They sat. Deep pools of shadow thrown by the street lamp spread across the grass and disappeared over the pond.
After a while, Jude reached around Eddie for the cigarette pack and shook out another.
“That’ll be your second since you come over here,” Eddie said.
Jude lit the cigarette. “Send me a bill.”
“I’ve only finished my first.”
Jude held out the pack. “Have another. They’re yours you know.”
Eddie shook his head. “I try to pace my intake. Rumor has it the damn things’ll kill you. Not as quick as liquor, but
dead as Hell all the same.”
Jude laid the pack back on the stoop.
“You kindly seemed to have gotten hooked awful fast.”
“Too much thinking.”
“That’ll do it to a feller.”
“Did to me.”
“What’s gotten you apondering?”
Jude studied the ash on the end of his cigarette. “Until a few months ago, my life had been remarkable for not being
“How do you mean?”
“Nothing ever happened. Same mom, same dad, right through, content if not happy. Never so much as a whisper of
one or the other straying. Never heard either badmouth or even raise their voices at the other. Seldom raised them
at me or George or Melissa.”
“Your folks are good people.”
“No deaths in our family, not so much as a grandparent. Only a couple of great grandparents I don’t remember
seeing. Most excitement I’ve known in my life was Friday night football when I was in high school. Until a month ago.”
“What happened a month ago?” Eddie said.
“Tried my first felony.”
“The one with the minister?”
“You won, though.”
“Yeah,” Jude said.
“So what’s bothering you?”
Jude raised his wire-framed glasses to his forehead and leaned back and lay looking up at the starless night. “When
you’re a kid, you know there’s evil in the world, that there’s bad guys out there, somewhere, but they’re no more
real than the bad guys you see on television.”
“Well, you grew up in a better neighborhood than some of us.”
“Boggs, in the courtroom, not ten feet behind me.”
“A for-real bad guy,” Eddie said.
“Those three retarded girls he diddled would have had Hell to pay all their lives notwithstanding. Now on top of
everything else they have to deal with what Boggs did to them.”
Jude smoked. When he finished, he sat up and squished out the cigarette at the bottom of the stoop near the grass
and dropped it in the breast pocket of his pajamas. He reached around Eddie for the pack.
“That’s going to be your third,” Eddie said.
“I’ll get you a carton of Winstons tomorrow.”
“Thems are Salems.”
“I know what they are, but your brand’s still Winstons, right?”
Eddie held out his hand for the pack and tilted it toward the street lamp. “Three for me. Only two more for you.”
I know it’s fair. They’re my smokes.”
Eddie lay the pack down. “What else is botherin’ you.”
“Lisa’s dying, as young as she was and all.”
Eddie nodded. A night breeze swept the grass.
“I’ve gone through life with this picture in my head. I knew there was evil in the world, and I knew I wouldn’t live
forever, but it wasn’t for real.”
“Now it’s gettin’ to be.”
Jude drew down on the cigarette. “Now it’s getting to be.”
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Eddie softly tapped the rim of his wedding band on the concrete.
Jude looked at Eddie’s hand. He looked at Eddie. “When’d you lose your pinky?”
“Couple of month back.”
“How’d you managed that?”
“We was loading cylinders. Got to daydreaming instead of watching what I was doing. Smashed in between two of
Eddie looked down at his four-fingered hand. “What I told you a minute ago ain’t true.”
“Weren’t them crickets that waked me.”
“Dream I had. Been having some.”
Eddie shook his head, and the two sat. They seemed waiting for someone to arrive. After a while, Eddie reached
down for the cigarettes.
“Two for two now,” Jude said.
“Two for two.”
A one-beamed car drove down the street.
“Who could that be?” Jude said. “Kids coming back into town from a night of road drinking?”
“That’d be our Sammy Felder.”
“Post Office Sammy?”
Eddie turned his head and looked through his living room window. “Cain’t see the clock from here, but it must be
gettin’ on two-thirty ‘cause he needs to be out back of there by two forty-five for when the mail truck pulls in from
“How do you know it’s Post Office Sammy?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised what a feller can learn sitting out here if he does it often enough.”
They watched the red glow of the taillights until the car turned west onto Park Avenue.
“You know,” said Eddie, “I cain’t sleep in the bed no more.”
“I don’t know how you can stand to go inside.”
“First piece of furniture I ever made for us.”
“You’ve made some beauties.”
