Song of the Broad-Axe Publications

Excerpt from Amber, a forthcoming novel by Russell Block

Excerpt from Amber, a forthcoming novel by Russell Block

Amber takes timid breaths of twilight. Summer is on her skin and has altered her hair. The pair cast a long shadow back, across the lawn. Scott’s eyes are fixed on his daughter held in arm. Amber looks, at the houses on the other side of the park. They are mere shadows now, paper cutouts cast against a violet backdrop they see watered down at the edges where orange turns to blue. 

Flashes of silver speckle the street, there moved along by screaming pilots. Each has crusted with the sweat of the day. Each one rides free from the scorn of their parent’s attention. They heed no danger as they circle the park, covering increasing lengths of pavement with each pump of their legs. They race formlessly, as kids often will, the preamble to contest passing into determination. Scott watches them like greyhounds, placing a mental bet on the fastest looking one cut off around the first bend. He's forced, denied the inside track by a violent turn, inward, against the curb’s impediment. He gives standing chase when he recovers. On his face, frustration turns to hopeful determination as he rushes past Amber and Scott. In the groan of chain on gear and the hush of rubber on pavement, his will can be heard made. He passes with a vigor that shows no sign of defeat. It fades when his loss becomes apparent. The suburban Icarus pedals, continuing, defeated, back to the starting line defined in the aggregate of black lines new-made in the street by abrupt stops.

Scott hears the squabble arise on the other side of the park and watches as it gives way to a challenge. With a primal feeling in the air, the boys spend little time on conditions and ready themselves at their uneven starting line. Scott keeps careful track of their progress. Amber is distracted from it by nothing. The start has the makings of a fair contest. Scott's rider, muscling out those not content to ride behind him, manages the inside track around the first turn. This time past he condemns those still in competition to ride farther out in the street and struggle for better position around their next turn. The scratch of fiber sticks to skin and remains so, kept plastered there by a light sweat, as a knowing hand comes around Scott's side under the arm carrying their daughter. Scott's head turns and catches his wife on the lips.

They talk, staying close. Her hand rests, just where the shirt has gathered up movement, just now at his hip, which is turned towards her and away from the street. He bounces his daughter up and down. He says something to his wife that makes her smile. Her toes rake in grass. Leaning on heels, until flustered by a sudden blow, she turns away, an excuse of a caught eyelash given her. Smiling pauses at a new gumminess. As they follow, he gnaws on his daughter's arm with covered teeth. When he stops and looks at his daughter, he finds himself looking into his wife’s eyes with childish wonder for a moment entirely.

They walk down the driveway, the squabble arising again across the park. It fades. The scattered change of sounds consume it within the backyard's harbor, lost along with plant beds of the perimeter holding their familiar colors yet. And shrubbery and a fence line extend from a garage at the end of the driveway. A loose circle of women laugh next to the covered searing sound of the grill, and are outdone by the men sat around the fire deeper into the yard. They sit next to speakers disguised as rocks playing music of Scott's selection, set out where they are in competition with the constant insectile drones; and their intermittent conclusions come on the drip of all their continuing. The air rests heavy on the body’s fall and flesh of the men kept in chairs. Lit to distract from what might otherwise have been an entirely too intimate affair, they talk, and they seek the fire when they need it distractedly. Having been kept at bay by the suggestive glances of their gathered wives, they are just now starting to feel the friendly grip of alcohol on their very edges. They sit there, at a distance from the glow that makes the redundant heat comfortable. Inspired to lethargy by the heaviness, both the air’s and the heaviness of rest, they move as little as possible, all of them independently aware of the coming crisis that will leave them with nothing to drink. On such an effortless end to the afternoon it would be a long walk to the cooler for greater relief.

Scott continues to the fire cooing gently to his daughter. He draws the eyes upward of the two at the fire facing him. She laughs and smiles and doesn't say a word but hugs him tighter. While they walk to the yard, Keri breaks away from their group of women and catches up.

“Jane wants to meet Amber,” Keri says removing her beloved weight from her husband's arms.

