“The Downtime”

by Paul Ahern

I. DISTURBANCE

It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve seen breasts.

I’m not happy.

These are not festive breasts. These are not breasts to spread good cheer. These are alarming breasts. These are breasts brought forward to remind us, even on this night of miracles, of misery. And it looks, as well, as if they are going to impose upon my enjoying the complimentary All-Day Special Number 1-A from Jade Island Restaurant (in appreciation of Gorham PD). These are breasts to upend even the simplest of pleasures.

These are Mary Holkum’s breasts.

Mary lives in a neighborhood full of little winterized cottages called Bunker Lake. A thriving retreat community for Bostonians in the 1920’s, the man-made pit is now off-limits to swimming or beaching or even dog-walking because of decades of dumped cars, oil, and God-knows-what-else. Similarly, Mary’s breasts had probably once been a rather coveted destination of Foghat fans in the mid-70’s. But now?

As was the case with every other visit, after a day spent warding off (or summoning in) the demons with gin and lemonade, she has lifted her spotted Champion sweatshirt and revealed them: pocked and pitted, yellowed and waxy, and emitting from somewhere, the shirt, her skin, I don’t know– stale tobacco.

“Mary, why are you showing me that?” I ask.
“Because, this, Officer Paul.” She says, pointing to some incidental scrape or bruise on the underside of, I think, (I’m sort of closing my eyes, here), her left one.
“Did he do that?”
“Who?”
“Your husband, your ex…Mary, the reason you called us here?”
“Him? You kidding me? I’d kill him. I fell”
“Then, why are you showing me them?” The breasts are never relevant to the call, but somehow reflect the injustice done her by the ex, his wife, his mother, her son and daughter, DSS, the town, the government…

Why not the dent in her car? The leaking roof? The stack of bills? Her son’s report card? But her breasts?

“Ma’am, is this a 209A incident?” My backup, Grady, asks (he loves to be official).
“The fuck he just say?” Mary spits.
( I want so badly to say “who knows?”). “He didn’t hit you, did he?”
“Who? The ex? You kiddin’.”
“Have you even seen him today, Mary?” (You’d think a logical question).
“Who?”
Grady whispers to me, ” I think we’ll need a report here.” (Grady loves reports).
“For what, Grady?”
“I’d kill him if he tried…but look here…”
And so on.

There will be several more shirt lifts coming and then, from across the street, there will be Mary’s former in-laws complaining about parking or lawn upkeep. That’s how the cycle goes. And the Bunker is filled with such families who hate their in-laws and have resided there for generations; resistant to the developers who wanted to level their homes and start a sub-development. They’ve held out and while the rest of the town is prime Boston suburban real estate, the Bunker remains Gorham’s dirty little secret.

“Control to all units…Anyone in the area of Morse Road?”
Not really, but I’ll be quick to hop if it’s something less unnerving than Mary’s breasts.
“Report of deer in the road…”
That’ll do. “Car 3’s got it.”
“Car 4 will back him up.” My buddy Lewis calls out. I’ve been avoiding him because I know that he will prod me for what I know. He always prods for what you know.
And tonight, I know.
“Keep your shirt on,” I say to Mary on my way out (Come on. Really?).

II. BUCK

I drive through the Bunker, and with some distance from her (and them), I feel pity for Mary: falling into union with Holkums — she had been a McClain, and while still from the lesser part of town, Mary was not a Bunker girl. And the Bunker people, like the warped and mutated fish of Bunker Lake that school in the oil, the Holkums could live with it, even depended on the muck, thriving in it. Mary McClain had  stumbled into the slick and was now flapping in a circle, while the Holkums continued on their merry dysfunctional way.

“I’ll be out here,” I call.
Lewis, gun by his side, is standing over the deer in the middle of the road. The deer must have been nicked on the highway and had limped its way over to the residential pocket. I get out and walk over.

“He’s done.” Lewis mutters and holsters the unfired gun.
“It’s a buck, huh?” I say, flicking his crown of antlers.
“Was.” He laughs (Lewis loves gallows humor; even with deer).
I’ve moved with caution around him since he and his wife separated.
“How you doing?” He asks (mainly, so I’ll ask how he’s doing).
“Good…you?”
“My life sucks,” He laughs, “The biz-atch is fucking me.”
“Yep,” I say.

