoop. He stumbled around, throwing up airballs. He’s drunk, somebody whispered. Our coach kept us at the other end of the court.
When we were seniors, the father died of a brain tumor. Near the end the O’Connors kept him in a hospital bed in the living room.
You wanna give me a hand? Andy asked.
Eventually we talked the sisters into leaving the park. I offered to drive them somewhere in my rental car.
No, Andy said. Let’s walk them home.
The sisters were happy, cooperative drunks. They complimented my shirt. They didn’t know who I was.
I tried to ask Andy some questions — what he was doing now, what the old gang was up to. But he shook me off, mumbled something, jerked his thumb at the sisters.
They all lived together, still, a few blocks from the park. The sisters wobbled down the sidewalk, laughing and talking about things I knew nothing about.
Let’s go, Andy kept saying. Almost there.
The sisters talked some more about my shirt. They argued about the color, whether it was blue or green, aqua or turquoise. They put their hands on the fabric. Cotton, one said. Silk, said the other.
Their house looked the same, a shutterless brown Cape with a rough lawn. We walked around in back where their old rabbit hutch leaned against a slumping wire fence. There were four or five rabbits inside.
One of the sisters opened the door. A gray hare shivered in a corner. She grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and took it out.
Here, she said, handing it to me. Take him. He’s yours.
Andy shrugged his shoulders.
I said good-bye to the O’Connors. There would be no reminiscing. I realized Andy’s life meant nothing to me. The sisters, though, were quite interesting.
Back at the park I found my rental car. Before I took off, I put the rabbit in the grass at the edge of the woods near the basketball court. It sat there for a minute, still as stone. Then it ran off.
One Afternoon at the Open
Conroy marks his ball with a dime then replaces it with a grasshopper. He gently points the grasshopper’s face toward the cup. Neither his playing partners nor the crowd thinks this is unusual; it is well-known that Conroy grew up playing public courses, not country clubs.
The grasshopper, understanding the gravity of golf, remains perfectly still while Conroy walks around the green surveying the lay of the land, the slope and the grain. How things are going to break. He plumb-bobs, a technique that looks expert to the spectators and on television but has no real purpose. He consults with his caddy, who agrees that he should aim six inches to the left.
Conroy takes two practice strokes and then stands beside the grasshopper, ready to putt. In golf parlance this is called addressing the ball. Or in this case, addressing the grasshopper. A minute of silence and stillness passes, which is not unusual on a golf course. But after another minute, Conroy has yet to move.
“Grasshopper,” Conroy says, now literally addressing the grasshopper, “I’d love to strike you with the sweet spot of my putter, but I can’t bring myself to do it.”
Being unable to swing at the ball, to pull the trigger, occasionally afflicts professional golfers. This case of performance anxiety is informally referred to as the yips, as in Ian had to retire from the game early because he had the yips.
The grasshopper, well-acquainted with nerves and, consequently, the need for peace, smiles at Conroy and then hop-flies into the cup.
The crowd politely applauds. Conroy tips his cap.
A breeze blows through the window in the middle of the summer night. Jean-Michel, lying awake beside Brigitte, raises both hands, feels the air against his palms, closes his fingers into fists.
Why this country has no air conditioning is only one of his many complaints.
Jean-Michel sees the outline of his fists in the dark. He considers what to do with the caught wind. He could throw it back out the window at the half-moon. He could sprinkle it on Marie as she murmurs through a dream.
Finally, Jean-Michel turns his hands toward his own sweating face and opens them slowly. Cold air bursts forth, gusts like blown ice. It is relentless. Tornadic. He lies there freezing, his cheeks and chin and lips bitter with frost, his hair pinned to the pillow like so many icicles.
Jean-Michel tries to close his hands, to put down his arms, but they seem numb, paralyzed in place.
Brigitte, he tries to whisper. No sound emerges.
When Brigitte wakes in the morning, Jean-Michel is gone. He often goes to work early, especially when he has trouble sleeping. And in this early hour, it is already hot as hell.
Brigitte, icing her coffee, thinks Jean-Michel will be especially grim at dinner tonight after his long, hot day at the office. And then the ride home in the furnace of the Metro – she will listen to his litany patiently, her own work unremarked upon.
But Brigitte is wrong. At six o’clock Jean-Michel arrives in a grand mood, calling to her from the street. He has not taken the Metro. He is, in fact, atop a horse — a big, black, beautiful stamping and neighing horse. With one hand Jean-Michel holds the reins; with the other he clutches, by the neck, a bag of wind.
Barry Peters is a writer and teacher in Durham, NC. He has published fiction and poetry in Witness, Rattle, Sudden Fiction (Continued), Sport Literate, and elsewhere.
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