Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Chapter 42 / 21

A week after the election, on a surprisingly mild day, Andrew, Billie, and Clyde (“call me JR”), who was the tallest of the three, were playing their version of 21 at the basketball rim by the picnic tables in back of the apple-processing plant. 

Glaron sat at the table keeping score, with three piles of pennies in front of him. The two white boys—in their early twenties but still with soft, petulant faces—straddled the picnic bench across from Glaron, at once bored and jittery, casting occasional glances at the pennies. 

Two black men—friends of JR’s, hired for the month because Steve needed a full crew in November—leaned against the building in the sun, smoking, encouraging the players in low voices, tossing a penny on a pile for each basket.   

Against the sound of an 18-wheeler backing into the front of the plant with another load of apples, JR and Billie tied at 19. Andrew stepped out of the chalk-marked ring and went to the far end of the table, where he had left his bottle of Gatorade. He took a swig from it and immediately spit it out, spraying liquid in a half-circle around him. 

The basketball game stopped. “Piss in your drink?” asked JR. 

“Vodka.” In two steps Andrew stood over Bryan, who was trying to get up, one leg under the picnic table, and poured the Gatorade over the boy’s head. “Goddammit, Bryan, I told you not to be an asshole!”

“Don’t touch him,” Glaron said in a low, firm voice. 

Bryan and his sidekick were standing now. 

“Nothin’ wrong with your drink, you just want a fight—“ 

“You little turd. You think I would pick a fight with a shit like you?”

“Hold it,” said JR, next to Andrew now. “Not cool,” he said to Bryan. “The brother don’t drink. You don’t fool with that.” 

The other men gathered around, ready to separate the two before a punch landed. In front, the driver cut the truck engine. Steve opened the back door and stopped mid-word at what he saw. 

“What’s going on?” he said.

“Just a lunchtime discussion, chief,” said JR.

Steve took in Bryan’s wet hair, liquid dripping off his chin, and Andrew standing next to him. 

“Bryan, get in here.”

“I didn’t—“

“Come here! Logan, you too.” 

Andrew moved immediately toward the door, his mouth tight. 

“Thompson,” Steve said to Glaron, “check in the truck.” 

“Yes sir.” Glaron got up, scraping the pennies into his lunch bag with a cupped hand. 

Steve had created an office for himself in a windowless storage room, with one wooden table, two straight chairs, and three metal filing cabinets. It was as tidy as Steve himself, who, Andrew had observed to Annie, favored minimum-security style of denim and a buzz cut. 

The three of them stood in a triangle around the desk, Steve behind it, Bryan near the far wall, Andrew leaning alongside the door. 

“Why is your head all wet, Bryan?” Steve asked, and Andrew heard some fatigue there, as if this kind of conversation wasn’t new.

“He poured his drink on me.” 

Steve sighed. “Logan, why did you pour your drink on Bryan?”

“He put vodka in it.” 


“Shut up, Bryan. Logan, did you see him do it?” 


“Why do you think he did it?”

“Ask the little turd—”

“I’m asking you.”

Now Andrew sighed. “Because he needles me. About the meds I take to keep me from decking him twice a day. About hanging with the black guys. Jesus, don’t get me started—because he doesn’t do the job, because he doesn’t get it, because he hasn’t hit bottom yet.” 

The other two stared, Bryan with his mouth half open. 

“The rest of us have hit bottom and are on the way up. Bryan’s still clueless.” 

“Thank you, Logan, we’re not at a meeting.” 

Andrew shrugged. “Saved my life.”

“Bryan, go back to work. And this afternoon, work.” 

“My head—”

“Leave it. Let it dry, nice and sticky.” 

Bryan left. Andrew remained, waiting for dismissal. 

“Logan, one more fight and you’re out.” 

“Yes sir.”

“Sit down.” 

Andrew and Steve both sat, across from each other.  

“You’ve got a nice lady.” 

Andrew nodded. “Keeps me straight.”

“I was going to ask you if you want to stay through the winter. Help me get this place cleaned up, organized.” 

“I’m here, Steve, I’m not going anywhere. Wish I were, but I’m not.”

“But you’re as crazy as the rest of them.” 

“The little shit thought I wouldn’t taste the vodka. I’ll wind up in the paddy wagon.”

“Watch your language.” 

“He your nephew?”

Steve paused. “He told you?”

“Everybody figures it.” 

“—My sister’s only kid. Other one got drunk, wrapped his car around a tree.” 

“I’m sorry,” said Andrew, meaning it, thinking, so that’s what this is about. 

“—Thank you. Nice manners, Logan. Always.” 

“Momma. We all have manners, Steve, they’re just buried in shit.” 

“Bryan doesn’t have any manners.” 

“Thompson does, and he’s not crazy, by the way. Billie’s pretty sane too.” 

“I can’t keep the whole crew on. Thompson’s not strong enough to come back another year . . . maybe you and Thompson. Maybe. Stay out of trouble. Now get back to work.” 

“Yes sir.” 

* * * * * *

“He say how long he’ll keep this place open?” 

Andrew and JR were leaning against Steve’s Ford Explorer in the dark, smoking, waiting for Annie to pick them up. They had done overtime, unloading the truck, and were the last to clock out. 

“—Not exactly,” said Andrew. “Did say that he couldn’t keep the whole crew on all winter.” 

“Well, this crew ain’t staying in that icebox all winter.” 

“You got enough weeks for unemployment?”

“There you go, asking me something to make me think. You’re too smart for this job.” 

“Girl helps,” said Andrew, wondering, again, if JR were under cover too. 