“I'm going to go sit by the fire,” Scott replies as Keri leads Amber away and back over to the group of women stood in front of the plastic covered table. Jars and buns are arranged on top.

The women fawn over his daughter intentionally, for one another, so that Amber doesn't understand them except little. Scott lowers himself into the chair. As soon as he lets the plastic strain under his full weight, he realizes his mistake.

“Scott, happy to have ya back. You got nothing for yourself?—”

“Or us?”

“Or us.”

Been caught, he is beerless among a group of men who now finish theirs encouragingly. Scott gets the idea. Amid an even air of thanks and a single jibe, Scott, without anything quick enough in mind, pushes himself back out of the seat, pushing its stops deeper into the grass. He takes his time getting to the cooler.

“I made the mistake of sitting down with nothing to appease them.”

While on one knee with his hand rooting around in the water and ice, picking out beers from amongst the various cans set vibrant against the white sides, the women answer him, concurring about their husbands’ laziness. They direct amicable scorn across the yard that goes unheard.

“You tell Dan to get his own damn beer. Hey Dan,” she shouts.

“What?”

“Get your own damn beer.”

Dan says something by the fire, unrecognizable to those near the grill, causing the other two waiting to laugh. It garners them no affection with the crowd by the grill who assume derision. He stands with his hand stung and walks back over to the fire, realizing, behind him, that the women's attention has already directed back to his daughter. At the fire, he slides a beer over the shoulder of the man nearest to the house who crosses himself to take it. He still listens to the story being related about the indifference of a drunkard leaving an old pal behind. To his right, the man snaps to attention and manages to catch the can tossed to him. Scott sits and stretches out his hand to pass off the can to Dan, just finishing his remarks. When the first can is opened, it foams over. Absent minded, the rest of them tap the top of theirs with their thumbs before three hissing sighs expose their content in cracks.

“What time are they starting tonight?” Joe asks the question then shakes a hand. Foam accumulates in a fall, down Scott’s hand. He’s careful not to disturb its progress into accumulation. “I wouldn’t say it to anyone’s face, but it sounds a little underwhelming so far.”

“I’m sure they lost track of time a while ago,” Scott says, getting a wry smile.

“I thought the official policy was to start when they’ve had enough to drink that safety stops being an issue,” Mike offers.

“That can’t be too long,” Dan says before taking his first sip. “I can let ’em know when in a minute here.” 

Without Scott, who looks over his stretch of yard, they continue. For all those things in a life Scott had paused for, a yard had never occurred to him. Nor was it anything that seemed useful. At times he feels foolish for never having had the understanding to imagine it might be a yard that could make him happy or cause the object of dreams to ease their pace. At times he feels as if all of his high minded fantasies that he never bore to ripening sowed themselves here, naturally, as life’s courses wind ways through any day’s difficulties, and account presently for the patch beneath his feet. There remains a measure of disdain kept for contentedness, but it only emanates from the tugging faintly of what would have been if mulch bore to ripening the body of ambition in fruit. The crack piercing a log brings attention on.

“I haven’t seen the boys around much today.”

“They’re not much to look at,” Joe says. “A lot of goons there, even mine.”

“Must have lost out on all Celia’s genes,” Mike says.

Joe laughs hard about it, indifferent in all, assured of no disparagement. A solid-jaw and unbreakable looks, they can all be aware of by now are unbreakable, the stress of the boys and of life here, describe him assuredly. He still revels in his fraternity days and presents that side of himself predominantly, especially around Mike, as he would with any fellow product of the University of Illinois fraternity houses. He is a career salesman of no great note or talent, and has long had his living. As a career salesman, he’s amicable and opaque but fills out in people’s head an entire person rather than having the detectable duality that most salesmen have falling out of their mouth’s either side. The four men have little in common other than that they all are slow to offense. Little more is needed for men to get along, so the conversation never takes on an edge that sends eyes through or beyond their target. A fire tempers all ills too, and the night’s transition carries too pleasantly onward for moods.

“I’m a little worried about the manpower you have over there, when I see them coming through the door,” Mike continues.

