This Is How It Started

He was supposed to win.

They told him he would and even before they did he had already thought it. But then they read the names: “Michael Davis’s ‘The Warm Dead,’ for the Walters’ Award for short fiction”; “Elizabeth Fry’s ‘Hearts of August’ for the Kenison award for romance”; and they walked to the podium in their suit coats and jeans, those boxy glasses to let you know they’re creative. They didn’t look like anyone he had ever read.

And when they started to run out of awards, as they got to the big one, his friends leaned in and said, “They’re saving the big one for you.”

And they read the name for the big one and it wasn’t his.

At the party afterwards, in the house just a walk from campus, the kids that had read his story came up and leaned in with their glasses of wine and said, “They musta dropped yours or something. Doesn’t even make sense.”

They said, “Don’t even worry about it. You’re just a junior; you got another year.”

And Saul smiled, because, he felt like if he didn’t, he’d have to say something. Then he gulped from his bottle of beer.

pagesBecause he’d been writing that story for years. It hadn’t been down on paper, but he got it there. And he couldn’t make a story like that again.

– – –

Pete wasn’t a writer and neither was Andy, but they both lived with Saul and knew there’d be beer or wine, probably both, and girls, which there were plenty of, at the party. Afterward, they all walked home in the snow along the edge of the street, in the slush that collects there,  passing a pop bottle filled with wine, and Andy, who was from an island commonwealth, bitched about the cold. Because, when he did, they couldn’t talk about Saul or Saul’s story or how they both had lost.

They made it home with little said, but when Saul walked into the living room, the red light on the answering machine was blinking. It was for him. It always was. He was the only one without a cell phone. He pushed the button. The tape rewound. It whined and rattled.

“Saul, it’s your mother,” the tape played.

Andy was arguing from the kitchen with Pete, who was in his room. Pete yelled, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Saul just stared at the box.

“Dad, papa, your grampa, this morning, last night, he passed away.”

Pete had walked into the living room. He and Andy were talking; then they weren’t.

Saul’s mother took a long ragged breath that was soft in the hiss of the tape. Andy turned from the box to Saul. “That is the worst, man. I’m sorry,” he said.

“I know you have class on Monday, but calling hours are Sunday and I think if you’re home for that, that’ll be good. That’ll be enough.” She sounded like she had been crying but was talking too fast for it to catch up. “The funeral’s on Monday; I know you have class, but you can probably miss a day. You never miss. You’re such a good boy. He was so proud of you. I think if you miss one class, it’ll be OK. But if it’s something important. But you may have to work, but if you’re here for the calling hours, I think that’ll be good.”

The tape clicked then rewound. Saul watched it. There were no other sounds.

“There’s only one thing to do now,” Andy said, and shook a bottle of rum he’d been carrying.

“Yeah. But not tonight,” Saul said. His eyes were still on the box. “I don’t think I can drink.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think I could get drunk. I feel like those parts of me have dried up.”

“What a poet, this guy,” Andy said. “How can they not give him an award?”

— We are an Old Town

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