Why do you think that? Annie had asked. 

Just a certain lack . . . of . . . detail.

Annie arrived then, and in the second before they moved, she saw the two men—tall, long hair crushed under baseball caps, one white, one quick to tell you he was “high yellow”—leaning against the white Explorer, their legs crossed at the knee in the same direction, right leg over left, as if they might, in the next second, dance away. They wouldn’t dance, of course, they would get in the car, bringing with them the smell of cigarette smoke tinged with apples.

“Don’t say anything about today.” Andrew spoke to the road as he flicked his cigarette butt to the curb.

“Not me,” JR said to the asphalt at his feet. 

“A car with four doors,” he mused, sitting in back of Annie. Next to him, half of the back seat was folded down to make room for Chloe’s crate.

“Amazing, isn’t it,” said Annie. 

“Auction,” said Andrew. “Get you something if you want.” 

"Yeah, they auction bicycles?

“A bicycle you can find.”  

“Find me a bicycle in Florida next month. That’s the thing to do.”

“I just want to stop at the dry cleaner before they close,” said Annie, turning right, away from Schuyler toward the malls.

“You’re the driver,” said Andrew. “How are the Witches?”

“Witchy. There was a fight, outside a bar in the town of Cowpoke. So we reported the fight, and the location. Today Tina called Catherine and me into her office and chewed us out for twenty minutes about reporting the location. 

“We kept saying, but that’s where the fight was, right in their parking lot. She kept saying it was unfair to them, bad for their business.” 

“Well, yeah. So they called her. Advertisers?”

“No! Not even.” Annie set the hand brake and went into the dry cleaner.

“Your girl work for a witch?” 

“Two of them.” 

“—I could put a spell on them, you know,” said JR, who claimed New Orleans as home.  

“Go for it.” 

“Start it tonight.” 

“Don’t tell her.” 

“Can’t tell her.” 

Annie hooked the dry cleaning onto Chloe’s crate, then headed to Schuyler by the back way, with fewer stoplights. 

As soon as she crossed the city line, a large red light circled in back of her. Annie pulled over, expecting an emergency vehicle to pass, but a police car pulled up in back of her. 

“Shit! What did I do?”

“Fuck,” said Andrew. “You clean, JR?”

“I’m clean,” snapped JR, “you clean?”

Andrew nodded. “Don’t say anything about the paper,” he said to Annie.

She opened her mouth, closed it. A week earlier, telling a cop, “I should know better! I work for the Observer!” had turned a speeding ticket into a warning. 

This cop was at the window. “Everybody out. With ID.” 

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Monday, November 30, 2015

Chapter 41 / Absentees

“I am pleased, and proud, and honored to have won this election!” Kathleen shouted to the fifty people packed into the one-room temporary Democratic HQ in Schuyler. 

“The vote is close! What does that mean, everybody?”

“Your! Vote! Matters!” they shouted back to her. 

Years later, Annie would be able to recall that night in an instant—the astonished joy as districts phoned in and Jaime filled in boxes on a huge grid with precise, undeniable numbers.   

“Yes!” said Kathleen. “Your. Vote. Matters. And, for those who voted on absentee ballots, your, vote, matters. My opponent has called for a recount, and in his place, I would too. Then absentee ballots will be counted. The results may change.

“But tonight, integrity won. Tonight, a candidate won who listens to the voters. A candidate won who takes a fresh look at the strengths and challenges of our region!”  

Another cheer went up, and Kathleen beamed, without a trace of the fear that had haunted her eyes for a week after the car incident on the parkway. She had been careful, riding always with someone else, but nothing more had happened—not even a weird phone call—and Kathleen had picked up her shoulders, meditated every morning and evening, and gone on.

“Does she have anxiety attacks?” Andrew had asked. 

“She’s always been the steadiest person I’ve ever known,” said Annie. 

Tonight Kathleen was also beautiful, her “TV haircut” sculpting her face, her alabaster skin flushed with the surprise—the truly amazing success—of an unofficial win by 132 votes. 

“Last night,” Kathleen was saying, “I realized that the campaign part of this autumn was over. I had done what I could do about that. So I sat down, and I documented my plans—”

Next to Annie, Andrew stiffened, and Kathleen 10 feet away, seemed to feel it—

“I wrote down, everything I plan to do—”

Andrew relaxed again.

“When I want to do it, and how.”

Annie would remember the presence of everyone. Absentees were in the distance. Here, they all touched—no, held one another. Up front, Kathleen was surrounded by her family; on her right, the little twin girls grinned, their arms around each other’s waists. They had been told to choose a dress for the evening, so Katrina looked like she was off to a dance, with a double skirt, while Katy might set out for a dinner party, in emerald velveteen. 

On Kathleen’s left, Conor, in his blue blazer, stood with his arm in Liam’s, and Doug, with his trimmed “TV beard” stretched his arm across the boys. Standing between Liam and Katrina, Kathleen sometimes touched their shoulders as she spoke. 

“I have so many to thank,” she said now, “starting with the Democratic committees of our four-county election district, who took me in and then took me out, to meet the voters. With their house parties and their road snacks, their bottled water and their gas money for the van, we, did, this.”

Another cheer. Annie and Jaime stood side by side, arms around each other, hip to hip, ribs to ribs. On Jaime’s right, George stretched his arm over them both. On Annie’s left, Andrew did the same, so that she was banked by the bodies of her two best friends, until the camera of the one local TV station that had showed up began to pan over the crowd. Annie and Jaime stood tall, ready to look unblinking into the round eye. Andrew squeezed Annie’s shoulder and slipped away. 