“Worry when they get up before noon,” says Joe.

Joe, with the gray head of hair become distinguished more by the black than it had been by the first gray hairs, keeps his hair cut with an underlying philosophy unquestioned since its implementation in his military upbringing when a boy with a serving father. With Celia standing by the grill tendering a glass of wine, and his four boys, they are archetypically settled in the house next door. It is daily ravaged and torn apart by the group of friends that his boys have. The youngest three are close enough in age that their friends overlap into a single group that, once assembled, can be found in the basement, the driveway, Joe’s front yard, or Scott’s backyard, moving as consensus dictates. They keep away from the park central to the houses facing that has too many trees growing there for their athletics to root among them. Scott’s yard, not yet dark entirely, shows evidence of the near daily games of whiffle ball that they play in its size.

They steadily drain beer cans and talk effortlessly about as little as they can, deferring to the heat, a thumb sounding a can tab to divide their lapses without into thought. It would be rude to bring up anything that might disturb their enjoyment of the precarious equilibrium their thinning blood makes with the slower and the cooling air. There isn’t much that they would even know not to bring up, as their collective relationship comes to exist exclusively at the start of inane backyard gatherings such as this one, to end when they end. It is a young relationship at that, having only been coalesced when Scott moved into the neighborhood less than a year ago. 

If they were younger men than what they are feeling themselves to be, they would indulge formerly prolific thirst. Unseen by them, even as they sit, they are cooling in the molds of their own design. Fought, strived for, or never questioned, the streets and lawns here, victimized in the winter and turned to a lucid miasma in summers, settles the primary backdrop for their frontiers. Scott, the youngest of them, is just beginning the psychological reshaping the others underwent when their families or marriages were still green, new, fresh, flaking, blooming, yielding until they yellowed like paper. They were malleable, and young. The understanding of what will be his thoughts feels touched with a new infancy, a new fundamental declaration still often distracting. His entire life with Keri, and their briefer life with bowknot daughter, despite the constant, the falteringly endeavored for acceptance of his condition now, feels all tacit in hindsight. What Scott does now will make all sorts of difference for the old man he sees in the mirror someday farther on. The other three can’t vocalize this to him. They have reached the first point of reflection, a point where they’ve only just begun to realize their making but still don’t recognize themselves in other men. With all of them still in the middle of the process, times like this become all the more important. Gathered around, they shape their treatise on life and love and living that will go unpublished save for what they manage to pass on by diminishing accident.

“I just realized this is your first fourth in the neighborhood,” Dan says, smiling to Scott with a grin of overlapping teeth revealed under his substantial mustache distinct to that Chicago strain of Polish.

“Well I did used to spend some time chasing a girl around from this neighborhood, so actually I’ve seen some around here, a few.”

“What was her name?” Dan inquires in a way that’s not entirely innocent. 

“Lynne McGovern.”

“I know Lynne”

“Really, how?”

“Everyone knew Lynne McGovern,” Dan says, the name sounding as if it bore some youthful neighborhood significance. It gives to Scott a noticeable startle like horror that sends the others into animated laughs. ”No, I’m kidding. She was my friend Mark’s sister.” Scott laughs at himself, causing Joe to find new loud enjoyment in the joke.

“Northwest siders I know always seem to know each other. It amazes me.”

“Big families will tend to do that.”

The steady puncture of mad cats, jumping jacks, bottle rockets, firecrackers and the pop of every manner of over the counter explosive is mounting its crescendo to the oncoming finale in back alleys or Casey lawns, in driveways too. Apart from the occasional M80 set off by kids from college running on a volatile mixture of alcohol and joblessness, or the occasional burst of a two-litre bottle of hydrochloric acid from a backyard pool supply put in with aluminum, the munitions have been entirely mundane compared with the arsenal smuggled in from over state lines whose spent casings will litter the park in the morning. In spite of their weathered faces, the men from this neighborhood revert to boyhood excitement when they trot haughtily from their homes with the stockpiles they have been tending to for the past few months kept hidden somewhere within. For the most part their wives turn a blind eye and offer no disparaging comments, using their allowance to afford themselves some small luxury in the game of marital detente.