“Reach out, and they’ll be nothing but sheet and blanket for me to grab hold of, and I’ll think she got up and went to
the bathroom or maybe the kitchen for a glass of milk, and it’ll take a minute for it to come to me that she’s not
“How long were you married?”
“Going on eighteen year.” Eddie smiled down at he grass. “Dated since junior high, you know. Took her to the junior-
senior prom both times.”
“Now, I’ve taken to sleepin’ on the couch.”
“Can’t say as I blame you.
In the space between he and Jude, Eddie drew little circles on the concrete with his index finger. “In my dream,
when she comes, that’s where I am. Sleepin’ on the couch. She’s there, in the hallway, just outside the living room.”
“Cain’t see her. Cain’t see nothing, but I know it’s her.”
“Dreaming that would wake up anyone.”
“She’s naked,” Eddie said. “Don’t ask me how I know since I cain’t see her or nothing, but she is.”
Eddie fell silent. He looked out across the pond to the black-pollarded clouds running across the horizon beyond.
Jude waited for him to go on. When he did not, Jude asked if Lisa spoke to him.
Not at first, Eddie told him. “I was afraid to say anything. To ask her how she was.”
Eddie looked at him, his eyes cloudy as blue marbles. “Because what you don’t talk about with a person when they’
re still here, you damn sure don’t when they’re gone. Maybe doubly so when they’re gone.”
“Why doubly so?”
“Because you don’t know what word it is that might send them away again.”
Jude nodded. He watched Eddie’s circling finger. “So what do you do?”
“Open my eyes. Nothing more. I don’t stand. I don’t raise my head. I don’t move so much as a toe. I try not to blink,
try not to breathe.”
“Finally, she talks to me. She says if I want to be with her, I must come now. Not in an hour, not in five minutes.
“What do you tell her?”
“I cain’t get my mouth to work, and when I don’t answer she crosses the carpet and sits on the floor by my head,
facing away, looking back toward the bedroom. That’s when I wake up. Screaming.”
Eddie looked down at the cigarettes. “That’s when I come out here.”
“What do you think would happen if you’d said yes?”
“Ain’t happened yet.”
“She comes every night, and every night I come out here.”
Eddie smiled. “I’ll tell you one thing, brother.”
“She keeps comin’ this away, I’m gonna be one frosty sonofabitch come winter.”
“Maybe they’ll stop soon.”
Eddie shook his head. “It don’t seem likely.”
“Why do you think she sits by the head of the couch?” Jude asked.
Eddie looked out at the grass, their black, paper-shadows thin and slant before them. “Guess it’s ‘cause that’s
where I found her.”
“When you came home from work?”
Eddie nodded. “Knew as soon as I saw her. Her skin weren’t right. Yellerish, like an overripe pumpkin. Didn’t hardly
look like the same woman I kissed goodbye that morning. She weren’t naked nor nothing, not like in the dream. Had
on a flannel nightie. Her eyes, though, was open. Her jaw hung open, like in the moment before she went she’d
caught the first glimpse of what is, or maybe what isn’t.” Eddie shook his head. “Sitting in a pool of her own blood
“So what’d you do?”
“Dropped my lunch pail soon as I came in the door. Put my fingers to her neck, but there weren’t no pulse. Called
“How long did it take them?” Jude asked.
“Five minutes, maybe ten.”
“What’d you do while you waited?”
“Finally got to use that CPR the Fire Department gives lessons on each spring.”
He looked at Jude. “I had to try.”
“Yeah, you did.”
“You ever give mouth-to-mouth to a dead person.”
Eddie drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Sure ain’t the way I want to remember the girl I kissed in front of
“No, I expect not.”
“Like blowing into an empty grocery bag.”
“She was gone?”
“First time I blew into her, my heart skipped a beat for half-a-second ‘cause it seemed like she was breathing.” Eddie
pulled a drag from his cigarette, watched the pale blue smoke dissipate into the night. “Wasn’t. Just my own breath
coming back at me, sort of like an echo will.”
“How long do you think she was gone before you came home?
“Autopsy report put it at about three-fifteen.”
“You get home about five?”
“Yeah, so I would have spoken to her about an hour before. Called her at the two o’clock break. Told me she was
He looked at Jude. “Wish I could remember something.”
“Last words I said to her before I hung up.”
Jude turned away from his neighbor. He looked out at the pond, the pre-dawn breeze rising from the east carrying its
white mist toward them. He took off his glasses and wiped the lenses with the cuff of his pajama sleeve.