Glancing back after being filmed, Annie saw him standing with Glaron and Theresa, Billie and Tiaje, another black man she hadn’t met, maybe the one who liked to play basketball on their lunch break, and a shorter white guy—Steve, the boss, who had given $1,000 to Kathleen’s campaign. 

“He hates the Neanderthal,” Andrew had said as he carefully folded his voter registration form and the eight others he had extracted from his neighbors and coworkers, before he delivered them to the Board of Elections. 

Now the camera headed toward that group, to show that there actually were African Americans in this rural backwater, and they took an interest in this election. Annie turned back to Kathleen, knowing Andrew would absent himself again, moving around or slipping outdoors.

“. . . Now, let’s dance!” said Kathleen. “And if you’ll forgive my sounding like a candidate, God bless us, every one!”

The crowd cheered and clapped, whistled and yelled “woo-hoo!” George reached right to the boom box on the table, started Johnny Nash in “I can See Clearly Now,” and gathered Jaime and Annie for a three-way dance. 

Andrew returned, scooped Annie off her feet, and twirled her around, on camera. “He got us,” said Annie as they danced. 

“It’s OK. He got me outside, having a smoke, for my fifteen seconds of fame.”

In fact, the party went short because everyone wanted to watch the 11 o’clock news. There, Annie and Andrew danced, and Glaron made the audio cut, saying, “She listens to everybody,” as did Jaime: “Did we take a page from the Clinton bus tours? You bet we did! And it worked!”

By midnight in Andrew’s house, a few blocks from HQ, Annie and Chloe had fallen asleep, but Andrew couldn’t rest, getting up and coming back to bed, prowling around in the dark, trying not to wake her, always waking her. 

“She’ll lose it in absentees,” he muttered. “Nobody’s prayers are going to change that.”

Annie squeezed his hand, trying not to fully wake. She had to be at the newspaper at 8:30, and the Witches would ride hard herd on them today, for election results in the next day’s paper. 

“Should have got that story out earlier.” 

“Spokesperson,” murmured Annie, envious of Chloe, motionless in her crate. 

About three Andrew settled down, curling himself against her. “TV,” he said. “Radio.” 

At daylight he walked Chloe and returned with newspapers, coffee and hard rolls from the Pakistani bodega around the corner. He fed Chloe and made a day’s worth of peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, two for Annie, four for himself. 

“Thank you,” said Annie, as he poured her coffee out of paper into ceramic, which she preferred. “Refocused?”

“Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not! You’re wonderful.”


“Really. You changed Kathleen’s campaign from a romp—a ride in a VW bus—to something real.” 

“We still don’t have the numbers.”

“But she did tremendously well for an unknown candidate from a low-population part of the district. And we have the Neanderthal on our side, right? In a year, he’ll be divorced. He may not even run again. You said it first.” 

“You’re right. And I did. But the question is, do you love me?”

They were standing inches apart in his galley kitchen, Annie leaning along the refrigerator, Andrew against the counter where he had packaged up the sandwiches. In three minutes, they had to leave for work.

“No gotcha questions!” Annie put down her cup and reached up for his face. He encircled her with his arms. Inside they were both laughing, giddy, almost hysterical with fatigue and release. They’d got through this. Now something else was about to begin.

“Answer the question.”

“—Is it safe?”

“Not with another question!”


“Arrgghh! I made you two sandwiches,” he said, indicating them without letting her go. 

“You did. And for that I love you.”

Two weeks later, after the candidates and their lawyers had watched the absentee ballot count, Kathleen lost the election by 196 votes, out of 96,509 votes cast.

“Hardly a mandate for him,” Annie told Kathleen in a quick phone conversation from work, and that became their slogan for the next year.  

Kathleen used the concept in her gracious-but-firm concession speech, filmed outside the kids’ school by all three TV stations: “I wish my opponent well, as he joins the State Senate for another term,” she said with a smile. “But I would point out that his mandate comes as much from our side as his.” 

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Friday, October 9, 2015

Chapter 40 / Kitchen Cabinet

The Times Union editorial board interviewed Kathleen on Tuesday. They sounded tough but fair, reported Jaime, who rehearsed Kathleen on Monday and chauffeured her to Albany on Tuesday “so you can be a proper candidate and review your notes and such while I drive.” 

After the Times Union, they negotiated parking in downtown Albany, delivering Kathleen with five minutes to spare to her appointment with the real estate developer. This encounter was deemed fair and miraculous. He agreed with Kathleen that she needed TV for a level playing field in the campaign. He would wire the maximum allowable donation to her campaign committee, which would cover a package of TV ads in the Albany area, which reached the entire district. For creation of the ad, he referred her to the “communications” agency that he used. 

The children returned home from school that Tuesday to find Kathleen and Jaime having a glass of red wine at three o’clock in the afternoon. They swarmed like puppies, sniffing the wine and screwing up their faces, even Conor forgetting his indoor voice, demanding, “What happened! What happened!” 

“I want to tell the whole thing once, when Dad gets home,” said Kathleen, putting out their apples and cheese. “But I’ll give you the best and the worst.” When they had washed their hands and sat down at the table, she said, “The best was that everybody I met treated me like I had something to say. The worst was driving around downtown Albany.”

“But if you’re a state senator, you work in Albany,” said Conor. 

“In Albany, and here, in our district. I’ll learn how to drive in Albany. And maybe we’ll get an apartment there, for when something exciting is happening.” 

“But we’ll still go to the same school,” said Katrina, who was eight. 

“Yes,” said Kathleen. “We’ll still go to the same school.”