“Food’s on,” Dan’s wife Dianne shouts from the now uncovered grill which prompts them to all stand. Each of them go to their wife for a few words before assembling their plates on a few back and fourth trips between the still going grill, and to the condiment covered table, plates laden with the grill’s items, some blanketed or altered with marinades. At Keri’s prompting Scott puts four more chairs by the fire from their place stacked next to the table. The fire is still burning but now shows no wood left spared. With new drinks and plates full of food, they sit again, while Scott goes back to make a plate for him and his daughter he leads on to fresh company and comfort sat in his lap. As they sit by the fire with the new familiarity of their wives, John Berringer descends his concrete front steps a few houses down while sweating into his shirtsleeves, an even damp on his face, and a cardboard box is in his arms. He can't help but smile as he passes the tables and chairs arranged haphazardly and ad-hoc on his front lawn whose occupants either cat-call or turn to watch him make his way across the street and into the park. John Berringer’s face is, during his working hours, strained with an imposed managerial grimace he developed through years of experience assimilating the looks of those he served under as he moved up the ranks of a Chicago contractor. At home, in the loving care of his wife, his face is mostly relaxed except for when some household negligence of his son strains it. By comparison, it is today practically hedonistic, of such severe gluttonous joy that he almost feels ashamed by it. Passing by, with his box of fireworks pressed against his belly, he marches out to the center of the park and begins his preparations for the first act of the play in the round. He’s greeted with curiosity from the groundlings on other front lawns. The kids around stop to watch or are unaware and continuing into the street. A grinning Dr. Alan Leifer, spied by the man in the park, makes a grinning exit from his company after a few small words and before he disappears inside his home.

John Berringer busies himself. He fights a smile. He fights a smile when he realizes his feelings of easy light-heartedness are for assembling explosive paraphernalia in the grass. He’s worried, with good reason, that if he had to speak now his voice might betray his delight in a manner that would belittle his blue-collar manliness. It only serves to drive his tingling giddiness deeper into his stomach from his chest. It creeps back inexorable. He hums a song to himself and unloads his store. Going through his mental checklist, he finds a mortar missing. The moment of son directed frustration keeps him from getting excitable as Dr. Alan Leifer greets him. “Hullo,” he says smiling broadly. The childish giddiness, a symptom of the holiday, stretches into a smile that looks to right the hyperbole of hanging ears and broad faces, a trait present even in the youngest generation of Leifer genes. They are not diminished or fallen to better proportion as they become the slow people at the table while the younger run about. It is amazing to John Berringer to hear a display of youthful energy from the dermatologist that John Berringer has described on at least one occasion as “Older den da dirt he walks on.” The pair have a little to do with each other in general and merely offer friendly greetings on the rare occasions that John Berringer sees the doctor outside his home. That usually happens when John is out washing his car. Today though, they are experts in the same field. They talk shop, exchanging stories from Krazy Kaplan’s just over the Indiana state-line where they purchased their arsenal. They also talk about the specifics of where they kept their ordinances out of sight. Both men had changed the spot from last year, and the little knowledge they each have of each other's home makes the image of the man and his world clearer in the other’s mind. 

It isn’t long before they are joined by four more. Marc and Eric, old friends from around the corner, have their wives in tow. They station themselves at a distance under the same guiding principles that separate the doctor and John Berringer. Soon enough the whole park will be lined at the perimeter with participants and spectators.

“Like kids in a candy store,” Margaret says to Mary.

“Here come the real ringleaders,” Mary says to the doctor and John approaching.

“Hey, look alive, you two,” she snaps. “The big kids are coming,” Margaret says to Mark and Eric.

“The big kids? Have you seen Mark lately?” Mary says to Margaret. Mark is getting big, and bent over he turns his head and looks his wife over.