“I think I told her I loved her. That’s how we generally ended when we talked by phone. I probably did.” Eddie shook
his head. “Wish I could remember for certain.”
“I’m sure you did.”
“That’s the bitch about rememberin’.”
“You forget half of what you wish you could remember.”
“Yeah, you do sometimes.”
“And you remember all of what you wish you could forget.”
They sat, Eddie taking in with a slow movement of his eyes the night shadows before them. After a while, Jude
asked if he believed in dreams coming true.
“Lot’s of dreams come true,” Eddie said.
“You think so?”
“Oh, yeah. Trouble is, it usually ain’t the good ones.”
He looked at the end of his cigarette and reached for the pack. “Damn if I didn’t let this one go and die out on me
while we was apondering.”
Eddie struck the match and watched it drop into the grass. “Falling stars.”
“What about them?”
“Even if they don’t last long, you’re still grateful for having seen ‘em.”
He looked at Jude. “What’re you turning over?”
It took Jude a moment to answer, and when he turned to his neighbor he could see reflected in Eddie’s eyes his
own dual selves. “How long’s it been since you’ve slept the whole night through?”
“A while.” Eddie shrugged. “Maybe a bit longer.”
They sat. A fruit bat slowly glided under the light of the street lamp, twisting as it bared its underside to them before
it parried away into the night. After a while Jude raised his hand to his mouth and yawned and said if he didn’t go in,
his wife would be calling Lisa’s brother to put out an A.P.B. “What time does the Quickshop open? If I don’t get some
O.J. before she’s up, Christine will be stringing me up by my thumbs.”
“It’s open twenty-four hours.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I didn’t either.”
Eddie raised his cigarette. He lowered it again. “When do you think they’ll stop?”
“No. I’d welcome a dream. Just one. Say of me and her standing over there on the pond bank, throwing bits of bread
gone stale out to them ducks. I’d give my other pinky and one of my thumbs to dream one of them.”
“I don’t know. Give yourself a little more time.”
Eddie held up his hands and wiggled his nine remaining fingers. “Hope you’re right. Lose many more of these fellers,
and the Bartons’ll be cutting me lose.”
Neither spoke. After a while, Jude asked if he had any vacation days coming.
“Got a ton of ‘em.”
“Thirty, forty. Ain’t been able to use many these last few years with Lisa being sick and all.”
“Maybe do you some good to get away for a while.”
“Why don’t you take a road trip?”
Eddie didn’t answer.
“You ever driven cross country?”
Eddie smiled a thin, mocking grin intended only at himself. “I ain’t never been no more west than Indianer. Back
when I was in high school. Me and Mama drove out for the wedding of a cousin of Dad’s.”
“Why don’t you take a road trip? Drive out to Portland. Visit George. Blow off some steam along the way in Vegas or
maybe Reno. Your pickup could make it, no sweat.”
Eddie didn’t answer.
“You wouldn’t have to twist George’s arm hardly at all to take you fishing.”
“Lisa used to love go with me. Took her before we was even married. Just me and her out in our little row boat,
some evenings nothing biting but the mosquiters.”
Eddie yawned. “Guess I should be heading in, try to sleep some.” He nodded to the east beginning to gray. “Sun’s
fixin’ to come up in a bit.”
“Yeah, I guess I should go in too.”
Jude stood. “So you going to go out and see George.”
“Come see me before you leave if you do.”
“All right.” Eddie seemed in no hurry to go in.
“Thanks for the smokes.”
“Any time. Don’t worry none about buying another carton less’n you’re fixing to make coming over here a habit.”
Jude re-crossed their lawns, his black, paper-shadow following. He went inside the house and walked back to the
bedroom and turned down the covers. He started to climb under them, but stopped. He turned and went to the
window and looked out. The end of Eddie’s cigarette reddened and faded.
The springs in the mattress squeaked when Christine rolled over. “What’re you doing, sweetie?”
“What’s he doing?”
“Sitting on his stoop. Smoking. Rocking back and forth.”
Christine pulled the bed sheet up to her shoulders and watched her husband, watched the night shadows slowly
reel across the bedroom walls in their random minuet. She shivered. “Come back to bed, sweetie.”
Jude didn’t answer.
“I need you to come cuddle me. I’m cold.”
He did not come to bed, though, and as his neighbor rocked himself on his stoop, Jude stood at the window and
considered the darkness above, the blackness below, the baffled hope for love between, amorphous, no more
within his grasp than pond mist at the end of summer.
Rocking Page Two
by Scott Kauffman