Wednesday and Thursday were filled with soccer games, a parent night at school and working with the PR group via phone and fax to write a 30-second ad that Kathleen believed in. 

Friday Jaime met the kids’ school bus while Kathleen was in Albany taping the ads. Driving home in her Mommy Van, she had almost, she swore, been run off the parkway.

“No groceries tonight,” Annie told Andrew on the phone late Friday afternoon. I’ll pick you up for a meeting of Kathleen’s kitchen cabinet. She’s terrified.”

“Did she tell the police?”

“Yes, but she was scared and didn’t get the license number. They attribute it to some drunk, which is possible . . . if a drunk in a black sedan with tinted windows would carefully edge into you, no matter which lane you were in or what speed you were going.” 

*     *    *    *    *

“Stay off the parkway,” said Andrew. The six of them sat around Kathleen and Doug’s kitchen table, talking quietly. The children were by now bored with campaign meetings, waiting only for the next road trip in the yellow VW bus that sat in the driveway, festooned colorful, positive message posters.  

“I didn’t sign on for this!” hissed Kathleen.

“Yes you did!” snapped Andrew. “Sorry. But you’re running for state office here, not dogcatcher.” 

“I signed on for a clean race—issues only.” 

“And who brought up your solidarity trips to Cuscútlan, to Cuba? Your dirty-tricks opponent. Who dug out that you were once a nun, and Doug was a priest. Not to make you look thoughtful and values-oriented but to make you look unbalanced.” Andrew bit off the word: un-balanced. “Your filthy opponent.” 

“Andrew,” said Doug, Kathleen’s husband. He paused, in his deliberative way. “Don’t lecture Kathleen. Please.”

“I—” You could spend life thinking. Or doing. “I’m sorry,” Andrew said, meaning it, and then, more gently, “Try to have someone else in the car.”

“I have my children in the car! Will you let Annie be in the car?”

Annie had been gazing beyond the circle of light, envious of the children in the living room. Conor was reading while the younger ones watched a movie that Liam had set up for them on the TV. Two issues of the Observer had been published now, without reporting on el Neanderthal, but Harry, the ad salesman, who was close to the Witches and their husbands, said that the paper would endorse Kathleen, early, saying it was time for a change. 

Annie returned her attention to the adults and said, “I’ll drive you in my car whenever I can. Whenever the Witches let me out.”

“I’ll be in the car,” said Andrew. 

“I’ll be in the car,” said Jaime. “I’ll get the damned plate number.” 

“You won’t be in the car,” said George, Jaime’s husband. 

“Yes I will!” said Jaime “And we’ll stay off the parkway. There’s always another way to get somewhere.”

*    *    *    *

“Andrew—we haven’t bitten off more than we can chew here, have we?” They wouldn’t really try to kill her, would they?

“No,” he said immediately, and she reflected on that, too, that he always replied quickly, as if he knew the answer, even if, like now, he shook his head, as if to convince himself. “They want to scare her. Bastards.” Again biting off a b-word. He tossed his cigarette out the car window. “Get her to withdraw from the race, thirty days to go.”   

“You’re muttering.” Annie was driving Andrew back to Schuyler; then she’d go home. They both had to be at work at eight the next morning. 

In his head, Andrew saw her car, leaving the little city, its outskirts, the next rural town . . .  “It is scary.” Andrew paused. “While I was in the city yesterday, someone got into my house.”


“They didn’t take anything. Not my thrift-shop TV or microwave. I don’t keep cash there, and I had my laptop with me. I’d suspect someone in my neighborhood just checking the place out, but somebody shat in the toilet and didn’t flush it. I see that as a warning.” 

“Yuck. At least it was in the toilet.” 

“Exactly. But I want to keep the laptop at your house for a while, OK? And tonight, drop me at the top of the hill. I’ll walk home from there. Check things out. Protect my little castle.” 

“—OK.” Her car wouldn’t be seen near his house.” I’ll call you when I get home.” 

“OK. If I don’t answer, it just means I’m walking around.”

“And you’ll call me when you get home.” 


“Did you tell the police?”

“No. Nothing taken, no forced entry. Someone small got in the bathroom window and let the others in. Then they walked out the front door. At least they closed it. 

“I could hear the police telling me that I forgot to flush the toilet and lock the door. But I didn’t, and I didn’t leave the bureau drawers open and check all the pockets of my pants and leave them on the floor, or drink half a gallon of orange juice and toss the container on the floor.” 


“Might be. Or someone who wants me to think it was kids.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Monday, September 14, 2015

Chapter 39 / The Devil

On a blustery Thursday in early October, Andrew rode his bicycle from his house in Schuyler to Annie's house, at dawn. In New York City Warren was dealing with his father's need for surgery and had cancelled his patients that day. In Hudson County, Andrew's research on Kathleen's opponent for state senate had panned out. He needed the car to pitch the story, beginning with the newspaper in the home city of el hombre de Neanderthal, as Annie and Jaime referred to him. There Andrew had found a curious managing editor and an ambitious young reporter. 

“If my tires get slashed, Andrew . . . you’re in the doghouse.”

"You love this." Andrew made a point of stopping at the one stop sign between Annie's house and the newspaper office, just to reassure her, even though there wasn't a car to be seen. 

"I do, because el Neanderthal is such a  . . . Neanderthal. But now I'm wishing we had told Kathleen."

"No point in it. If the papers are too timid to take it . . . no story." 

She hugged him tightly before getting out of the car. "Good luck."

"We've got it," he said, hugging her back. 

She looked at him. "Luck?"

"The story, girl. With any luck."

"You've had such a grin, plotting this man's downfall."