“Me? When I married you, I didn’t realize there was going to be a full other half coming along,” he says with all the depth and honesty that they’re comfortable with. In the outline created by her sleeveless blouse and her shorts, Mark can see the outline of a girl he married even though her jeans have gotten looser a little faster than her hips have gotten bigger, and her shirt is no longer cropped to show off a flat stomach, but instead draped over a new rotundity. She’s as drunk as Margaret is and has been ever since they met each other through Mark and Erik in their early 20s. Sometimes Mark and Eric realize that they accidentally married the same woman and are happy for it. The doctor and John Berringer are made comfortable by the four of them.

Over and behind them, unwatched in the driveway of Joe’s house, smoke thickened by the fading light emanates from somewhere near the ground. At a boundary where two colored plumes converge from their hissing origins, a sun-burned red-head emerges. The smoke curls around him. In his wake, the disturbed particles rush into the void where his body passed. His hand holds forth a roman candle, lit precariously, closer to the target than any manufacturer could allow for. The victim picks up a tree branch, still leafed and very near his own size, and runs after his now turned brother. He forces him into a corner brandishing the claw like an appendage, both heads turned away from trouble. In a motion he doesn’t have to think about, the captive turns his back to his tree wielding brother and tries to wrestle the weapon away from him. The boy with the tree, outmatched physically and now facing the prospect of a brother he no longer has an advantage over, feigns a one-handed commitment to the weapon, maximizes his distance with an extended arm, and he takes off running, the wick still loosing quick shocks of color as it falls along the drive. He doesn’t get far before his brother pins him down. A mass hits the two on the lawn almost as soon as they’re settled. Then a mass hits the mass. In no time at all, a mess of limbs and faces is on the grass with voices coming from both ends. The screaming from the bottom is answered by voices that claim immobility from above.

“I can’t breath,” the boy second from the bottom whines, his face reddening to match his hair. Somewhere, it feels like an arm is around him. He gives deep ins and outs of breath that are only met by a hand that periodically slaps him in the face and squeezes his nose shut. There’s a general feeling of dissatisfaction at the bottom of the pile expressed as an increasing uproar of shouts. The shouts rise to fall on generally disinterested ears at the top of the pile. An effort of real anger demonstrated by attempted convulsions gets them moving. It’s all forgotten as quickly as it came about.

In a wicker basket near the door are gloves and a ball. Retrieved, it gets tossed back and forth while the rest of the group tramples the thinning lawn trying not to get run down by the throwers. As night settles in, they retreat to the basement and set in motion plans for what will be a happy night in all of their memories. The group talks over the constant sound that is lacquered so thick in the air that it manifests as an internal electric feeling, heard loud at the eardrum and echoing in their heads. Only Amber, who isn’t following the conversation happening around her, seems to be looking for its source, fitful, turning without being angry or extreme. The sound being insectile in nature distinguishes itself from their breathing and the rhythm drawn on breaths. Discomforting, though, it isn't. The mass grave at the base of every tree stretches into a thinness of carapaces still clinging with hooked forelimbs along an ever dwindling trail up the trunks. Their material origin gives way to an unseen existence in the canopy wherein the cicadas cry out longingly the whole length of summer. Like the airlines often operated overhead, the sound only occasionally registers with the denizens below who spare a moment for practical philosophy when they find themselves distracted by it. With such heavy sedation, not a cry or yelp from the boys a yard over registers in their ears. 

There are a few conversations happening at once around the fire. Scott, now free of the food that he ate in a hurry, listens as Celia talks across him to Keri about the garden.

“And just let us know if having the boys coming over here ever becomes a hassle.”

“We’re happy to have them,” Scott interjects in a tone that makes the idea absurd, expressing both of their opinions.

“What good is a yard if it isn’t being used?” Keri says.

“But if ever, and I mean it, ever, just let us know. That being said, the yard looks fantastic, Keri. I don’t know how you find the time for it.”

Keri diverts the compliment by looking around the yard with a hand over her mouth as if seeing it for the first time and says, “I’m happy with it.” She reaches a hand across Scott’s shoulder. Amber is uninterested, but too young to be let off into the neighborhood alone. “There’s a couple of spots here and there that need fixing, but it will give me enough to do.” Scott is aware that soon he won’t be able to hold his daughter and clutches her all the tighter for it. Looking around at those gathered around the fire, better lit in the advancing dark and without child in their arms, he thinks of questions, those questions manifestations without embodiment. He wouldn’t know how to ask but studies them for answers. 

“Are you excited for the fireworks?” Celia asks Amber, looking her directly in the eye. Scott encourages Amber to answer, bouncing his knee to get her attention, and watches the interaction with curiosity. Keri had once told him that Celia has tearfully admitted to her that she always wanted a daughter. 

“He tells me stage left to clarify, but I still can’t figure out what he meant by that,” Mike adds as much to the end of his story, talking over the laughter that it gathers. Scott looks up with a smile, assembling the details in his head he heard but wasn’t paying attention to.  When he remembers his beer sitting next to the food stained paper plate, he reaches down. The first burst of fireworks come as the sun ekes out its last glory.

The group starts from their chairs gathering the waste around them that collects in few hands until only Keri and Dianne have anything. They deposit the waste in the garbage bag set to hang off the side of the table. Their guests begin along the driveway towards the park.

“We’ll get it later; let's go watch,” Scott says putting his daughter down as Keri starts to clean up. She puts down the bag of buns on top of itself once she’s finished twisting it off.

“Okay,” she lets out a sigh looking over everything and making sure that nothing demands her immediate attention. When she’s done, she allows herself to relax from her duties as host. “Go cover the fire, will you?”

“I can’t believe it. I almost forgot that.” Keri skips off to catch their daughter who is tending with curiosity towards the drive. Scott puts the cover on the fire, now little more than coals but still glowing red. When he turns, he sees his wife dancing with their daughter who no longer needs to compete for her attention with other guests, and so they talk. When they get to the front of the house and Scott sees the crowd gathered and mostly standing, he stops.

“Go ahead, I’m going to run inside for just a second,” Scott says.

“Be quick about it,” Keri says looking over her shoulder. Her black hair stands out against the still green night as she leads their bright, curly daughter to the park.

Scott runs inside. He bounds up the steps, taking three over five. He puts his hands on the brass handle and flings the wood framed screen door that Keri painted open. Taking out his key, he undoes the door in two clicks and is inside. The speakers are still playing music through an empty house. With no one else there, he becomes aware, faintly, of how much bigger it makes the house seem. “Indeed,” far bigger, but not as empty as it would be in silence. When he makes it into his room the song is far off. Walking and catching his breath, he retrieves the blue, red, yellow, and green striped blanket of wool from the end of the bed, the one folded in the morning. He turns the lights off at the door, disappears down the stairs, and goes back into the music’s fuller effect before heading outside.

As he tosses the blanket down at the spot his daughter and his wife have chosen, the first crack comes sending Amber for shelter at her Dad’s leg. Scott spreads the blanket still in square folds and wrangles his daughter into comfort as he sits. It isn’t long before her reticence turns to apparent enthusiasm watching the earnest display of patriotism. Scott whistles the national anthem tunelessly, loud enough for his daughter to hear but silent to everyone else. He whistles poorly. He stops when Keri sits down and rests herself on Scott’s unoccupied side.

Amber’s eyes show every flare and burst. The cracks that reach her ear, accommodated by the laughter and idle chatter coming from the frenetically lit darkness, push deep into the jelly of her brain’s experience. Thoughtless wonder overtakes her. This is a night she will never forget in all of its sensory and emotional contact. In time, it will turn slowly from life to mystery and many dream lost nights will be filled with it for reasons she can’t know.

The three of them sit watching. There is no planned climax to display. The event as a whole takes on charming highs and lows. A child makes a break from his inattentive parents. A scuffle ensues in the grass. Just moments before one of the watching neighbors would have to make an effort to alert the parents or grab the child himself, to prevent it from wandering into the increasing cracks in the middle of the park, a woman looks around with a worried look and takes a few quick and humiliated steps to grab him. A concerning bat hovering in the area even with the loud cracks diverts attention when he sees Dan with his finger outstretched, talking to his wife that it must be rabid. The scuffle is ended quietly as a boy brushed himself free of grass from losing.