“Let’s pull ’em over to the side here,” He says. I put on rubber gloves from my thigh pocket and grab the  back hooves. Lewis takes the front and we begin pulling, lifting the buck just enough off the pavement to stop the drag effect, and not so high that we bust our nuts.
“Hhhhh,” we grunt and move — this is the heaviest deer I’ve ever moved — in one, big exhale we go and short, choppy step the buck to the side of the road and leave him on a berm strip for the town to pick up. We are recovering when we hear, “No…not there.”
We look over and a suburban-dad type is walking towards us across his lawn. We hate suburban-dad types nudged out the door to annoy and so we take the ready.

“Excuse me?”
“You can’t leave him there.” The guy protests.
“Really, buddy?” Lewis huffs.
“Sir,” I say, holding Lewis back, “We have a call into animal control. By town law, we are required to leave the animal here in the event it’s contaminated…”
“No, it’s not that. I get that. I’m not busting balls, guy,” He says, and by saying “balls,” he has hoisted up a white flag (he’s one of us). “It’s just, look–” He holds his hands up, as if feeling for rain. We look up to the sky, “The neighborhood…lots of kids…it looks like one of it fell off a roof?”
Holy shit. Lewis and I nod. Santa’s reindeer mangled in the street!
“Here, let me help you guys.” He says.
“That’s okay, you don’t wanna touch this without gloves.” I tell him.
“Yeah, rabies shots are no fun…”
“Let’s go to the woods over there” Lewis says and we begin moving.

Hhhhhhh.

“She’s a pain in my ass.”
“Where are we going?” I say.
“Cutting through.”
“That’s a yard.” I say.
“No shit.” He says. “Are you going to listen or what?…she wants the kid.”
“I know.”
“You know?”
“I mean: Yeah, I figured.”

Hhhhh.

“Lewis…”
“What?”
“Hold on,” I stop and drop the buck. “Let me get my grip…Lewis, I saw her at Picadilly.”
“Who? The biz-atch?”
“She was with that guy, whatever his name is, with the mustache. They were at the bar. I probably should’ve said, but I was out with my own indiscretion, ya know, and I thought she’d come after me if I told you.”
“So you were going to hold out on me to cover your ass?”
“I don’t know. The place was packed. I don’t know what she doing there, Lewis…”
“You know exactly what she was doing…”

We are in a backyard before the woods and we hear voices and a radio. We squeeze along a walking path and find ourselves on a terrace lit with a BBQ grill, flood lights, and children with glow sticks listening to “Santa’s progress” on the radio, the parents’ music, from a stereo within the house scores the scene.

We stop, holding the dead deer and stare at the group. The buck’s tongue  droops out a corner.

“Scuse us,” Lewis says, “Prancer here is a little tired. Needs some rest.” The group just continues to stare at us, eating hot dogs.

We are clear from them and beginning to burrow in the woods, Lewis leading, when I begin losing my grip again. Lewis’s grudge has faded; we begin snorting with an odd laughter at the scene…
“You believe this shit?”

“Here,” He says and drops the thing. Lewis’s end is on a the dip of slope, and so, I feel the sudden plunge of the weight amplified.
“Awww, fuck!” I yelp as I completely lose grip . The buck’s sharpened hoof has sliced through the latex and into my thumb. “I’m cut here. Friggin’ bleeding.” I grip my wrist in pain.
“Are you serious?” He says, before turning and heading back. He’s laughing. “They can carry shit. You gotta check that out. Fuckin’ guy…”

I’m thinking about the rabies shots they have to give as we head back…unless…unless the buck wasn’t contaminated. Aw shit, that’s why they pick them up, the town, so they can test them.

I’m wondering if it’d be worth it to pull it out of the woods? Fuck it: Merry Christmas, Lewis.

III. 1-A

Lewis opens his cruiser door. “Let’s meet up later…we don’t, Merry Christmas.” And he’s gone.

I step in my cruiser and grab napkins from an old, crumpled take-out bag on the floor and wrap my bleeding thumb.

“Control to all units…One car at a time, return to the station…our order is here…”
“Received” the four of us call in succession.

1-A! It’s here! But I’m Car 2?!

And then, Grady calls out from Mary Holkum’s “Car two can go ahead, I’ll be tied up here awhile…they’ll be a report on this.”

Of course. Thank you, Mary.

I punch the gas and tighten my grip and…Owww!… a throbbing goes through my right (chopstick supporting!) thumb.

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