"He was rude to you. Just last year. Let's get to work."

They kissed again, and Annie went into the office. She wrote three news stories from the town board meeting she had covered the night before and edited more press releases than she could count. 

All the while in her mind's eye she followed Andrw up to the southern Adirondacks and back own to Albany in this, the second of his plans. Study of the drug scene in Schuyler was ongoing; the election, thirty days away, was immediate. So Annie prayed silently, frankly: if it be your will Lord, let this happen. Kathleen is the better candidate. 

At 4:30, right on schedule, she saw Andrew's head above the room divider, as he spoke to Ginny, the receptionist. Annie waved to them as Ginny escorted Andrew, with his laptop in its shoulder case, upstairs to the balcony above the newsroom, to the office of the Witches—Tina the editor and Wendy the publisher. 

At 5 o’clock, they were still in a closed-door session. Ginny, Catherine, two ad guys and the production chief sat with Annie, speculating, casting occasional glances heavenward toward the Witches. 

At 5:20 Andrew came out of the Witches’ office, walking the long flight of stairs from the balcony, his eyes down, with a sense of fatigue that made him look older than usual, fatigue that disappeared the instant he saw Annie, Catherine and one ad guy still waiting for him. Immediately, Andrew twinkled; wordless, they filed outdoors and sat at the picnic table in the front yard, out of sight of the Witches.  

“Gonna take us down, huh,” said Harry, the paper’s top ad salesman.

“Apparently,” said Andrew. 

“What! What!” said Catherine.

“Read the Post Intelligencer on Sunday.”

"You did it!" Annie kept her voice down—you could never tell where the Witches were—and leapt up to kiss Andrew. He pulled her onto his lap, his arms tight around her.

"We did it," he said.

"Did what!" said Catherine. "The PI is a hundred miles away."

“The Times Union may pick it up on Tuesday. After they do their own research. Only 50 miles away.”

“Road trip Sunday,” Harry said thoughtfully, almost to himself. 
“But not the Hudson Observer on Monday?” he asked Andrew.

“They said they’d think about it overnight.” 

“Not the Observer on Monday,” said Harry, nodding. “Hubbies’ll nix it, and Monday I’ll still have a job, with somebody to sell ads to. Sorry, guy—” he held out his hand.

Andrew shook it. “Maybe I’ll bum a ride with you Sunday.”  

“Sounds like a plan. Here are my numbers.” In one fluid move Harry swept a business card out of his pocket. 

“You on this weekend?” Andrew asked Catherine. 

She nodded, her eyes big.

“Then you’re the one to write it.” 

“You have to background me! Come over for dinner, both of you, in an hour. Cookies and water. Jim’ll want to hear this too.”

“But that’s it,” said Andrew, ”just the four of us.” 

“We’ll go to Barrington, get takeout barbecue,” said Annie. 

“Great idea,” said Catherine, “but I’ll do it. Feed the source.”

*     *    *    *    *

An hour later the four of them sat at another picnic table, smaller, indoors, off Catherine and Jim’s kitchen. They had inhaled the only takeout barbecue in the region, pulled pork and ribs, coleslaw and sweet potato, as they hashed out the marital problems of Kathleen’s opponent. 

“But she never brought charges,” said Catherine, referring to opponent’s wife. “At the Observer, we don’t run domestic abuse unless someone is transported to the hospital.” 

“OK, that’s her problem,” said Andrew. “The public problem is the lack of public record. Six times in three years—over the course of two of his two-year terms—the police were called to his home. And each time the police file looks like this . . . Closed.” 

“People have rocky marriages,” said Jim, who was divorced. 

“They do, but that doesn’t always bring the police.” 

“She reaches out,” said Annie. “Then she withdraws. Half-a-dozen times. At least.” 

“You write the feature on patterns of domestic abuse,” said Andrew. “For Monday’s paper, the question is what does this mean for public policy. That’s what I was pitching to the witches, not if ‘it bleeds it leads,’ though there’s probably that, too.” 

“Policies on . . .” Catherine was adding to her notes on a legal pad “. . . domestic abuse . . . child support . . . Family Court . . . police issues . . . what else?”

*           *         *              *             *

“What did you do?” Kathleen asked Andrew on Sunday. “The managing editor of the Times Union called me, to schedule an interview with the editorial board.”

Annie had seen Andrew grin, but never like this. “Gimme your hand, girl!” he said to Kathleen. He picked up her limp hand and slapped it. “They’re taking you seriously!” 

“What did you do?” Kathleen repeated, almost pleading.

“I did research. Here’s the start of the results.” Andrew put a copy of the Post Intelligencer on the table. “We’re lucky—slow news day, banner headline.” 

Kathleen took up the paper, looking more horrified than happy. 

“Can I read it too, Mom?” said Conor, 12, her oldest. 

“Sure. Here, let’s sit.” Another picnic table, this one on the deck, overlooking the swimming pool below. Kathleen shook out the broadsheet to its full size. She and Conor read.

“Andrew, will you play softball with us,” asked Liam, 10.

“Yes. But let me talk to your mother first.” 

Liam sighed and sat against Andrew’s leg.    

“Liam, there are plenty of chairs,” said Kathleen, turning to the story’s jump inside.  

“It’s all right,” said Andrew, “I’m just warm-blooded furniture.” 
Conor giggled, his eyes glued to the newspaper. Liam looked perplexed. 

“Are human beings warm-blooded or cold-blooded?” Andrew asked him. 

“Oh, right,” said Liam. “Warm-blooded.”

“And I’m just some ole piece of furniture, right?”