A yawning Joe kisses Celia goodnight and heads back to his house while waving goodbye with the last word about work in the morning, and Keri reminds Scott. “We’ve still got to clean up the back.” 

“Oh right. I forgot about that. Okay. Are you ready for bed sweet pea?” Scott addresses his wife at his shoulder then his daughter. She’s tired and doesn’t protest. The spectacle has lost its energy; and though the park is still peopled, only the occasional firework lights. The park is full of mostly younger groups with less spectacular ambitions. As Scott picks her up, Amber wraps her arms around her father’s neck. Keri gathers the blanket without folding it and walks in front of her husband towards the porch lit by a single bulb and stormed by gnats. Amber looks over her father’s shoulder watching the ghostly figures move through smoke quickly thinning.

Joe’s boys and the friends old enough, or close enough not to be called home, are still playing basketball in the driveway when he passes them. The scuffs of sneaker on driveway and ball against glass, rim, hand, or ground are interrupted less by the crack of fireworks. “I want this cleaned up,” Joe says pointing to the cans as he passes in warning. An aluminum menagerie of Sunkist and Cokes and root beer bottles line the cement on the grass. Their contents, drunk over the course of the day, are still running through them. The three plastic garbage bins along the wall in the open garage contain every manner of sporting good collected over four boyhoods. Sticking out from the top is an assortment of hockey sticks held vertical at various angle by the balls that fill the interior dimensions. It isn't long before a natural sense of utility directs the boys’ attention to them as they mill about in the drive, the game they had been playing too demanding to begin again after a third close score and over now. 

It begins innocently until every hand has a hockey stick grabbed with increasing purpose. The can, crushed for a puck, scrapes the cement. Scott hears it from his yard as he caps little jars of condiments, throws away used plates, twists bags to seal them, and brings everything inside. The scraping stops, and Scott thinks nothing of it. Taking a break, the youngest of Joe’s boys goes into the garage and stands in front of the refrigerator there. He slaps himself free of mosquitos and opens the door. A can falls and rolls down the uneven garage floor between the two cars parked inside. He tries to decide between the options in front of him. A struggle ensues as they take progressively more controlled swings at the can, deflecting it in different directions as it dents and makes its way down the drive slanted toward the street. Once compromised, the can sprays its pressurized contents in a diagonal streak across the boy who hit it before it spins and hits another. They say nothing for a moment. Having heard the split, Joe’s youngest turns to see the dripping aftermath of their revelation only. Comfortable, and all agreed, comfortable in their silence, they go to the fridge for more cans. As the carnage increases, they chant. 

Higha whacka

Higha whacka

High higha 

Higha whacka

A sweeping note comes over the chant occasionally hollered in round. Their feet track dirt into the orange liquid making its ways down the cracks and into the street. The oldest disappears with two cans. He appears at the bedroom window above the garage. He hurls the can in offering to the chanting savages of the dark below. 

Higha whacka

Higha whacka

Higha higha 

Higha whacka

They tend to the destruction of the can dented by the throw and ready themselves for the next one. He tries again. The can is thrown, lofted. Miraculously, an overhead swing hits the can flush and breaks it in mid air. It spews madly as it falls and hits a face that recoils and starts bleeding from the lip. When he recovers, he’s so amazed that he doesn't seem to care. He holds the twisted can high on the end of his stick as holy writ. There isn't much time to celebrate. The imposing figure of Joe comes to the door. Suddenly, those of them that don't live there seem to remember the hour, turn tail, and run off into the night. They leave the two on the ground still holding the sticks in their hands. Those two are looking alternatively between their now yelling dad and their brother above them in the window.

From Spring Onwards --- a poem by Tom Porter

Free play reading of RUSS, a new play and political farce by Russell Block -- at The Crowd Theatre (3935 North Broadway, Chicago, IL) on Sunday, March 25th from 4 pm - 6 pm

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