“Right! And you’re my coach. And I can’t get rusty in the off season.”

“Hang on. What do you think?” Andrew asked Kathleen.

“—I feel slimy.” Both boys stared at her. 

“No reason. You didn’t do anything. He did everything. And now this race is yours, now you direct the conversation. 

“But you still have to work for it.” Andrew moved Liam to his other leg so he could lean over and tap a photo in the newspaper. 
“See this guy?” Conor stared at the headshot of a real-estate developer in Albany who had commented for the story. Kathleen didn’t take her eyes off Andrew. “Pitch him for TV money. His comment has no substance, but he’s thinking. 

“And it’s very sweet of you to go door to door, to want every person in the district to interview you, but it’s a big district. You need TV.”

“Are you the devil?” Kathleen asked him. 

Conor raised his eyes to Andrew, while Liam stared at his mother. 

“No need for the devil,” said Andrew. “It was there. There for the taking. 

“Call this guy tomorrow. Tell him you’ll be in Albany this week, talking to the TU editorial board, and you want to meet with him afterward.”

“I have to be home when the kids get in from school.” 

“Then schedule it while they’re in school.” 

“I can do it, Mom, I can take care of everybody,” said Conor.

“And I can be here by 3:30, if Conor needs help,” said Andrew. “C’mon Liam, we have time for catch.” 

Liam didn’t move, frozen on Andrew’s knee, watching his mother, terrified of the devil. 

“C’mon, Liam,” said Conor, standing up, “we’ll both throw to you. You can’t get rusty.” 

“Are you OK Mom?” asked Liam. 

“Yes,” said Kathleen, looking into his sapphire eyes and lying. Of her four children, the two biological boys, the two adopted girls, she swore she had no favorites. But she did adore this one. 

“Turn on the outside lights,” she said “so I can watch you.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chapter 38 / Food

“It’s part of the culture, Andrew.” Annie propped the phone on her shoulder and sorted press releases while they talked. “You get paid on Friday, you go to the supermarket, you buy food.”

“I thought you got paid, you got drunk.”

“That’s for 20-year-olds, sweetie . . . though you should know I never did that, even at 20.”

“I know. That’s why I’m here.” 

“—You don’t have to come. Though really, if you want me to buy food for you, it would be nice if you did.”

“I’m there. I’ll even take a shower first. Can we go to MacDonald’s afterward?”

“I was thinking Chinese. The place in the mall isn’t bad.”  

* * * *

“I’m starving.”

“Take a candy bar and save the wrapper, so that we pay for it.”  Annie pulled a shopping cart out of the row. Inside the store, she put a shopping basket into it. 

Andrew chose a Snickers bar and put the wrapper in the cart. “They’re so fucking cheerful,” he whispered. “When do people have sex?”

“They don’t.” 

“But they have all these children.”

“—I don’t know, Andrew. You’re a reporter. Ask them.”

“I’m not a reporter. I move apples. What can I do here?”

“Take this basket and get two half-gallons of milk. Two percent for me, whatever you want for you. Near there are eggs. Get two dozen. Check that none are broken. Can you do yogurt?”

“Um. Brand? Price? Flavors?”

“You’re right. I’ll do yogurt.” 

Annie pushed the cart toward produce. A short black woman in a multicolored turban, with a hospital staff ID on a red ribbon around her neck, was frowning at the bananas. 

“Look at this,” she said, “full of bad spots.” 

“I know,” said Annie. “They’re only good in winter, but I buy them all year.” 

“And 49 cents a pound! My mother told me never to pay more than 25 cents. You remember that?” She looked at Annie with a smile. They were about the same age.

“Yup. My mother told me never to pay more than 25 cents for a head of lettuce.” 

They both laughed heartily. 

“Well,” said the woman, “have a good weekend anyway.” 

“Thank you, same to you.” 

Andrew walked toward Dairy. It was almost a town square, he thought; people chatted over the food, over their carts. Have a good weekend! they said, oblivious to the camera eye above them at the end of every aisle. 

And staring at the milk shelves Andrew found his coworker Billie. 

“Hey man”—they shook hands—“sak passé?”

Billie smiled. “Where’d you learn that, Southern boy like you.” 

“In the yard. Where I learned everything else. Looking for some milk?”

Billie nodded. “Girlfriend wants it.” 


They stared at the milk. Andrew took a two percent and decided on regular for himself, resisting the impulse to lecture Billie on the gross overabundance of American life as they faced fifty units of milk, different types, brands, sizes. Billie, tall and dark-skinned, a watcher and listener, stared at the milk. 

“Does she want two percent?” asked Andrew. “That’s what women usually drink.” 

“No, she want the milk without the milk in it.” 


“Yeah, Lactaid, which one’s that.” 

“This one.” Andrew ran his finger under the word. “Lactaid. Half-gallon or quart?”

Billie sighed. “The small one.”

Andrew tapped a quart. 

“Thank you,” said Billie, his eyes on the milk. 

“No problem. Have a good weekend.”

At eggs, Andrew found Glaron, another coworker. 

“How you doin.’” Glaron smiled broadly. His gold teeth were in front. 

They shook hands. “Is the whole place here? Steve? The boys?”

Glaron shook his head, still smiling. “Boys ain’t got the sense. Steve’s got a wife.”

“You’ve got a wife.” 

“She works. We do this together. I better get some eggs.” 

“Me too. Look at this, Glaron, a dozen kinds of eggs.” 

Glaron nodded. “Silly, ain’t it. These are good.” He tapped a carton. 

“Thanks. Have a good weekend.” 

“Same to you.”

Andrew found Annie checking the weight on packages of chicken. 

“Don’t get Tyson’s,” he said. 

“Never. Or Purdue.” 

“The whole shop is here.” 

“No kidding!”

“Well, the nice guys. What else should I get?”

Near Gatorade, Billie introduced Andrew to “my fiancée, Tiaje,” a tall, slim woman, also dark black, with elegant cornrows and a hospital ID on a silver chain around her neck. 

“What do you do at the hospital?” Andrew peered at the ID. 

“I’m a pharmaceutical technician,” she said, speaking clearly, keeping eye contact with him.

In paper products he met Teresa, Glaron’s wife, who also wore a hospital ID and worked in the kitchen, she told him. 

“You the famous Andrew?” she asked.

“—No ma’am . . . I just move apples.” 

“And talk back to the boys. You be careful, you’ll lose your job.”

“—You think? They related to Steve?”

“They must be. Why else . . .” Teresa shrugged.

“Hey, here’s Annie.” Andrew introduced them. 

“Hi,” said Annie. “Teresa and I met in produce.”

“Are we done?”

 Annie nodded. 

“We’re done! Now we stand in line.”

“You don’t have much food there,” Teresa observed. 

“We eat out a lot,” said Annie. 

“Tch.” Teresa shook her head. 

“Teresa, mind your own,” Glaron said gently.

“I got this chicken,” said Annie. “I’ll cook chicken tomorrow night.” 

“I thought we were going dancing tomorrow night,” said Andrew. 

“Sunday then, I’ll cook the chicken Sunday.” 

“Dancing? You’re going dancing?” asked Teresa.

“Yeah, want to come?” said Andrew. 

“It’s really fun,” said Annie. 

“In your dreams,” said Teresa. “Let’s get in line, you’ll tell me about this dancing.” 

Billie and Tiaje were in the next line over, so Andrew described dancing to all of them while Annie tracked their groceries going through checkout. 

“I thought these were on sale,” she said to the cashier, tapping the two twelve-packs of seltzer that Andrew drank.

“I’ll check it when I’m done.” The cashier flipped on her “call’ light.

“Thank you.”

“What’s up?” said Andrew. 

“Nothing. She’s going to check a price. Can you pack?” 

The others were silent while the manager helped the cashier check the price and reduce the total by two dollars. 

“Well,” said Teresa, “you do run a tight ship.”

“Twenty-five cents a pound, right?” said Annie, and they both smiled. 

Andrew handed the cashier a 100-dollar bill. She raised her eyebrows just the slightest bit over her eyeglasses, took in all of them and made change for him.

Glaron was whispering to Teresa; Billie and Tiaje nodded, and Teresa said, “We’re having supper at the Chinese place. Come on and join us. We got a cooler. Glaron’ll help you put your cold food in it.” 

“Thanks,” said Annie, “but it’s not hot tonight.” 

“You put the chicken, the milk, in the cooler. Glaron’ll help you.”

*       *      *       *

“She’s appraising us,” said Annie as they leaned against the No Loitering sign near the Chinese restaurant while the others finished at the market.  

“You think?” Andrew tapped the ash on his cigarette.

“She’s going to ask us how we met.” 

“Remember, stick to the truth as much as possible. We met on an airplane. You were visiting your mother . . . I’ll think of something for me.” 

* * * *

“So this is where the cool people eat,” said Andrew, looking around him at the crowded restaurant. 

“African Americans like Chinese food,” said Teresa. “Are six dishes enough, or should we get eight?

“Eight,” said Andrew and Billie in chorus. “I’ll pay the extra,” said Andrew.

“We’ll all pay,” said Teresa. 

They were figuring out their order when the waiter came over. 

“Can I get an iced tea?” asked Andrew. 

“No ice tea, hot tea!”

“OK, how about a pitcher of water for the table.” 

“Order drinks, get water!” said the waiter. 

“Wait on tables, get tip,” snapped Andrew.

The waiter stormed away.

“Andrewwww,” said Annie, “he’s going to spit in the water.” 

“Sorry, everyone.” 

Tiaje had followed this with some consternation, but Teresa couldn’t resist a giggle. “He’s always testy, that waiter.” 

The waiter came back, slammed a plastic pitcher of water onto the table and went away. 

“I’ll try it,” said Andrew. He poured a glass. “Well, he didn’t pee in it.” They all took water. 

“OK, in my restaurant, the waiters eat first, and every table gets a pitcher of water, without they ask for it,” said Teresa. 

“You’re opening a restaurant?” asked Andy. 

“Well, the date’s not set. But I think about it.” 

“What kind of food?” 

“Barbecue. With my special sauce.” 

“I’m there.” 

“It’s a great idea,” said Annie. “There’s no barbecue around here.”

Teresa nodded. “I know. I’m watching. Anybody opens a barbecue restaurant . . .” She sighed. 

“It has a mysterious fire,” said Andrew, patting her arm. 

“Don’t even say that out loud! Where you come from, you and your attitude.” 

“New York.” 

“Should of figured. How’d you two meet?” 

“On an airplane. She picked me up.” 

“He was taking two seats!”

At this point even Tiaje giggled. 

“Tiaje,” said Andrew, “will you come dancing tomorrow?”

“It’s at a bar, right? We don’t drink,” she said firmly. 

“We don’t either,” said Annie. “Get a Coke, a ginger ale.” 

 “Colored people go there?” Billie asked, barely audible.  

“—Nnno,” said Andrew, “you’d be integrating the dance floor. But they’re nice people. No fights, no drugs.”

“I think you should go,” said Teresa. “Integrate the damn dance floor. Your age, I would.”

Copyright (c) Debby Mayer

Friday, June 26, 2015

Chapter 37 / Train Trip

“Some days”—Andrew stood up and walked around Warren’s office, in a circle past the wall of books, past the window with its skinny Venetian blinds, past the two doors, one in, one out, that prevented Warren’s famous patients from seeing one another.

“Some days I think I’ll blow this whole thing. Some days I almost do.”

Warren listened, alert.

“And some days I feel like I’m talking to God. Dammit, Warren, you know all this already, if not with me than with some other patient. How to you keep from screaming in boredom?”

“By reminding my patients not to avoid the hard stuff by expressing concern for me that while it may be genuine, isn’t helpful, to me or to them.”

“That’s the most you’ve said to me in months.”

“You’re getting good at figuring things out for yourself.”

Andrew sat down, stood up, walked around again. “I had shipped some cartons to Annie before I left, so all I had with me was a duffle bag and my laptop. That was it; all my earthly goods.

“And a huge sense of failure. I achieved nothing in New York. The radio station was glad to give me an unpaid leave. I know I’m paranoid sometimes Warren, but I also have a good sense of nuance. I think they were about to . . . give me the ax. It’s all Middle East now, with some Southeast Asia thrown in. My fluent Spanish, my dozens of contacts, don’t mean a thing."  

“Let me interrupt just to say that your achievements since you left the hospital are immense. Immense. Go on.”

“Thank you, Warren dear. Seriously. Keep reminding me, because I know there’s a story up there, and I have a contract for it.

“So I lock the door on my studio. I get a taxi. I don’t talk to the driver. He can probably see this black cloud hanging over my head and he would say God is good, God will take care of you, so we don’t talk. I give him an extra couple of bucks for shutting up.

“On the train I find a seat on the aisle. I need to walk around, the people near me with their clutter, their issues, are making me feel like I itch, even though I don’t.  

“The train is moving out of the tunnel, then out of the city, so I get up and stand between the cars because I love those old, soft-edged tenements in the late-afternoon light, and I’m still feeling black, thinking about the concrete down here spreading every day to meet the concrete up there, yet there’s some comfort in that old brick, and then the conductor comes along, so I start to give him my ticket and he says, ‘Take a seat, sir. Riding between cars is not allowed.’

“I show him my ticket and he doesn’t take it, he won’t take it until I sit down, so I do that. There are two guys talking in back of me and I think if I have to listen to them for two hours I’ll start chewing up my cigarettes, so I wait until the conductor is well into the next car, and then I stand between the cars again. 

"We’re in the Bronx now and I’m thinking, look, it’s just a pile of concrete, there are other places, you can do this, you’ve got a good idea, a good girl, you can do this. I lean against the car and try to relax to the chunk-chunk of the train.

“And the damned conductor comes back. ‘Sir, you cannot ride between the cars.’

“I look at him.

“My mind is humming like the laptop does when I’ve got too much open on it. Somewhere I’m begging him to leave. He doesn’t. We stare at each other, and I see that he is being brave. I haven’t said a word to him, my arms are at my sides, but I’m a head taller and 20 pounds heavier, and I must be giving him my black empty look, because when he says to me, ‘Sir, if you do not sit down I will have you put off the train at the next stop,’ there is fear in his eyes.

“Of me.

“We stare for another couple of seconds and then I sit down. I am taking the train to my new life. I don’t want to arrive in Yonkers to a police presence. In fact, there are two cops at the station when we get there, but I’m sitting, and I have a ticket. We go on. And every fifteen minutes for the rest of the ride, a conductor walks through the car, making sure I’m sitting.

“In Beekman all the rich people get off, leaving my end of the car to me and two women, each with a little kid. The one is your cute, practical mom, short hair, loose pants and sneakers, and every time her kid, a boy, probably about three, has shown the slightest sign of boredom, begun the slightest hint of a whine, she pulled a new toy out of a big blue bag she has. She has snacks for him, and games and puzzles and little kid books.

“I’m taking notes on my laptop, wishing I could tell her what a great mom she is, but she isn’t afraid of me, and I don’t want to take her there.

“The other girl—she is a girl—wears a white dress and three-inch white heels. And she has brought nothing for her kid, who’s smaller than the other kid, maybe a little younger. Nothing. She sits him at the window, and he runs up and down the aisle.

“I figure the good mom is taking her boy upstate to see some grandparents. Dad will drive up on Saturday. But the other one, is she going to be married in that dress? She’s already a shotgun bride whose poppa didn’t have a shotgun, and now she looks a little spacey in her short white dress, with its long tight sleeves, as if she doesn’t know quite where she is, or who this kid is. 

“When her boy comes over and stares at me I show him a file on my laptop, but he can’t read, it’s no fun. So I find a couple of sheets of paper and an old red pencil. No ink on momma’s white dress.

“He just looks at them. I sketch some stick figures, a dog like Annie’s, with a fox-like face, a cat with whiskers, and offer him the paper and pencil again. He grabs them and runs back to his seat. We haven’t exchanged a word. Annie says kids in Hudson County are like that too. They don’t talk, because no one talks to them.

“When I get off the train they all stay, taking their innocence to another place. For me, Annie is standing at the edge of the parking lot, with the Village Voice open in front of her and I think, she doesn’t read the Village Voice, and then she closes the paper, revealing a huge bouquet of flowers, all yellows and greens and blue-purples, some kind of flowers, which she offers to me.

“I put down my two little bags and pick up Annie and her flowers. I hold her, and hold onto her, I’m home.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer